Out came the rain and….

30 08 2008

didn’t wash the spider out! Pat’s web was gone early this morning. Then a little while later, despite the rain, she was spinning another one. The little white dots you see are water droplets. Today’s soggy, rainy day explains the somber gray background, of course. I shot the first photo right before I went out to lunch with a friend. The second photo was shot after I returned, and if you look closely, you’ll see Pat is wrapping up her freshly-caught lunch (a fly, I believe). Yum!

The backlighting makes her orange stripes just glow in these photos.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

How to frame a spider

27 08 2008

This window was to the left of a computer in my studio. I was sitting here, designing away, and glanced up to see this little spider (okay, not that little—about 1/2 inch, I’m guessing) smack dab in the middle of its web. Behind the spider is the wood shed with its asphalt shingle roof. I grabbed my camera and got this image right from my chair to show you exactly what I saw and to test the exposure.

Not exactly the best background for my lovely subject, that’s plain to see, so I needed to “reframe” the shot to add a green background. I climbed onto the desk on my knees and reframed the spider against the pine tree to the right of the shed.

By isolating it against a background with a pop of green, I got a nicer shot. I also shot this through the window, so I’m a little surprised it came out as well as it did!

I believe this is a Barn spider (Araneus cavaticus)—just like Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web. Check this link here for a comparison.

In my quest to identify him (her?), I stumbled upon Frank Starmer’s site. Starmer is the Associate Dean for Learning Technologies at Duke University. He introduces us to Sasha, a garden orb spider. It’s a fun and fascinating read with a lot of information about spiders and some great photos of spiders doing what spiders are inclined to do! He also lists references and I found this one interesting—Why a garden spider does not get stuck in its own web, written by Ben Prins. I pondered that very same question a few days ago.

If you like spiders (and you should), spend some time on Frank’s site. He’s a font of information on spiders and clearly loves his subject.

Now, if I could figure out whether my spider is male or female, I could name it like Frank named Sasha. Or, I could go the Saturday Night Live route and just name it “Pat.”

Pat the spider. Then again, you better not. 😉

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

UPDATE: Thanks for the details on male vs. female in spiders, David. Read David’s comment on spider identification and habits. I figured it was an orb spider, but that other site had a spider on it that was very similar, which is why I thought it might be a barn spider. I just looked up “garden spider,” and it could be that as well. This Garden Orb Spider looks like mine and has the touch of reddish-orange on the legs, too. Then again, it might be the Neoscona crucifera. It could match several in the links you sent. Thanks for your help, David!

A very fine day, indeed!

26 08 2008


1) I finished a project for a client and they were on time and on deadline so I was able to upload to the printer by noon, which means I was able to….

2) then drive out to Loudon to photograph Mike and Alicia’s baby girl, Ashley Jocelyn, coming into the world. I got there less than a half hour before the real excitement started, then…

3) when I got back, the Walking Stick insect that was on my studio window right before I left was actually still there, five hours later, waiting for her closeup! I saw her as I was packing up my photo gear, made a mental note to remember to photograph her, then promptly forgot about it as I ran out the door. I thought it was a dried twig stuck to the window but then I noticed the uniform appendages sticking out of the sides. This is the first Walking Stick I have seen since I was a kid! I came down to my studio when I got home from the hospital, and when I saw she was still on the window, I ran out to photograph her. She disappeared about five minutes later. See there? She was waiting for me.

Below is a shot of my Northern Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata). The Northern Walking Stick is the most common one in the U.S. I think this one is a female because several online sources mentioned that mature females have a glossy, hard appearance like polished wood and many are yellowish green (like this one). This one is more yellow that the one I found here. Research revealed the following tidbits:

—This species sprays a defensive odor that is offensive and irritating. I can’t vouch for that because this gal didn’t seem bothered by me.
—They feed on the the leaves of many deciduous trees, including oak, hazelnut, sassafras, black cherry, and black locust. They also eat clover.
—Males grow to 3 inches long; females to 3-3/4 inches long. Their antenna can be an additional 2/3 of their body length.
—They have the ability to regenerate lost legs (pretty cool).
—They live just one year, laying a single egg dropped into leaf litter. Nymphs hatch in spring and become adults by late summer.
—They are one of the few non-tropical species that can be collected (legally) in the wild to be kept as pets, and they’re hardy insects.
—It has been reported that Northern Walking Sticks can reproduce without a mate. (Even cooler)

I call this a “record shot,” although it didn’t turn out bad considering it was almost dark, I used a bounce flash, and the window ended up looking like a black velvet background. Of course I would have preferred this nestled on dark colored foliage in overcast light, but I’m just thrilled she was still there so I could immortalize her on film…er, pixels.

