See anything good?

Sandy Creek path IMG_4981© Maria de Bruyn resThat’s a common question I get when I am out on one of my nature walks. Since I carry a camera with a large zoom lens and often a smaller camera, too, it’s obvious to passersby that I’m out observing nature. And I realize that when they ask the question, what they really want to know is whether I saw anything unusual or spectacular.

A recent walk at Sandy Creek Park in Durham, NC, was a case in point. I told one couple who posed the question that my most memorable sighting so far had been a male ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) – the iridescence of its body and wings in the sunlight was wonderful. They smiled a bit uncertainly and the lady of the pair admitted that she didn’t know anything about damselflies as they walked on.

ebony jewelwing I77A0417© Maria de Bruyn res   ebony jewelwing I77A0469© Maria de Bruyn res

Fragile Forktail damselfly I77A0648© Maria de Bruyn resAn hour or so later, another couple asked if I had “seen any good ones?” I repeated my delight in seeing the male damselfly, adding that the female is not as striking with her brown color and white spots. “Yes,” said the man, “that is often the case with other species. In our species, though, it’s the females who shine.” That may be the case some of the time, but my day was made by seeing a female damselfly that was a member of a new species for me – the fragile forktail (Ischnura posita).


My experience is that I find some beauty in almost all the wildlife I see (ticks and chiggers are an exception). So I want to share a few of those “good things” I saw at Sandy Creek Park last month in a two-part blog “tour”. In this first part, I’ll continue on with the insects.

Identifying dragonflies is not easy since the females and males can look quite different. The great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans) provides an example – the male lives up to his name with a blue hue and large size, but the female shows off her beauty with a brown and yellow abdomen.

great blue skimmer dragonfly I77A0715© Maria de Bruyn res    great blue skimmer dragonfly I77A0741© Maria de Bruyn res

The Eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) has distinctively different appearances as a male and female. The adult male is a blue individual, sometimes with a bit of greenish tint; the female – and the immature males! – is brilliant with different shades of green. I remember being excited when I first spotted a female as their green color is so striking.

Eastern pondhawk I77A0721© Maria de Bruyn res  Eastern pondhawk I77A0749© Maria de Bruyn res

blue dasher I77A0172©Maria de Bruyn resThe blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) has some stripes, as do some of the bumble bees. The brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) lives up to its name with a brown stripe, while this American bumble bee (Bombus pensylvanicus) feeding on a trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) has white bands. Like honey bees, the latter bee has pollen baskets (corbicula) on its hind legs in which it stores pollen. I enjoyed watching this individual – s/he would dip down into the flower, back up a bit, and then plunge forward again, almost always keeping the pollen basket above the tip of the flower.

Brown-belted bumble bee I77A0218©Maria de Bruyn res   American bumble bee I77A0763© Maria de Bruyn2 res

Bumble bee I77A6297© Maria de Bruyn res


The pollen gatherers were numerous during both visits and willing to share the sources of their bounty – here you see a bumble bee (Bombus), syrphid fly (Toxomerus marginatus) and sweat bee (Halictus) feeding peacefully together on a coneflower (Echinacea).



Eastern carpenter bee IMG_0768© Maria de Bruyn res



The milkweed plants were attracting many species of pollinators; here an Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) was enjoying a meal.



common buckeye I77A0237© Maria de Bruyn res


While there were many, many bees the days of my visits, there were fewer butterflies but the common buckeye (Junonia coenia) was stunning!



The little wood satyr (Megisto cymela) and dun skipper (Euphyes vestris, to the lower right on the milkweed) were not as colorful, and some people might even call them dull, but they are still nice to see and the Eusarca moth (Eusarca confusaria) was also an evenly colored beauty. I had grown up thinking moths usually fly at night, attracted by lights so it still draws my attention when I see them in the daytime.

Little wood satyr I77A0584© Maria de Bruyn res         Eastern carpenter bee IMG_0804© Maria de Bruyn 2 res

Confused Eusarca moth Eusarca confusaria I77A5701© Maria de Bruyn

Even a somewhat tattered American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) offered a pretty view.

American lady I77A6238© Maria de Bruyn res

The broad-headed sharpshooter (Oncometopia orbona), a leaf hopper, and the spotted pink lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculata) are tiny but such colorful insects that close perusal of the vegetation helps you spot them (and presumably makes it easier for birds to see them, too?).

broad-headed sharpshooter Oncometopia orbona I77A0592© Maria de Bruyn      Spotted pink lady beetle I77A0081©Maria de Bruyn bg

Emerald ash borer trap I77A0719© Maria de Bruyn res


One beetle that we don’t really want to see is the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), an invasive species that came to the USA from Asia. The larvae of these beetles kill ash trees and the park administrators have hung a trap box for them to determine whether this species has reached the park.



