Friday, June 29, 2012

Enjoying it While it Lasts

Early morning, just as the sun is beginning to peek over the trees.

The front sidewalk flower bed is reaching a crescendo this week, and not a moment too late since the impending 100 degree temperatures this weekend are sure to bring it to its knees, if flowers have knees, that is.

Sun's up a little further now.

This is the second and third year for most of these plants and they've really filled in well. I'm so pleased with the combinations, the various shades of pink, orange, and chartreuse, and they all have scented foliage and/or flowers. Of course, everything is a native or native cultivar and a pollinator magnet!

Ten minutes later and the sun is blazing!

This half of the front sidewalk bed has a summer blooming theme, the half not pictured, is fall blooming. This is a full sun with afternoon protection site, and everything is quite drought tolerant. Plants include Purple Coneflower, White Coneflower (mystery), Wild Bergamot (monarda fistulosa), "Raspberry Wine" Bee Balm, "Shades of Orange" hummingbird mint, Common Milkweed, Italian Parsley, Dill, "May Night" Salvia, Purple-leaved Coralbells (mystery), Anise Hyssop "Blue Fortune", "Rosita" hummingbird mint, and a mystery sedum.

I've really fallen in love with the pink, orange, and chartreuse color combo. (Dill and Purple Coneflower)

This is my mystery White Coneflower. When I bought it, it was a pure white flower and was labelled "White Swan", a common and durable white cultivar. Over the years, however, it has morphed into a flower that opens yellow, then fades to white, I like it better this way!

Monarda fistulosa, aka Wild bergamot, I love this plant!

While I was taking these photos, trying to preserve the memory of this fabulous flower feast in my mind, I happened to notice several insects were also patiently waiting for the sun to rise, so that it may warm their bodies enough to get moving before a predator should stop by.

Cool, early mornings are the best time to photograph insects like this moth, it's about the only time most of them sit still. (Wild Bergamot)

I think this bumblebee had just waken up, he was a little groggy. (Anise Hyssop)

Your only chance to find a cooperative hoverfly is on a cool morning.

A Camouflaged Looper, not yet camo-ed, heading for one of their favorite flowers, Anise Hyssop.

A Skipper, another insect that rarely sits still long enough to get a good photo.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Never Give Up...


   Our Bluebirds have been quite busy this year. They successfully raised four chicks in the Spring, and promptly started a new family in the same box in May. I guess I can assume they like the habitat we have tried to provide for them.
   I knew the second crop of young'uns would be fledging sometime this week, I was just desperately hoping it would be before the heatwave of mid-90's temperatures. You can always tell when the chicks are ready to fledge because they start hanging their heads out of the box hole. You will also often see the parents tease them with food offerings, bringing them a bug as if they're going to just give it to them as usual, then fly away with it as if to say "If you want it, you gotta come and get it". Invariably they either fledge that day or the day after.
   Well, all seemed normal as I noticed Tuesday a bunch of Bluebird chicks in the pine tree behind the bluebird box. They jumped sometime around sunrise. This was great because Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday proved to be scorchers and I couldn't imagine how they could have survived in their oven-like nestbox.
   Thursday night, Jeff went out to clean the box and repair the dodgey door latch. Oh crap! There was still a chick inside, abandoned and dying a slow death (or so we thought). We were beyond sad, apparently it wasn't ready to fledge with the others and we thought the parents had abandoned it.
   Friday morning, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw momma Bluebird bring a huge katydid to the box and carry away a fecal sac. Would you believe that chick fledged either Friday night or Saturday morning?! The parents never gave up on that chick and kept coming back to the box and feeding it for several days after the others had left! We are so glad we didn't do anything to interfere, just like when you see a fawn you *think* has been abandoned, Leave It Alone! Momma deer always leave their fawns somewhere while they forage during the day, they're not abandoned. There was a story in our local paper just this week about all the "abandoned" fawns people have brought to the local Wildlife Rehab Center.
  That chick is a survivor, just like our little Ginger (the abandoned kitten we found on Monday). What a week of highs and lows! I'm so tired...

I couldn't help but think of this famous line from this clip in Monty Python's "Holy Grail"- "I'm not dead yet!" 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

When Life Gets in the Way of Blogging (again)...

   This week was supposed to be all about pollinators, in celebration of National Pollinator Week 2012. Monday morning I was working on the first of what should have been 7 posts celebrating pollinator diversity and importance when Jeff sent me a video via iPhone with the caption "Oh no!". Long story short...he found a kitten, or rather, it found him. Being the kitty lovers we are, and the fact that the kitten instantly decided Jeff was "daddy", our hearts just melted. Our other two cats were "found" cats, and our first, who passed away 3 years ago, was too. Tiny, hungry, dirty, and full of affection, this poor little kitten was probably dropped off or "discarded" by someone who didn't want it, it's definitely not feral, she's way to friendly and sweet. We scooped her up, brought her home, then took her to our vet that afternoon to get checked out. Jeff, meanwhile, searched the woods for others, but didn't find any. At the time her only problem was being dirty, covered in fleas and ticks, and a little under nourished, however she stopped eating about a day and a half ago. Low on energy and limp, we rushed her in to the vet this morning, they think she might just have a little infection, so they're keeping her for observation and they'll give her medicines and such. Talk about stress bomb! A few days ago we didn't know she existed, now we're fearing for her life. The docs are confident she'll be alright, our fingers are crossed.

