Field Notes Update

Underside of an Arrow-shaped Micrathena Spider by Todd Henson

Underside of an Arrow-shaped Micrathena spider. Click on the photo for a larger view.

Arrow-shaped Micrathena (Micrathena sagittata) are a species of orb-weaving spider with an interesting arrow-shaped body and beautiful coloration including a mix of yellow, black and red. They have what appear to be 2 large spikes sticking out the end of their abdomen, with 4 smaller spikes around the middle and front of the abdomen. You can only see 4 of these spikes on the spider pictured here. Apparently in males of the species these spikes are smaller or sometimes missing completely, so I’m guessing this one is a female. The large protrusion in the center of the underside of its abdomen contain its spinnerets, used to extrude the silk that makes up its web.

I found this particular specimen along a trail in a forested park. It was hanging on its web with its underside facing the trail. It can be easy to overlook spiders while hiking, except of course when they build their webs right across the trail. But this one was at the edge of the trail, with a very nice patch of green foliage in the background that turned into a beautiful green blur in the image.

Photographing the Micrathena

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To photograph this Micrathena I used a 105 mm macro lens (Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED). I set the ISO to 1000 because I was photographing in a forest with little sunlight getting through all the leaves. I used an aperture of f/9 to give me a reasonable depth of field with the macro lens. But as you can see, portions of the spider are still out of focus. The shutter speed was 1/25th of a second, which is rather slow but was enough in this case. I used a tripod to keep the camera steady.

Keep your eyes open as you hike through the woods, both to avoid walking right into a spider web across the trail, but also to give you the opportunity to see some of the amazing spiders living just off the trail.

Eastern Phoebe Catching Insects for its Young by Todd Henson

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Eastern Phoebe looking to the left

This Eastern Phoebe was found in my favorite wetlands park, just off the boardwalk that extends over portions of the wetlands. It was common to see these birds in this section as they created a nest under the boardwalk each year.

Eastern Phoebe tilting its head towards the camera

This particular bird was catching insects to bring back to the nest. Eastern Phoebe are a species of flycatcher, and when watching them you can easily see why they fit that name, catching insects, often in the air. Amazing little birds.

Eastern Phoebe with an insect in its beak

Eastern Phoebe with another insect in its beak

According to Wildlife of Virginia and Maryland and Washington, D.C., by Charles Fergus, they eat a variety of insects, including small wasps, bees, beetles, flies, and moths. They sit on a perch and watch for flying insects, then dart out and catch them. And as with most all flycatchers, their “drab plumage makes the waiting birds hard to see, not just by its prey, but also by hawks that hunt for flycatchers and other small birds.”

Eastern Phoebe looking back over its shoulder

Many of the flycatcher species can be difficult to tell apart. Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of North America lists the following as identifying characteristics of the Eastern Phoebe:

  • downward tail-bobbing
  • no eye ring
  • no strong wing bars
  • small, all-dark bill
  • dark head
  • its song.

Additionally, the Eastern Phoebe is known to nest in sheltered spots such as under a bridge, which was exactly the case with this phoebe (or perhaps it was actually a pair).

Eastern Phoebe preening

Spending a little time standing in the same location can sometimes pay off when observing and photographing nature. Doing so allowed me to notice this phoebe flying from beneath the bridge and onto a nearby perch. I noticed it kept returning to the same set of perches after darting off to catch an insect. And it always flew back under the bridge in the same spot. When I walked over that spot I could hear the young chicks in the nest.

So stop and stand (or sit) every so often on your hikes. Just rest a while and observe. Look around and listen. Maybe you’ll notice something interesting.


Fledged Red-winged Blackbird by Todd Henson

Drawn by the sound of my camera's shutter, the Red-winged Blackbird fledgling looks my way.

In this post we take a look at a fledged Red-winged Blackbird sitting on a perch in the wetlands waiting for a parent to return to feed it. The fledgling appears to be maturing nicely, but is still young enough to rely on its parents.

The fledged Red-winged Blackbird looks up, likely watching some other bird fly overhead.

The coloration of its feathers are those of both adolescent and female Red-winged Blackbirds, namely a pattern of light and dark brown. You can see the ends of many feathers stick out, they’re not yet smooth. You can also tell from its face that it is a fledgling. The feathers on the face have not yet fully grown in.

The young Red-winged Blackbird closes its eyes and takes a short nap.

This particular fledgling didn’t move around much while I observed it. In fact, at one point it closed its eyes and appeared to nap. And it remained completely quiet, as well, though I suspect it would have begun making quite a noise if it saw a parent approaching.

Parting image of the young fledged Red-winged Blackbird.

Keep your eyes open when you’re out in the field. There’s plenty to see if you stay observant.

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