Friday, September 19, 2014

September 18 2014 Ramble Report

We had a near record of 30 ramblers who appeared today to enjoy the mild temperature and overcast sky
Here is the link to Don Hunter's album of photos from today's ramble.

Notice of interest to ramblers:
Dan Williams will offer his free Tree Identification course again this year. The sessions begin on Tuesday, October 7 at 5:00 pm. at the Oconee Forest Park boardwalk parking lot (same place as last year), and will continue through November. (Oconee Forest Park is located behind the UGA intramural fields and tennis courts on the south side of College Station Rd. Just drive past the parking deck and turn left immediately past the tennis courts.)

Today's readings:
First up was Sandra with an excerpt from the essay Useless Creatures by Richard Conniff. You can read the full essay here on the NY Times Opinonator blog. Sandra read the last few paragraphs, but the entire essay is short and worthwhile reading.

Second was Kittie, with an excerpt from Aldo Starker Leopold's Marshland Elegy, in Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, p. 96.)
Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins as in art -- with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values, as yet uncaptured by language.

Next, Tim Homan treated us to an interesting fact about Sugar Maples from his book: Hiking Trails of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wildernesses, p. 152:

It is not the slightest bit anthropomorphic to say that the sugar maple is a chemically sentient being. This tree has evolved a strategy to cope with the problem of monoculture -- the monoculture of like-tasting leaves. It employs the same strategy that many agricultural experts advise farmers to use: diversification. When insects attack, the sugar maple creates diversity by varying the chemistry, and thus, the palatability of its leaves. This chemical maneuver forces the insects to move in search of good forage, which may become undesirable shortly after they arrive. The defense system is both internal and external. When attacked, these trees get on the horn and send airborne chemical signals to neighboring maples, thereby triggering their defense systems.

Last, but certainly not least was Bob Ambrose, who recited from memory his poem Between Birdsong and Boulder. You can find the text of this beautiful poem here, and you should definitely read it if you were not on the ramble today (and even if you were)! All of Bob's poetry can be found at this link, in case you want to sample his other work.

Today's route: We headed over to the power line and then went up the hill to the dogwood trees, then turned around and went down to the river and right a short distance to the foot bridge on the White trail. We returned on the Orange spur trail.

I brought my butterfly net, hoping that the sun would break through the overcast, but it was not to be. Butterflies love sunny days, but it remained overcast all during our ramble. Nonetheless, we came across a lot of interesting things. With so many ramblers we stretched out over a considerable distance. As a result there were probably several things seen by some, but not all, ramblers, including your leader. 

Power Line ROW (above service road):

A lot of the plants we have seen over the last two weeks are still blooming, but some are on their last legs. Here are the plants we saw today:

Golden Aster, Rabbit tobacco, Yellow Crownbeard, Wingstem, Hog Peanut, Mountain Mint (hardly any flowering), Purple top grass, Silver Plume grass, (just starting to flower), Wingstem, Slender ladies tresses, Bitterweed (on its last legs), Common mullein (mostly non-flowering first year rosettes), White crownbeard, Slender gerardia, Yellow star grass and Carolina desert chicory.

Crab spider on Golden Aster
Don was taking photographs of the flowers and noticed a Crab spider on one of the blossoms. These spiders do not spin a web to catch prey, instead they hang out on a blossom, waiting for a hapless bee or fly to come by for a sip of nectar. Then bang! They grab the unlucky bug, bite it, injecting their venom which paralyzes the prey almost immediately. They can subdue insects that many times their own size with their quick-acting venom. Then they suck them dry.

Wolf spider
Don also located a Spittlebug and someone else spotted a medium size Wolf spider in the leaf litter. Wolf spiders, like Crab spiders, do not build webs to capture their prey, but, unlike crab spiders, they are not sit-and-wait predators. Instead the actively roam the ground and when they spot a possible prey item they chase it down and subdue it with a venomous bite. Just like their namesake, only with the addition of venom.

Eastern tailed Blue
One of the few butterflies we saw today was an Eastern tailed blue, a small butterfly, about the size of a fingernail. The upper surface of the wings is sky blue in the males, but our specimen kept its wings closed so we only saw the underside of the wings. The hind wing has an orange spot near the back border of the wing. Nearby there are two little hair-like projections, the tails. The tails are very delicate and our specimen only had one left. The spot, together with the tails resembles an eye plus antennae and are thought to attract the attention of a predator away from the other end of the butterfly, where the real eyes and antennae are. Sometimes you find individuals with an eyespot missing; in its place is a wedge-shaped space -- just what you'd expect if a bird pecked at the eyespot and came away with a mouthful of wing. The group of butterflies called the Blues were the favorite objects of study by Vladimir Nabokov, better known for his novels.

Praying Mantis gripping my finger -- Ouch!
As we turned around and headed back down the hill someone found a large female Chinese praying mantis. The "praying" is the appearance the insect gives when it is stalking
Mantis head; notice the compound eyes
another insect. Its raptorial forelimbs are held folded up against its body and resemble the posture of a devout person in the act of praying. But the mantis is preying. When it gets within striking distance the forelimbs shoot forward and grab the luckless bug it has been stalking. The closeup of the mantis head shows some of the thousands of visual units that make up the compound eyes of insects. They are visible as tiny hexagons on the surface. Each hexagon is single "eye" or photoreceptor unit with its own lens. The insect eye is composed of hundreds to thousands of such units all grouped together.

