Friday, August 15, 2014

Creatures of the Night

     The Red Hills harbor many kinds of  animals.  Bats are among the most fascinating.  Over a half dozen of Kansas's 16 species can be found in or near some of the gypsum caves in these parts.  As far as size of colonies, no species equals that of the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat.  In one cave (featured here), upwards of a million of these bats call it their home.  The Brazilian Free-tailed females migrate here every year to give birth to their young.  Every dusk roughly from May to September, they fly out of the cave, chasing flying beetles, moths and other insects on wing.  They are a valuable asset to humans and an integral part of the Red Hills ecosystem; bats are also fascinating to watch.  Many can be seen away from their roosts, feeding above small streams and ponds and many times around light sources.  There are many misconceptions about bats.  To learn factual information about these interesting flying mammals, google Bat Conservation International.  To obtain an excellent booklet called "Bats of Kansas" by Sparks, Schmidt and Choate, check with Sternberg Museum of Hays, Kansas or the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita.

With a wing-spread of up to 10 inches, the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat is a large and nimble flying machine.
Staging in the cave before exiting, these bats use their echolocation (sonar) to help prevent collisions with other things and to locate food on the wing outside.

Thousands of bats circle, waiting for more darkness to exit for long feeding excursions.

Mariam and Andrew came all the way from Manhattan, New York to get some video of these flying mammals.
Brazilian Free-tailed Bats exited this cave for over an hour.  

Happy videographers!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Native Plant Celebration in the Red Hills

     The Kansas Native Plant Society is coming to the Red Hills!  The regular fall meeting and field trips of the KNPS is meeting in Pratt from Sept. 19-21.  There are several field trips planned as well as a very interesting program as part of the proceedings.  Google Kansas Native Plant Society or go to for more information. Here are a few of the cool plants which were observed and photographed very recently at a couple of the stops.

Stout Scorpion Weed is one of the most iconic representatives of the flora of the Red Hills.  Called "Ugly Weed" by some locals, this plant is a late bloomer and offers a unique flower head.  
Also called "Fiddle Head" for obvious reasons, this plant has small but very pretty flowers.  Here, a Digger Bee enjoys its nectar.

One of several species of gayfeather, this is Liatris glabra.

Phyllis captures Cadence taking shelter in one of the many very interesting rock formations at one of the stops on the KNPS upcoming field trips.

Silktop Dalea is in its glory right now in the Red Hills.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Drama in the Garden

     The Wheel Bug is a great asset to any organic garden. Here I try to give some photographic justice to the intriguing nature of these insect beasts.  Up close, they appear as a dinosaur-like throwback in some old-timey horror movie--a creature you definitely would not want to meet on their turf.  That has to be the feeling of some of these other insects who met their fate at the "beak" of these fierce looking bug-suckers.

This Wheel Bug is doing great service by attacking damaging squash bugs. The next dinner waits nearby as its cohort gets eaten.
Not necessarily an animal you wish to run in to, this Black Widow spider makes short work of an unlucky grasshopper.

This White-lined Sphinx Moth curiously visits the drama at this sunflower while feeding on its nectar.  
A giant sunflower attracts much attention from a variety of insects and creates a battleground for garden dramas of life and death.

Up close, this Wheel Bug has captured a Digger Bee for supper.  I do wish they wouldn't get my wild, native pollinators but they aren't too discriminating when it comes to their food.  They eat a lot of squash bugs so they earn their keep.

Wheel Bugs battle each other for territorial rights.