Tuesday, September 30, 2014


No walk.

No photo.

No post.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Yes! A Thousand Times Yes!

Sometimes intentional walking meets success. 

A quick trip to Day Lake (Lake Dimmick) with one purpose in mind: stalking the Clamp-tipped Emerald. Same time, same small canal as last week, same hope of finding something spectacular.

A long time waiting, a long time slowly pacing, a long time looking, and then . . . this happened.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saturday and Sunday: Three Good Things about One Quick Birmingham Overnight

An unexpected historical marker at the largest and most beautiful welcome center in Alabama.

History at a rest stop. Who knew?

Family gathered on a new front porch to meet me upon arrival, Halloween decorations in evidence.

A sleepy bee on lantana, which clung to the dog's tail when Betsy (the dog) was a bit too enthusiastic about seeing it.

Cue laughter.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pie in the Sky

Suddenly, new signs have cropped up on 41A: Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways: Pie in the Sky, MoonPies to Mountain Highs Trail. Curious, I Googled the sign and found this site. A long and winding route, this promises a fascinating journey I need to take.

I'm pleased to see these stops featured and wonder if other local folks have run right home to the computer as I did. I hope so!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

One *Big* Bug

On my way uphill to the car, I saw something huge flying, glimmering and flapping. I watched where it landed, waited a moment, and then headed slowly toward it.

Here's what I saw.

I have always wanted to see one of these big guys fly, and now words fail me. Someone else's video will have to do:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

That Kind of Day

when sky is so blue you remember if only a moment that it's only blue for us on Earth and not black and this blue is ultramarine and sun so bright it casts hard shadows all day sparkling water and burning fall leaves and grasses like dry ice, cool and hot colors all at once so creatures slip in and our like beach bathers only in search of heat not a tan, and my camera lens can't determine if there's too much light or not enough, and everything looks beautiful, especially the two Clamp-tipped Emeralds, those big dragonflies I see up close and personal for the very first time:

that's the kind of day it was.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Seeing *Is* Believing

What the camera saw in Abbo's Alley this afternoon.

What I saw.

Who's to say which is "seeing"?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autumnal Equinox

9:29 PM CT tonight.

But fall has already begun with wind, cool temperatures, and a profusion of browns, reds, and golds.

It even brought a migratory visitor to Lake Dimmick. Though I can't prove it (because he never lit where I could find him), a Twelve-spotted Skimmer blew through, teasing me three times, diving right toward me and then soaring upward.

Other evidence do, however, prove fall's glorious jewel-like colors and defining shadows.

Let the fun begin!

Sunday, September 21, 2014


The way a bobby pin clips hair in place: that's the way my Bell Buckle friends F and TJ hold me -- gently, firmly.

The way the American Rubyspot holds to a leaf above water in strong wind: that's the way I hold to F and TJ -- gently, firmly.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Morning of Darners

Up early to work and walk on a cool morning, wind full on at the lake.

Then this happened.

When I reached the dam, around the other end, I stirred five more
Common Green Darners from their slumber.

Lesson learned.

I need to get out more often before 9 AM.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Some Fascinating Odonate Information