Anyway, her name is Ginger, because of her color, and, now this is silly, but in England redheads are called "gingers". Also, of course, the redhead on Gilligan's Island was "Ginger". The vets guessed she was only about 8 weeks old. So, for the next few weeks while she's in quarantine (for FHIV testing before we introduce her to our other cats) our life will be a little crazy. Then for the next few weeks after that, while we start to introduce Ginger into the group, supervising the inevitable hissing and growling, our life will still be crazy. Oh well, she's worth it, she sure is a sweetie!

Look at that face, how can you say no?

At the vet, with my Mom's help (thanks Mom!). They said it was very unusual for an orange cat to be a girl, apparently most orange cats are boys, for some reason.

Post ear bath and treatment, she also had ear mites :-(

Back home, sitting in my lap, one lucky little girl!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Camouflaged Looper, revisited

   As a follow-up from yesterdays post, here are a few more shots of the amazing Camouflaged Looper, the caterpillar form of the Wavy-Lined Emerald moth. Last night I went out to check on them, and just happened to see one in the process of decorating himself. I tried my best to get a few photos of the process, as you can see by their size in relation to the salvia flower, they are really small, maybe 1 cm long. It looks like his natural "skin" color is kinda tan-ish brown, here he's taking a green piece of the plant and sticking it to his back (somehow!).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Happy, Happy Host Plants

Milkweed may be the most popular and well-known host plant (for Monarchs, of course) in our gardens, but many hundreds of different plants are "host" to the other 12,000 species of Lepidoptera. While I haven't seen any Monarch or Swallowtail caterpillars this year*, we do have a few other species hanging out in our yard, and they happen to be quite beautiful too!

Brown Hooded Owlet Moth, on Woodland Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)

White Marked Tussock Moth, on Pin Oak

Camouflaged Looper, on Salvia "May Night" (aka Wavy Lined Emerald Moth)

  Camouflaged Looper, dead center in the picture, about 1:00 in relation to the honey bee. In case you're unfamiliar with these guys, they affix pieces of whatever plant they are on to their bodies so they blend in. Totally the coolest!

Host plants aren't just for butterflies and moths, other insects have developed special relationships with particular plants too. What would you name a red beetle that lives exclusively on milkweed? How about Red Milkweed Beetle! How boring is that? Sorry for the blurry picture, I was leaning uncomfortably close over poison ivy to get this shot, with Jeff holding onto my pants!

*Well, we have seen a couple, but they didn't last long. Despite both Jeff and I watching a Monarch lay eggs, only one hatched that I could find, and that one disappeared after a couple of days. We also had one Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar, but it too disappeared before maturing fully.  :-(

Friday, June 8, 2012

Random Acts of Cuteness

Since my last post may have inspired nightmares of flesh rotting spider bites, how about a few pictures of happy things that certainly ought to make anyone smile!

Ok, I know, bunnies are prolly on a lot of people's poop lists, but (so far) ours stay on the far edge of the yard up against the tall, unmowed grass line, and I haven't noticed any damage in the flower beds. I take it as another sign that we're providing a healthy habitat, especially since we cancelled our lawn service and the backyard is now full of clover!

Hey mister! Are you our Pater familias?

Seeing these little fellas hop around and chase each other really is cute, I guess it means we don't have any foxes in the neighborhood this year.

Ma and Pa Bluebird are currently working on their second brood, it's a constant stream of back and forth to the box, feeding and guarding. They are a constant presence this year, and we feel very fortunate to have them. I think they look quite regal here.

Who doesn't smile when they see a rainbow? Surely this undoes the evil images of the black widow! This picture comes from our trip to Hatteras last month.

I dare you not to smile in the presence of the beautiful Sweet Pea!

Or at the goofy antics of little Squeak!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

True or False?

La-dee-daa, I head over to Dean to check on the status of our first and only Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar (on a Spicebush, no less) and hopefully snap a photo or two for an upcoming post...

...and it's gone.

We strike out again. Last time I saw it, it was still about a week away or more from entering the chrysalis stage, it should still be there.

Thoroughly dejected, I scan everywhere for it, even on the cage protecting the Spicebush from the deer...

...and I find this!

Holy guacamole, I sure am glad I didn't bump into this thing, it was right under my nose as I leaned into the cage looking for the caterpillar!

Here's a view from it's under-side, look at that hourglass and long, needle-like legs, surely it is...

Here's a look at the top-side. 

Here's a side view. The abdomen looks...strange, too thin maybe. Most Black Widows that I've seen have larger, roundish abdomens. 

In the immortal words of Ice Cube..."You betta check yo self befo you wreck yo self"!

Well, what do you think? Is it a true Black Widow, or a false one? I relocated it far into the woods, just in case. You know how most spiders run away when you mess with them, like trying to scoop one off the kitchen floor and toss 'em outside before the kitties start playing with it. Well this one didn't. It let me pick it up (with a stick of course!) and it confidently just sat there like "I'll mess you up silly biped humanoid".