Saturday, October 8, 2016

Blue Jay

Blue Jay
24"x18" oil pastel on canvas

This beauty frequents our backyard and we've watched each other enough that she doesn't raise her crest in alarm when she sees me anymore. Such a joy to paint - it's a finger painting!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Maine

Photos of beautiful Maine that I've taken over the years. Music by Dave Mallett.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Black-capped Chickadee

This handsome little fellow flew into my window and was stunned. He was almost unconscious when I found him, all crumpled and cold and wet in the grass. He pretty much passed out in my hand and I kept him safe and warm while he recovered. After about 10 minutes he flew away. While I wish windows weren't so dangerous for them, I must say it's an amazing feeling to have a wild bird take off from the palm of your hand. And I love a happy ending!

 So forlorn

He pretty much passed out in my hand

Starting to perk up

He flew away about 2 seconds after I took this shot :)

Great Golden Digger Wasp

"Within the insect order Hymenoptera, family Sphecidae, is the Sphex genus with over 130 recognized species and subspecies. One of the larger and more impressive thread-waisted is the Great Golden Digger Wasp or Sphex ichneumoneus. Aptly named, as the term "ichneumoneus" is Greek for tracker, these robust wasps are known for tracking their prey. Great Goldens are one-half to over an inch in length, though some sightings have reported seeing them as large as two inches. Great Goldens are easily spotted during the summer. Their black head and thorax are covered with short golden hair. Half of the back segment of their abdomen is also black with their front segment and legs a reddish-orange.

"Occurring in North America, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, Great Goldens are usually seen in parks, gardens, fields and meadows - anywhere that is sunny, has compacted clay and sand, flower nectar for adults to feed on, and crickets, grasshoppers and katydids for their larvae. The adult wasps subside strictly on sap fluids and a variety of flower nectars that bloom during their flying time. Spotting them is one thing, but observing them can be dicey. Great Goldens do not linger around a bloom for very long and are quite wary of anything larger than they are. Fortunately, though they may look scary, these wasps are not aggressive unless handled and should be left alone. Great Goldens are solitary wasps, live independently and do not share in either nest maintenance or in the caring of their young.

"Between May and August, the female Great Golden, in preparation for egg laying, constructs as many as half a dozen nests. The building of, and provisions for, the nests is done in a concise, methodical manner, which she never deviates from. Rarely is there vegetation around the nests. Most sites are exposed to the sun in an open locale. The female begins digging, almost vertically, by cutting the earth with her mandibles. She walks about an inch backwards from the nesting site with a section of soil between her forelegs and head and flips the soil with her forelegs beneath her body, scattering it to the sides with her hindlegs.

"Great Golden nests have a cylinder shaped main tunnel that is one-half inch in diameter and four to six inches deep. From the main tunnel, she extends secondary tunnels that lead to individual larval cells where she will store anesthetized prey. The cells are broader than the tunnels and parallel to the soil. Once completed, she temporarily closes it after excavation by using the earth that remains by the nest entrance. The female throws it towards the entry with movements identical to those she made when she dug the nest.

"After constructing the burrow, she flies from the nesting area to open fields and hunts for any number of small locally available species of Orthoptera. Great Goldens hunt for crickets (Gryllidae), grasshoppers (Trimerotropis) and katydids (Tettigoniidae) to serve as a food source for her young. Upon capturing a suitable prey, the female Great Golden will paralyze it with toxins in her sting. If the prey is small, she flies it directly to the nest. If prey is too large to transport aerially, the wasp will walk with it across the ground. The prey is clasped beneath her body by grasping its antennas with her mandibles. Once the Great Golden reaches the opening of her nest, she sets the paralyzed insect down. Leaving the prey outside, she goes into the tunnel for inspection. When satisfied that all is well, she comes partially out from the nest and again grasps the prey's antennas pulling it backwards into the nest's interior where it is deposited in a cell with its head turned to the bottom.

"Though the prey is permanently paralyzed, it is able to eliminate feces and slightly move its antennas and mouthparts. Great Golden females close the nest each time prey is placed inside. When she re-enters for egg laying, she emits a set of buzzing sounds as she compacts the earth closing the entrance.

"After the Great Golden has dragged all her paralyzed prey into the nest hole, she lays one egg on each insect, placing it horizontally on the prey's thorax. The eggs are yellow, less than a 1/2 inch long and has a slightly curved cylindrical shape. They hatch within 2-to-3 days of oviposition, and without moving, they begin to feed on the prey's abdomen or at the junction of its leg. The feeding phase is very rapid. In one of the observed cases, the larva consumed even the more rigid parts of the prey's exoskeleton.

"Unfortunately, homeowners, who have these foraging wasps around their landscape and dig holes in their lawn, usually reach for a can of insecticide. Great Goldens are benign, do not defend their nests, are not aggressive and definitely do more good than harm. Hold that can for a moment and realize that like many other wasps, the Great Golden Digger Wasp is quite beneficial to both gardeners and farmers. So please leave them alone to do their job."**

**Text is from:

All of these photos are mine, and I feel super lucky to have been able to witness it. This wasp built her nest in a sunny spot at the edge of our gravel driveway here in western Maine. Still hoping for a shot of one flying with a katydid in her arms!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jewelfly and Blueflag

I went to have my trucks's windshield replaced and there was a 2 hour wait. So I took a stroll down a side road near the shop and found a very pleasant little trail off into the woods, and followed it down to the Little Androscoggin River. I soon found myself in a secluded spot on a flat rock, sitting with my arms crossed over my knees, when a jewelfly landed on my arm. I watched her, very close up, for a minute or so before she jumped up quick and came back and settled back on my arm with a kicking mosquito in her mouth. I watched her eat it (surprisingly quickly for such a large-ish meal), and then watched as she did it again and again - my own little bug repellent friend! Endlessly interesting to witness - and she really kept me from getting bug bites! We were like a team - I attracted the mosquitos and she gobbled them up. The 2 hour wait was over before I knew it. As I was about to walk away, she posed for me on this wild Blueflag Iris at the water's edge.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


At the end of a lovely getaway weekend near Rangeley, Maine, we packed up our gear and headed down to the warm, sunny little beach near our campsite to sip coffee and say goodbye to the lake. We watched a Common Merganser paddle by with her string of ducklings chasing along, taking turns riding on her back, and laughed at their fluffy antics as they appeared to run across the water as fast as they could to keep up. And then Clay noticed a big green dragonfly on the edge of the water in front of our chairs. There was something about its wings...they seemed normal enough stretched out in the light breeze, but they were tender and fragile looking, and I realized this dragonfly was brand new. So we looked around the beach and sure enough we found another brand new dragonfly. This one, the one in my photo, was so new that it hadn't finished emerging from the body of its nymph form. Amazing!
Dragonflies lay their eggs in water and the eggs hatch into tiny nymphs that spend as long as 5 years hunting for prey and growing. As many as 15 times in their underwater form, dragonflies will outgrow themselves and rip through their own backs, molting into a larger size. Dragonflies undergo a different sort of metamorphosis than butterflies, it's more gradual and skips the cocoon stage. With every molt, the hump on their back gets larger - a hint of the four wings to come. But it's not until they climb out of the water into a warm and sunny morning, that they rip through their exoskeleton one last time. This time with wings! Spectacular flyers and hunters, with huge eyes that can see from any angle and wings that allow for a stunning array of maneuvers that has inspired our own methods of flight.

They only live in this final, winged form for a few weeks to maybe a few months before they die - 5 years in the water to get a few weeks in the air. This makes me think of our own life cycle. How many of us look back at previous decades of our life and realize that we'd never have reached any heights at all without those years of growth and the inevitable pain that came with it. Maybe it seems like a rip off - to live so long completely unaware of what it feels like to fly in the sunshine, only to be allowed to experience it so briefly compared to all that time spent in the dark. But not every dragonfly nymph lives long enough to grow its wings. The statistics are not in the nymph's favor. Gradual metamorphosis takes time, and time is doled out differently for us all. So. If you see a fully developed dragonfly, recognize what a rare treasure you have before you. See in them all the years of pain and ignorance that, miraculously, led to that one bright morning when they bravely left behind the only world they'd ever known, bursting at their own seams to find some new way of being. Their outer shell was shed for the last time and their final and most wondrous form took flight - displaying the glorious potential inside us all.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Old Friends

Lemon-yellow Iris
Iris flavescens

I rescued these antique irises from an abandoned farmhouse in Sebago that was being demolished and leveled. That was in 1992. And this is the sixth home I've brought them to - leaving a trail of beautiful, lemon-scented beauty behind me :) I can't imagine a spring without their pale and pretty splendor any more, and I'm thrilled to see them thriving wonderfully here after having been transplanted last fall - they've grown happily everywhere I've planted them. They're called Lemon-yellow Irises (Iris flavescens) and were first developed in 1830. I'm not the only one who's found them forgotten - Lauren Springer in Passionate Gardening tells of collecting them from an abandoned homesite and writes, “Perhaps someday they will be all that remain of my house and garden.”