27 February 2011

Metallic Green Bee

Shortly after I moved into my house in Maricopa, AZ nearly 5 years ago, I was working on installing a new drip irrigation system. Our yard was just dirt (literally!), as were most of our neighbors at that time.

While testing the system a bit of water squirted out. And within a few minutes, I noticed a beautiful green bug landing to sip some of the water.

Amazed that a bit of water would attract a bug so quickly, and surprised by its metallic color, I grabbed my camera and was able to snap a quick photo.
Metallic Green Bee, Agapostemon sp.

This bee is an Agapostemon tyleri (or perhaps Agapostemon melliventris) but definitely an Agapostemon.  The photo just wasn't sharp enough to get the details needed for a clear identification.

These bees nest in the ground, usually solitarily in vertical burrows.  In the summer I can usually locate about 6 to 12 burrows on my yard, most of which are very near flowers.  (And this is good news because I'd really like to get some better photos of them).

I've had a surprisingly difficult time finding detailed life history on these bees - it just goes to show how little is documented (or documented in easily accessible forms) in the bug and insect world.

24 February 2011

Greater Roadrunner

Last week's post mentioned that the highlight of a recent outing were the numerous Black-tailed Jackrabbits. Well, a close second was a nice encounter with a Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx Californianus, running across the wide path, which with artistic license, I'll call a road.

Coming around a bend in the path, I noticed a bit of movement to the left and saw this:

Greater Roadrunner

Of course, that is the long tail of the Roadrunner poking out. A few seconds later it emerged on the path, er, road, and sprinted across:

Greater Roadrunner on road

In fact, the bird even took flight briefly, something that roadrunners don't like to do, and I've only seen four or five times. Of course, that explains why you occasionally see them in trees, such as the case here a couple of years ago:

Greater Roadrunner in tree

Roadrunners are another amazing bird with a number of interesting habitats, including cooperative hunting of snakes. I've always had my best luck in seeing them in Arizona between January and March, though they are year-round residents of much of the southwest. Check out this prior Roadrunner post for more information.

19 February 2011

Size Doesn't Matter for Spiders

This is an 'oldie but goodie' from my files back from 2005 when I lived in Omaha, NE.

One evening I spotted a beetle (a Phyllophaga species, aka June Beetle) struggling in a spider web in my garage. It was a large beetle - maybe 3/4 of an inch. Having caught my attention, I figured it would be a good subject for my burgeoning photography hobby.

I snapped a few photos and while getting set up I immediately noticed a small Cobweb Spider (perhaps Steatoda triangulosa per feedback on Bugguide) feverishly attempting to sedate the beetle. Quite an amazing site to watch!

Beetle Caught in Orb Weaver Web

Now, my interest back then was not what it is today, so I spent maybe 5 or 10 minutes watching and photographing, and never checked back to see how it all 'turned out', though I must say it didn't look promising for the beetle.

Update: I mistakenly hit 'publish' on this post when I meant to schedule it for a future date and edit it further. I made further edits to this post today, Sunday Feb 20.  And be sure to check out the Macro Monday share for more nature (and other) macro photos from around the world.

17 February 2011

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

I recently took my daughter on a picnic to Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler, AZ. This park combines walking and hiking paths with a urban fishing lake, a man-made waterfall, and a number of recharge basins.

As a relatively new park, the landscaping is immature and there is a lot of future potential. On a side note, I've been a bit discouraged that they haven't planted a few more riparian trees and shrubs, but that is a topic for another day.

I was hoping to give my daughter some nice close-up views of ducks and coots, but the highlight of the day ended up being the numerous jackrabbits:

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Noon-time photography makes for some harsh photos, but you can still see a black tail
with streak extending up towards its back - a prime identifying quality of a Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus.

Black-tailed jackrabbits are quite large - reaching 18" in height and up to 6 pounds. Their large ears are thought to help with thermoregulation. And their powerful legs can propel them to 20 foot leaps and 35 miles per hour.

Black-tailed jackrabbits are probably the most common jackrabbit in the Phoenix area, though an occasional (and larger!) Antelope Jackrabbit may be encountered (I saw one a Papago Park in the middle of the city one time).

These fun to watch rabbits inhabit much of the western USA, whereas most other jackrabbits are limited to certain fringe habitats.

