Creatures great and small

Something has claimed my beach wormwood (Artemisia stelleriana) and I am happy about it. It’s the larva of the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). I see all stages of larva development on the plants but the full-grown caterpillar is a wonder to behold. The one below is almost an inch and a half in length and has rows of bristle-like spines, yellow and black stripes, and red, orange, and white spots on each body segment.

American Lady Caterpillar

The artemisia cultivar I grow is compact, growing about 8″ tall and planted along the edge of a border, a great accent with its downy soft silvery leaves. It looks a lot like dusty miller but unlike dusty miller, this plant is a hardy perennial in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. It’s a perfect little groundcover.

But this season it won’t look so perfect…. especially at the tallest tips, the blooms. The smaller larvae have spun silk around the bloom tips and smaller leaves. They use these safe hideaways as protection from predators during the day.  The larger caterpillars have nests lower on the plants. It’s a bit messy inside there, full of excrement or frass.

larva nest

The plants are pretty much covered with larvae, many at an earlier stage of development. I’ll have to wait to clean up the plants after the larvae have developed into pupae, then emerge as adult butterflies. The artemisia will survive. After the butterfly season ends, I’ll heavily trim the ragged plants and new growth with begin to appear.

larva

Soon we will be rewarded with the beautiful American Lady butterfly, a medium size butterfly of deep oranges and black spots, closely related to and often mistaken for the Painted Lady butterfly. It lives for two to three weeks during which time it mates and reproduces, starting the cycle once again…. and will eventually begin their fall migration, riding the winds southward just like the Monarchs.

American Lady Butterfly

photo by Julia Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons

 

Now, where’d I put that soapbox??

Ah, I found it… and now I’m standing on it. It’s about pesticides. Our association sprayed (“EPA approved lower risk”) pesticides again yesterday. They made a wide berth around me, the crazy lady in the driveway holding the pitchfork.  Not really, but my hands were on my hips when I told them to skip my house. We were not sprayed.

We were told to take away birdseed, empty birdbaths, remove pet items and food, children’s toys, and personal belongings. “KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY FROM ALL TREATED AREAS UNTIL THEY DRY” So folks took their pets and children inside, shut windows and doors, and waited until the coast was clear. Pesticides like insecticides have become a widely accepted way to keep our homes and gardens relatively pest-free.

But how about those animals left outdoors?

toad

This week I’m hearing the wood thrush singing the most beautiful melody just inside the wooded area against which they sprayed. It’s an insect eater, and just 20′ inside the woodline is a free flowing stream and vernal pools full of life. A variety of songbirds were hovering in the freshly treated shrubbery looking for our suet and meal worms we removed. The robins were bobbing across the freshly treated lawns and shrubbery around each building searching for worms and insects. My bluebird parents were busy feeding insects to their young in a bird box 50′ from our back door. Bunnies, pesky or not, were most likely sprayed in their nests under shrubs around homes. A variety of bees and other pollinators were buzzing around the newly blooming rhododendron. Around our foundation, I see our toads and the tiny salamanders emerging from hibernation and moving through leaf litter searching for small insects… like beneficial spiders.

salamander 2017

Our sluggish salamander unearthed in a flowerpot from hibernation.

In the garden, growing healthy plants using organic methods is the best pest deterrent. There are a variety of natural pest control methods such as Integrated Pest Management using beneficial insects and remedies like traps and barriers.  I don’t want ticks or termites either and, of course, I realize my life cannot be chemical-free. But pesticides should be a last resort.

Pesticides are designed to kill. Ticks, termites, and carpenter bees are some of what they want to prevent. But, sadly, most insects are good insects. They become the non-target victims that then become a part of the contaminated food chain.

Fig.  5.21: An example of a food chain.

I am not an activist. I simply wish for another way.

Trees Live in Exeter

When an invitation was received by our garden club from RiverWoods Retirement Community in Exeter to join residents for a Arbor Day ribbon cutting ceremony for their new arboretum, several of our members jumped at the occasion. There’s no better way to share our love of trees than attending an Arbor Day event, especially the newest and largest arboretum in New Hampshire.

