EMail Print

A Naturalist's Dialogue - A Leaf with Legs and more ...  



I generally prefer my photos to be natural, and don't tinker with them too much, other than tweaking the colours and contrast, cropping, and maybe removing an annoying twig. This is an exception, a combination of separate photos of the upper and lower sides of the same insect, which turned up on a window at easy camera height the other evening. It is a Large Maple Spanworm moth, identified after a lot of skimming through the many look-alike species in moth books and websites. Moths are masters of disguise, mimicking bark, dead leaves, or even bird droppings to avoid detection by their predators. At rest, with the wings folded and antennae tucked in, the dead-leaf illusion of this particular moth is complete. It is a widespread species in eastern North America but, despite the rather ominous name, rarely becomes a pest.



This big Snapping Turtle near McArthur Falls was a highlight of a recent drive to Victoria Beach. Luckily it had already crossed the road. I have carefully helped small snappers a few times and came close to a nasty bite once, and this one would have been a real handful. In snapping mode myself, I took a few pictures before it lumbered off into a ditch. Sharon and I marvelled at its massive legs and long, scaly tail. Using her hat as a hastily improvised ruler, we estimated the shell was over 30 cm long, and the animal was twice that long with neck and tail outstretched. It would probably weigh in around 10 kilograms, far from a record but well beyond the size at which one website says they go from cute to scary. Snappers are widespread in southern Manitoba, but they emerge from the water less often than the more familiar Painted Turtles, so a sighting like this is a rare treat.



I thank Cyril Clarke for this dramatic shot of a spider on a gladiolus bloom in his garden. Knowing next to nothing about the subject, I had to do some spider homework… where else but on the web? Actually this crab spider is not a web builder; instead it waits on flowers like this one to grab a visiting insect with those extra-large front two pairs of legs. There are 115 or more species of crab spider in Canada, so I won't guarantee the identification, but it seems to be a female Goldenrod Crab Spider, sometimes known simply as Flower Spider. Like chameleons and some marine animals, these spiders can apparently change colour to match the flower they've chosen as a hunting camp. This one is a pretty good match for the throat of the gladiolus. To find out more about this fascinating critter on the Internet, try entering the scientific species name Misumena vatia and Canada as search terms. That will narrow down the 79 million hits for spider down to a mere 300!




Last Wednesday evening, I drove with some friends down the back roads from Seven Sisters Falls to Whitemouth, looking for Sandhill Cranes. There were a number of hawks in the fields, and we stopped to look at one that was resting on a bale. I thought at first it was a pale variety of Red-tailed Hawk, which is a highly variable species, but when it flew the uniformly pale underparts and white panels towards the wingtips suggested a Ferruginous Hawk. I was able to confirm this the following day, but it took three visits before I was able to obtain this portrait in early morning sunshine. This is the first Ferruginous Hawk I've seen in our area in 30 years of birding. A bird of the dry prairies, this species breeds in small numbers in extreme south-western Manitoba, while its main breeding range is from southern Alberta, Montana and the western Dakotas down to Arizona and Nevada. Rare birds are often disoriented juveniles, and that is the case with this hawk. Let's hope it finds enough mice to fatten up and find its way home.



Warm, dry weather is usually good for chick survival with ground-nesting birds such as grouse. That seems to have been the case this year, and I've noticed more Ruffed Grouse along the roadsides in the last couple of months than I've seen for a long time. Grouse are attracted to gravel roads and shoulders as a source of grit to aid their digestion. All too many choose the wrong moment to fly low across the road and are knocked down by vehicles. This one recently found safer pastures in the Waltons' garden in Pinawa, and I thank Frank for the attractive portrait. Ruffed Grouse are beautifully camouflaged among twigs and leaf litter on the forest floor, but can stand out against a background of greenery as in this photograph.