Category Archives: Links to Websites

links to various wildlife-related websites and organisations

Here be Dragons (and Damsels)!

Yes, back to the NYSDEC’s excellent Five Rivers Environmental Education Center preserve yet again, but this is something I anticipate writing frequently in this blog now that we are living once more in the Hudson Valley!

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

A 'baskettail' species of dragonfly, and - because it is perched in bushes away from water - this one is likely to be a female
A ‘baskettail’ (Epitheca) species of dragonfly, and – because it is perched in bushes away from water – this one is likely to be a female

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of spring is seeing the reappearance of odonates (a.k.a. ‘odes’)– the dragonflies and       damselflies – and even though they are only just getting started, today’s short hike (May 14) was no    disappointment.

Because dragonflies are predators and are more robust than – say – butterflies, they tend to have less human admirers, but that’s a pity because they    really  are remarkable and often spectacular.     Damselflies are   predators too,  but are typically much smaller and more delicate.

This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be
This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be

They are also very ancient creatures and fossils of very large dragonfly ancestors are found from 325 million years ago. Indeed, in those days, due to there being more oxygen in the atmosphere, dragonflies used to grow much bigger, with wingspans up to 750mm / 30 inches across.

None-the-less, in recent years far more people have started taking a lot of interest, particularly in dragonflies – often birders who are finding it to be an additional and equally enjoyable use for their binoculars. (Close-focusing binoculars are by far the best for getting a good look at timid dragonflies and butterflies without frightening them away.)

A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive
A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive

One of the challenges with getting interested in odonates is that some of them are very difficult to tell apart. Recognition of various species can literally require catching them and taking a very close look with a hand lens.  The good thing is that they can be caught and handled then safely released with no harm done, but in my case I have more than enough to carry in the form of camera gear without adding a long-handled net to the burden, so I will apologise now for not always being able to give a definitive identification for all of my ‘ode’ photographs.

Damselflies' eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies' eyes (see above) typically touch at the top of the head
Damselflies’ eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies’ eyes (see photos above of the baskettail species) typically touch at the top of the head

As the photos in this blog show, this hike turned up a beautiful dragonfly (just one species, I believe) and at least two species of damselflies.  (I should add that in both types of creature it is common for males and females to look very different, but that is not always the case.)

Apart from the positioning of the eyes (see the above photo caption) another good way to tell dragonflies from damselflies is how they hold their wings when they are not flying.  If you look at the top photo on this page, of a dragonfly, you can see that it rests with its wings straight out at right-angles to the body.  Now look at the damselfly photos, above and below this paragraph and you can see that their wings are held along the body, not sticking out to the sides.

A beautiful male 'Eastern Forktail' damselfly
A beautiful male ‘Eastern Forktail’ damselfly (Ischnura verticalis)

One thing they do all have in common is a need for water for the reproductive phase of their lives, so any water (other than the sea) can be a good location to see ‘odes’, whether it is a large pond, a small pond, a fast stream, a slow stream or even a tiny ‘seep’.

If you decide to try photographing them, be aware that they have huge eyes for a reason.

I believe this is a female but I'm not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)
I believe this is a female but I’m not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)

They have near-360-degree vision and because many birds will eat them they react instantly to fast movement, so approach very, very slowly.  Some species are easier to photograph, though, because they will habitually come back to the same twig or blade of grass as a perch, so watch where they land then move closer – at which point they will probably fly away – then move closer again and keep your fingers crossed that they do come back to the same place.  Patience will pay dividends!

If you would like to look at books on this enjoyable subject, I wholeheartedly recommend (for North America):

  1. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, by Dennis Paulson; Princeton Field Guides
  2. Unsurprisingly the same author does a book for the ‘West’, too
  3. Dragonflies Through Binoculars, by Sidney W. Dunkle; Oxford University Press.

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

 

Honey Bees, Bumblebees and Wannabees!

[Another visit to the NYSDEC preserve at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center at the end of April proved to be an excellent opportunity for watching pollinating insects at work.

The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers
The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers

All of this needs to be considered in light of the fact that there are now major threats facing the survival of bees, worldwide, and heaven help mankind if bees are decimated to the point that crop pollination is badly affected.

How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?
How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?

 

From what I saw, there were apparently two species of bumble bee and one species of honey bee present at the various blossoming willow trees on the Five Rivers’ Beaver Tree Trail but it turns out that individual bumble bee species are very difficult to identify from one another.     I learned this after buying an excellent book some months ago, under the title of Bumble Bees of North America (Princeton University Press).  In the book, it describes the need to study leg joints and other tiny parts of the anatomy, but as I have enough to do in terms of photographing wildlife and I’m also extremely disinclined to kill something I’ve just enjoyed photographing, merely so I could study its leg joints, this is not something I would do.

The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the 'other' species present
The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the ‘other’ species present

Having said that, I did take the liberty of sending a couple of my photographs via Twitter to the Xerces Society,  (@xerces_society) an organisation that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat, to see if they could help me with identification.  Note that the name is not spelled ‘Xerxes’ and they have nothing to do with 300 Spartan warriors!  The Xerces people kindly referred me to a group called Bumble Bee Watch (@BumbleBeeWatch) and I’m hoping they might be able to help enlighten me.