Despite cool temperatures and overcast skies, the event put us in a sunny and festive mood. We were greeted with champagne, a smorgasbord of treats, enthusiastic sharing at the microphone from employees and residents …. including poems for the occasion.

RiverWoods 2017

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Several residents of RiverWoods have been active for years in selecting, planting, nurturing, and labeling trees and woody shrubs on the property so becoming accredited through ArbNet, an Arboretum Accrediation Program developed by The Morton Arboretum, was a natural step. RiverWoods is a Level One arboretum, meaning they must have at least 25 species of documented trees. Already at 49 species, the volunteers and staff have hopes to achieve Level Two with at least 100 species of woody plants, along with other criteria.

From the ribbon cutting, we progressed to the walking tour in The Ridge campus where we were led by knowledgeable docent volunteers. Fran Peters introduced us to a number of trees, including the Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha), named for Benjamin Franklin. It has a reputation for being difficult to grow but this specimen tree is very healthy. I must return to see the magnificent blooms it’s known for.

Fran Parker, RiverWoods 2017

Our group continued along led by docent Liz Bacon (l.), who came to RiverWoods from the Chicago area bringing knowledge from the Morton Arboretum. It is she who recognized the potential for a RiverWoods arboretum. Dr. Tom Adams (r.), who has worked with the trees and woody shrubs of RiverWoods for a dozen years, shared his enthusiasm and wisdom with fun tidbits about the trees and gardens including successes and loses over time. His knowledge stems from his volunteer association with the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.

Liz Bacon, Tom Adams

The one tree I fell for was the showy Golden Maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘aureum’), a small Japanese maple with lime colored leaves. In the fall, it turns an orange and red like a sugar maple. Yummy!

Golden Maple

Our garden club members thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at RiverWoods and we are proud and happy to have the largest arboretum in the state right here in Exeter NH. Way to go, RiverWoods!

“Advice From A Tree” by Ilan Shamir

Stand tall and proud.
Go out on a limb.
Remember your roots.
Drink plenty of water.
Be content with your natural beauty.
Enjoy the view.

Read by Dan Burbank, RiverWoods Landscape Manager

The Red-eyed Invasion in KY

They are called periodical cicadas and it’s happening right now in Louisville KY at the home of my daughter. These are the red-eyed cicadas that emerge simultaneously from the ground in 13 or 17 year predictable intervals, according to U. of Kentucky extension entomologist.  Only this is a year it wasn’t supposed to happen. I guess no one told the cicadas.

red-eyed cicadas

 

The nymphs live beneath the soil feeding on roots and emerge when the soil temperature is warm enough in the spring. They have been exiting the ground by the masses on her property and will continue to do so for a couple more weeks.

She first noticed the empty shells all over the ground one morning. Most were empty but some nymphs are unable to extricate as you can see the wing of the partially open shell.

cicada shells in Louisville KY 2017

After leaving the ground at night, they slowly make their way up any vertical surface and molt into adults, a prolonged overnight process. I’ve spent many a night as a child watching the annual cicadas, a different cicada, slowly struggle out of shells, and pump their wings out straight.

This cicada on tree bark is newly emerged and still wet:

Louisville KY 2017

After drying, their body will darken:

Louisville KY 2017

In the morning, shells will be hanging from a multitude of surfaces and lying all over the ground.  Most of the adults will have flown but some may still be there until their wings have fully expanded and dried enough to fly. It’s an amazing process to watch.

Louisville Cicadas 2017

Louisville KY cicadas 2017

Louisville KY 2017

The males are the ones you hear singing to attract the females. The adult cicadas will mate and the female lays eggs in small tree branches. The eggs will mature for weeks, then hatch and fall to the ground, where they burrow and start the cycle over.

