May Notes 2022

Somehow it got to be the end of May and the swamp rose has its first blooms. After 3 days in the 90’s followed by a heavy storm, the jungle is back in full force. The robins are singing like there’s no tomorrow. The grackle babies are clucking. The starling babies are hissing or however you describe that irritating sound they make. The air is beginning to smell of sweet bay magnolia.

On Sunday we watched a bolt of lightning strike down in the middle of our neighbor’s yard. The next morning the lettuce looked like it had grown 6 inches. I’ve heard lightning indirectly adds nitrogen to the soil and I’m wondering if that may be the reason for the quick lettuce growth. Whatever the reason we are now eating a lot of lettuce.

After a rain and lightning bolt.

Earlier this month I got invited by a fellow naturalist to go on a photo shoot in Rock Creek Park. It turned out this naturalist is both an expert on flies and macro photography so I got some great info and advice in both areas. Actually it was a little embarrassing as I couldn’t even figure out how to use my flash. I am now determined to learn more about flies and not only how to use my camera but improve my macro photography skills.

Bee experts identified this fly I shot on my photo expedition in Rock Creek Park as Lytogaster excavata. It may not look like much but this is one of only 3 recordings on iNaturalist in the world!

So, I’ve been taking lots of pictures of flies in my garden where there are many. It’s a frustrating but fascinating pursuit and like everything in nature (and photography), there will always be more to learn.

That tiny mound under the board is the bee nest of the rufous-backed cellophane bee.

Last year I discovered bees nesting in my garden and found out they were cellophane bees, bees that make a biodegradable film they use to line the insides of their nests. Very crafty. This year I realized they were everywhere. If I didn’t love them I’d say my garden was infested. I find myself leaving violets (in my vegetable beds) and weeds in place so as not to disturb their nests. And watching where I step. I am proud and honored they choose my garden to raise their young.

Here one is fixing her nest.
Little things were flying around these aster stems.

One day as I was looking for flies, I noticed things flying around the dead stems from last years asters and as I stopped and watched them I realized some seemed to be flying into the tips of the stems. I realized they were actually tiny bees.

Modest Masked Bee (Hylaeus modestus) and aster stem.

I realized they were the same bees I was seeing on the Golden Alexander flowers and someone on iNaturalist identified them as the Modest Masked Bee (Hylaeus modestus), also a type of cellophane bee that does indeed make nests in dead stems.

A modest masked bee peeking out. It’s amazing to me how they seem just the perfect size for these holes.
A modest masked bee in a raspberry flower.

So, apparently cellophane bees like my garden. I must figure out why.

I will be sad to see spring go. I’ve already gotten a few mosquito bites so I know summer is fast approaching and with it, more amazing things.

An Asian Tiger Mosquito on my boot.