Power Line ROW (below service road, to river)

Coffee weed (AKA SIcklepod), Climbing hempweed, Late-flowering boneset, Camphorweed, American pokeweed, Small red morning glory, Leafy Elephants foot, Daisy fleabane, Mild Water Pepper, Pennsylvania smartweed, Tall ironweed, Tall goldenrod, Small white morning glory, all three Wingstems  and Climbing buckwheat 

Yellow striped Oakworm caterpillar 
As we crossed the access road we stopped to pick up a Yellow striped oakworm caterpillar. When these caterpillars reach the size at which they pupate they leave their host plant (an Oak) and wander about, searching for a suitable place to pupate. They are frequently seen crossing roads or sidewalks this time of year, as the one we saw today was doing. When they find a suitable location they dig into the ground and pupate there. The moth emerges the following year.

White Trail Along River (upstream of power line ROW):

Cotton morningglory
The real find today was a species of plant never previously recorded from Clarke County: a Tie-vine or Cotton morning glory.
Cotton morningglory leaves

Also seen in this area were Bur cucumber, Pink wild bean, Virginia Buttonweed, and Southern wild senna.

Bur cucumber vine
We also managed to capture an Ocola skipper, one of the many brownish skippers with few identifying marks. How do you distinguish a skipper from a butterfly? Look carefully at the antennae. They will be clubbed plus there will be a small hook at the very end of the club. More generally, skippers are very stocky, compared to butterflies and their wings are proportionally smaller.

We saw two kinds of day-flying moths. One was quite abundant on the Late-flowering
Ailanthus webworm moth
Boneset -- the Ailanthus Webworm moth. We've seen this colorful moth the two previous weeks but they were super abundant today.
The moth is named for the host plant on which its caterpillar feeds, the Ailanthus tree. You may not be familiar with this tree as it is not very common in our area. It is an introduced species (Ailanthus altissima); the common name is Tree of Heaven or Tree of Paradise. It thrives in urban areas and is very fast growing, but can be invasive in some parts of the country. Those of you of a certain age may have heard of the novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; the Ailanthus was that tree.

The other day-flying moth species I have seen before but never identified. Like the Ailanthus
Day-flying moth species; family Noctuidae
Webworm moth it is a day-flyer. Most moths fly only at night, but several species are active during the day. But not every moth that flies during the day is a day-flying species. Nocturnal moths hide during the day time but will fly if disturbed. These are not true day-flyers. You will usually see a true day-flying moth seeking nectar from flowers; the others are just flying to a new hiding place.

How do you tell if you're looking at a moth, butterfly or skipper? The most reliable feature is the antennae. If they are simply clubbed, with no hook at the end it's a butterfly. If the antennae are clubbed with a hook it's a skipper. If there is no club it's a moth.

With that we all returned to the parking lot and a fortunate few enjoyed conversation at Donderos' in the visitor center.

Common Name
Scientific Name
Golden Aster
Heterotheca latifolia
Crab Spider
Family Thomisidae
Rabbit tobacco
Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium
Yellow Crownbeard
Vebesina occidentalis
Hog Peanut
Amphicarpea bracteata
Mountain Mint
Pycnanthemum incanum
Purple top grass
Tridens flavus
Silver Plume grass
Saccharum alopecuroides
Verbesina alternifolia
Slender ladie’s tresses
Spiranthes gracilis
Helenium amarum
Superfamily Cercopoidea
Wolf spider
Family Lycosidae
Common mullein
Verbascum thapsus
White crownbeard
Verbesina virginica
Eastern tailed blue
Cupido comyntas
Slender gerardia
Agalinis tenufolia
Yellow star grass
Hypoxis hirsuta
Carolina desert chicory
Pyrrhopappus carolinianus
Chinese praying mantis
Tenodera sinensis
Cofffee weed/SIcklepod
Senna obtusifolia
Yellowstriped oakworm
Anisota peigleri
Climbing hempvine
Mikania scandens
Late-flowering boneset
Eupatorium serotinum
Pluchea camphorata
American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana
Small red morning glory
Ipomoea coccinea
Leafy Elephants foot
Elephantopus carolinianus
Daisy fleabane
Erigeron annuus
Mild Water Pepper
Polygonum hydropiperoides
Pennsylvania smartweed
Polygonum pensylvanicum
Tall ironweed
Vernonia gigantea
Tall goldenrod
Solidago altissima
Small white morning glory
Ipomoea lacunosa
Climbing buckwheat
Fallopia scandens
Bur cucumber
Sicyos angulatus
Tie vine or
Cotton morning glory
Ipomoea cordatotriloba
Silver spotted skipper
Epargyreus clarus
Unidentified moth
Family Noctuidae?
Pink wild bean
Strophostyles umbellata
Virginia Buttonweed
Diodia virginiana
Southern wild senna
Senna marilandica

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