nature study

I shot these photos on the weekend before the latest blanket of snow once more covered the fields and woods. Temperatures are turning mild once more, so perhaps this will be the last delay before the spring season gets underway.

Last week, when I gave my talk about nature photography, I began by distinguishing between photography used for creating beautiful images, and that which is used for nature study. There’s some overlap between the two purposes, but I see them as being a little different. In the one case, the photograph is used to create a beautiful composition, while in the other case, it’s used to record data, tell a story, or allow us to examine an object more closely or in a way that isn’t easily possible with the naked eye. Today’s photos are an example of the kind of shots that I find useful for learning about an object found along the trail when I’m out walking. Incidentally, they’re also the type of photos that I most enjoy looking at.

The top photo is of a nest that we found fastened to the branches of a small Beech tree (click on all images for larger views). From its size, shape and construction, I would guess its identity as being the nest of some species of Vireo. Here are examples of nests of a few species of Vireo from the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Project Wildspaces website: Yellow-throated Vireo here and here; Red-eyed Vireo here; and Warbling Vireo here. Their nests are neat little basket-like structures made of grasses, fine strips of soft bark and other soft vegetation carefully constructed upon the framework of Y-shaped branches.

This second photo is of something I’ve been finding a lot of over the past couple of weeks now that the snow has melted away in the meadows — egg cases (ootheca) of Praying Mantis insects. I’ve found several on the walking paths through the fields and brought a couple back to the house on Friday. I’ll keep them in a container outside the front door and begin watching them closely a little later on this spring. With any luck, I’ll get to see them hatching out. I find it interesting that these egg cases seem to be so rarely damaged, especially as they are actually quite large and conspicuous. However, I did a bit of searching around on the net and did find a page on raising mantids that states:

Females lay eggs in an egg case called an ootheca; a liquid secreted from the ovipositor is mixed with air to make a froth that solidifies into a case as hard as a walnut shell around the eggs. The eggs cases are deposited in fall and the eggs overwinter in the hardened foam, which provides insulation and protection from ants. The foam also contains a bird and mouse repellent that gives it a pungent smell, but that does not protect the eggs from parasitic wasps which can use long thin ovipositors to lay eggs in the eggs.

So, perhaps that explains why so many appear undamaged. Of course, the reference to the parasitic wasps probably explains why the world isn’t overrun with mantids!

The next photo is of a piece of comb found on the ground on Saturday. I’m not sure just where it came from as it was in the middle of the trail. I sometimes find these lying on the footpaths around the farm and attribute their appearance to skunks or other mammals, or perhaps birds, that find a comb and tear it apart to get at larvae within.

The last of the photos is of a rock found beside the trail on Saturday. It had interesting round lichen patches, so I stopped to take a closer look and shoot a few photos. The photo below is a closer shot of one of the patches (you might want click on that image to see the larger view). From what I can tell, these are some kind of Lecidea lichens – also known as Disk or Tile lichen — perhaps Lecidea tessellata or Lecidella stigmatea. I’ll have to spend a bit of time reading the descriptions and studying the identification key to have a better idea.

Anyhow, those are a few of the photos I shot over the weekend — there were a couple of dozen more like them. They’re a reference of what I saw while out and about, and give me plenty to puzzle or ponder over in the days that follow.

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12 Responses to “nature study”

  1. Celeste Says:

    Hello! I really enjoyed seeing your pictures of the little things. And I learned a new word! OOTHECA sounds alien, course those mantises(mantii?)do have a strange self-aware/intelligent attitude, like they know waaaaaay more than we think they do. Thanks for sharing a bit from your nature photo talk, I hope there’s more coming!! ;0)

  2. Marcia Bonta Says:

    The nest looks exactly like one I found today. I believe it is a red-eyed vireo nest. Great photos! Let me know when you positively identify the lichen.

  3. robin andrea Says:

    I like the distinction you make between beautiful images and images for nature studies. Fortunately your quest for knowledge provides you an opportunity to do both– take beautiful images that also yield information and furthers our understanding of the natural world.

