Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Week of Butterflies

The butterflies have finally started to show up this week, all of them appearing to be recently emerged from their chrysalises. I even saw a Monarch, but of course it floated away before I could even think about getting the camera out. It's fascinating to notice how the butterflies come and go throughout the season, different generations in different stages of their life, and how different species show up in different years. For example, last year we saw record numbers of Buckeyes, but only one so far this year, I can only wonder why. Trying to get decent photos of butterflies is always a challenge, they never stop moving and won't let you get very close, but I always enjoy trying. Here's a sampling of the butterflies in our yard this week:

A Painted Lady, on Anise Hyssop "Blue Fortune".

Notice how almost all the insects in my photos are on Anise Hyssop? It's a very popular plant.

A Spicebush Swallowtail in the early morning, the only way I could get this close.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail at dusk. This particular fellow hung around for hours on this same plant, the whole time I was making dinner and the whole time while we were eating. The flower bed is right outside the door which made watching him easy. He was immaculate, I imagined he had just emerged from his chrysalis and was having his first meal.

No surprise, he likes Anise Hyssop!

The Silvery Checkerspots also made their appearance this week. Considering how many caterpillars we saw back in the spring (a lot!) they should be everywhere.

These guys are quite small, barely 2 inches across, and look very similar to Pearl Crescents. This guy managed to find some coneflowers that still had some juice in them.

A Grey Hairstreak on Rudbeckia laciniata "Herbstsonne".

Dear readers:
*What Butterflies are you guys seeing where you live?*
*What are the plants in your yard that seem to be the most attractive to them?*

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Right Time, Right Place: Eastern Kingbirds

*Insert grasshopper here

   Don't you just love it when you happen to be in the right place at the right time to witness something special? I'd just pulled up into our driveway and stepped out of the truck when I heard the tell-tale chatter of the Kingbirds. I heard them earlier in the day while I was out working in the yard, but I was never able to get a good look at them, they were always slightly obscured by tree foliage. I had brought my camera and tripod out anyway, just in case I saw them, and to warm up the lens so it wouldn't fog up as soon I brought it from the A/C cooled interior to the muggy as hell outdoors. And there they were, right over the driveway! I love Kingbirds (I love most birds, actually), they're so full of personality. Very talky too! I grabbed the camera, which was still right there in the garage and managed to get a few shots of the two parents feeding two juveniles before they disappeared back into the denser tree canopy. I hope you enjoy them...

The two juveniles, peering down on the clumsy human.

One of the parents, with what looks to be a grasshopper.

"I need one too!"

"Thanks mom!"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Slightly Musical Conehead

   Ha! Made you look! With a name like that, how can you not click on my post and look to see what that's all about. But seriously, that is it's real name, here's proof. I couldn't make up a name like Slightly Musical Conehead, I'm not clever enough. After listening to its song, I have to say I'm a bit underwhelmed, I guess I expected more from something deemed "slightly musical". You can have a listen for yourself here. Jeff found this while mowing a few days ago and relocated it to a safe place.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Well, not a Monarch, but...

   I'm not talking about a member of the Royal Family, I mean Monarch butterflies. I've only seen two Monarch butterflies all year, yes two! No Monarch caterpillars either. This is despite having around six dozen milkweed plants and every available nectar plant they could possibly be interested in. For some reason we just don't have a lot of the big showy butterfly species around here, no matter which year.
   I do, however, have a lot of skippers and moths, if that counts for anything. If we can't have Monarchs, at least we have these. Meanwhile, we have attracted Milkweed Tussock Moths to our habitat. I realize they're not as prestigious as Monarch butterflies and the moths themselves are rather drab, but the caterpillars are really quite attractive. Just because they're a lowly moth doesn't make them any less important in the grande scheme of things. The highlight of watching them grow over the past week and a half has been seeing some predatory wasps come down, snatch one at a time, and carry it off to feed their young. When I first noticed the caterpillars, there must have been at least a hundred or so, and each day there's been fewer and fewer thanks to the wasps and random acts of stupidity on the part of the caterpillars. Some days I'd find caterpillars in really strange far-off areas, like crawling across the driveway, nowhere near pupating stage or running out of milkweed, in an obvious attempt to commit caterpillar suicide. I'm not worried that they'll denude my milkweed plants before the Monarchs can get to them, I have plenty of plants to share. Besides, I think we live in some sort of Monarch vacuum. I'm guessing my latitude falls in a range where they're just flying over and not looking to feed, mate, lay eggs, and die.

