I waited anxiously on Saturday afternoon for the arrival of Doug Taron from Gossamer Tapestry. Doug is in town for an insect conference and we made arrangements to meet a few weeks ago. Now the day has arrived, the house has been cleaned and Gus and I have just returned from a trip to the store to buy the pizza cheese and a few other items. I have recently started using block mozzarella and shredding it myself when I learned that pre-shredded cheese is coated with plastic to keep the pieces from sticking to each other. I am in the middle of putting away dishes when the doorbell rings. Gus and I both greet Doug and welcome him into the house. One of the first things Doug notices is Gus' Red Sox T-shirts. Gus is an avid Red Sox fan and has been since he was a child. It turns out Doug is also a Red Sox Fan, having grown up in that area, so he and Gus discuss baseball while Gus gives him a tour of the backyard and I shred cheese and whip up the pizza dough. We have been making our own homemade pizza for over 25 years and chose to serve it to Doug tonight. After the backyard tour, with the dough rising, Doug and I set off to see Sycamore Canyon Wash. I trade my sandals for my hiking shoes and don my hat and binoculars. With my camera hanging from my shoulder strap we cross the street and enter the canyon.
(Sycamore Canyon scoured by flood waters photo by Kathie 7-26-08)
This is the first time I have actually entered the canyon since the big flash flood earlier this week. I am impressed with the new landscaping created by the scouring waters of the flash flood. Parts of the cliff have been scooped out even deeper and new channels have been carved. Piles of debris are stacked here and there along the banks and wrapped around tree trunks. It is a whole new world for me, but houses and the cliffs above keep me oriented. a few clouds drift overhead on this warm day. When a few sprinkles fall from the clouds I wrap my D80 in the plastic bag I stuffed in my pocket as we headed out the door.
(American Snout butterfly photo by kathie 70-300mm lens, 7-26-08)
One of the first insects we find is this long-nosed butterfly. I'm amazed by it's silvery wings and compound eye. Their wings do have a spot of orange in them, but that photo did not come out.
Doug found these insects with piercing mouth parts that penetrate the cactus pads and fruit in order to suck out the nutritious liquid inside.
This orange beetle in a yellow flower is a bright spot in the day.
(click to enlarge)
I spotted some motion around the top of a mesquite tree that quickly attracted Doug's attention. A long-horned beetle hovered near the top branches back lit by the setting sun. We chased it around the tree trying to get a photo with the sun on the insect but it would not cooperate. Still, this silhouette shows how long it's antennae really are. By now I am sure the pizzas are ready and Gus must be getting hungry so we head back to the house. Sure enough, the two pizza pies wait on the counter, already to go into the oven. Gus and Doug sit down to watch the Red Sox game Gus has recorded while I quickly upload photos onto the computer to show Doug. Soon we are eating steaming hot pizza and chatting around the big screen TV.
We hang the white sheet across this bit of barbed wire fence that is used to discourage Off Road Vehicles from entering the wash. Doug says the wash acts like a super highway for the insects providing an uncluttered flyway as they go about their nighttime business. I watch as Doug gets out the rest of the gear to set up the black light and attach it to its power source, a portable but heavy battery pack he carries around with him. We have a bit of a brief shower that temporarily slows things down, and I have to stow my camera in Doug's backpack to protect it from moisture, but once it is over it isn't long before the insects start to arrive. A few beetles and smaller moths come first, but then the larger insects start to show up.
The moths and other insects collect on the white sheet that hangs over the barbed wire. You can just see the black light shining through from the other side. The moths would get so frantic that some of them beat themselves against the ground, or worse, against my ankles! Yuk. I'm sorry but I jumped like a girl. Unknown insect wings in the dark are a little hard to take, but it was worth it. Almost all the larger moths seen here are white lined Sphinx moths, the only name I can remember.
This big beautiful guy was the prize of the night. I wanted to take its picture but was afraid it would fly away before Doug could collect it. Doug assured me it would be alright and it was. I was so excited by the whole process. I snapped a few photos and then into the jar it went. Finally jet lag got to Doug and we decided to call it a night. I'm afraid I could have stayed out there for hours enjoying the mysteries of the night. Who knew there was all this activity happening while I sleep soundly nearby in my (mostly) bug free house! We shut off the black light, shook out the sheet and headed back to my house with Doug's head lamp lighting the way for us until we reached the sidewalk again.
(Colorado River Toad photo by Kathie 7-26-08)