Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Pink-striped Oakworm Moths

Pink Striped Oakworm Moths


A few years ago on a morning after a big thunderstorm, I found an unusual moth on the screen of the sliding glass door to our deck--I'd never seen one like it before. I later identified it as a female pink-striped oakworm moth (Anisota virginensis pellucida). It belongs to the silk moth family, and is quite common in the eastern half of the U.S. and the south.

The moth on the screen did not move for a long time--eventually I presumed it was dead, so I scooped it up for my collection of insects that I use as models for some of my botanical pieces. After a week I checked on the moth to discover that it had laid eggs after I put it in my box. Apparently it had not been dead when I picked it up!

So, when I found another female pink-striped oakworm moth on the same sliding glass door last week, I pointed it out to Herb and left it alone. About an hour later, Herb yelled out that I had to come downstairs to look at something. Imagine my surprise to find that a male pink-striped oakworm moth was in the process of mating with the female on the glass door!

From the other side of the glass.


I ran to grab my phone and camera, but had a hard time getting my camera to focus (I had the telephoto lens on it). I managed to get these few shots with my phone. Fascinating! Apparently when it's the right time to mate, the females secrete pheromones and position themselves so that the males can find them easily, usually early in the morning.

The moths mate quickly, at least that's what I've read, but these two stayed joined together for the rest of the day. At one point they both fell onto the deck, but somehow managed to climb back up on the glass door. Towards evening I was afraid that they would become trapped and squashed by the sliding screen when we opened and closed the glass door to go out on the deck, so I put a paper underneath them, scooped them up and gently laid both of them, still joined, on the plant stand nearby. 



The next morning they were both gone--I presume the female flew to one of the oak trees in back to lay her eggs, and the male flew away probably to die soon after. I feel privileged to have gotten this fascinating glimpse into nature's secret workings. Now I need to come up with a painting where I can illustrate these lovely moths and the oaks that host their larva. Perhaps I may run into some of the caterpillars later on. The life cycle of this silk moth would make a wonderful painting!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Featured in Artie's Eight

Young Pippin Apples, watercolor, 14" x 11"

I'm pleased to announce to my readers that this month my interview is featured in "Artie's Eight" on the website Frame Destination, and here is a link to the feature:

From Cuba With Love

Artie's Eight interviews artists by asking all the questions people want to know about us: what inspires us, how we got started, what our formative experiences were, the obstacles and how we overcome them, in short, what makes us artists tick.

I hope you enjoy it and share it with your friends!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

A Wild Turkey in My Garden


A wild turkey in my garden

On the morning of the 4th of July I glanced out my window and saw a small head with a bill poking out of the ornamental grasses on the flower bed on the east side of the house. My first thought was--nah--it must be a trick of the light, and yet, could it possibly be a duck? Had any of our neighbors acquired a pet duck recently, had it escaped? 

A second, longer look revealed that it was not a duck, it was actually a turkey! A wild turkey, to be precise. Our yard backs up to a patch of woods, so this wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility. Several years ago during one early morning commute when I was still working, I almost ran into a wild turkey crossing the 4-lane highway about a mile and a half from our house, so wild turkeys can definitely roam around our area.


Wild turkey hen and chick

I ran to get my camera, change to the telephoto lens and station myself on the deck, to see if I could get a shot or two of the turkey. I saw that the poor turkey was moving very slowly--she was limping, barely able to put weight on one leg--and imagine my surprise to see a chick following her!

I wondered if there was anything I could do to help her, but decided against the idea. Trying to trap her and the chick would probably be more traumatic to both than the injury she'd already sustained. It was best to leave them alone, and hope she and the chick would be able to survive on their own.

Wild turkey and chick

I took more photos of them as they moved slowly across my next door neighbor's yard, until they both disappeared down the hill into the woods once again. The entire episode lasted maybe five or six minutes. I think they had been eating the seeds from the Columbines in my flower bed, or perhaps it was grass seeds--I'm glad they were able to take refuge in my garden for a little while.


Wild turkey and chick going back into the woods.

I wonder if we'll see any more wild turkeys around here any time soon. Odd that it should happen on the 4th of July--it brought to mind that Ben Franklin had proposed that the wild turkey be our national bird, but he was out-voted and the bald eagle was chosen instead.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Elleber Ridge

Tiger swallowtail butterfly on flame azalea flowers.


