Monday, July 28, 2008

Birds and Bugs with Doug

(Doug Taron and Kathie. Photo by Gus 7-26-08)
Click on photos to enlarge for best viewing.

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.

While there are many birds in the wash our focus today is on the insects they dine on. Still, we couldn't ignore this Gila woodpecker that perched nearby scolding us from his perch.

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)
(Long-horned beetle photo by kathie, 70-300mm lens)

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.

The sky grows darker while the guys watch the game, then Doug inquires if I would like to try black lighting in the wash. Heck yeah! We pack up his gear and I change my shoes once again before heading out the front door and across the street. We walk back down toward the barbed wire opening trying to decide where we might find two trees to string a rope across and hang the sheet from. Then Doug decides that barbed wire fence might just do the trick for us.

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.

(Close-up of a White-lined Sphinx Moth hyles lineata. Doug says they are as common as Dandelions but I am excited to see them anyway. )

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.

(Rustic Sphinx manduca rustica photo by Kathie 18-70mm lens 7-26-08)

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.

When we returned to the indoor lights we discovered this hitchhiker riding on Doug's shirt. You can see how big it is compared to his shoulder. I have never seen any moth other than a Luna moth that was this big.

(Colorado River Toad photo by Kathie 7-26-08)

As Doug stepped out the front door to leave, look who was waiting there in the corner catching insects that were drawn to the light. "Wow! they're bigger than they appear on your blog," Doug exclaimed. Yep. Pretty darn big. Perhaps I should put a shoe outside and turn on the light, just so I can take a photo that will put the size of these poison Colorado River Toads , bufo alvarius, also known as Sonoran Desert Toads, in scale for you. They are very big: 7 inches from nose to rump and that does not include their legs! What a way to say good-bye. I chased the toad across the front of the garage trying to get another good picture. Later, after Doug left, Gus went to take Blossom out the front door for her last good-night stroll of the evening. Mr. Toad was sitting there waiting for insects again, so Gus let blossom out the backdoor instead. We also found tow other White-lined sphinx moths that somehow got loose in the house. I captured them carefully and released them out the backdoor into the mysterious night.


Larry said...

That moth collecting method is cool! I never really thought about doing something like that but I might try it.-Red Sox fans-Now you're talking! Go Sox! I'm glad that they came back to take game 3 from the yanks.-What's up with Manny being Manny?

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, I don't know. You'll have to ask Gus and Doug. I did over hear them talking about him (I think), but yes, Gus was glad they won last night. I'm recording the game for him tonight as he is still at work when the game starts due to the 3 hour time difference!

kjpweb said...

That is way cool! After finding a Luna Moth my interest in Moths has definitely increased - and this method sounds promising!
Can't wait for tomorrow!
Cheers, Klaus

Shelley said...

Really enjoyed your moth adventure! Didn't think they could get that big!!

abb said...

What a great way to get great photos! Those moths are beautiful! Is that toad really poisonous to humans and dogs??

DeniseinVA said...

Hi Kathie, great blog and I thank you so much for taking us on this evening stroll. You both certainly had a lot of fun. Fascinating. Thanks a lot.

Beth said...

what a great experience. You made me feel like I was there! I loved the picture of the rustic sphinx, he looks like he has lace on his wings. That toad has decided to call your house "home".

Anonymous said...

You live in such an interesting and diverse area, and what fun to have a fellow nature nut (excuse me, I meant blogger) to share it with. Very cool moths!

Pappy said...

Home made pizza pie? Now, that's not fair. I'm going to put my name on the guest list if you keep it up. The sheet and light just gave me an idea for another post. Looks like y'all had a great time. Pappy

Kathie Brown said...

klaus, does this mean we will be seeing moth photos on your web site soon???

shellmo, I was surprised too.

tsannie, yes it is. I've added a few links on these pages and one of them reports that dogs can get paralyzed or even die from licking or mouthing these toads. Gallicissa in Sri Lanka also commented that he got sick from handling one of these toads before. He says he's learned his lesson. I hope so!

Denise, welcome! And thank you for stopping by and commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.

Beth, those moths are amazingly beautiful. I agree with you. There's nothing "rustic" about it. Perhaps it should have been called a Victorian Lace Wing! They need you and I to name them, don't you think!

Wren, it is so much fun to have someone who enjoys your passion or who knows even more than you do to help you see a familiar place in a new way, though this place never gets dull for me! Doug helped me see things I largely ignored before.

Texican, If you are ever out this way, just let me know, we might add you to that list! Now I'll have to come check out your blog to see what this sheet idea inspired!

Texas Travelers said...

If you see Doug again, tell him Troy said hello and keep an eye out for Tiger Beetles.

Great post and photos.


Markus Latva-aho said...

Hi! Great and fun looking bug trip. Very nice photos you gathered.

TR Ryan said...

How great that you two met! Sounds like an adventurous evening. So those are the toads of toad-licking fame -- can you imagine people lick them to get a hallucinogenic high. Hope I'm not giving you any ideas!

Amila Salgado said...

So you have had your first meeting with a fellow blogger!

I love these insects. The Long-nosed butterfly and Rustic Sphinx look great.

me ann my camera said...

This sounds like an incredibly happening adventure! And what fascinating insect species you found!
Great pictures and great details, a fascinating read.

Kathie Brown said...

Troy, I will. If I have any of the names wrong on this post, please let me know! I didn't write them down when Doug left so I went out on the internet to do the best I could. I don't even know where to start to find the names of the beetles! (Except maybe Paul, George, John and Ringo (groan!))

system operator, thank you! Nice to see you again!

t.r., it was fun. I'm glad we could work it out. I actually met another blogger, Beth, while I was in Maine this past month. I plan to post about that meeting soon.

Gallicissa, we had such fun. Don't quote me as an authority on those butterfly and moth names though.

meannmycamera, glad you enjoyed it. You know your butterflies and moths far better than I. I hope you aren't busting a gut over this post!

Doug Taron said...

Hi Kathie,

Thanks so much for your hospitality on Saturday. I've been away from Internet access so I'm just now getting back to things. Saturday was such a special event for me. It was so nice to meet you and Gus in person, the blacklighting was fun and the pizza was wonderful. I'm hoping to get another post up soon about my further Arizona adventures. Your phptos look great as always. The only identification that I have to add is the big black beetle with the very long antennae. It's Stenapsis solitarius, no common name. Thanks again for a wonderful time.