Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Anatomy of a Dragon

There’s nothing that can humble an ‘observant’ naturalist more than nearly walking face-first into a resting darner dragonfly. A few days ago I was walking around the wildlife garden taking photos and I completely overlooked the large Blue-eyed Darner until it was just a few inches from my face. Luckily for me the dragon had no previous engagements and sat perched on the Fireweed for a few minutes. I was able to take photos at my leisure and I focused my lens on different parts of his body to study it in depth.

The Eye of a Dragon

Dragon eyes are perhaps the most conspicuous feature of a dragonfly. They comprise most of the head and are arguably the most important part of the body. Vision is the primary sense of dragonflies and is used…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: A New Discovery

Once in a while I encounter something in my yard that leaves me completely baffled. I may not be able to identify all the bees, flies or beetles I see, but I usually know that they are bees, flies or beetles. A few days ago, I noticed something that no matter what angle I looked at it from, I just couldn’t figure out even what type of insect it was.

At first glance it looked like a stick insect, but when I looked closer, I could see there were two, a pair mating back to back, attached together. They had long, sender bodies and even longer, more slender legs. Their antennae were also thin and terribly long, ending in little knobs, similar to that of butterflies. Their bodies were brown, but one had a thicker abdomen which had a green underside, and they…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: The Day of the Dragon

All week long, as I worked outside, I watched teneral dragonflies, those that had just made the transformation from larvae to adult, fly away from my wildlife pond. But I had yet to catch any in the act of emerging. Earlier last week I had agreed to take dragonfly larvae into my daughter’s school to share with the kids. No big deal I thought, I’d go scoop some out of the pond in the afternoon before heading to the school. I had been catching larvae with nearly every scoop of the net as I removed algae over the last couple of weeks, so it should be easy. But when I went out that day, I scooped and scooped and was starting to worry I would have nothing to show the kids. After a good twenty minutes I finally found one. I then changed my scooping methods and…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Sawflies

Being a naturalist often illustrates an interesting phenomenon. When I first learn about something, likes slime molds for example, I suddenly start finding them everywhere. Although it feels like they suddenly started showing up all over, they have, of course, always been there. What’s changed is my observation skills. It’s simply mind-boggling to me how many things I’m sure I still overlook simply because I have not yet noticed, learned or otherwise discovered them.

My backyard presents a more complicated picture though. Because I’ve created habitat where there was once only grass and a deck, new things do arrive regularly. But is the first time I notice them the first time they showed up, or have they been visiting far longer than that? Case and point, this spring I have noticed many different sawflies in my wildlife garden.

Sawflies…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Crane Fly Frenzy

When a crane fly is at rest, you can see how it resembles a crane, the long, elegant legs sit daintily on leaves holding the slender body aloft. But as soon as they take flight the illusion is shattered as their bumbling, clumsy flight is revealed. They don’t so much land on plants, but crash headlong into them.

Over the last few weeks, at the first sign of the awakening insects, I’ve regularly gone out into my wildlife garden with my camera to watch and document who visits. The usual mason bees showed up first followed by some large fuzzy digger bees. (More on the abundance of bees in another diary entry.) But I also began to see crane flies. They’re not new to the garden of course, I’ve seen them in the past, but recently I have seen a lot of them….

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Spring Nesting

This spring our wildlife garden has seen a lot of activity. Last year, during my 365 Nature Project, we watched a Bewick’s Wren pair make a nest in our backyard nest box, while a pair of American Robins built a nest in our front yard. This year the wrens returned, but opted for a different nest box. In our backyard I have put up a red box, which the wrens chose last year. I also have a blue box hanging from the garage which has never been used. Then there’s the wood box built by my husband, also never used. Last year I found another wood box at a thrift store and stashed it in the garage. It’s meant to be mounted on a post and this spring I just wedged it into our forsythia for a lack of anywhere better to put it.

To my surprise,…

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