Cicadas don’t bite or sting and are fairly benign to adult vegetation and trees….. rarely causing damage, unless you own an orchard or vineyard where they could possibly inflict some monetary damage, states the extension service. Generally, what follows is a smorgasbord of food for insect eating birds and mammals. It’s nature’s way….

Thankfully, this is a daughter who appreciates insects (taught by her mother!). She used the occasion as a teaching tool and took the kids outside to watch the mature nymphs emerge last night. Following is her ‘choppy’ video 😏 of her kids learning about the life cycle of cicadas as they watch the nymphs emerge from the soil and look for vertical surfaces… even my granddaughter’s leg:

Happy May Day

So happy that the last day for frost in New Hampshire has arrived! There is some bad news in the garden but lots of sweet discoveries of rebirth. We won’t be lighting fires or dancing around a maypole with ribbons, a popular event of my childhood, but will be celebrating the fertility and merrymaking in the garden.

The hummingbirds returned yesterday. The bees are back. All over the Seacoast, we see the cold hardy, early blooming PJM rhododendron hybrids with their bright lavender-pink flowers attracting bumblebees galore. I keep a small one just for those early blooms for insects.

PJM rhododendron and bumblebee

Tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths are providing the most booms in our garden at this early stage of spring but we also have the pansies struggling to set blooms. Good news is the New Hampshire drought is over on the Seacoast. Fingers crossed for good rainfall for the summer.

The cutest little bulb in the garden is the Fritillaria meleagris, the miniature checkerboard lily. I planted 15 bulbs but only 6 appeared both in white and in an adorable purple faint checkered pattern. Yes, I will plant more of these… and maybe have a fairy garden someday.

In the shade, the common bleeding heart (Dicentra) is unfurling its tiny cluster of heart-shaped flowers along stems and the Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Yubae’ is performing well in its second year.

Bleeding Heart

FullSizeRender

My favorite color in the garden is green and we have plenty of that. Leaves are unfurling on viburnum, hydrangea, hosta, serviceberry, aucuba. It is the true color of spring…. a reward of rebirth and growth. Green provides me with a sense of relaxation and well-being and if I am surrounded by green whether in my landscape or beneath a canopy of trees in a forest, I have my sanctuary.

hosta

 

Just south of the Mason-Dixon Line

Oh boy, was it fun to connect with my “roots” in Virginia for several days. My adorable niece was married last Saturday in Richmond.  mister gardener and I flew down for the lovely event and extended our stay to catch up with family (and plant life) just below the Mason-Dixon Line in the Piedmont area of Virginia.

The horizon was totally green under hazy skies as we descended for landing, trees fully leafed out, green, green, green, way ahead of the landscape in New Hampshire. That always amazes me. It’s just an hour and 20 minutes by plane.

Richmond VirginiaWe generally drop our luggage at the home of one of my brothers and wife in Richmond…. a couple who always make us feel right at home in their beautiful 19th century home that they have lovingly restored… all by themselves for the most part!

Richmond VA

Richmond

Edwards Virginia Ham

And first things first…. the most gracious Virginia hospitality includes what we have been craving…. Edwards Virginia Ham on warm buttered biscuits!

Edwards Ham is the salty type, a country ham that perhaps will seem too salty if one hasn’t grown up with it as a staple in the home. As for me, this wonderful ham has spoiled me for any ham I’ve tasted since.

Sadly, this unique Surry, Virginia ham company burned to the ground a year ago. While the insurance is being settled, the ham is being prepared and aged at other ham facilities across the country. Lucky for us!

Another priority in the south before you are unpacked and settled is a garden tour. This is a brother and wife who love and live just to be in the garden. I blogged about their gardens a few years ago. This is also the brother who saved the crow and that was quite an exciting story! Those blogs are two of my most read blogs and most ‘lifted’ photos from my blog… (that I willingly share if given credit for them).

The garden house my brother built from his own design (and where he hid from the attacking crow) always receives a lot of interest. For sure, he missed his calling as an architect. He is amazing and that’s no exaggeration from this sister!