Courtesy of National Geographic, April 2006

Grab, shake, bite, puncture, punch—that's just the courtship ritual of these dazzling aerobats.
By Jennifer Ackerman
You may have seen their antics on a languid summer day: Somewhere on the reedy fringes of a pond, a male dasher dragonfly pursuing a female, like two hyphens of lightning. Or a tiger-striped spiketail diving, twirling, flashing its gossamer wings, then in a blink, meeting a mate to ascend together into the ether. Or a linked pair of brilliant green darners hovering as one over the dark water, the male towing the female, darting forward, then back, then straight up with the kind of aerial agility of which we masters of the helicopter can only dream.
From a distance, dragonfly rituals of courtship and sex look harmless, even romantic. But a close look at their mating game reveals a harsher tale of sexual harassment and conflict. Take the jewelwing Calopteryx splendens. Some males dispense with courtship altogether and just snatch unwary females while they're warming in the sun—even immature ones, shimmer-fresh after emergence from their larval youth. Others, called "stealers," attack and split mating pairs by ramming, pulling, and biting them; still others, "water lurkers," grab a female in the midst of egg laying so they can have their way with her, even if she drowns in the process. Females, for their part, attempt to escape this boorish behavior by flipping, zigzagging, spiraling upward or downward, submerging in water, fleeing at high speed, or fighting back, sometimes murderously.
Why such a war between the sexes? Scientists seeking clues to the answer are finding in dragonflies a bizarre mix of cooperation and conflict, instinct and experience, which may explain not just their odd reproductive habits but also their dazzling diversity of colors and species.
When my grandmother was growing up, dragonflies were known as devil's darning needles and horse stingers, considered an annoyance by some, a danger by others. In many places the insects are still under suspicion, dubbed finger cutter, horse killer, ear stick, and eye pisser. They are poisonous. They will sew together your lips. They will crawl into your ear and penetrate your brain. They will sting you. They will bite you. They will bring you rotten luck, or worse.
"Not so," says Philip Corbet, a biologist from Cornwall in England. "Dragonflies are neither nuisance nor danger—that is, unless you're a mosquito." Or another dragonfly.
Corbet is fixed on a pair of elegant blue-tailed damselflies on the sunny bank of a small lake in Spain—one azure, one ocher, "both from the species Ischnura graellsi, renowned for having females of more than one color," he says, and also, for the male's distinctly "ungallant" behavior. "To secure a copulation, a male will seize a flying female and sometimes even bite her wings at the base."
This pair, however, is locked in an embrace that can only be described as an ersatz heart.
Anyone who has watched dragonflies mating in the bright air has seen a wonder of evolution, Corbet says. Odonates, as they're called, or "toothed ones," have been around for more than 300 million years, which has given them time to figure all the angles on sex. Judged by their longevity and diversity (6,000 species) and the scope of their distribution (every continent except Antarctica), they're one of nature's great reproductive success stories.
Corbet brings his net close to the coupled pair. He keeps the net's shadow low, then whips the net over with a quick flick of the wrist. Such skillful fliers are dragonflies and damselflies that they often make a mockery of such efforts at capture. (The difference between a damsel and dragon, in a nutshell, is that the damsel is small and slender and holds its wings over its back when at rest; the more robust dragonfly holds its wings outspread.) But Corbet is a master. As a child of six, he fell helplessly in love with the insects. Now in his 70s, with two wings of snow-white hair and a full white beard, he is the doyen of dragonflies and author of the "bible" on the subject.
He pulls the male out of the net and turns him upside down to look at his genital organs.
At the tip of the male's abdomen are its testes; at its base, behind its legs, is a penis and a small swollen pouch for storing sperm. Male dragonflies sport two sets of sex organs, the prerequisite equipment for a mating system that is unique in the insect world. Before he copulates, a male dragonfly must in essence self-inseminate, moving his sperm from the testes to the storage pouch and into the penis. Here comes the tricky part. He must grip a female by the head or thorax and hold her in the tandem position, with claspers at the tip of his abdomen that fit neatly, like a lock and key, with a special plate on her thorax or behind her eyes.
"If it seems that dragonfly biologists are inordinately preoccupied with sex, they may be excused," Corbet says. Sexual behavior is key to understanding how dragonfly species got to be the way they are. And sexual organs are key to their identity. "Slight differences in this clasperplate system are what define some species that are otherwise nearly impossible to distinguish."
Once the pair is in tandem, and the female is receptive to the overtures of her suitor, she will curl the tip of her abdomen around to bring her vagina in touch with his penis, working the pair into that heartlike copulatory position.
"It's a jolly difficult business," says Corbet, "and there's much speculation about how it evolved." Some experts believe that the male originally placed his sperm package on the ground. This was risky, given what Corbet calls the "predatory proclivity" of some female dragonflies to banquet off their partners. Males may have adopted the tandem position to protect themselves from becoming their lovers' prey. Over the ages they evolved ways of keeping their sperm packages safely tucked under their abdomens and, eventually, a complex genital "sperm bank" for storing it there.
So, too, they evolved strategies for effectively guarding their mates and fending off rivals. After sex, many pairs do not disengage but fly about in tandem, the male guarding the female by continuing to grasp her while she lays her eggs. This may serve the female, protecting her from clamoring suitors so she can oviposit in peace.