14 February 2011

A New Addition to the Nature's Archive Family

My wife and I are proud to announce the arrival of our new baby girl! Coupled with an active three year old, we have our hands full.

I hope to continue weekly postings as much as possible, but obviously family comes first.

Please continue to check back often, or subscribe to the Nature's Archive RSS feed and get automatic updates when I post new entries.

13 February 2011

Green Lacewing - In Our Refrigerator!?

A few weeks ago I posted about a tiny egg that seemed to defy gravity.  That was the egg of a Green Lacewing, a beneficial insect that often targets aphids as its meal.  At that time I promised to follow up with some adult photos since these are so common in my yard.

Well, the weather turned cold and several freezes, including some low 20's, all but eradicated the Green Lacewings from the yard. 

So I was surprised when I opened my refrigerator the other night to find one in the refrigerator!  Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity and grabbed my camera and snapped a few photos.  I wasn't thinking clearly and was in a rush (I was just stopping home for a few minutes while my wife and newborn were in the hospital).  So depth of field and other fundamentals were thrown out the window, but I did manage one usable shot, albeit not with the depth of field I should have been able to get.

Green Lacewing

For those interested in Macro photos, check out Macro Monday, which covers all things macros (not just nature).

10 February 2011

Hooded Merganser

As I've talked about before, I live in Maricopa, AZ, a town of around 35,000 south of Phoenix. We are surrounded by open desert, with Native American reservations on two or three sides (depending on how you look at it).

Many towns in this part of Arizona have been excellent birding spots, acting as 'vagrant magnets' and oasis in the desert. Casa Grande, for example, has had interesting finds, such as Northern Jacana. Arizona City is another spot where birders occasionally make interesting discoveries.

Arizona City and Casa Grande are right off of I-10, and have a track record among birders. If these similar sized towns can attract interesting birds, why not Maricopa?

For this reason I was excited to participate in the 2011 Phoenix Area Aquatic Bird Survey, administered by Arizona Game and Fish. These sorts of thorough bird counts can result in interesting discoveries.

My search didn't result in any rarities, but did turn up some slightly less-than-common species, including the Hooded Merganser below.

Hooded Merganser
Hooded Merganser is a medium/large sized duck with an amazing white crest that it can raise and lower.  In the photo above, the crest is pretty much lowered.

While not rare, I was not expecting to see any Mergansers on my survey, so this was a nice addition.  This Merganser was on a small neighborhood pond congregating with a few other Mergansers and a couple of Buffleheads.

One nice side-effect of this bird survey was that I got to 're-learn' duck photography.  It had been almost a year since I've been out photographing ducks, and I'd forgotten that even slow swimming ducks need a surprisingly fast shutter speed for sharp photos.  Needless to say I ended up with way too many out-of-focus shots.

06 February 2011

Robber Fly

Late last summer I had this odd fly perching in my yard. It was fairly large, and very conspicuous.
Robber Fly

Robber FlyThis fly is known as a Robber Fly, from the family Asilidae. I'm not sure of the exact species.

Like many of the insects and bugs I've profiled, this one is a voracious predator. Robber flies are known to even attack larger bees and wasps! In fact, some robber flies will even take on dragonflies.

They use their spiny legs to help clutch their prey, and then will literally suck the prey to death.

As always, I welcome any assistance in identifying the species.

03 February 2011

An Owl Ball

I was out participating in the Phoenix Area Aquatic Bird Count in mid January, and after several hours of focusing on area ponds and canals in Maricopa (Pinal County), a non-aquatic bird caught my eye.

From a distance it looked a bit like a large ground dove or Inca Dove. But something wasn't quite right.  When I trained my binoculars on it I saw a balled up Burrowing Owl.

Burrowing Owl

The Owl was sitting on a drainage grate that diverts storm water into a grassy retention basin.  The grate was askew, so presumably it is using this man-made structure as its home.

Since moving to Arizona I have been surprised at the places that Burrowing Owls turn up.   Owls are generally reclusive or retiring species, and overall Burrowing Owls are on the decline.  But in Maricopa, I've seen them at a gas station, in my yard, in nearby farm fields, and numerous in some of the defunct/bankrupt half-started sub-divisions.  This owl was in a small park with a pond and children's play equipment.  I'm especially surprised at this one and the one by the gas station since those are both locations with lots of human activity.