Journal archives for May 2017

May 01, 2017

April's End

The poet T. S. Eliot opened his long poem, The Wasteland, with these memorable lines: "April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain." I've always considered February to be the cruelest month, but this year April vied for that honor, with a long strings of cool, cloudy, snowy, rainy, windy days. Actually, another line by T. S. Eliot comes to mind, this time from the poem 'East Coker' in The Four Quartets: "In my beginning is my end." April's end is equal to its beginning. The temperature is the same on the last day as it was at the start of the month. The rain is the same, verging on snow. The paucity of insects is the same. But the plants have done all right, blooming and leafing out, carrying on throughout the cool weather, with or without the needed troops of pollinators. For instance, the plum blossoms which opened earlier this week have only known temperatures in the 30s and 40s. The few times I checked on them, their were no bees (usually there are audible swarms), only a few Winter Ants and cold-hardy Maggot Flies. So good riddance to April and onward to May.

Posted on May 01, 2017 03:06 by scottking scottking | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 02, 2017

May Day

In my twenties and thirties, I often attended the May Day Parade in Minneapolis. A mash-up of workers issues, grassroots politics, and pagan spirit. I loved it. The parade always culminated with a ceremony enacted by dancers and giant puppets in which Winter is vanquished and the Tree of Life reborn.

In recent decades, having moved away from the big city to a smaller town, the 1st of May passes without much fanfare. Still, I look forward to this day each year, but it's become a quiet milestone, a much more personal event.

The Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, whose work I've admired for close to thirty years, was born May 1st, 1909. Here's a poem of his that I translated and printed for May Day in 2002 because of its parallels with the endless cycle of the seasons, Spring's poetic life written into existence each year by the creative earth.

DEATH-PLEDGE

He said: I believe in poetry, in death,
which is why I believe in Immortality.
I write down a line; I write down the world.
I'm created; the world is created.
From the tip of my finger flows a river.
The sky is seven times as blue. Such clarity
is the very first truth, my final wish.

Posted on May 02, 2017 00:53 by scottking scottking | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 03, 2017

April Showers Bring May . . .

Hoverflies!

Yesterday, with slush falling from the sky, felt like a warm day in February. Today, the skies cleared and the temperature rebounded to near normal for this time of year, reaching sixty degrees late in the afternoon.

Posted on May 03, 2017 03:58 by scottking scottking | 12 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 04, 2017

McKnight Prairie, Lake Byllesby, and The Anderson Center

Posted on May 04, 2017 04:09 by scottking scottking | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 05, 2017

Big Woods State Park

After locking myself out of my house at noon, I decided to visit Nerstrand Big Woods State Park and have a look at the wildflowers. It was certainly a good day for a visit as pretty much every wildflower was in bloom. Walking the trail down to the waterfall and back, I was able to track down twenty-six species. Some interesting bees and flies were encountered as well, including the specialist pollinator of Spring Beauty,
Andrena erigeniae.

Posted on May 05, 2017 04:06 by scottking scottking | 27 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 06, 2017

Finally a Cimbicid

Posted on May 06, 2017 03:49 by scottking scottking | 12 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 07, 2017

Fly Watching

Fly watching never caught on in Minnesota. There's no Hover Fly Society, no Syrphidae database, no distribution atlas. In the U.K., all these exist (see for instance Britain's Hoverflies: A Field Guide by Stuart Ball and Roger Morris).

In 1939, Horace S. Telford (1909 - 2004) published The Syrphidae of Minnesota. At the time he was a Ph. D. student at the University of Minnesota, in 1939. Recently, I was lucky enough to obtain a copy of this publication and it arrived in today's mail. According to the introduction, several thousand syrphid flies collected in Minnesota formed the basis of Telford's study. He provides county data and dates for 135 species from 52 genera.

What better way to honor the work of Horace S. Telford than to go fly watching. Meadow Sedgesitters were abundant at Hauberg Woods and at St Olaf Natural Lands. This species was known from 18 counties at the time of Telford's study with a flight period from May 20 to September 13. Three, possibly four, additional syrphid species were observed at St Olaf Natural Lands. These were the Margined Calligrapher (not included in Telford), the Narrow-headed Sun Fly (known from 12 counties with a flight period of May 14 - September 14), a Swamp Fly (Lejops sp.), and a different species of Sedgesitter (Platycheirus sp.).

Posted on May 07, 2017 04:05 by scottking scottking | 9 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

May 08, 2017

Pinocchio

A spectacular spring day. Continuing my hover fly kick, I decided to try a different habitat, lotic instead of lentic. In the afternoon, I hiked the trails along Spring Creek in the upper Cowling Arboretum. As in the past, the most insect activity was found along the sandy banks around the semi-open plunge pool where the creek enters the arboretum, flowing from a large culvert beneath a city street.