The garden house looks great from any angle, even our bedroom window.

It’s fun on each visit to see what’s new in this fabulous garden. I told a blogging friend who photographed a door in another garden, that I knew a person with a garden door and this is the place! The fence and an old door were added to stop the deer from nibbling the azaleas. What a great garden accent! I love the RED.

Garden Door, Richmond VA

Everywhere you look there is nature looking back. I loved this sweet scene beneath the pergola he built last summer. It is covered with a lovely purple wisteria where wrens live in the house and robins are raising young practically on top of the wren house…. sort of condo style.

Wrens and Robins!

What will we look forward to on the next garden tour? They are planning another outhouse in the garden. This small one will be for the mower, weed eater, and blower. He’s already begun the foundation using discarded lumber from a neighbors deck. “What will it look like?” I asked. It will be a chip off the other garden house and he sketched it for me in a flash. The roof will be tin and atop the weathervane will be a copper bird dog, our family’s favorite pooch.

I can hardly wait for my next visit….

Save

Save

Bluebirds in Winter

We have a family of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) that is staying with us through the winter. The blues have been expanding their range for the last 10 years or so, and it’s not really unusual to see them in New England during the winter.

Two springs ago, mister gardener made a bluebird house and installed it along the edge of our garden. It wasn’t long before a pair claimed the house, fighting off chickadees, house sparrows and swallows for this real estate. During the summer, the pair fed on a variety of foods that they found in the landscape and we supplemented with a little snack of meal worms.

They only had one nesting that summer and the family wintered over. In the spring, the young were off to find their own territories and our parents managed three nestings last summer. So we have our original pair and 4 of the offspring wintering over this year.

Bluebirds in Winter

We have planted shrubs and trees that also provide food… such as serviceberry, viburnum, crabapple… for the fall when insects become more scarce. To help them out during the winter, we feed them meal worms but make sure we offer a mixed and balanced diet by adding bits of suet, hulled sunflower, and some berries and raisins. Bluebirds love to bathe!  A heated birdbath in the winter is a plus for bathing and drinking.

Bluebird with ice on beak

The blues generally roost at night in nearby pine forests, but will huddle in their bluebird house for shelter from time to time.

Bluebird in House

When I look out on snowy mornings and there is hardly a place for them to land, I wonder what these birds might be thinking. Could they be questioning their decision not to migrate to warm climes?  Just maybe…..

Bluebirds 2017

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017

Dove

We are blessed with a multitude and variety of birds that frequent the winter feeder but, alas… these unruly mourning doves, beautiful as they are, have overwhelmed the feeder during Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. There are only 6 on the feeder pictured here but sometimes there are six more standing on the backs of those feeding…. all jostling and shouldering their way to a little sunflower seed. The rest of the mob is on the ground pushing and shoving for spillage. They are fast eaters and can clean the feeder in record time, fill their crops, and fly off to digest their meal.

Not all doves migrate and the ones I see could be sticking it out for the winter or they may be the males arriving way too early for the best breeding territory. Although New Hampshire is one state that does not allow hunting of doves, it’s still a tough life for the birds that stick around all winter. I have seen frostbitten and missing toes… and feathers on the snow tell me they are a link in the food chain for birds of prey.

The diversity of birds in our weekend count will not be as great this year, but we will continue to welcome these gentle birds to our feeders.

Flatlanders on Vacay

Up in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and places north, they call folks from our area and beyond, Flatlanders or “flatlandahs,” as it is properly pronounced in New Hampshire. I was well aware of the label as we ventured into the beautiful Lakes Region for a little R&R last week, but, thankfully, locals were way too polite to use the term when they inquired where we were from. I know what they were probably thinking as we snapped photographs of every fern, mountain, shop window, and covered bridge. No moose though. Two black bears…. a live one crossing the road and a stuffed one at an area restaurant.