See? It was a very fine day, indeed. A rush job finished on time…the honor of witnessing (and photographing) a baby coming into the world…and an unusual insect in my garden waiting for me to record her. Never a dull moment!

I’ll be posting photos of baby Ashley and her family shortly.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

31 07 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Blooming in the garden today…

22 07 2008

Since I began gardening about six years ago, I’ve become smitten with coneflowers (Echinacea). So much so that last year I added several more colors to the front and backyard gardens. I have the standard purple coneflower, white (‘Jade’), orange (‘Orange Meadowbrite’), buttery yellow (‘Sunrise’), deep fall gold (‘Harvest Moon’), reddish orange (‘Sundown’), a doubledecker purple one called ‘Doppelganger,’ and my new favorite—Echinacea Summer Sky, a gold coneflower that graduates in an airbrushed fashion to red toward the cone! I love growing them because a) they’re perennials, b) they are quite photogenic, c) they love the sun, and d) bees and other insects love them, too, so there’s always a subject to photograph! I also have some in partial shade but their color doesn’t seem as deep as those growing in full sun. My purple and white coneflowers are all in bloom now. I’ll deadhead the spent blooms tomorrow since I just read that the blooms could repeat if deadheaded (now why didn’t I already know that?) These North American native perennials are drought tolerant, long blooming, and low maintenance. The name ‘Echinacea’ means spiny in Greek (echino) and references the flower’s pincushion center. The name “coneflower” comes from the way the petals sweep back and down, forming a cone. If I had the room in my garden(s), I would add all of these on this site. Hmmmm…I feel a purchase (or two or three) coming on!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Worth standing in the July heat for…

20 07 2008

While the sunlight was just too intense to photograph the Lotus blooms at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C. this morning, I had a great time (often in the shade, as you might imagine) observing and photographing the dragonflies near the visitor’s center. I got my best results using a 150 macro lens on my Nikon D300.

I just found a great online resource for identifying dragonflies. It’s the Digital Dragonflies Catalog, by Forrest L. Mitchell, and sponsored by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. If I go on the assumption my dragonfly is a Skimmer, then I would click on the photo opposite the “Libellulidae” box and find one that looks like it. (I haven’t found one that matches it yet). Any takers?

Another good online reference is Mangoverde Dragonflies.

Whatever kind of dragonfly it is, it was certainly a great model. Even when startled enough to fly away, it always came right back to this spot. I think I shot well over 100 views (let’s blame my photographic delirium on the heat, shall we?). His (her?) stripes were a beautiful metallic rust-red and shimmered in the sunlight. Every shot I got shows a different position (tail up, tail down, tail straight up, just landing, flying off, etc.). He pulled out every trick in his bag and I recorded every one of them! This is one of my favorites. And, as always, a special prize (honest!) to the first person to correctly identify (with supporting evidence, of course) this beautiful dragonfly!

UPDATE, JULY 24: While photographing the American Horticultural Society’s National Children & Youth Gardening Symposium on the University of Delaware’s campus this morning, I thumbed through a book on butterflies and dragonflies written by author Jane Kirkland, who was the dynamic and wildly entertaining keynote speaker at the opening session. The first page I flipped to had a photo of this exact dragonfly! Thanks to Jane’s book, I now know this is a “Halloween Pennant” dragonfly. This was an omen that I had to own the book, so I bought it and had Jane sign it for me! Jane created a field guide for teachers entitled, “No Student Left Indoors,” and she is also the creator and author of the award-winning nature discovery books— Take a Walk Books. You can read Jane’s blog here. Jane has also appeared on Animal Planet TV and PBS.

For more about the Halloween Pennant dragonfly, click here. Read photographer Bill Horn’s tips for photographing them on his Photo Migrations site.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved. www.cindydyer.wordpress.com

Pollen buffet

16 07 2008

Two bees (or maybe one bee and a flower fly, perhaps?) vying for pollen on one small sunflower. See the fella on the right? Look at how thick the pollen is on his body and legs!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Up, up, and awayyyyyyy

21 06 2008

This is a Platycodon, but the common name is “Balloon flower.” Pretty appropriate, isn’t it? From the family ‘Campanulaceae,’ they’re also known as Chinese Bellflowers. Originating from China, Japan, and Eastern Siberia, Platycodons are clump forming, long-lived perennials that flower throughout summer. They thrive in full sun, but also do well in partial shade (mine are in partial shade). I think the purple one is a Platycodon grandiflorous. I have several of them in my front yard garden and they bloom in both purple-blue and white with purple splotches and streaks. Some species of Playtcodon self-seed (mine certainly has).