Many damseflies needled their way through the vegetation. A variety of bees worked the Creeping Charlie and Yellow Rocket flowers. I gave the bees and the damselflies the cold shoulder; I wanted to see more hover flies. The same four species observed yesterday around the ponds, I observed today along the creek, with one remarkable addition---the American Heineken Fly (Rhingia nasica). The only species in this genus in North America, this fly is instantly recognizable because of its Pinocchio-like nose. This odd-shaped shnoz houses a long tongue used for reaching nectar in deep flowers. The European species Rhingia campestris was given the common name Heineken Fly after the humorous adds by the beer company of that name, adds that stated 'Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach,' recognizing that this fly could reach parts of flowers that other hover flies can not.

One of the frustrating hindrances encountered when reading old natural history books and monographs is that many of the scientific names have changed or are no longer recognized as valid due to subsequent changes and revisions. Luckily for fly researchers there is a wonderful online resource---Systema Dipterorum: The Biosystematic Database of World Diptera (www.diptera.com). Old scientific names can be searched to find current statuses and current accepted names. For instance, Horace Telford in The Syrphidae of Minnesota (published nearly eighty years ago) described a new species of Microdon. The name he proposed for this species isn't listed at bugguide.net. Checking the Diptera database, one finds that Telford's species's name, Microdon robusta. is now considered a junior synonym of Microdon tristis. I wish such a database was available for other orders of insect as well, especially Hymenoptera.

Posted on May 08, 2017 04:13 by scottking scottking | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 09, 2017

In Water

“We are slow to realize water, —the beauty and magic of it. It is interestingly strange to us forever.” Henry David Thoreau, Journals, May 8 1854

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Boyd Sartell WMA. A large natural area in southwestern Rice County. This WMA has, in previous years, supported populations of Taiga Bluets and Silvery Blues. And both damselfly and butterfly have been on the wing at the same time, usually about this time of year, both in and around the series of manmade ponds.

For the past several springs I’ve attempted to collect Taiga Bluet nymphs, each time without success. Last year, in North Dakota, I did finally locate several Taiga Bluet nymphs (of course this was while I was attempting to locate Prairie Bluet nymphs!). Like other Eurasian Bluets (genus Coenagrion) nymphs, the head of the Taiga Bluet nymph is speckled behind the eyes with tiny black dots. This makes it easy to separate them from the hordes of American Bluet (genus Enallagma), Forktail (genus Ischnura), and Sedge Sprite (genus Nehalennia) nymphs present.

Now that I knew how to identify the Taiga Bluet nymphs, I thought I’d try again to locate them at this site, searching the shallows at various points around the ponds with a dip net. No such luck.

Just like Thoreau’s pronouncement on water, the most common water inhabitants, such as the nymphs of Sedge Sprites (which turned up in spades this day) and the trilobite-esque Isopods, will remain “interestingly strange.”

Having a goal in mind can be an obstacle, can diminish the appreciation of other accomplishments, for example, the Two-lined Swamp Fly and the floating flight of Phantom Crane Flies, both observed near the ponds.

Posted on May 09, 2017 02:53 by scottking scottking | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 10, 2017

Interesting Weeds

This spring it seemed every user of iNaturalist, had photos of Henbit Deadnettle except for me. I was beginning to feel a bit left out. That is until today. Walking across the practice field adjacent to the lower Cowling Arboretum I saw patches of what seemed tall, pinkish-looking Creeping Charlie. A closer look showed it to be Henbit Deadnettle. Perhaps the grass seed used on the field contained its seed? This plant is not widespread in Minnesota, with records from the metro counties around Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Shepherd's Purse is another distinctive plant. And a global success, as it seems to have spread to every part of the earth. It's easily recognized by the cluster of small white flowers, the deeply toothed leaves of the basal rosette, and the purse-shaped seed pods from which the plant gets its common name. A member of the cress family (also known as the cabbage or mustard family), it is eaten in some parts of the world, used as an herbal, and used by science as a model organism.

One of the great things about plants? They stay put. They don't run off or fly away. If it can't be identified, it can be revisited at a later date. If it's a tree, it can be visited many years in a row. Early in April, I photographed an unusual bud on a small tree but couldn't figure out what kind of tree it was, until today. Walking near the tree today, I remembered to have a look the tree once more. The leaf shape and the flower clusters made it possible to identify it this time: Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), a native shrub.

Posted on May 10, 2017 04:06 by scottking scottking | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment