Friday, May 12, 2023

City Nature Challenge 2023 Recap

Pearl Crescent butterfly, Phyciodes tharos

Here, in our neck of the woods in Leavenworth, Kansas, USA, the 2023 City Nature Challenge was, well, challenging. Our county is part of the Greater Kansas City Metro as defined for the City Nature Challenge. Besides unseasonably cool temperatures, and viciously windy weather, there was the competition of the National Football League draft in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Despite those circumstances, the results were excellent.

I kept an eye out for birds, too, like this Red-tailed Hawk

There were 294 "observers," or people who recorded observations of flora and fauna, making a total of 3,640 sightings, beginning Friday, April 28, and ending May 1 (Friday through Monday). Currently, the observations represent 807 species, and climbing, thanks to the work of more than 300 "identifiers," people proficient in the identification of various organisms. This is an increase over last year's totals of 239 observers making 1,944 observations of 651 species.

A tiny lace bug, Corythucha sp.

Personally, I ventured out only Friday, April 28, and Monday, May 1, both very windy days. We also put out a blacklight and sheet in the back yard the night of May 1 to see what night-flying insects we could attract. We had an invitation to make observations in Topeka, a non-participating city, on Saturday, April 29, which was of course the best weather day in the span of the event.

Plants and fungi accounted for about half the total observations. Over half the animal observations were insects and arachnids.

Cute and camouflaged Blanchard's Cricket Frog

Most of my own observations were in Havens Park, the only "wild" park within walking distance of our home. My partner, Heidi, needs our car for work. Havens has lawns with a few trees, plus extensive oak-hickory forests, and glades dominated by Eastern Red Cedar at the summit of the park. The area has been abused by illegal dumping, and was notorious as a place for drug deals, but these crimes have subsided drastically. Illegal off-road vehicle traffic remains a problem, with the resulting erosion and gouging of the landscape. I see few people on any of the trails, including paved biking and walking trails, but I am usually there on weekdays.

An assassin bug, Sinea sp, in waiting

I found a surprising diversity of butterflies in spite of the periodic strong wind gusts. It helped that a few flowers were blooming, and there were some mud puddles persisting from previous rain.

Eastern Tailed-blue butterfly
Juvenal's Duskywing skipper, Erynnis juvenalis
Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus
Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis
Juniper Hairstreak, Callophrys gryneus
Questionmark butterfly, Polygonia interrogationis

Few moths were seen, though turning on our porch light on one night, and deploying a blacklight on another, helped to reveal them.

Unidentified geometer moth
Tiny ribbed cocoon-maker moth, Bucculatrix sp.
A phycitine knot-horned moth, family Pyralidae
Celery Leaftier Moth, Udea rubigalis

The most diverse and conspicuous insects were flies, with several families represented.

Drosophila sp. pomace fly in the kitchen
Large Bee Fly, Bombylius major
Root maggot fly, Eutrichota sp
Shore fly, Brachydeutera sp., on the surface of a mud puddle
Shiny Bluebottle Fly, Cynomya cadaverina
Pufftail flower fly, Sphegina sp.
Narrow-headed Marsh Fly, Helophilus fasciatus
Blue-green Bottle Fly, Lucilia coerulieviridis
Muscid fly, Lispe sp.

Beetles were disappointingly scarce for the most part. Even lady beetles were mostly absent. Next year, I might try putting out pitfall traps.

Two-lined Soldier Beetle, Atalantycha bilineata
Striped Cucumber Beetle, Acalymma vittatum
Jewel beetle, Dicerca lurida
Rove beetle, Lathropinus picipes?

Springtime is bee season, and they did not disappoint. Most families were present, representing several genera. Some, like large carpenter bees, I was unable to get images of.

Non-native mason bee, Osmia taurus
Sweat bee, Lasioglossum (Dialictus) sp.
Mining bee, Andrena sp.
Nomad cuckoo bee, Nomada sp.

Sawflies and wasps were more challenging to find, and photograph, but I was happy to see any at all.

Mason wasp, Ancistrocerus sp.
Eastern Yellowjacket queen, Vespula maculifrons
Ichneumon wasp, Erigorgus sp.
Spider wasp, Priocnemis minorata
Unidentified sawfly, family Tenthredinidae
Nocturnal ichneumon wasp, Netelia sp.

I only managed to find two kinds of grasshoppers, representing pygmy grasshoppers and short-horned grasshoppers.

Pygmy grasshopper, family Tetrigidae
Green-striped Grasshopper, Chortophaga viridifasciata

Did you know that cockroaches and termites are now classified in the same order? I uncovered both kinds of insects by turning over boards and chunks of wood from logs and limbs.

Eastern Subterranean Termite, Reticulitermes flavipes
Wood cockroach nymph, Parcoblatta sp.

Spiders were surprisingly abundant and diverse, representing several families of web-weavers, ambush hunters, and active predators.

Antmimic spider, Castianeira sp.
Orbweaver, Gea heptagon
Triangulate Cobweb Weaver, Steatoda triangulosa
Brown Recluse, male, Loxosceles reclusa
Crab spider, Mecaphesa sp.
Hammock weaver, Pityohyphantes sp.

Overall, this year's City Nature Challenge was an exciting exercise in discovery and sharing. Thanks to all who participated, in every city, and to iNaturalist (my observations in the hyperlink) for providing the platform to register individual projects and record the observations. I'm already looking forward to the 2024 edition.