But there's nothing chivalrous about male sexual behavior. Some males embrace females with spiny claspers in a viselike grip that causes damage. Look closely at the eyes of a female darner, and you may well see dark puncture marks. This sort of abuse appears widespread among some dragonflies. In one study of 12 species of clubtails by Sidney Dunkle, a biologist then at the University of Florida, 88 to 100 percent of all females had holes in their heads, caused by a male's iron hold. The aptly named dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus) earned the dubious distinction of inflicting more severe damage than any other dragonfly: The spines of his appendages gouged the female's eyes, punctured and split her exoskeleton, and pierced her head, so that a "maximally damaged" female had as many as six holes of varying sizes punched in her head.
Grab, shake, bite, gouge, puncture, split, punch: It's enough to put anyone off sex.
In a brilliant experiment some years ago, Jonathan Waage of Brown University discovered the Rosetta stone to this strange mating behavior. Waage studied the jewelwing damselflyCalopteryx maculata. First he examined the sperm-storage organ of females after a couple of matings to determine whether sperm from a second mating was added to sperm from the first. He was surprised to find that the amount of sperm hadn't changed. Then he dissected pairs in the midst of copulation and studied their sex organs under an electron microscope. The experiment revealed that a male dragonfly uses his penis not just to transfer sperm to the female, but also to remove sperm left in her storage organ from previous matings. When he curls into that wheel position and begins his energetic genital thrusting, he's actually using his rigid, spoonlike, and sometimes spiky, penis to scrape out rival sperm before he deposits his own.
Such a ploy is necessary, Corbet says, because of female choice and sperm competition. A female nearly always mates with more than one male; it's in her interest to "upgrade" her fertilizations if she can, thereby exercising choice over the paternity of her offspring. Males want their sperm alone to prevail, so they have evolved strategies for purging other sperm and for discouraging mates from copulating with rivals. In this game of sexual chess, the last sperm into the female's storage organ wins by fertilizing her eggs.
Waage's discovery helps explain all sorts of cunning and perfidious dragonfly habits: why males harass females (to spread their sperm around); why they assume that weird heartlike copulatory position (the wheel facilitates the removal of rival sperm); why they guard females, and encourage them to lay eggs directly after mating.
This warring may have a surprisingly "creative" effect, says Ola Fincke, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oklahoma. "It may be a novel mechanism for generating the different colors found among some females," she says, "and even entirely new species." In Fincke's view, the brilliant diversity of dragonflies may arise not only from adaptation to ecological niches, as with the famous Galapagos finches, but also as a response to sexual conflict.
Fincke studies Enallagma damselflies, known in North America as bluets. Mature female bluets come in two colors, the more common green type and also blue, the usual color of males. Why would females of different colors be maintained in a population? Fincke suspects that sexual harassment offers an answer. To measure harassment in bluets, she uses the "damsel-on-a-stick" technique: She glues live females to a perch and places them at the edge of a small pond, where males congregate. "Females may be harassed as often as five times a minute," she says, "and not just by their own species, but by males of closely related species." Blue females suffer significantly less.
Studies show that females constantly hounded by suitors have lower fecundity. So, in the game of evolutionary one-upmanship, females may have evolved different color forms as a response to harassment. According to one hypothesis, a blue female would be hassled less because she looks like a male. Fincke has another explanation, with some startling implications.
"It may be that a female of rarer color doesn't get harassed as much," she posits, "not because she looks like a male but because she's a less familiar form of female and doesn't fit the male's 'search image' for a mate." In recent experiments, Fincke has shown that young males discover what a female looks like by exposure. If they're reared with green females, they choose to mate with green females; if they're reared with blue ones, they'll go for blue. This suggests a revolutionary idea. Male dragonflies learn; their sexual behavior is not hardwired but more flexible, more "intelligent" than anyone ever imagined.
Like most scientists, Fincke follows questions, one leading to another. In her view, sexual conflict may explain another perplexing mystery: the relatively swift evolution of bluet species—18 new species in the past 250,000 years. Speciation is still poorly understood, and the explosion of new species in this genus in particular is a conundrum. "How do you explain the rapid evolution of dozens of different species of blue-and-black damselflies, all of them occupying essentially the same ecological niche?" she asks. Fincke suspects that females with slightly different thoracic plates are favored in evolutionary terms, because male claspers of some species won't fit with them, so not as many males can harass them by taking them in tandem. In short, sexual harassment sparks the evolution of female plates that differ from the usual, which in turn triggers shifts in the shape of male claspers, in an evolutionary tango that gives rise to whole new species and unexpected variety.
The next time a pair of elegant jewelwing damselflies or feisty scarlet darters cavort in the flecked morning sun, consider it: evolution on the wing, in motion, right before your eyes.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Happy Accidents, Part 4