The day after my hike to the Dan Ingalls Overlook Trail  I had planned to go with Amanda's friend Charles on a plant finding expedition. Charles Garratt is a well-known photographer and native orchid aficionado who has located and documented an amazing variety of hard-to-find orchids in Bath County and neighboring areas.

Charles was very kind to offer to drive me around and show me some botanical sites; we agreed on exploring a botanical site known as Elleber ridge, on the state line between Virginia and West Virginia, where we might find some orchids in bloom at this time of the year.


The bathhouses in Warm Springs

The Warm Springs gazebo by the bathhouses.

We agreed to meet in Warm Springs and ride north to Highland County, which I'd never visited before. The ride through the fields and forests bordering the Jackson river was lovely, everything looked so lush and green with all the recent rain. Highland County is the least populated county in our state, known to me primarily for its sugar maple syrup production. Charles told me that raising cattle was currently topping the list for economic activity here.


Wild columbines in Highland County.


As we passed open fields heading into the mountains, we saw lovely Columbine flowers along the roadsides, and Charles remarked that some botanists believe these may be a different species of Aquilegia than the ordinary A. canadensis, because they seem to bloom all summer long and are taller than usual. I guess only DNA studies could determine if it is a different species or simply a variant.

At the top of the mountain was the entrance to the Elleber Ridge area, and as we made our way down a steep forest service road, we crossed a stream and several ravines. Charles kept a sharp eye for  unusual vegetation by the roadside. Deep in the woods he stopped at a place where there were several pieces of heavy machinery--it appeared that the forest service was getting ready to cut down a stand of Virginia pine for timber.


Padleaf orchid (Platanthera orbiculata)

In the shade of the pines by a small creek we found many orchids growing among thick stands of fern: quite a few pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule) were still in bloom here, and some padleaf orchids (Platanthera orbiculata) in bud were getting ready to bloom. We took lots of photos of these and other lovely woodland flowers. What a shame that heavy equipment was about to destroy this wonderful orchid refuge! If I'd had a place to keep some of these orchids alive, I would have rescued them right on the spot! Alas, if they manage to survive the timbering operation, it may take many years for this population to recover.


Pink ladyslipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule)

Pink ladyslippers

Mountain woodsorrel (Oxalis montana)


Flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceae)

After that stop, we pulled up by a thicket of Flame azaleas and mountain laurels. The Flame azaleas were absolutely irresistible! Even the butterflies couldn't leave them alone! 

White monkshood (Aconitum reclinatum)

We also found white monkshood in bud, and a maple in bloom--I later confirmed it was mountain maple (Acer spicatum)--it's unusual to see a maple flowering this late in the season. This small understory tree's normal range is much farther north, it's only found in the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. An enormous pipevine twined into the top parts of a tree overhanging the stream where we ate our lunch.


Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla)

The drive back through the town of Monterey and Rte. 220 was very scenic. It was early evening by the time we got back to Warm Springs, when Charles said he had one more site to show me. Earlier we had talked about shale barrens, and their unusual native vegetation, and he now surprised me by driving through the town of Hot Springs down to the sewage treatment station. Right across from this was a sheer wall of rock facing southwest--a shale barren!

A shale barren near Hot Springs.

Clematis viticaulis in shale barren

Clematis viticaulis in shale barren.

Charles had talked about two of our native clematises that grew in this inhospitable habitat: Clematis viticaulis and Clematis albicoma. Here were some clematises with their characteristic seedheads, at least one, possibly both species! There were also butterfly weed (Asclepias) in bloom, the native Sedum ternatum, and in the rock undercuts, some spleenworts (I believe these are Asplenium trichomanes).


Sedum ternatum in shale barren

Spleenwort in shale barren (Asplenium trichomanes)

The summer temperatures in these shale barrens can reach up to 180 degrees, and the vertical slopes drain quickly, making this environment very hot and dry. The plants that live are able to adapt to these extremes. 

I enjoyed the day and the company to the max: it's not often that I get to see and photograph so many plants new to me, in such amazing settings, and talk to such a fascinating plant aficionado! I'm hoping to acquire some of these clematises native to the shale barrens, to see if they will grow in my garden--I'm sure there are some dry, hot spots that might provide just the right conditions for them, if I can only find the drainage they need.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Dan Ingalls Overlook Trail

View from the Dan Ingalls Overlook.


