In the studio: Mary Ellen Ryall

1 11 2013

Butterfly posterMary Ellen Ryall and I crossed paths more than eight years ago when I purchased milkweed seeds from her through eBay. This connection quickly morphed into a frequent e-mail exchange and a great friendship! I do volunteer design and photography for her environmental education organization, Happy Tonics. For several years, I designed and produced her quarterly 4-page newsletter, Butterflies & Gardens, as well as other marketing materials. I also designed a Monarch Butterfly Habitat Poster for her a few years ago. The poster included original photographs by me and my friends Brian K. Loflin (www.bkloflin.wordpress.com) and Jeff Evans (www.evanimagesandart.com).

I had the chance to visit Mary Ellen in her former home base in Minong, Wisconsin, in August 2011. (Sidebar: at the time I was making the three-hour drive from the Minneapolis airport to Minong, I called Michael and learned that I had just missed a big earthquake in the D.C. area; it was enough to scare both him and our cat, ZenaB, and for a vase to fall off a bookcase and break!). While in Shell Lake and Minong, I visited Mary Ellen’s Monarch Butterfly Habitat and met many of her friends, most notably Diane Dryden, a published author and feature writer for the Washburn County Register. Diane’s novels, The Accidental King of Clark Street and Double or Nothing on Foster Ave., are available on Amazon here.

About a year ago, Mary Ellen relocated to Fitchburg, MA, to be closer to her sister. She talked of slowing down, but I knew she wouldn’t—she’s brimming with far too many ideas! An author and truly dedicated environmental educator, Mary Ellen’s first book, My Name is Butterfly, was published by Salt of the Earth Press in 2011. This teaching book about a little girl and a Monarch butterfly was illustrated by Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza and is available here.

TwoBooksEarlier this year, I assisted Mary Ellen with producing The Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book. Written by Mary Ellen Ryall and illustrated by Moira Christine McCusker, It is available for purchase here. It is published by Mary Ellen’s new company, Butterfly Woman Publishing. Our next project is a plant guidebook, which we hope to debut in 2014. She visited the D.C. area a few weeks ago to attend a three-day conference for the North America Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC). She is presently on a task force to design a smart app called S.H.A.R.E. (Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment). This app will allow gardeners around the country to list their habitats on a national map. Mary Ellen blogs about organic gardening and open pollination for diversity on her blog here.

After seeing the portraits I did of her while she was in town, Mary Ellen said, “now I see that I have to go out and buy a new wardrobe!” The outfits she is wearing came from my “modeling rack” as well as my closet. She feels I captured her energy in the shots—and if you’ve ever met her, you know how high-energy this woman is!

P.S. Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators after bees. Butterflies as pollinators are in trouble too. The Monarch butterfly population is down to only five percent in 2013. The Monarch and other butterflies need native host plants. We need to plant native wildflowers to bring butterflies home. Milkweed is the only host plant of the Monarch butterfly. If you would like to be part of the solution to stop the decline of Monarch butterflies, plant some milkweed seeds in your garden! Mary Ellen sells seed on her website here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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…7, 8, 9, 10. Ready or not, here I come!

18 06 2012

Michael P. and I must confess—we’ve become a little obsessed with photographing Red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus). They’re easy to spot (always found on any form of milkweed), stay pretty still for their photo ops and engage in myriad poses for us. At Green Spring Gardens this afternoon we found a plethora of them to photograph. In this shot, the top bug didn’t seem to know that the other bug was beneath the leaf (at least that’s what we surmised) because when he tried to go around the leaf, he seemed startled and pushed the bottom bug off!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

 





Red Milkweed Beetle

3 06 2012

Just a few facts that I’ve learned about the Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus):

They are part of the Cerambycidae family—Longhorn Beetles.

Tetraopes, just like longhorned beetles, have antennae inserted in close proximity to their eyes, which is how they get their common name, “longhorned.” In the case of Tetraopes, it is more extreme so that the antennae actually split each eye into two (ouch!). So this little beetle actually has four eyes!

Butterfly fans know that the Monarch butterfly caterpillar feeds on milkweed (as well as the milkweed leaf beetle), but Tetraopes are one of the few insects that can safely feed on milkweed.

Males Red Milkweed Beetles are slightly smaller than females.

From wikipedia.com: The milkweed beetle, a herbivore, is given this name because they are generally host specific to milkweed plants (genus Asclepias). It is thought the beetle and its early instars (developmental stage) derive a measure of protection from predators by incorporating toxins from the plant into their bodies, thereby becoming distasteful, much as the Monarch butterfly and its larvae do. The red and black coloring are aposematic (from apo—away and sematic—sign/meaning, which is a warning coloration), advertising the beetles’ inedibility. There are many milkweed-eating species of insect that use the toxins contained in the plant as a chemical defense.

Who knew?! Order Coleoptera: Beetles are the dominant form of life on earth—one of every five living species is a beetle! Coleoptera is the largest order in the animal kingdom, containing a third of all insect species. There are about 300,000 known species worldwide, 30,000 of which live in North America.