And here, a lighter-coloured individual

Apart from the bees that were present there were also a few Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moths (Hemaris diffinis).  As their name shows, these rather dramatic and perfectly harmless insects have clear, see-through wings,  not the coloured wings that we normally expect of moths.  The reason is that their body colouration has been designed by evolution to mimic bumble bees! This gives these otherwise defenceless moths a degree of protection from predators that might otherwise eat them.

On previous visits to Five Rivers – and, indeed, on the same Beaver Tree Trail – I have previously photographed a very close cousin of the remarkable Snowberry Clearwing, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) and for both of these species the final surprise for anyone watching them is that they feed by hovering above their chosen flowers, while feeding on the nectar through a very long proboscis.  Think of it as like drinking through the equivalent of a ten-foot drinking straw!

A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly)
A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly as it hovers)

Anyway, this day’s Snowberry Clearwings were a new species for me, but they weren’t the only one.  In among the bees and the clearwing moths were also a few bombylid flies.  According to my books, they looked most like the species known as Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major)  but as I didn’t actually see any black tails in among them I must assume that they might have been a different but closely related species.  They, too, usually hover over flowers while feeding although that’s not the case in the photograph below.  However, the larvae of the many species of bee fly either prey upon or parasitise the larvae of other insects, including bees.

Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species
Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species

Also feeding from the male catkins on the wonderful but very elderly willow tree that had triggered this insect feeding frenzy were Mourning Cloak and various white butterflies.

All in all, I spent well over an hour under that willow tree, frankly delighted by the amazing display of its flowers and by the wealth of insect life it had attracted.  The air, quite literally, was abuzz with their sounds and as the pesky mosquitos have not yet appeared for the summer, it was uninterrupted enjoyment.

Want to see a wonderful wildlife spectacle in spring?  Go and stand under a mature, flowering willow tree!  There’s probably one not too far from you, particularly on the edge of water courses or other wetlands.

[LINKS here to other topics photographed on the same walk / same day, namely Birds, and Amphibians.]

Eddie

Links to Wildlife-related Organizations and Websites in the Rest of the USA

Back to the main LINKS page

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Alaska Fish and Wildlife News

Audubon Society (National)

Audubon Society – Find Your Local Chapter

BugGuide.net – USA and Canada

Butterflies and Moths of North America [BaMoNA]

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (TX)

National Wildlife Federation

Nature Conservancy

Nature Conservancy Newsroom

Odonata Central – Dragonflies & Damselflies

Spiders in the USA (spiderzrule.com)

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – News

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services – ‘Open Spaces Blog’

Wildflower Viewing Areas – U.S. Forest Service

Wildlife Society – News

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Please feel free to add a comment, below, recommending other URLs that should be added to this page

Links to Wildlife-related Organizations and Websites in New York State

Back to the main LINKS page

WNY

Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens

Buffalo Audubon Society

Buffalo Ornithological Society

Nature Conservancy – Central & Western New York

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation – Western New York

Rochester Area Mycological Association – RAMA

Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (Jamestown)

Sierra Club – Niagara Group

Tifft Urban Nature Preserve, Buffalo

 

OTHER

Audubon – New York State (with Chapter links)

Audubon – New York State – Calendar of Events

Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology – All About Birds

NYOG – New York Odonate Group (Yahoo groups)

 

Please feel free to add a comment below, recommending additional websites that should be included on this list.

Links to Wildlife-related Organisations and Websites in Other Countries

Back to the main LINKS page

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allAfrica – wildlife news

BBC Nature – Home Page (global topics)

BBC Nature News (global topics)

BBC Nature – Video Collections        (Explore a vast array of wildlife video clips through the eyes of BBC presenters and film makers, and learn about different aspect of wildlife film-making.)

BBC In Pictures: Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners

Birdlife International – Programmes

BTO: The British Trust for Ornithology

Butterfly Corner – butterflies of the world (with a section for each continent)

Earth Times – worldwide environmental issues

Earthwatch Institute

National Wildflower Centre (UK)

Re-Wilding Europe

RSPB – The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Britain’s equivalent of the U.S. Audubon Society)

World Wildlife Fund

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Please feel free to suggest futher links in the comments, below.  (Relevant ones will then be moved into this main list.)

Would You Like to Make a Living Photographing or Filming Insects?

Through the URL below, you can view a video collection featuring bugs and insects in amazing close up, selected by insect expert and TV presenter George McGavin, with Goliath spiders, killer centipedes, ants and moths. By no means everyone’s favourite animals bugs — encompassing true bugs and other creepy crawlies — hold a special place in George’s heart and led him to an academic career at Oxford University. Having worked as scientific advisor on Attenborough’s “Life in the Undergrowth,” George became a presenter in his own right. He is now loved and admired for his passionate engagement with invertebrates, whether in the jungles of Bhutan or the back gardens of One Show viewers in England.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/collections/p00bf3fy