The day after my workshop at the Red House had taken place I decided to explore the Dan Ingalls Overlook Trail. A few days earlier I had stopped off at the overlook to take in the amazing view on my way back from Warm Springs, and thought the trail would definitely be worth exploring. It was probably not going to be an easy 1.2 miles to the top, because the first portion looked to be a steep climb uphill.

This tract of land on the highest portion of Warm Springs Mountain was acquired by the Nature Conservancy some 40 years earlier, according to the self-guided tour signage. It had previously been grazed for a long time, with only a few large shade trees growing on it. It was thus surprising to see how quickly the forest and native vegetation had regenerated. 

The signage identified a number of native trees and a few that weren't: American Linden (Tilia americana), striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Norway maple (Acer platanoides, a non-native species), Pignut (Carya glabra), red hicory (Cayra ovalis), and bitternut hickory (Carya cordifolia), American hornbeam (Carpinus carolinianus) and hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), black cherry (Prunus serotina)--in all a great diversity of species.

Solomon' seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

Once I got past the steep meadow, the trail leveled off into the forest, where I came across several Solomon's seal plants of impressive stature and bloom. Nearby were some early Meadow Rue plants exhibiting flowers of both sexes, again huge in size. I deduce that part of the fertility of the soil here might be due to all those years of being enriched by cow manure.


Meadow rue (Thalictrum dioicum) with male flowers

Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)

 The Virginia waterleaf had just about finished blooming, but other summer flowers such as spiked lobelias, some heucheras and a native beardtongue I'm guessing is Appalachian beardtongue (Penstemon canescens) appeared by the sides of the trail.

Spiked Lobelia (Lobelia spicata)

Heuchera americana in bud.

Appalachian beardtongue (Penstemon canescens)


I kept walking on the path through the forest, grateful for the shade--it was quite warm when I started and had become hotter as the afternoon progressed. Eventually I reached the top loop, a rocky promontory rising above the rest of the terrain. I wish the trail guide had warned about this stretch--it was tricky footing to get around the rocks, and I could have used a climbing pole or two here.

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)

There were huckleberry plants growing among the rocks, and whorled loosestrife was blooming profusely. I found an interesting plant with blueberry-like flowers, which after looking it up I believe is spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). This plant is more typical of New England and northerly climates; I presume it's one of the remnants of boreal vegetation that migrated south during the last Ice Age and persists in the higher elevations of the Appalachian mountains today.


Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)

I reached a staircase leading to a raised stone platform that offered another view similar to the one from the roadside overlook, though a bit cut off by the trees. The platform is probably some five hundred feet above the road overlook.

View from the top platform


The trail over the rocks reminded me somewhat of the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls Park in Maryland, but shaded and much more overgrown. Blackberry vines grasped at my clothing, and at one point the displaced vines swung back hard enough for the thorns to scratch me until my entire arm was covered in blood. I managed to find a paper towel to wipe my arm, fearing attracting blood-sucking insects, before going on.


Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies.


Once I completed the rocky loop backtracking on the trail now downhill, I reached the starting point in much less time than it had taken to get to the top. Back in the grassy meadow I found two lovely Great  Spangled Fritillaries dancing among the flowers, and got a nice shot of them. It was beastly hot, but I drove to Warm Springs, and sweaty as I was, stopped at the art gallery there to see if it was open, which it was. I made my purchase and drove back to the Red House, getting there just in time--a severe storm broke as I went into the house.

The wind and thunder were ferocious and the rain came down in buckets (neighboring Highland County recorded a rate of two inches per hour). The power went out a few minutes into the storm, and the outage lasted about three hours. I ate a cold dinner by candlelight that evening, since I couldn't reheat my leftovers, and put a pan in the kitchen to catch the drips from the roof.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Bear Loop Trail

Rhododendrons on the road to Ingalls Airport.

Judy had recommended hiking on the Bear Loop Trail at the top of the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve. This is located beside Ingalls Airport, a small airport which bills itself as the highest airport east of the Mississippi. I set out hoping that I might get to see some native rhododendrons and azaleas in bloom. The native flame azalea in my garden had bloomed just two weeks earlier, but with this mountainous area being higher in elevation and cooler, the chances of these plants blooming a few weeks later was a good possibility.

