Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cicadas - and other insects

Well, we told you they were coming and now they are here - tens of thousands of Periodical Cicadas are creating one heck of a din in Belleplain State Forest! This is an event that only takes place once every 17 years so I recommend making the best of it while you can. These really are fascinating creatures and so different to the regular, annual cicada species that we get here. Periodical Cicadas are much slower in flight and in there actions than other cicadas. You can pick them up quite easily (they won't harm you at all, they prefer plant sap!) and study them at close quarters. Look around on the ground and low vegetation and you will find the old skin cases that they have emerged from after spending 17 years below ground, sucking sap from tree roots. Already the birds are having a great time, feeding on any that they can catch.

If you are looking for Periodical Cicadas at Belleplain, all you need to do is get out of the car and listen for the din - a constant, droning hum. Look for them in areas of drier soil where oaks predominate. So far, I have found them most abundant around the town of Belleplain, along the western end of Sunset Road and along Rt 605 to the North of Belleplain town. While you are there, keep an eye out for dragonflies and butterflies too as many species are now on the wing and easy to view. If you walk the dirt roads, check out damp patches of mud for butterflies taking salts, or look for dragonflies hunting from the ground and catching mosquitoes...

The empty shell of a Periodical Cicada (technically called an exuvia) remains where it was abandoned, on a low bush or in the leaf litter on the forest floor [photo by Mike Crewe].

They don't get much more 'bug-eyed' than the Periodical Cicada - a truly awesome beast and surely straight out of Star Wars!! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Another cicada stretches its wings and gets ready to head for the treetops [photo by Mike Crewe].

There's some great dragonflies on the wing around Cape May right now, with migrants arriving from the south at the Point, and local breeders appearing all over Belleplain. This tandem pair of Lancet Clubtails was at Weatherby Road last weekend [photo by Mike Crewe].

Another tandem pair at Belleplain - this time a pair of Mantled Baskettails [photo by Mike Crewe]

Some of the more colorful damsels are just starting to emerge now, though female Aurora Damsels like this one are not a patch on the brilliant blue males that escort them! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Here's an insect you all will know, even if you don't know that you know it! This is Polistes annularis, one of those paper wasps that make those little dangly nests that you see hanging inside roof spaces and under eaves. I post this so that you can compare it with the next picture, since all is not what it might at first seem in the insect world [photo by Mike Crewe].

Here's another Polistes wasp that you might choose to stay well clear of - or is it? This is a remarkable piece of mimicry since this is actually a creature called a Brown Mantidfly (Climaciella brunnea). The give away is the mantis-like legs at the front end; but look at the detail - the yellow-tipped antennae, the dark mid-section to the legs and the dark leading edge to the wings... this creature is actually closely related to the lacewings and won't harm you at all [photo by Mike Crewe]

And while we are on insects - here's one you really don't want to see. This is the larva of the Gypsy Moth, a European species that is now at large in North America and capable of causing great devastation to oak trees, This little guy came crawling across a table in Woodbine last Sunday and shows that this insect is still present in our area - so keep an eye out and, well, you know, quietly remove them from the gene pool. The key character to look for is the row of red spots along the back, turning to blue toward the front end [photo by Mike Crewe].

Have you got the bug bug yet? If not, why not come and join one of our Sunday morning Belleplain Wildlife walks during the summer months when the birding is a little quieter... if nothing else, it gets you out into the great outdoors and away from the crowds just for a couple of hours. Check our online Calendar of Events for details.

Belleplain always has some nice floral offerings too - this pair of Moccasin-flowers (or Pink Lady's-slipper) were a highlight of last Sunday's Belleplain Wildlife walk [photo by Mike Crewe].

And while we are on native flora, don't miss the opportunity to visit Cape May Point State Park and witness a riot of color on the back trail. This sea of pink Philadelphia Fleabane and Purple Lyre-leaved Sage is worth several megabites of digital camera card at least!! [Photo by Mike Crewe]

Recent Sightings
Shorebirds continue to delight at Heislerville right now with Curlew Sandpiper and Glaucous Gull being recent highlights. Down at the point, the Black-necked Stilt was present at The Meadows early on 27th but has not been reported since, but Mississippi Kites continued to delight the crowds over the holiday weekend and the second Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the year was at Higbee Beach on the evening of 25th, remaining into the next day.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Higbee Beach WMA on May 26th [photos by Karl Lukens].