Sunday, August 26, 2012

River and glade

I mentioned that the butterflies in our garden, rather scanty this year, were beginning to pick up as the hot weather relented slightly. This included the Gulf Fritillaries, a beautiful subtropical species that some years is abundant, and some years is practically absent. This year they had been present, but in ones and twos. But now we were starting to see more of them, and in fact we now have their caterpillars appearing on the May Pops in our garden, the local Arkansas passion flower, which we planted in the first place to attract them. Gulf frits are not real fritillaries, but close relatives. They are actually closer to Heliconians, the huge tropical group which only lay their eggs on the various tropical passion flowers.

Another butterfly note: After a several-day absence of Longtailed Skippers, a very fresh two-tailed one appeared, which we suspect is a fourth individual. Presumably some local source is producing all of these, perhaps a nearby soybean field. We are so casual now we didn't bother to photograph the new one. Actually, we were just leaving the house when we saw it. We were heading for Batesville where Cheryl was giving a butterfly-gardening talk to the Foothills Plant Society.

She finished her talk about nine in the evening, and rather than drive back to Jonesboro, we went on to Mountain View where we had booked a cabin for two nights at the Folk Center. The next morning we drove up highway 14 to the Spring Creek Rd, and bumped our way down to the Buffalo River. Kids were in school now and the canoe season over with, and we had the beach entirely to ourselves. It was quiet and quite beautiful. We looked with our binoculars down river at the wide beach on the far side just as two turkeys came striding down. With their long legs they resembled some exotic South American bird (as if a North American turkey wasn't exotic enough). They stopped to drink, then flew across, leaving the beach and the river empty. Everything was like that this morning, which is to say, there was not a lot of activity, but as in a Japanese museum, everything was brought out one at a time for us to take our time with and appreciate.

For instance, a very tiny Bell's Roadside Skipper came out and posed for us, perhaps a dull little thing, but we noted the checkered fringes of the wings, the banded abdomen, the jewel-like antennae. Cheryl saw caterpillar droppings on the white sand and looked up at the overhanging sycamore leaves and spotted a Drab Prominent caterpillar (named for the dull adult moth, not the handsome larva). Next was a Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta) damselfly seen against its early morning shadow, then a Microbembix wasp scrabbling in the sand, then a tiny but heavily armored Short-legged Pygmy Grasshopper. None of these were big enough or dramatic enough to notice if we had not slowed ourselves down enough to see them.

 The next morning we left Mountain View and headed north on hwy 5, and turned off at Culp Road (shortly before crossing the bridge into Calico Rock). This led us directly to our favorite glade. As soon as we got out of the car we saw that something new had joined the assemblage of animals there since our last visit: The Large Grassland Tiger Beetles had emerged and were running around at our feet. These handsome and fierce beetles are only found, in Arkansas, here in this very local population, and they are always fun to see.

Here is one that has run down a beetle larva and is tearing it to shreds.

We were finding all the same grasshoppers here that we had found on our previous visit, so we went exploring much farther down the glade, and instead of a terrain of mostly bare rock, we were now (for some subtle reason we didn't understand) walking over rock more or less covered with lichens. While before, among the other grasshoppers, we had seen the occasional Rock-loving (or "lichen") Grasshopper, here they dominated, and we tried to capture in our photographs how amazingly they disappeared into their background.

We drove a few miles farther down Culp Road and stopped when we saw a rattlesnake on the side of the road in a posture of alertness, its head and tail slightly raised. We stopped because we love to see snakes of all kinds, and stopped especially because when a poisonous snake comes out on the road a surprisingly high percentage of people will either try to run it over, or will stop and get a stick and try to kill it that way. So what we do is get our own stick and chivvy it off the road out of sight before the next car comes by.

We got out of the car and saw it was a beautiful Pygmy Rattlesnake. I got a quick snap of it, then got a stick to move it. That's when I found out it was dead. A citizen had already bashed it on the head.

We drove on farther and came to a glade which was in fact the the flat top of a high bluff over the White River. The view was wonderful, though a bit scary to stand near the edge, especially when we saw a piton driven into the sheer side of the cliff, and tried to imagine (or tried not to imagine) that little thing supporting our weight.

We explored the glade for living things, and just before we got in our car to head back to Jonesboro,  we saw another fine reptile: A young Collared Lizard. This one was alive and well, and we hope it continues so.


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