Stuffed Bear at a Restaurant

It was a great time to travel there. Crowds gone. The highways were navigable and only the locals in the shops and restaurants.  We were between summer tourist season and Leaf Peeper season. The camp where we stayed was practically unpeopled and so very natural. No motors… only the sound of paddles dipping in the water. Blue skies. Gorgeous sunsets.

Kayaking

Paddling out to meet the sunset

There were six of us and about 6,000 pickerel frogs, a resident snake, one noisy chipmunk scolding us during the day, the piercing rattle of the Belted Kingfisher giving us morning wakeup, and the echos across the pond of loons to lullaby us to sleep at night.

Pickerel Frog

A snake stalking two pickerel frogs on the beach (lower right)

More fun than anything was watching the little ones enjoy the ‘wilderness’ adventure.

Going Fishing

Floating to the raft again...

I want that one...

Meals were easy. Deserts were often over a fire.

Our lodging was beautifully rustic, yet modernized… thank goodness. The atmosphere gave me a sense that Katharine Hepburn or Henry Fonda could walk in the door and settle down in front of the towering stone fireplace. Family albums on the shelf, family pictures through umpteen years on refrigerator, walls, and tables. Scratched wide plank flooring most likely has withstood generations of canines that were captured in old photographs. Collection of hats for any occasion adored a wall. Great ambience!

We’re so glad we were made very welcome in our camp and in the numerous towns we visited. Without a doubt, we came home refreshed and already babbling about our next trip.

Reunion 2016

What’s round on the ends and HI in the middle?

IMG_3987

The great state of O-HI-O!

Ohio is where my 4 children and 7 of my 8 (soon to be 9) grandchildren from 3 states gathered for our annual hiking vacation. With a son living in the east-central part of the state, 14 of us converged there to laugh and tell stories, plan outings, to cook, eat and sleep in a rural setting surrounded by woods and farmland where wheat and corn dominated every horizon.

 

corn

We accomplished our annual hike perfectly while keeping up with a son’s rigorous itinerary. We visited the stables where his daughters’ ponies were put through their paces for us, met the barn cats, and shared in pony grooming complete with treats.

Click on photos to enlarge

We shopped the vibrant and beautiful Wooster, Ohio.

Wooster

Meals were simple and delicious. We ate well.

Deserts were simple, too. Either s’mores over a fire pit or our annual blackberry dessert with hard sauce or Kentucky Derby Pie. Local blackberries weren’t available but black raspberries were sold from an Amish neighbor’s garden. This area is home to the world’s largest Amish community. Great neighbors!

Our hike took place at Wooster Memorial Park, also called Spangler Park, owned by the city of Wooster. Over  320 acres and 7 miles of foot trails up and down steep ravines, through lush woodland, scenic overlooks, and far stretching farm fields loaded with wildflowers.

Days slipped by quickly and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and return home… but not before one last celebration: a monumental firework display to celebrate our happy family gathering.

 

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

Well, it’s that time of year again…. time for me to become a citizen scientist and count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes a day during this 4-day weekend, February 13 – 16. Then report my findings at birdcount.org. It’s easy, it’s free, and it helps avian researchers have a real-time picture of how birds are doing.

There are two days are left in the count… today and tomorrow. Just Do It!

Ice-encrusted mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) in Portsmouth NH

Near the feeder, it’s an easy task but in other locations, it can take a bit of concentration. Can you spot the lone chickadee among American goldfinches and a junco in the crab apple tree? Click to enlarge.

American finches and chickadee

 

For the birds…

It has been an extreme few weeks in New England that has brought us over 40″ of snow in our area of New Hampshire. Today the snow is coming down steady again… enough that the snowplows have cleared our drive 4 times! We always feed the birds but during severe weather we step up our support as natural food supplies are difficult to find. We have trenches and we shovel out to refill feeders twice a day. The snow is as light as ivory flakes so the shoveling isn’t strenuous. And, amazingly, it’s full of tunnels where the squirrels are searching for wayward birdseed. They pop up here and there like Whac-A-Mole game.

trenchThe familiar backyard avian crew frequents our feeders… just in greater numbers in this weather. The black-capped chickadees, the white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and tons of American goldfinch, pine siskins, and purple finches dine on the tube feeder and the covered bluebird feeder. The noisy finches that number in the twenties also monopolize the nyjer seed feeder.