It is named “Balloon flower” because the flower buds puff up like balloons before opening outward into upward-facing, bell-shaped flowers with five pointed lobes. There is another type of Balloon flower with blue buds that never burst open (remaining balloon-shaped). Hmmmm…methinks I must find one of these and add it to this “organized chaos” of a garden of mine. This link offers information on Balloon flowers and seed-starting instructions as well.

Several plant nurseries sell them online. I’ve ordered other plants from Spring Hill and have had good luck with their inventory. They sell a mixture of Balloon Flowers in a “buy three, get three free” scenario. White Flower Farm sells a beautiful double flowering one (hmmm…shouldn’t I have one of these, too?).

UPDATE: Check out this interesting information about platycodons on the Bookish Gardener‘s site.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Crazy about the color purple? Check out my recent posting on lavender here.

In the garden (again)…

21 06 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Beauty is in the details.

19 06 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Told ya I was smitten with lilies…

18 06 2008

and here’s the proof….all of these were photographed in my front and back yard gardens. All but the hot pink stargazer lily (center) and the deep orange lily (next to last row, left) were shot just this afternoon.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Duh…more flowers, of course!

25 05 2008

Yesterday was so balmy/beautiful/blue-skied that Michael and I decided to hit Green Spring Gardens again to see if there were any (new) photographic opportunities. Here are my results from our hour+ adventure.

Check out Green Spring Gardens here: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/gsgp/

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved. www.cindydyer.com/GardenPhotos

Bearded Iris

3 05 2008

Several years ago, my friend Karen generously shared a huge box of bearded iris with us. We put the majority of the plants around our small pond in the backyard (I think they need dividing this year!) and the remainder in the front garden. I shot these images late this afternoon.

Learn about growing irises here:

There’s even a “Tall Bearded Iris Society” in Texas: http://www.tbisonline.co

Check out the varieties this company sells: http://www.schreinersgardens.com/

I feel compelled to buy this one!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Afternoon light

10 04 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved. www.cindydyer.com/GardenPhotos

Two penny Cyclamen

11 03 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


On (Blue) Dasher…

12 09 2007

This little guy (yes, I did some research*) is Pachydiplax longipennis, or a Blue Dasher. Other common names include Swift Long-winged Skimmer and Blue Pirate. Learn more about him here: http://bugguide.net/node/view/598

*This site states that females can turn bluer with age, but they start out more amber colored.

Further research has determined the grapelike clusters attached to his belly are “aquatic mites,” and the single red one, in particular, is a “locust mite,” or Eutrombidium rostratum, the most common locust mite in the U.S. and Europe. They are often seen on the body and wings of grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and mantids.

I found some wonderful photographs and information on various dragonflies here:

In-depth details on how (as well as when, where, and why) to photograph dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies can be found at a Web site I found for JPG, “The Magazine of Brave New Photography.” http://www.jpgmag.com/stories/1246


© 2007 Cindy Dyer, All rights reserved. www.cindydyer.com/GardenPhotos

Bees (and Wasps) I have known

9 08 2007

I love photographing insects in the garden. Among my favorite: bees…they’re of ample size to fill a macro lens frame, they move fairly slowly, and they love a variety of plants, so you can always get a different background. If you want to learn more about the plight of bees, here’s a great article:



Praying Mantis

2 08 2007

One of my favorite insects to photograph is the fascinating praying mantis. They are very still, waiting for their prey, making them quite easy to photograph. I did some research and found this very useful Web site below. I just love the site’s name—”insecta-inspecta.” See the center triptych? I watched this mantis for several minutes…then he reached over and grabbed the morning glory (presumably going after the myriad ants that love this plant) and left a hole after devouring his prey. (Hmmm….so that’s how those holes come to be!) It was good photographic luck to be able to witness and successfully photograph it.

And, speaking of praying mantis, this afternoon Gina and I stopped by Home Depot on Route 1 to look at the plant selection…there were some items on sale and when Gina reached up to check them out, she encountered a rather large green and brown praying mantis (he looked just like the mantis below–bottom row, far left). Figuring someone would buy the discounted plant sooner than a regular-priced plant, I took the plant he was on and embarked on “Operation Mantis Relocation.” I leaned the plant over a tall sedum (which I know they like since I’ve photographed them on sedums in our garden) and he casually sauntered onto it. It’s all about location, location, location!


