- Jun 20, 2020
Dragonflies are one of my favorite harbingers of summer. Especially the common green darner (Anax junius). The latin name translates to master and lord of June which I find fitting. You might agree, if you've ever watched one hawking over a wetland. Adult dragonflies are extraordinary fliers and voracious predators, able to move in all directions, change course in a flash and hover before zipping after prey like mosquitos and other flying insects. In the aquatic larval stage, dragonfly nymphs are fierce predators and equally adept in movement. They are well adapted for ambush hunting and will eat most anything that moves including other other aquatic insect larvae, even tadpoles and small fish! Depending on the species, the larval stage can last for several years, with the exoskeleton shed multiple times before emerging into terrestrial life as adults. Happy Solstice, everyone. Enjoy the days ahead.
- Mar 14, 2020
The American badger (Taxidea taxus) belongs to the mustelidae family along with weasels and wolverines (and skunks and mink). They are carnivores and feed on smaller mammals like voles, mice and chipmunks. In the U.S., it ranges from western to central states using a variety of open habitats such as prairies or old fields.
Badgers are one of ~130 species of mammals that use delayed implantation as a reproductive strategy, mating mid- to late summer with implantation delayed until winter. Cubs, also called kits, are born in spring when it is warmer and more food is available to feed them. The family unit remains together until fall.
If you are out and about in open grassy habitats and happen on a hole in the ground similar in size and shape to a football with an adjacent mound of dirt, it may be a badger den. Take note, keep your distance and move on.
- Feb 22, 2020
I could hardly believe my ears and doubted what I heard until my eyes caught a familiar flash of blue against the backdrop of tannish winter stems. I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who made note of how the bluebird carries the sky on his back and the earth on his belly - or something like that. Regardless, it's perfect inspiration for exploring the blues and oranges in my watercolor palette. Zippity doo dah, zippity day, indeed!
- May 1, 2019
Years ago I took a writing class where we were advised to first make a mess. I've adopted that advice as a mantra in keeping a sketchbook. The first layer of these daisies was ugly, a real mess. But, I've learned if I keep going, things usually get better. In continuing though there is also a risk of overworking a sketch and losing it. Thus another mantra for keeping a sketchbook, leave it.
- Apr 1, 2019
If you ever have the early spring opportunity to watch or listen in on the happening of a prairie chicken lek during mating season, I highly recommend it. But prepare yourself for a walk in the dark - with strangers. At least that's how it worked at the Nature Conservancy's Dunn Ranch, roughly 3,000 acres of protected grassland in northern Missouri.
Arrive early. Take a walk. Settle yourself in the strategically placed viewing blind. Wait.
You will hear them before you see them. A quiet hum from the dark signals the mating ritual is underway. The sound for me is reminiscent of bumble bee breath (or brahmari pranayama), an age old yogic breathing practice. And like bumble bee breathing, I find it soothing as it wafts across the prairie to find my ears in the blind just before sunrise. The bright orange gular air sacs are what's behind the booming, a word often used to describe the hum. The fleshy bright pouches are inflated and released forcefully to create the sound which isn't super boomy but is effective nonetheless.
As the sun breaks the horizon, the prairie chickens, collectively called a "little house", become visible. Males stomp and boom in an attempt to capture the attention of hens on the lek. Competition is evident as squabbles and skiffs erupt between the males. After several hours, the birds are off for a snack and to rest before returning later in the day to continue the dance.
Prairie chickens are in the grouse family and are best known for this mating ritual. In Iowa, these interesting birds have been displaced by the massive conversion of prairie to agriculture. Check them out for reals if you have the chance. And if that's not your jam, enjoy a video clip here.
- Mar 1, 2019
When bouquets of tulips in shades of purple and pink show up at the local market late winter, it's hard to resist bringing a handful of stems home. The colorful cup-shaped blooms have a way of brightening the last days of winter especially when the season of white has been particularly harsh (or at least seemed that way). Tulips are in the lily family (Liliaceae) and belong to the genus Tulipa. It will be weeeeeeeks yet before these bulbiferous geophytes even think about stirring in Iowa where, as the saying goes, March is arriving like a lion. A very grumpy lion. In the meantime, there are market tulips. Hanging in there, friends. Only twenty-one more days 'til Spring, right?