Red Footed Cannibal Fly (Promachus rufipes)

A member of the Robber Fly (Asilidea) family, these flying terrors are also known as Assassin flies. Similar to dragonflies, Cannibal flies are voracious hunters who ambush their prey in mid-air. They principally feed on bees, ants, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and other insects. After they’ve caught their victim, Cannibal flies use their proboscis to inject liquefying neurotoxins and proteolytic enzymes into the insect’s body. The fly will then find a quiet spot to feed. After a few moments, all that will be left will be an empty shell. Promachus rufipes_RedFootedCannibalFly_201607

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Broadhead Skink (Plestiodon laticeps)

Largest of the native skinks in Virginia, broadhead  skinks are virtually indistinguishable from five-lined skinks when young. With the blue tails and five lighter lines, only a slight variation in their scales distinguish them from their cousins. Adult females – which can grow up to 13″ long – are typically larger than adult males and retain their lines. As seen in the photo, adult males have a more uniform body color offset by an ostentatious red-orange head and neck during the spring mating season.

Spending time on the ground as well as in trees, these non-poisonous insectivores reproduce by laying eggs. Common throughout the Southeastern United States they typically are seen around our house and in the adjoining planting beds. As a child I remember skinks being fairly rare, but their numbers have increased over the past 10 years to a point where they are now a common site during the warmer months.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

This is an easy one to start with. The second most abundant bird in North American, robins are endemic on the farm and are the first migratory birds to arrive in late winter and possibly winter over. Easily identifiable by their reddish-orange breast, they are often seen in large flocks on the farm in the early spring but become more solitary in the summer. They are profuse breeders. According to wikipedia, produce two to three broods a year hatched from their distinctive blue eggs. This fecundity appears to be much needed as only 25% of young robins survive their first year and the average lifespan is a short two years.

The robin pictured below was photographed on an August morning atop a willow oak. With a mouth full of  invertebrates, this master hunter was no doubt rushing home to feed its last hatchlings of year.

Robin_20158.

In the beginning…

For decades I’ve lived in Virginia’s piedmont on a farm that’s been in my family for almost 70 years. Even with half a lifetime of wandering the the 250 acres of fields and forested hillsides, I am still constantly surprised by the variety of life found in the landscape. No matter what scale – from the microscopic to the panographic – it’s abundance is astonishing.

This site is an attempt to document as many of the different forms of life as possible  within the farm’s boundaries. Nothing too technical, just old school natural history.

It is also an excuse. With jobs, children, parents, and friends I’ve been spending less and less time outside. This project gives me a reason to get back out into nature.

I am also a historian by training, so my zoological skills are amateurish at best. Don’t hesitate to let me know if something has been mislabeled or misidentified.

farm_raggedtoblueridge