I’ve been spending a lot of this summer at Lincoln Creek Prairie, right across town from my house. Much of my time there has been spent working on my square meter photography project, but I’ve wandered a lot through the rest of the prairie as well. Visiting the same site frequently always helps me appreciate the dynamic nature of prairies. I get to track individual flower blossoms as they transform from buds to blossoms to seed heads, and watch insects move from larva/nymph stage to adult.
Last weekend, for example, I visited the prairie two days in a row and spotted four different Chinese mantises that had just emerged from their last molt, leaving their exoskeletons behind. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those exoskeletons before, let alone four over a two day period. I’m guessing the skeletons don’t usually hang around long before they fall, dry up, and shrivel into obscurity – not necessarily in that order.
A Chinese mantid peers at me as I eased my camera toward it. This one was photographed a few days before I found the exoskeletons and recently-molted adults.
This is one of four shed mantis exoskeletons I found over a two day period.
One of my most exciting finds at Lincoln Creek this month was a small bee with gorgeous blue eyes. It was a male Tetraloniella cressoniana – something I know only because I sent the photo to Mike Arduser for identification. I’ve photographed this species once before, back in 2009, and I wrote about it in a 2011 blog post. The bee is noteworthy because it is very specialized in diet – feeding only on pitcher sage, aka blue sage (Salvia azurea). Not coincidentally, that is the flower species in both pictures I have of this species.
Ever since learning about the species from Mike, I’d been hoping to see and photograph it again. I finally got my wish last week, on a dewy morning at Lincoln Creek. The bee was poised on a blue sage flower, probably waiting for the prairie to warm up and dry out enough that females would emerge from their nests. I took quite a few shots of it as I gradually edged closer and closer, until it nearly filled the frame. As soon as I got home, I fired off one of the photos to Mike, who enthusiastically identified it for me.
A male blue sage bee, which tolerantly allowed me to photograph it – only, I assume, because no females were available to chase.
Dewy mornings have always been favorite photographic opportunities for me, especially when the wind is calm. Insects get trapped in dew drops, making them easy to photograph, and the entire prairie glistens and sparkles as the first light of the day hits it. Photographing individual dew drops is always alluring, but rarely turns out very well for me – my macro lens doesn’t magnify them enough for my taste, and depth-of-field issues and slight breezes increase the technical difficulty significantly. Now and then, however, I find the right situation. That happened last week with a big droplet near a patch of sensitive briar flowers.
A dew drop and sensitive briar flower (Mimosa quadrivalvus) made a pretty combination.
Lincoln Creek Prairie has been a favorite spot of mine since I moved to town over 20 years ago. It’s only about a mile from my house, and is a nice restored prairie with lots of flower and insect diversity. The prairie is small and subdivided by tree lines and roads, but none of that really affects close-up photography. Despite having made hundreds of trips to the prairie before this summer, though, I’m still finding new subject matter and making new observations – showcasing beautifully what prairies are all about.