Flowers, Bees and a Ladder-Back Woodpecker, 03-20-15

After work on Friday, I took the dog over to the WPA Rock Garden and duck pond for a walk.  More and more flowers are starting to bloom; in another week or so the garden should really be showing off.  I saw several different kinds of butterflies today including a Painted Lady, Tiger Swallowtail, and Pipevine Swallowtails.  I watched one Pipevine Swallowtail hunting for a place to lay her eggs – I can now recognize pre-egg-laying butterfly behavior; that’s kind of kewl! – and watched as she laid a couple of them (and I got a little bit of it).  That’s always neat to see.  I also got some photos of another Pipevine Swallowtail sipping nectar from some flowers.

Here is a snippet of video of the egg-laying:

Along with the ubiquitous European Honeybees and Carpenter Bees, I also came across a large solitary California Bumblebee (bombus californicus) with bright orange pollen in the “baskets” on its legs.  I wonder if it was a queen.  Like honeybees, bumblebees form colonies under a single queen, although their colonies far less extensive than those of honeybees.  According to the Xerces Society, “…Most bumble bees nest in the ground in cavities such as abandoned rodent burrows, holes in building foundations, or stacks of firewood. Once the queen finds a suitable site, she will begin preparing the nest space by building a small wax cup, called a honey pot, and collects pollen which she will use to feed her developing brood. When the nest is sufficiently provisioned, she will lay eggs on the pollen lump and begin incubating the eggs by laying her abdomen over the brood to keep the eggs or larvae warm. At this point the queen remains in the nest unless she needs to collect more food. Nearly four weeks after laying the first eggs her first workers will emerge as adults and begin the jobs of foraging, nest cleaning, and brood care. The colony will grow throughout the summer and the workers will help the queen produce a clutch of male offspring, followed soon by new queen bees. These reproductive bees will leave the nest and find mates…”

The bombus californicus are said to be in decline, but there is also some speculation that they’re merely a subspecies of another kind of bumblebee so entomologists don’t know what to do about them.  I can remember that at the Stagecoach Drive house, Dad disturbed a large colony of bumblebees living under one of the stands of pampas grass on the backyard hill.

At the park, the middle pond is being drained out a lot right now, so it isn’t very pretty – and a lot of the waterbirds are discouraged by how shallow the thing is.  I think the city is doing this so they can get in and clean out several years of crud that has accumulated on the bottom of the pond.  They need SOME of that to keep the pond “alive” and to encourage waterborne insects and fish to live there.  But because it’s landlocked debris just keeps filling up inside of it until it gets to the point that the mess is choking all of their equipment, and no light can get to the bottom of the pond.  So they dredge it out, save as many living larvae and fish as they can, and then refill it.

Along with the waterfowl today, I also saw a lot of crows, Goldfinches, Robins and a few Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers (Picoides scalaris).  I also got a photo of a pair of tiny Linyphiidae spiders on the back of a flowering tobacco plant leaf.  There are so many spider in that group that I can’t clearly identify individual species, but they’re sometimes call “Sheet Weavers” or “Dwarf Spiders” because of their diminutive size and the kind of webs they build…  It was a nice walk.

What was funny was that while we were in the garden two different people recognized Sergeant Margie.  Hah!  My dog is famous.

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