Here are some shots of the Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars in sequence as they've grown:

Hanging on by a thread...literally!
Like I said, about a hundred or so.

After about a week, they started to get more color.

For whatever it's worth, they're dining on Swamp Milkweed, which, by the way, failed to flower again this year.

I think they look like little orange, black, and white bristly toothbrushes. Not that I'd consider brushing my teeth with them, silly.

Do you think it's a coincidence they have the same colors as a Monarch butterfly caterpillar?

Come on, they are pretty cool looking, aren't they?

Look at those chompers! That leaf doesn't stand a chance!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Coping With The Heat...

   I can't complain, I'm sure somewhere it's been slightly hotter, drier, and downright more miserable, but this summer has just been plain hard. I try not to think about it, just put my head down and water. Yes, although virtually my whole garden is drought tolerant, it's not invincible. We've had three weeks of averaging a hundred degrees and no rain for over a month. I've been dutifully watering to keep everything alive, I've just worked too hard over the years and spent too much money to let everything die. Not only that, since all the wild plants growing in open areas outside our yard have long since gone crispy taco, the local insect population still needs to feed and I feel like I'm not only keeping my plants alive, but the insects that feed on them and from them too. In fact, this week I've noticed a significant increase in the amount of good insects (and bad, if you count Japanese Beetles) buzzing around my flowers, here's a sampling of who's beating the heat, and this time I won't be including any shots of the flower beds as a whole, it ain't pretty any more.

Today was the first day I noticed the Sulfurs were out, I think they look stunning on the Purple Coneflowers.

The Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) was quivering as if there was breeze (of which there was none!) with all the bees coming and going.

I had really hard time getting a decent picture of this fella, it wouldn't sit still! This Flower Fly is a Yellow Jacket mimic.

This hoverfly must be a girl since it seems to like diamonds...but I guess boys can like diamonds too ;-)

A Honeybee on Anise Hyssop, like the Wild Bergamot, the whole plant vibrates in the afternoon with so much bee activity.

Thread-wiasted Wasp on Short Toothed Mountain Mint (Pycanthemum muticum), I read this plant was a pollinator magnet, but I had my doubts until this week when the really cool wasps began to show up.

Wasp on Short Toothed Mountain Mint (Pycanthemum muticum).
*Remember! Wasps are a gardeners friend, many are predatory towards garden "pests", they're natural pest control, they are not to be feared, and are important links in the ecosystem chain! Never use pesticides anywhere!

A Long-Horned Flower Beetle hiding amidst the tangle of foliage

A beautiful Assassin Bug looking for a snack on the Anise Hyssop

A mystery bee or bee mimic, this one really has me perplexed. It's about the size of a honeybee, but looks white, and the wings are lighter in color than a bumblebee or honeybee. Any guesses?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What is She Doing There?!

Uhhh, I'm not sure how to explain this one. Here we have a female deer bedded down in the leaf mulch bin over at Dean. Maybe it's moist and therefore cool? Maybe she feels comforted by the feeling of a cage-like structure? If this wasn't weird enough, this happens to be at least the third time Jeff spotted her here, so she's making a habit of it. The heat can have deleterious effects on brains, mine included. I dunno, just thought I'd share.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bunny Not So Funny Anymore

Ahhh, look at me, aren't I cute sitting here in the warm golden glow of the setting sun?

Ha, Ha, Ha! Silly human thinks I just hang out here in the tall grass.

I'm so casual, no predators around here!

Oh, now I'm getting closer...

No paparazzi, please!

I'm not being bad, I promise, I'm just hiding in here...

I'm not chewing anything, what are you talking about?

Oh look! A baby bunny! How did that happen? ;) How adorable!

You little sh*t! Get outta my flower bed!
In the grass, it's cute, in the flower beds, not so much.

Yep, just as I suspected...I can't really blame them, my flower beds are about the only place you can find something green. It's so dry around here, even the clover in our lawn is dried up and gone.

This is what I think of now every time I see one of those bunnies out in our yard.
"What's he do, nibble your bum?"
Maybe it's time to get out the Holy Hand Grenade!