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Signs of Spring 


In a recent exchange on an entomological Facebook page, someone urged me not to destroy the dandelions in my yard. I was told they are one of the first and most persistent sources of pollen and nectar for early emerging insects. The idea that the scourge of the lawnmower set could be so important amused me. However, always ready to question things, I did a few quick filters on my photo organizer and found 146 pictures of various insects fueling up at the brilliant yellow flowers.

There were members of many orders: Coleoptera (beetles), Diptera (glies), Hymenoptera (wasps and bees), Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths, and Dermaptera (earwig). It appeared that one earwig was actually eating the flower, petals and all.

So, I did a little reading on Taraxacum officinale, the common imported weed in our lawns. Alien invaders from the Old World, they actually aren't all that invasive except in an environment where the competing grass and weeds are regularly mowed or disturbed. You almost never see them in an open meadow.

Among their laudable traits is the fact that they can produce latex similar to the traditional rubber tree. Continental Tire company is currently running trials on tires using "Taraxagum" tread.

So, for now at least, I will postpone mowing the back yard. It's good to have a reason if anyone asks.

Spring wings

A walk on a recent sunny day yielded quite a few butterflies. All were busy, few staying in one place long enough to pose for a picture. There were many Pieris marginalis (aka margined whites), which are often mistaken for their close relatives the cabbage butterfly. I saw two Nymphalis antiopa, or mourning cloaks, one of which was perfect and new while the other was bedraggled and worn. The fresh one landed, but flew away before I could get a good picture. There were a great many tiny Celastrina ladon, or azure blues, zipping around damp spots on the river bar. Once they land, they keep their wings closed above their backs, hiding the brilliant blue of their upper surfaces.

Finally, on my way home, a pair of rusty orange streaks flew by me. I paused and watched the two rapidly circle each other, spiraling upward with dizzying speed. Finally, one disappeared into the clutter of a madrone tree's foliage and the other flew up the path and landed, spreading its wings in the sun. The orange butterflies were of the anglewing species, I believe, though that family forms a challenging complex. I spent the next minute or so advancing one stealthy step at a time until I managed to get to the extreme limit of my camera's lens and snap a picture. Step by step, I snapped a photo with each pause, until I was close enough to get an acceptable photo.

With insect photography, close counts, so I developed this process: See the subject, turn on the camera, snap a photo and check the picture, adjusting anything that needs it. Advance toward it, snap another and repeat as often as you can. This assures that your camera is set up the way you want it (you haven't left the lens cap on or have it set up for a moon shot) to get the best picture possible. Each photo will be closer and likely better than the last, so you always get the best photo possible under the conditions.

I also saw my first trillium and hounds' tongue flowers blooming, and when I got home there was another springtime surprise: A tick was crawling on my leg. Yes, it is that time of year again.


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