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Anita’s Blog – Splashes of Color

White-tipped Black Moth. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Except for a lawn full of yellow weeds, it started out as a black and white year. The first day of the new year, non-native prickly sowthistle, Sonchus asper, were shooting out of the grass at an alarming rate. The day was fine, so I hopped on the mower.

Prickly Sowthistle. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Alongside the fence adjacent to the neighboring farm field behind the old anacua tree, Ehretia anacua, that separates the track from the road, a thick hover of dozens of black-winged floaters swirled around me.

I stopped the mower, pulled my phone from a pocket eager to photograph what I was sure were red-bordered pixie butterflies finally having discovered the guamuchil trees, Pithecellobium dulce, I’d planted at that fence line just for their benefit. The tree is native to Mexico and has been introduced and naturalized in many areas. It is host to the red-bordered pixie butterfly, a Rio Grande Valley specialty. There is a lovely guamuchil at the St. George Texas Master Naturalist Pollinator Garden, in Pharr. The tree has beautiful leaves all in pairs.

Guamuchil tree leaves. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

It wasn’t until I was at the end of that track that I was able to capture photos of a pair feeding on a lingering fall-blooming mist flower (crucita), Chromolaena odorata, and uploaded an image on my iNaturalist phone app. Not butterflies at all, but the very attractive white-tipped black moth, Melanchroia chephise, with its striking red head and thorax, a common and sometimes abundant day flier I’ve found in the garden before. The moth has a range of Florida, the Caribbean, Texas, and south to Paraguay, according to

White-tipped Black Moth. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Although this link lists several food choices of the white-tipped black moths:, I'm hard-pressed to identify their local host plants.

Obviously, something fed numerous larvae in the late fall, perhaps species of Euphorbia.

The second day of the year, a black and white ladder-backed woodpecker made an appearance. As it got closer to the camera, its red top became evident. We have had a gentleman ladder-backed visitor about twice a year for a while. They are smaller than the golden-fronted woodpecker and have different antics.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Only the male ladder-backed woodpecker is topped with a red crown; the female has a black crown with a buff-colored patch in front of the eyes. Ladder-backed woodpeckers are permanent residents in the Rio Grande Valley. They favor honey mesquite trees. It’s somewhat of a mystery why I don’t see the ladder-backed as often as our full-time golden-fronted woodpeckers, of which we have a least a half dozen. The golden-fronted woodpeckers may be territorial, although I’ve not read that they are.

A black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens, with white legs somehow ended up dead on the garage floor. It was a good-looking fly; I was sorry to see it dead. The black soldier fly is useful for recycling organic waste; their larvae are essential decomposers in breaking down organic substrates and returning nutrients to the soil, according to Wikipedia.

Black Soldier Fly. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

While still doing chores in the garage, I scooped a white-edged black bug from – of all places, the cat litter box – that in the light of day (for photographing) also had splotches of red. It identified as Rasahus biguttatus, an assassin bug. After the photo session, it turned out not to be dead, so I helped it relocate. Not sure how it got in the litter box, but a mystery I don’t need to solve.

Rasahus biguttatus. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

A couple of days later, I glimpsed through the kitchen window what I thought was the return of the black and white warbler. The camera was handy. A photo caught the splash of yellow at the bird’s throat. It was one of our winter guests returning, a yellow-throated warbler.

Yellow-throated Warbler. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Finding black and white in nature and especially with splotches of color is as exciting as revisiting one of my favorite eras of black and white photography. In the aftermath of World War I, around 1917, the fascinating art movement called Surrealism was developed.

The movement was created to emphasize positive expression (presumably after years of realism) and the concept of tapping into the unconscious mind to release creativity.

Five common themes in surrealistic artwork were juxtaposition, scale, repetition, metamorphosis and impossible actions all with the overarching concept of liberation of artistic expression. Easier to do in oils and other painted mediums. In photography, artistic liberation explored levitation photography, multiple exposures, photo composite and challenging logic by changing perspective and at the very least, avant-garde applications.

One of the most stunning galleried shows that resonated with me was black and white photographs where an appropriate area of a photograph was painted with brilliant red paint. Art follows nature, surely.



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