And a tribute to this creature by poet Ogden Nash:

The Praying Mantis by Ogden Nash

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
glimpse the grin, green metal mug
at masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.

More poetry by Ogden Nash




© 2007 Cindy Dyer, All rights reserved. www.cindydyer.com/GardenPhotos

Name that Bug, Contest #1

2 08 2007

Preliminary results of the first “Name that Bug” contest

Head Weed’s comments are in italics and Weedette entries are in bold.

The first response: at exactly 1:18 p.m. today, Franci wrote:

milkweed bug!!!!!!!

(Wanna bet my Dad is cringing at all those exclamation marks? 😉

Realizing she hadn’t backed her entry with supporting research, Franci sent another e-mail one minute later at 1:19 p.m., referencing:

The bug was found on a butterfly weed, which I initially thought was a form of milkweed, but later realized it was Ascelpias tuberosa (note how freely I toss out those Latin names! 😉 Reading “Milkweed bug!” in Franci’s first entry convinced me it might just be a milkweed bug.

While only the bug at the very bottom of the first Web site link she sent looks a little like the photograph I submitted, it wasn’t identified as a milkweed bug, so this site is not convincing me she’s 100% correct. (I must note that the yin/yang two-toned multicolored Asian Ladybug shown halfway down this page is really interesting!)

At 1:20 p.m., Normie wrote:

It reminds me of a box elder bug, but I am sure that that is not an “official” name. They like box elder trees (a type of maple tree). It probably isn’t one, but that is the first thing that came to mind.

The Head Weed has acknowledged Normie’s entry but must note that she failed to follow the rules and provide supporting documentation for her entry. I stopped everything I was doing to verify her interesting claim….what’s really interesting is THE BUG LOOKS LIKE THE BOX ELDER, TOO!


At 1:23 p.m., Frantic Franci (who must REALLY want to win this yet-unnamed prize) sent the following support for her entry:

milkweed bug

Now THAT’S more like it, Franci Pants!

At 1:35 p.m., Sherry sent this response:

Howdy! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassin_bug
I think it is a Milkweed Assassin Bug. Lemme know what you think!

Sherry’s link shows a bug very similar to my bug…but the eyes are different, so I’m not sure if this is an exact match. I did a search on her Milkweed Assassin bug and there are some other kinds that don’t look like this one exactly.


Further surfing revealed a “Wheel bug,” and I just realized this might be the bug (that was devouring bees and stink bugs that were larger than it was) on the sunflowers Michael and I photographed a few weekends ago. Apparently this bug is a member of the “bed bug insect family.” As in, “don’t let the bed bugs bite ya.” Check out this info I found on what it does to its prey (warn your Monarch caterpillars, Regina!). See photo of a wheelbug at the top of this post (right photo, titled “no, it’s not this bug”)



Coming in later in the day, at 3:00 p.m., is Debbi’s response:

“It’s a pretty bug!”

Debbi obviously went with an emotional response when identifying her bug, so she receives honorable mention for bestowing a compliment on a bug that obviously does damage to OTHER pretty bugs! 😉 Alas, she did not back up her claim with internet research, but the Head Weed wishes to recognize her entry nonetheless and thanks her for her accurate observation.

I would like the Club to weigh in on these entries and offer their opinions. The stakes are high and the contestants are nervous. Is it a milkweed bug, box elder bug, or a milkweed assassin bug? Yes, we agree with Debbi that it IS a pretty bug, but that is not an official name, so it is disqualified from consideration. Who will be the big winner of the yet-unnamed grand prize? Tune in….

And then…Gina, the “proprietor of said property and garden that housed the plant that hosted the “bug in question” has written the following:
The bug (in the various e-mails that has caused such a commotion) and the proprietor of the property have jointly decided that the attention the contest has garnered his/her once laid-back lifestyle has become overwhelming. And therefore, must enter into rehab in an undisclosed location, far from the prying eyes of the aforementioned weedettes. Any future updates will be handled through the traditional “celebrity” websites such as TMZ & PerezHilton.com. With the positive influence rehab & paparazzi have made in the lives of Lindsay, Britney & Nicole, the bug is looking forward to returning to the same lifestyle he/she once adored.


And finally….the winner of the First “Name that Bug” contest is Franci!

© 2007 Cindy Dyer, All rights reserved