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

Northern cardinals, mourning doves, a handful of blue jays, white-throated sparrows and a few other sparrows, a large number of dark-eyed juncos, a common redpoll or two, American finches and pine siskins hop around atop the snow for the seeds we scatter.

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Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, the chickadees and titmice go through the suet in no time.

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chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

The avian activity provides a lot of excitement and entertainment at our house. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime at our table are hives of activity at the window feeder. We enjoy watching the shy, the gregarious, the bullies, the bold, the eat-and-run birds, the noisy, and the birds that like to watch us watching them.

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At least it’s a leisurely hobby that you can enjoy from the comfort and warmth of your home… unlike some of our neighbors who must wait for the snowplow to clear enough snow so their animal friends can have a little recreation. Brrrr….
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Cindy and pup

Look who came to breakfast!

Yesterday I attached a small bird feeder to the kitchen window. I used it for a while last year but the messy spillover on the basement bulkhead below resulted in removal of the feeder.

My daughter’s interesting birds at her kitchen window convinced me to turn a blind eye to the oily mess and just enjoy the birds. Immediately the bold little chickadees lifted out most of the nuts. Very early this morning before the sun was fully over the horizon, the American finches found the feeder filled with shelled sunflower seeds for those dainty beaks.

Heck with the mess. C’mon little tweetie birds!

The American Goldfinch is the only finch to molt twice a year. Their dull winter colors are a stark contrast to the bright yellow breeding colors of spring and summer.

In Virginia, I participated as a Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen scientist in a data collection survey called House Finch Disease Survey for Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. This terrible condition caused swollen, crusty eyes, and often blindness in a good number of my goldfinches, house finches and Northern cardinals. It was heartbreaking to watch a bird trying but unable to land on a feeder. Some diseased birds recover but many starve or are eaten by predators. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, feeders are the best place for transmission. I regularly removed all feeders, disinfected them, and waited a week or so before hanging clean feeders and clean food. Thankfully, I have not seen this condition in New Hampshire.

The survey has ended, however, one can report a disease sighting through Project Feeder Watch until April 3.

Christmas for the Birds

As a special treat to her feathered friends, my daughter added a handful of shelled pecans to the sunflower seeds on her window feeder. She wondered whether the birds would even like the nuts, but lesson learned. It took 15 minutes before all the pecans were gone. Click to enlarge photos.

First the chickadee eyed them.

chickadeeIt was the titmouse’s turn next….

IMG_7500…followed by the white breasted nuthatch.

IMG_7497All the regulars, the nut lovers, arrived to share a gourmet Christmas treat. Joy.

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2014

Les over at A Tidewater Gardener annually posts his ten favorite photos from the year and he challenges readers to do the same. Since we have downsized and no longer maintain our acres of gardens, I’m not as serious about garden photography and rarely carry my heavy 35mm camera around my neck. But I do carry the world’s most popular camera in my pocket at all times. My iPhone! Not sure about these being my favorite photos but they jumped out at me while scrolling through hundreds!

Since we spent most of the winter under a blanket of snow, I thought I should add at least one photo of the beauty it can bring. Taken on February 8, prints in the snow show where animals come to the stream banks.

Click on photos to enlarge.

IMG_8150I love photos that tell a story and there’s one here. Peaceful demonstrators in Keene NH braved the elements for several hours for a cause on February 7. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves…. maybe seeing whose turn it is to get some coffee.. among other more important things.

Make Love, Not War!Keene NH also provided another photo that I like. A rainy, gray day was brightened only by taillights at a stoplight on April 15. With family in Keene, we visit this area on a regular basis.