  4. burning silo Says:

    Celeste – Thanks. Yes.. .”ootheca”… isn’t it a strange sounding word. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but then, as you say, mantids do seem almost like something that might have its own language. I’ve often noticed how much they seem to see when they look around. A couple of years ago, I was holding a piece of alfalfa with a female mantis on top and it suddenly spun it head around and watched a car passing by on the nearby road. There was no mistaking what it was looking at. That level of awareness is not all that common in insects. I will try to share a bit from my nature photo talk, although in may ways, you’ve probably been getting bits and pieces of it for awhile! (-:

    Marcia – I suspect this one may be a Red-eyed vireo nest too, but can only guess. I will definitely try to post a follow up on this disk lichen.

    robin – In truth, I never consciously work to create a beautiful image in the sense that some photographers do. My level of patience just isn’t “there”. However, I do try to photograph everything in a way that most clearly shows that object as best as I can — and that often results in what, to me, makes them look beautiful. I’m glad that that shows. Thank you for mentioning it!

  5. Larry Says:

    I felt as though I was following along with a nature field trip.-Nice job you do with your blog. I’m looking forward to broadening my scope of observation while out in the field.-

  6. Cathy Says:

    The vireo nest is precious. I’m curious as to the diameter of the opening. It looks so dainty. This winter has been so danged long, I’ve started to doubt that I’ll ever hear a vireo again.

    Those neat lichen patches put in mind of mini crop circles.

  7. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    As usual, your blog is full of great photos and information. I look forward to hearing more about your mantis hatching. Perhaps I should bring in some of the ones we have too and see what happens. Thanks for sharing!

  8. burning silo Says:

    Larry – Thanks! I find it amazing that there really is no limit to what we can see when out in the field – I keep changing my own levels of observation, and then find some new thing to watch for, and then another and another. I believe that’s why I enjoy nature so much.

    Cathy – Although I didn’t measure it, I’d say that most of these nests are about the size of a coffee mug. Yes, they are dainty — some of the ones I’ve seen are so intricate. One in particular was constructed of fine strips of birch bark and grasses — truly exquisite! And yes, re: the “crop circle” lichen patches! Aren’t they odd little things?

    OW – Thanks! I’ll try to report on the mantids if I have any success. I’ll probably set up a covered jar to keep them in while they hatch out, but then release them soon after to do their own thing.

  9. Cindy Says:

    yep, that’s a vireo nest.. great find! so are the mantis eggs. I rear them out each year by tying the twigs to a larger twig and place them in my window flowerboxes.. gives the little guys more of a chance. I reared them out in the house just ONCE. What a nightmare. The plastic rearing chamber had air vents on the top, very small.. but large enough for those lil rascals to climb through. So picture myself and my hubby picking up teeny tiny baby mantis for over 2 hours.. LOL! Lesson learned :)

  10. Cindy Says:

    ps- you won’t find much difference between vireo species nests.. they all are in the crotch of limbs like this and they all use more or less the same fibers.. pinning it down to the exact vireo would mean you’d have to be there while the vireo was on the nest. Just a lil added ‘vireo info’ – we get all vireo species in N. America here, so I have a bit of experience with them and love em all :)

  11. burning silo Says:

    Cindy – I thought I remembered seeing something about mantis eggs on your blog. Good idea about letting them hatch outside instead of indoors. Probably the last thing I need is a bunch of young mantids on the loose in the house. Also, thanks for the notes about the vireo. I was pretty sure there would be no real difference about the nest of different species, although I have wondered if the vireos that build nests in the birch out of birch bark strips might be of a particular species as their nests seem quite unique. As you say, the only sure way to know which species built them , is to see them on the nest!

  12. Wayne Says:

    I readily see that distinction you mention, and that Robin underscores, between taking esthetically satisfying photos, and those meant for study. Sometimes they literally overlap, courtesy of invaluable abilities offered by digital cameras and software enhancements – being able to take a good high resolution photo and then zero in and copy out a small portion of the image has been pretty routine for me. I can’t imagine doing it with the old technology!

    I haven’t found any mantis ootheca this year, but there is an Argiope spider egg sac, perfectly shaped like a little vase, hanging on the front deck door, that I’ve been watching every day.

    The blowup of the Lecidea lichens is great! My eye immediately started to trace patterns. The builders of Stonehenge should have been so clever!