Source: http://www.cirrusimage.com/beetles_red_milkweed.htm

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





Bumblebee on milkweed

2 06 2012

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





From the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens archives…

29 06 2011

Since I didn’t get the photographic bounty I usually do at Kenilworth, I thought I’d repost images I’ve created in past years. Enjoy!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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From the archives: Monarchs for Mary Ellen

14 12 2010

My friend Mary Ellen is likely snowed in with 15 inches of snow in a remote town in Wisconsin. To brighten her day, I thought I’d re-post some Monarch photos from my blog. This was originally posted October 15, 2008.

Yes, more Monarchs. I can’t help myself. They’re everywhere! I learned a technique from my friend Mary Ellen of Happy Tonics about how to “stalk” Monarchs with a camera. Wait until they have their proboscis inserted into a flower and they become completely distracted by the task at hand—then move in closer, staying as still as possible. They won’t even notice you’re there. This one sure didn’t. I was able to shoot about 50+ images of this Monarch in less than five minutes.

Want to learn more about the senses of a Monarch? Click here.

Here’s a surefire way to attract Monarchs to your garden—plant milkweed!
Mary Ellen sells common milkweed seeds in her eBay store here. Milkweed is the sole food for the Monarch caterpillar. Adult butterflies can feed on other plants such as this butterfly bush, but the caterpillars only eat milkweed.

Mary Ellen and I crossed paths a few years ago when I purchased seeds from her through eBay. This led to a frequent e-mail exchange, and now I do volunteer design and photography for her organization. I design and produce her quarterly 4-page newsletter, Butterflies & Gardens, as well as other marketing materials. You can download the latest issue of the newsletter in pdf format here. I also designed a Monarch Butterfly Habitat Poster for her this past spring.

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





Dogbane Leaf Beetle (Chrysochus auratus)

11 07 2010

I stalked this beetle at the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area this morning for at least 20 minutes—it wasn’t hard; he moved up and down the same sunflower leaf the entire time. I was just mesmerized by his rainbow coloring! In researching what type of beetle it was, I came across this site here, which describes this insect’s beautiful coloring:

The dogbane leaf beetle has a special type of color that shines and changes as the insect changes position or we change position looking at it. This changing color is called iridescence. The beetles’ iridescence is produced by special body structures and light. The surface of the body parts of this beetle is made up of stacks of tiny, slanting plates, under which is a pigment (substance that produces color). Some light rays reflect from the surface of the plates, and other light rays reflect from the pigment underneath. At different angles, the light reflects at different speeds, causing interference and resulting in our seeing different colors that shine.

Adult beetles feed on Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum)—hence its name—and milkweed. I’m glad I didn’t touch the little guy—apparently they avoid some predators by giving off a foul-smelling secretion when they are touched!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





Post redux: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

8 12 2009

If you’re in the D.C./Virginia/Maryland area, be sure to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, particularly in July. The main attractions are obviously the lotus blossoms, which bloom during the truly hottest time in our area (sigh), but I’m sure there are water lilies in bloom throughout the summer.

You can view my previous posts on Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens by clicking on the links below:

https://cindydyer.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/kenilworth-park-and-aquatic-gardens/

https://cindydyer.wordpress.com/2007/07/22/kenilworth-gardens-7222007/

What a muse that place is!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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Convention ’08

2 09 2008

These are milkweed bugs. I saw this unusual plant at Green Spring Gardens and thought it would be interesting to photograph up close. The pods look milkweed-like, so I’ll fairly certain that it’s a type of milkweed plant. It’s much more compact than the swamp milkweed that my friend Regina grows every year in her garden.

I sat down to shoot some closeups and noticed the first three bugs. Then another. And another. And then an entire convention of them! There were at least a hundred of them (yes, I did a preliminary count out of curiosity). Look at the teeny, tiny baby in the third photo. Check out this link for more information about milkweed bugs.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

20 07 2008

Bright and early this morning (too early), Michael and I headed out to photograph the sunflower fields at the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, MD, then headed over to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to photograph the Lotus blossoms. We first learned about the sunflower fields from my friend Nanda, who went to see it after reading about it in the Washington Post here. We’ve gone the past two years and have gotten there either before the blooms appeared or too late in the day when they’re spent and facing downward. This year, thanks to advice via e-mail from fellow blogger and local photographer Patty Hankins, we finally got to photograph the flowers at their peak! (Patty shot some really beautiful images; you’ll see them on her blog). I’ll be posting the sunflower photos later.

After an hour and a half of photographing sunflowers, we headed to Kenilworth in Washington, D.C. And once again, we arrived during the Annual Waterlily Festival and the Lotus Asian Cultural Festival (I thought it was next weekend). Since it was later in the morning than we had expected to get there, it wasn’t the optimum time for photographing Lotus blossoms because of the harsh sunlight. Despite that, photographing the myriad dragonflies ended up making it well worth the trip anyway!

To see the Lotus blossom images I shot at Kenilworth in 2006 and 2007, click here and here.

Here’s an article from the Washington Post about this “oasis in the city.” If you’ve got the room (and the pond!) to grow these beautiful flowers, read these growing tips from Doug Green. And take a look at Patty Hankins’ Lotus blossom photos and glean some great photography tips on her blog here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.