IMG_9886We ventured out of the Granite State for this photo. Two lovely ladies in straw hats were admiring a seaside garden on the rocky shores of the Atlantic. We toured several Cape Neddick Maine gardens on this day during Garden Conservancy Days, June 22.IMG_1338Anyone who knows me knows I am interested in insects and have hundreds of photos and IDs The plump fellow below, the jumping spider, claimed the watering hose as his own at Rolling Green Nursery this summer. These are brave and scary looking spiders, but, oh so harmless. Whenever I moved in, he moved closer. They stalk prey and can pounce a few inches but I just give them a puff of air and they fall to the ground and scamper away. I really like these spiders because they have personality plus. July 12.

The second photo below was a two-for-one. I was photographing the tachinid fly and didn’t see the second insect until I downloaded the photograph. The tachinid is a nectar eating fly as an adult, but one that lays eggs in insect hosts. This time the lowly hover fly is the victim seen just below her body. I don’t like these flies very much as butterfly caterpillars are often victims. July 16.

IMG_1635 IMG_0712Rain drops on vegetation after an all night soaker is always interesting to me. The new growth on this spirea is an especially nice color. May 19.

rain dropsThe sunflower below was a volunteer from our bird feeder. Several seeds that the birds overlooked germinated but only this one grew tall and straight and eventually fed the chickadees many ripe sunflower seeds. (Staring at the center long enough may hypnotize!)  August 26.

volunteer sunflowerFinally, the highlight of 2014 was a vacation with the youngins to Bethel, Maine. Below are two photos from that hiking, swimming, boating trip in August.

IMG_2741IMG_3346

Hiking through the Winter Woods

After wet, heavy snowfalls this fall, I thought for sure we were on our way to more polar vortices and deep snowfalls like last winter. Click to enlarge all photos.

There’s never 100% certainty, but because a strong El Nino did not materialized, the Climate Prediction Center of the NOAA now predicts a 40% chance the Northeast will have above average winter temperatures. We still may have our share of memorable snowstorms because those can only be predicted one or two weeks before. Fingers crossed…

This weekend the temperatures in Exeter hovered in the 40’s….great Virginia-like weather for a holiday hike with family. Blue skies. Abundant sun. Mild temps. Light breeze.

farmWe hiked over private land to the Phillips Exeter Academy woods and numerous trails that run along the Exeter River and beyond. With hardly a ripple in the water, we were treated to some spectacular reflections of the sky and trees…. only broken up by the activity of 20 or more mallards happily enjoying the mild weather.

Winter is the time to notice the bark on trees and we stopped several times to witness activity and interests along the trails. Click to enlarge.

Finally, with abundance of wet weather, the tiny natives along the trail were gloriously happy and green on the woodland floor when little else was green except tall evergreen trees.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) with its bright red berries grows slowly and will form a thick mat when conditions are right. I am careful not to disturb it.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum) is a club moss that looks much like a tiny pine… whose 100′ tall ancestors existed almost 400 million years ago before flowering plants populated the earth.  They reproduce by rhizomes and spores. Often used for Christmas decorations, many states now protect this delicate native plant.

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

On the move

Fall migration is in full swing in New England and I’ve seen some spectacular birding sights along this coastal region of New Hampshire. Many of these migratory birds I see when I’m out and about but if I was not a gardener, I’d miss some of my favorite little friends right in my own back yard.

Yesterday, while adding a new border and path beneath the crab apple tree, I heard a familiar jit-jit-jit-jit and knew I was being visited by the tiniest of birds, the kinglet. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) was flitting from branch to branch totally ignoring the fact that I was working just feet away. This bold little friend foraged beneath the bark nonstop for insects making it almost impossible for this gardener to drop all and photograph it.

KingletI’ve always enjoyed watching the kinglet, both the Ruby-crowned and the tiny Golden-crowned as they migrate in the spring and fall. This one is on its way from breeding grounds of northern New England, Canada, and Alaska to southern United States and Mexico and beyond.

