Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Don't Want To Be a Cicada

Mist-cloaked Lake Frank after a night of rainstorms.

Originally I was going to stay home on Friday.  My husband wanted to borrow my car and I figured I’d hang out with the cats, get some cleaning done, that sort of thing.  But at the last minute he decided to take his own car after all, and the expected rain looked like it would hold off til early afternoon.  So I took this as a sign that I should go hiking.

We’d had some fierce torrential thunderstorms Thursday afternoon and night, so I wanted to see how Lake Frank looked. I also thought I might get neat photographs of raindrops clinging to leaves. There was indeed still a lot of moisture everywhere, but most of it was suspended in the air. The weather started somewhere between misty and hazy, as you can see above, but ended up just plain hot and sticky by mid-day. I did get a few interesting shots though, including some of droplets on perched damselflies.  Zoom in on the damselfly shots to really see the mist.

I love when mist catches sunbeams like this.

This damselfly carried only one mist droplet.

This one has a whole family of droplets to carry!

I spent most of my day in two spots at the park.  One was a shallow inlet that held Mallards, Wood Ducks, a Green Heron, a newly arrived Spotted Sandpiper and basking Painted & Red-bellied Turtles. I had to wade through thigh-high wet grass to get there, but it was worth getting a bit damp. I perched on a hunk of lumber near the shore, probably a fisherman’s seat, and got to observe the undisturbed animals from fairly close.  Even though the air was too hazy to make for fantastic photos, I still had a great time watching the animals, especially the Green Heron while it hunted minnows.  I love Green Herons, they are so energetic and interesting.

The fluffy white debris is molted mallard feathers. Messy little beasts.

Check out that gargantuan Red-bellied Turtle, must be at least the size of a Mallard! The sandpiper is on the short log in the foreground.

I also spent a lot of time in some semi-reclaimed parking lots.  These expansive swaths of asphalt have been abandoned for years, it looks like, and are in the process of returning to weedy wilderness. Although I did meet a few hikers just back from four years out of state, who were shocked and saddened at the lots’ abandonment, I love it. It’s amazing to see wildlife fighting to take the area back, sprouting clumps of milkweed here, rambling blackberry vines there. I’ve found lots of cool plants and animals in these parking lots this summer, and today didn’t disappoint. I found several humongous Cicada Killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus) in the parking lots, one individual even carrying prey!

Cicada Killer on the hunt.

Apparently the female Cicada Killers dig long burrows ending in cells which they stuff with paralyzed cicadas.  One egg is laid per cell, and in a few days the eggs hatch into small but ravenous larvae who feast on the cicadas for a couple weeks before pupating through the winter. I watched the wasps patrol a tangle of tall grasses on a former road median.  It was hard to get a good look at them, let alone many photographs, as they skimmed swiftly through the grassy tops and swooped down into the denser parts of the tangle.  I wasn’t exactly sure of the ID, especially since I didn’t have a bug field guide with me, until I finally saw the individual with prey. She landed heavily on the grasses and then clambered deep into the tangle, presumably heading for her burrow. Way cool.

Cicada Killer with prey.

Also in the former parking lots I spotted a lurking Praying Mantis, a Gladiator Katydid (what a great name!), a passel of milkweed bug nymphs, a robber fly, and blooming goldenrod, mullein and thistle, plus plenty of birds and butterflies. Not bad for a patch of asphalt.

This mantis was browner than the ones I saw at Meadowside, so not as well camouflaged.

Gladiator Katydid on milkweed.

A robber fly, I think Promachus rufipes. Fierce looking but it won't sting you.

Tiny Milkweed Bug nymphs haven't yet developed their black wings.

Bees were loving the goldenrod, including this one with bulging pollen baskets!

I have to say, this makes the second hike in a row where I witnessed a rather horrible death of a cicada.  Is there a pattern here?  I know one thing for sure-- I don’t want to reincarnate as a fat, juicy cicada!

This entry's park: Lake Frank, Rock Creek Regional Park, Derwood, MD 


  1. Great post and photo sequence! That place looks so rich and full of life. Congratulations on seeing the Cicada Killer in action and getting photos of it, they're so cool!

  2. Thanks, Julie. I do love Lake Frank and the rest of Rock Creek Regional Park. There are so many varied habitats side-by-side, it makes for really dynamic hike and exploration possibilities.


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