(Please note: For parts 1, 2, and 3, please follow the linked numbers.)

Just as I leaned in to snap a few photos of the beautiful yellow-green grasshopper (my favorite variety), James called from the opposite bank, "Love your wildflowers, Robley!"

"Me, too! Just love the College's new grounds manager!"

The flowers and stems set off the hopper to its best advantage, especially as it held its face up to the maroon and lime blossom cups.

But it was only after downloading and looking at the snaps on my computer screen that I realized an equally complementary and colorful creature lurked in the background. A caterpillar lounged just behind.

I really do love happy accidents, so much so that I hope to continue missing what's right there before my eyes. Even when they don't see, my camera does!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Two Firsts

On my way home from Chattanooga, I stopped briefly at Marion County Park on Nicajack Lake, a favorite spot for Odonate hunting, and today the site of two firsts.

  1. I spied my first Rambur's Forktail of the year! Unfortunately, he a female Eastern Pondhawk's lunch.

  2. I watched a Black Saddlebags hawk and perch, hawk and perch, hawk and perch, till finally he lit on a branch and stayed there. I took my first ever decent perching photos of the beautiful dragonfly, typically a swift and constant flier.

Sometimes it pays to get off the mountain.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kindred Spirits

Yesterday, despairing at the pond's stillness, I stood a long time, watching buzzards wheel in a gray sky, their silhouettes wheeling on silver water, until some smaller movement caught my eye.

A water strider, I thought, and looked more closely. To my surprise, I found a stink bug struggling with something else. The something else disappeared, and the stink bug struggled to right itself, circling and flailing in the water on its back.

I couldn't do nothing, so I walked to the edge of the water, stuck out my walking stick, slid it under the bug, lifted it, and offered it a bush stem. The stink bug sort of shook and then proceeded to climb up and around the leaves till it settled in the little bit of sun there was.

People don't like stink bugs, and in many places they're reproducing at an alarming rate, even invading people's houses. But I didn't think about what the bug was; I only knew that I couldn't just stand by and watch it drown.

When I got home and looked at the fuzzy pictures (shot as they were from some distance), I realized the aggressor had been a yellow jacket. How they landed in the water is beyond me, since neither is native to that element, especially at some five feet or so beyond the shore. But there they were, and there I just happened to be.

Sometimes -- like this time -- I believe myself odd. But then at others, I read about another odd person, as I did today in Julie Zickefoose's blog post, titled "The Squeaking Sphinx." How happy I am to know that there are kindred spirits out there in the world.

