Today I ventured out to the Allegan Forest, hoping to get a few good insect photographs. Its been warm in west Michigan these last few days, and while the heat wave seems to have passed, I was optimistic that the warm weather would finally release many species of insects from their torpor.
Overall, things have improved, and the number and availability of subjects today was much better than just a few days ago. We now have many dragonflies – Whitetails, Pondhawks, Meadowhawks – plus numerous butterflies – Spicebush, Tiger Swallowtail, and Wood Nymphs. And the more mundane species – the flies and beetles and moths – are also out in force.
My first stop of the day was to a favorite field off 44th street. This is the field where I recently encountered the Olympia Marble Wing. I last visited it just a few days ago, but as with all tings in the natural world it is constantly changing. Today I was surprised to find the first few blossoms of coreopsis and vetch among the greening grasses. In a few weeks this field will be a haven for Fritillaries and Spicebush butterflies, along with dragonflies, bees, and other insects. This is also a haven for Indigo Buntings and other songbirds, who nest in the cottonwood saplings that line the edge of this field.
Whatever the future may hold, today things were dead here. I ate my lunch, and moved on to another location.
Since the lupine is in bloom, I decided to visit a recently cleared area that is being re-established as an oak savanna. Last year the blue lupine was thick throughout this area, and covered what seemed to be several acres. This year there was much less of this wildflower, with scattered but sizeable clusters of the plant popping up at random in the field. I pulled over and hiked down a two track into the woods that surrounds this field.
I was impressed at how much grass grew in the forest. In some clearings, I thought that my lawn at home should look so good. Unlike many other natural areas where native plants abound, the Allegan Forest still harbors the remains of the imported plants that previous inhabitants brought.
It was in this clearing that I spotted a the dragonfly shown at the top of this post, along with several darners, twelve spotted skimmers, and a few whitetails. All of these insects perched low, and the shot I got of the black meadowhawk was taken laying on the ground, since it was perched just a few inches up.
I ventured a bit further into the woods, found a curious artifact (the seat board from an outhouse) and moved on. I then stopped a short distance away in along the edge of an oak savanna that is the home of many Karner Blue butterflies. Its still pretty early to see any Karner Blues, but American Coppers, various dragonflies, and other interesting insects were on hand. I snapped one shot of a blue butterfly on lupine – perhaps a Karner Blue, perhaps not – and proceeded to encounter a female Pondhawk dragonfly devouring a small blue butterfly – again, perhaps a Karner, perhaps not.
As I made my way through the field I also stumbled upon a few orange moths. There were pretty interesting, with their striking blue eyes, but after combing through my field guides and online I’m at a loss to identify them.
Every spring it seems that I re-learn the same lessons. Today I neglected to wear a hat, and despite wafting some OFF around my head, the blackflies were quick to land and bite. I always think of wearing a hat as protection against the heat – but in reality its most valuable in protecting against noxious biting insects.
I also missed about 2 square inches on the back of my left hand when applying the insect repellent. Silly me – but I swear every black fly in the forest found that spot!
Technical details – all shots taken with the standard insect setup, Pentax *ist-D and A* 200mm f4 macro. A few more out takes from the day: