Thursday, October 07, 2010

Bits and Pieces

Becker, my anal retentive canine companion, encouraged me to take a walk this morning before it got too hot. So I grabbed my camera and a little pad of paper, put on my gardening clogs, and away we went.

My first "coup" was finding a dainty sulfur butterfly (Nathalis iole) resting on the seedhead of a silver bluestem. ("Dainty sulfur" is the official common name, by the way, not my attempt to describe it.) I took a photo, but the strong light bleached the delicate colors out, so I'm not going to post it.
Along the trail, around the corner, the aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica) was breaking out into full fall color. It was after 10 a.m., so the colors are a tad washed out, but this gives you a taste. Kansas is not known for its fall colors, but aromatic sumac is a great native that both attracts wildlife AND puts on a nice red and orange coat in the autumn. (Becker insisted on being in the photo to give scale.)

Our next "stumble" was a neatly formed egg case within the curve of a leaf of tallgrass. Looking a little more closely, Mama jumping spider was carefully guarding the fruit of all her labors. I wonder if she'll live to see her young ones hatch out, or if they'll overwinter safe in their silky nursery while she succumbs to cold weather or old age?

While I was walking through the front tallgrass, I noticed that the Indian grass seedheads looked ripe, so I gathered a handful of fresh seed and, when I walked into the back 5, scattered it in a couple bare spots in the first 100' or so of the path. Then I counted as I walked around the back - 4 healthy looking clumps of Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) seeding out, and one nice patch each of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). There might be more small clumps, but it's been so dry that they wouldn't be sending up seedheads this year.

Most exciting of all, though, I noted 2 new compass plant seedlings (Silphium laciniatum) that I hadn't seen before! They bring my total up to 6. The seedlings don't look like much now, but someday they will raise their tall flower stalks, full of bright yellow flowers, 6' high above the ground, while their sandpapery, lobed leaves orient themselves vertically to catch as much sunlight as possible. All but one of these little plants are probably the result of my scattering seed about 2 years ago, but one of the six plants has over half a dozen leaves and is thus more likely a remnant that survived the overgrazing regime somehow. My understanding is that compass plants are rather like trees, adding a new leaf every year.

There is a lot more tall dropseed (Sporobolus asper) this year, scattered in many places throughout the 5 acres. While that's not the end-all/be-all of native prairie grasses, it is a sign of increasing native diversity to me, since I hadn't noticed any tall dropseed at all until last year.

What is really standing out right now, though, as I look at the back 5 acres, is the silver bluestem (Bothriochloa laguroides torreyana). It's not a uniform stand by any means (which is good), but there is a lot of it and the seedheads are full and fluffy these days, catching the light and shining with a strong silver gleam in the sunlight. To have the entire field reflecting the sunlight that way is breathtaking, especially in the early morning or late evening.

On my way back to the house, I stopped to observe all the hustle and bustle going on in the white aster patches down in the swale. There were so many flies and bees and butterflies and skippers that it was hard to keep watching any one insect for more than a few seconds. In an attempt to start recording what I'm seeing, I stayed for a while and took quick photos. Without really trying to decode the several skipper species that I saw, I saw quite a few Lepidopterans, including many pearl crescents, several painted ladies, a common checkered-skipper, multiple orange sulfurs (including a white form female), a couple common buckeyes, and a single Texan crescent.

I would have stayed overlooking the asters a while longer, but a very noisy catfight down in the bottoms drew both Becker and me into running over to see which cat was getting killed. No bodies being found, I decided to head back to the house and see how my photos had turned out.

Nothing I took today is going to make anyone ooh or aah, but here are 2 shots that you might enjoy....

This first photo is of an orange sulfur butterfly in flight. I accidentally caught this, but it seems serendipitous as I find the curved control of the front wings fascinating. (Sorry that the shot is somewhat out of focus.)

The second shot is of the Texan crescent butterfly (the black one in focus) with 2 blurry skippers sharing the field of the photo. It's hard to capture the sheer number of insects working over these asters, but to have this many that are this close together is quite normal in their feeding frenzy.


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Hello! It's nice to see you're out there enjoying the beautiful fall weather. You eye with the grasses and butterflies is wonderful. I did enjoy your photos especially the one with the butterfly in flight.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks! I've got so much that I want to write about and share, but I'm the world's worst about taking the time to actually sit down and do it. I'm going to try to be better about it, though.

ProfessorRoush said...

Wow, that sulfur butterfly pic is fabulous!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks! I love it when I accidentally get a fun shot like that.