Field Notes Update

Cicada Casing on a Tree by Todd Henson

A cicada casing, or shell, left of a tree.

Many of us have probably heard the sound of cicadas calling to one another. During some seasons the sound can grow to a constant hum. But have you ever seen the casing left behind when a larval cicada molts out of its shell? That’s what this photograph shows.

A cicada had climbed this tree and latched itself onto the bark. Then it began the fascinating process of molting. Inside it detached from its hard shell. It broke through the back of the shell and began to emerge, very soft and vulnerable. Its wings opened and took form. Eventually it flew off leaving behind the casing, or shell, that we see in the photograph above.

YouTube has a video from BBC Studios of Sir David Attenborough describing the life cycle of the cicada:

Red-breasted Merganser Summering in its Winter Range by Todd Henson

A male Red-breasted Merganser sitting on a log looking over its shoulder.

Some birds can be found year round in a location. Others migrate between summer and winter ranges. And sometimes a bird, such as this male Red-breasted Merganser, can be found spending the summer in what is normally their winter range.

Male Red-breasted Merganser preening on a log.

Male Red-breasted Merganser resting on a log.

Red-breasted Merganser typically migrate north during the summer to places like Canada and Alaska. But this male chose to stay in Northern Virginia, spending many mornings sleeping on a fallen log along the shore of a wildlife refuge. Perhaps this male was still too young to breed, so it stayed south where the fishing was good and the temperature warm.

Male Red-breasted Merganser facing the water.

Male Red-breasted Merganser swimming in the bay.

Whatever its reason for staying south, I enjoyed its company and the photographic opportunities it presented.

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.