Become a moth, caterpillar, and thank your lucky stars Zickefoose came along. Be a stinker, if you must, shield bug, and thank your lucky stars I came along. 

We're the ones who "fool around with wild things." We "try to help them[;] and how they delight" us!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Another Spreadwing Kind of Day

This time, the Southern Spreadwings took their morning sun at the Day Lake Road Pond, wherever they could find it and however thin.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday SUN-day Celebration!

Sun's out, and the Swamp Spreadwings celebrate!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What to Do on Another (Mostly) Gray Day

Clean out a closet,
remove what shouldn't be there,
find a little patch of sunlight.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Too Much, Too Little

So orange, the zinnia burns the lens.

So misty, the water tower flattens.

Too much of one.
Too little of the other.

Surely the weeks of gray days must end.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Another Year to Celebrate!

My first great-niece celebrates her birthday again. It's hard to believe that just eleven years ago she joined the family.

May she always love and be loved!

Happy birthday, E!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's Coming

by James Wright

The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
There they are, the moon's young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Now, Then

At one moment
sky clears
blue emerges

at another moment
sky clouds
silvery-gray descends


Monday, September 8, 2014

Becoming Blurred

After mating quickly, Eastern Pondhawks separate -- the male to a nearby perch from which he watches for intruding males, the female to a resting place -- but again, quickly. Then just as quickly, she takes off, he trailing; she oviposits, he guards, their flying and her dipping so fast it's a blur beyond my eyes' and camera's skills.

From a distance, the metal beach bridge blends into the bushes beyond and the water before it, the encroaching lilies catching a little light. Where one was this last spring, now scads of the plants crowd the shoreline and water, dotting the surface and piercing the bottom, quick and fertile like the Pondhawks.

Though not so pretty. I worry. What does their fecundity bode for the future?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

At Lake Cheston, Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Reckon the folks who made this

and left these behind

say they love the outdoors?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Light Does

in early morning,
a sunny morning, 
one of the first 
so early 
in a long time, 
makes magic.

Friday, September 5, 2014



A former student, from many years ago, sent me a message that said, "You always were interested in advances in all areas. I recall in English class your telling us about black holes and what scientists were learning about them." I don't remember this, but I trust her. I have always wanted to know more, especially about the physical world.


In tenth grade, I sometimes spent lunch in the biology lab, not because I had to but because I wanted to. I looked, and looked, and looked at anything I put under the microscope. 


A camp friend posted a video on her Facebook today of Tim Minchin, an Australian musician/actor/comedian making a graduation speech. In his life list of "nine life lessons," he told the audience that science and art are not separate: "Science is not a body of knowledge nor belief system. It is just a term which describes humankind's incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome."


Another friend alerted me to a New Yorker article titled "Creativity Creep." Joshua Rothman writes, "This watchful, inner kind of creativity is not about making things but about experiencing life in a creative way; it's a way of asserting your own presence amidst the much larger world of nature, and of finding significance in that wider world. By contrast, our current sense of creativity is almost bound up with the making of stuff. If you have a creative imagination but don't make anything, we regard that as a problem -- we say that you're blocked. . . . Among the many things we lost when we abandoned the Romantic idea of creativity, the most valuable may have been the idea of creativity's stillness. If you're really creative, really imaginative, you don't have to make things. You just have to live, observe, think, and feel. Coleridge, in his poem "Frost at Midnight," uses, as his metaphor for the creative imagination, the frost, which freezes the evening dew into icicles 'quietly shining up at the quiet moon.' The poem begins: 'The Frost performs its secret ministry, / Unhelped by any wind.' The secret, silent, delicate, and temporary work of the frost is creativity, too. It doesn't build, but it transforms. It doesn't last, but it matters."


People always ask me two questions: "Do you sell your photographs?" and "Who is the intended audience for your blog?"

I want to answer What does it matter?

What matters is that both transform.