I was not disappointed--driving along the road to the airport I could see rhododendrons in bloom dotting the rocky outcrops. I parked at the designated area by the trailhead and set out around 11 or so in the morning, with sketching gear in my backpack. I noted other plants along the way as I entered the Bear Loop: highbush blueberries, wood vetch, a lone Pinxster azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), which usually blooms earlier, was still displaying blossoms, and it had these strange galls that looked like small apples. I later found out that these galls, called Pinxster apples, are caused by a fungus, Exobasidium vaccinii, that Pinxster azaleas are particularly susceptible to.


Pinxster azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) with galls.
HIghbush Blueberry blossoms (Vaccinium corymbosum)

I was looking for  a nice specimen of the native Rhododendron, R. catawbiense, which blooms at this time of the year, and found an amazing array of them here! These display quite a variety of flower shades from deep purple-rose to light pink. The buds are usually darker, almost magenta, before the flowers open to a lighter color.



I found one waist-high bush where the flowers would be at eye level while I sat on my small camping stool, and parked myself in the shade off the trail to sketch. After hurriedly blocking in the flowers and a few leaves, I was ready to start with watercolor, but my small Sennelier set didn't seem to have the right hues to reproduce the exact color of the flowers--the best I could do was to approximate it with a Rose Madder Lake that made them look too rosy.


Field sketch of Rhododendron catawbiense, bug stains included.


Still, it was challenging and fun to try to capture the flowers as faithfully as possible, their shapes and the lighting; it took me about an hour or so to get this far. By that time I was famished and went to look for the sandwich I'd brought only to realize that I'd left it in my car! Oh well, I wasn't too far into the trail, I could walk back and get it. It was now around 1:30 and the car was very hot--I decided to walk up to the airport to use the toilet and eat lunch in air-conditioned comfort on one of their easy chairs. While there I chatted with the lone airport manager--he told me he was usually the only one there, but today his wife was helping, mowing the area around the runway. The day's air traffic consisted of three or four small planes landing, and a couple of SUV's who picked up the passengers.


Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)

Here's a photo of some lovely Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) that was growing right by the base of the rhododendron I painted. Another related plant,  false Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum), was growing lushly by the side of the trail. Bowman's root was also in flower.

False Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

Bowman's root (Gillenia trifoliata) in flower.

By the time I resumed my hike on the trail it was after two. Once I passed the spot where I'd done my sketch, more and more rhododendrons in all shades began to appear, some tree-sized! But where were the flame azaleas? There should be some around here too.

Rhododendron catawbiense

Flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceae)

Toward the northern end of the loop, I finally found some thickets with flame azaleas. Odd, how these plants seemed to grow isolated from the other Rhododendrons, in shadier places. Many were tree-size--nothing like my poor garden's lovingly cultivated yet still puny specimen. The alkaline soils of the northern Shenandoah valley don't provide the type of acidic, moist and humusy environment these plants favor. Here they were in their native element! They exhibited many variations in color too, from pale yellow to deep orange.


Flame azalea

There were areas where the Rhododendrons covered the shady sides of the trail, making it look like God's own botanical garden, untouched by human hands, despite the signs of prescribed burns. No wonder Scottish plantsman George Fraser, who first collected these plants on Roan Mountain in North Carolina in 1809, was so taken with them! One of these days, I too, hope to visit the Roan Highland balds to see that amazing sight, maybe next year? This is more than enough beauty for me for now...

The northern portion of the loop

Rhododendrons under red oaks

Tall flame azaleas.

There were lots of mountain laurels here too, still in bud. Personally, I think the pink buds with their star-like shapes are probably more attractive than even the open flowers themselves.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

At the extreme point on the northern end of the loop, there were some steep drop-offs offering spectacular views of the Allegheny mountains and valleys.

The view from the Bear Loop Trail framed with mountain laurel.

I could have stayed here all day, but my feet were giving out. The trail is measured as roughly three miles long, but with my backtracking, I'd probably done closer to four miles by now. I'd almost taken a wrong turn down the mountain on another trail, but turned around once I found a sign with the right blaze.

The sun was getting lower on the horizon when I spotted a small black bear crossing the path some twenty yards ahead of me. Was there a momma bear with junior, or was he an abandoned juvenile? Not taking any chances, I yelled out, "Yo, bear!" as loud as I could, and the startled youngster turned around to look at me, then ran off into the forest. Whew! I continued to berate the bear loudly long after he was gone, just in case.


Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)


The rest of my hike was uneventful, spotting only one lone native Columbine flower on the way out.