Spotting mammals is not always easy at the park but one day fellow birder Jim was kind enough to alert me to an opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in a tree when we met on a walking path. He told me approximately where it was and I spotted that one and another in a nearby tree; I thought it might be a mother and grown offspring but that was a guess and I certainly couldn’t confirm it. As these are nocturnal animals, it was pretty cool for me to see two in broad daylight. The only marsupial found in the United States and Canada is a beneficial animal for us humans (and other wildlife) as they could eat up to 4000 ticks in a week! 

opossum IMG_0605© Maria de Bruyn res     opossum I77A5788© Maria de Bruyn res

One of the pair demonstrated that they can open their jaws widely – watching him/her slowly stretch that mouth offered me a surprise; I would think it couldn’t go any further and the animal continued to show that s/he could really please a dentist who would like lots of space to investigate those teeth.

opossum I77A5897© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern cottontail rabbitI77A5578© Maria de Bruyn res



The Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) was not so lucky, carrying a fat tick in its ear. Too bad the opossums couldn’t come by and groom him/her and remove that pesky arachnid!


The park is not only attractive for the entomologists. Reptile enthusiasts can spot turtles fairly easily, especially in the spring when they are looking for places to lay their eggs. A large painted turtle was crossing a field looking for a spot, while an Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) was trundling down a paved path one morning, not far from a pond which often has many painted turtles and red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), like this one – who must have been a bit bothered by a bird feather caught in its shell.

Eastern mud turtle IMG_0741© Maria de Bruyn res    Red-eared slider I77A5941© Maria de Bruyn2

Which bird could it have been? I’m thinking a swallow – see part 2 of the tour for a view of the species and more of the wonderful biodiversity that can be seen in the park.


Blue jewels of the insect world

dogbane beetle IMG_4382©Maria de Bruyn resMy original interest in wildlife often centered around mammals; as a child, I was especially fascinated by the larger ones I saw at the zoo like lions, giraffes and bears. Eventually, in my later adult life, I became a birder and then Project Noah led me to begin paying much closer attention to the insect world. Nowadays, I find almost any type of wildlife of interest and look forward to learning more about diverse species.

Investigating insects has taught me that not only are some moths incredibly beautiful – so are some beetles and dragonflies, like the two brilliant blue species described here. I first encountered the dogbane beetle (Chrysochus auratus) on the plant for which it’s named, the white-flowering dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). This plant is also known as rheumatism root since herbalists have used it to treat that disease, as well as conditions such as syphilis, fever, asthma and dysentery. It is also known as the hemp plant and has been used to make rope.

dogbane IMG_9002©Maria de Bruyn res     dogbane beetle IMG_4298©Maria de Bruyn res

dogbane beetle IMG_4351©Maria de Bruyn resThe iridescent beetle, which measures less than a half inch and lives 6-8 weeks in summer, feeds on the dogbane as well as milkweed plants. The insects’ wings are blue-green in color and have a gorgeous shimmery shine that looks like metallic copper; depending on the light, the highlights can also look golden or crimson in color.

They have widely spaced antennae with 11-12 segments and their legs look a bit as if they end in heart-shaped pads. Their left mandible is longer than the right one and it fits into a groove in the right (why, I don’t know!).

dogbane IMG_1372

dogbane beetle IMG_4046©Maria de Bruyn res

dogbane beetle IMG_2461©Maria de Bruyn res

They mate once a day during the summer and the male will stay on top of the female afterwards for some time to ensure that his sperm can fertilize eggs. After mating, the female lays her eggs on the underside of host plant leaves or on the ground. The larvae feed on roots and pupate underground. After 6-8 weeks, the adults die and we have to wait until next summer to see these little beauties.

dogbane beetle IMG_4006©Maria de Bruyn res  dogbane beetle IMG_4035©Maria de Bruyn res

A larger metallic blue insect is the ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), which can grow to about 2 inches. It is the black-winged males who exhibit the deep blue color on their bodies. The females are a smoky brown-gray in color and display white spots near the tips of their wings.

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7773©Maria de Bruyn res   Ebony jewelwing IMG_7870©Maria de Bruyn res

These damselflies have been studied extensively, so that we know they shelter among a wide variety of plants, including water plants (pickerel weed, duckweed, lilies, cattails) and land plants such as orange jewelweed, button bush, Joe pye weed and poison ivy. The adults frequently rest on low shrubs in sunlit patches.

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7808©Maria de Bruyn resEbony jewelwing IMG_7890©Maria de Bruyn res

These damselflies have a large variety of prey that include tiger mosquitoes, gnats, flies, beetles and even dragonflies. If they see you observing them, they will watch you in return, turning their heads to follow your movements

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7909©Maria de Bruyn resEbony jewelwing IMG_7919©Maria de Bruyn res.

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7831©Maria de Bruyn resEbony jewelwing IMG_7821©Maria de Bruyn res

Ebony jewelwing damselfly female IMG_1085© Maria de BruynThese damselflies are not strong fliers, often fluttering – even when resting on a leaf. Females will also rapidly open and close their wings if they are receptive to a courting male. If they reject the male, they will keep their wings open.

(If you click on the photo, you can see it enlarged.)





Ebony jewelwing IMG_7812©Maria de Bruyn res1The male will raise his abdomen as part of his courting display.Ebony jewelwing IMG_7738©Maria de Bruyn res

Females lay their eggs in the soft stems of water plants. And then, after about two weeks of flight, the adults pass away and we await new generations to admire. I’m looking forward to finding out if I discover any more blue jewels in the future!