A bit blurry but this shows the distinct eye ring and bold wing bars that help identify a Ruby-crowned Kinglet from the Golden-crowned. The scarlet crown patch was not visible so either it was concealed by feathers, as it often is, or this 4″ bird is a female that does not have the patch of red.

kinglet 2kinglet3One last flit of the tail and it was off to warmer climes.

Beating the Invasion

colorThere is something about the fall season that lifts my spirits. The air is clean under crisp blue skies and the vibrant foliage can take your breath. You just want to step outside and bask in the beauty of buttery yellows and blazing reds of the maples, elms, birches and the sumacs that front every wood line.

Fall colors are reaching their peak right now on the Kancamagus Highway, the National Scenic Byway from Lincoln to Conway NH, and I’m sure the hoards of leaf peepers have arrived. A year ago we ventured up during the peak of color and found the 35-mile road through the White Mountain National Forest bumper to bumper with cars, campers, and buses. We hardly found places to pull off and park for the perfect views. This year we thought, “Wouldn’t it be a neat idea to beat the leaf-peeper invasion?” Yes! So last weekend we jumped in the car for a pre-peeper drive on the Kancamagus Highway just to see what we could see.

We hoped to arrive just before peak color and see the emerging reds, oranges, and yellows mixed with the cool, green of conifers without the distracting flood of vehicles driving bumper to bumper along the way. The timing was perfect as we had the approaching highways almost to ourselves.

Click on photos to enlarge:

fall colors 2014 The colors were a little cooler in the distance but quite grand. It was a peaceful and enjoyable drive.

A special delight was visiting the same apple orchard farmer as last year whose truck was brimming with juicy just-picked apples and some fresh vegetables. This time we sampled and bought a bag of crisp Mcintosh.

Apples!And when we arrived home, I made this and invited the kids to come and enjoy! Life is good…

Apple Crumb Pie

Apple Crumb Pie

Autumn in New Hampshire

Orange pumpkins, colorful gourds, vibrant mums, and Indian corn at garden centers and roadside stands tell us that fall has officially arrived. Although today, September 23, marks the first day of fall, subtle signs have been all around us for weeks.

Click photos to enlarge.

Rolling Green Nurserygourds at Rolling Green Nursery The change of seasons seems to begin around the time of our Harvest Moon when days begin to shorten, nights become cooler, and frequent morning mists create crystal dew drops on spiderwebs and fading blooms in the garden.

Harvest MoonGrasses become the star of the late summer/fall garden. The inflorescences of various species of grasses, whether fuzzy or lacy, replace the fading flowers of summer.

grasses at Rolling Green NurseryFall seeds, such as this milkweed seedpod, ripen slowly. The milkweed pod opens late in the season and releases hundreds of seeds attached to fluffy white hairs that aid in dispersal by wind.

Milkweed Seed Pods at Rolling Green NurseryIn my garden, a volunteer sunflower from our bird feeder slowly changed from glorious to battered and faded, but it is busy producing small sunflower seeds.

The magical transformation of leaf color comes a bit later to the Seacoast of New Hampshire. But with the cooler nights, mild days, and intense blue skies, colors are beginning to be teased from the maples.

MapleThe biggest sign of fall so far, I spotted while working at Rolling Green Nursery. When is the last time you saw a handsome puppy fully outfitted in a lovely argyle  sweater (It’s a people sweater!) on a cool day? That’s the surest sign that Autumn has officially arrived.

JD in his argyle sweater at Rolling Green Nursery

Garden Drama

Of all places in the garden to attach a chrysalis, one of our black swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes asterius) chose the smooth metal drainpipe along the side of the house.  How the caterpillar bridged the collar with an opening to an underground drain, I can’t guess. But here is where I found the emerging butterfly struggling to gain a foothold on the smooth surface… and failing. It was in big trouble and I could tell it had been here too long with wings partly out and beginning to plump.

cocoonI felt a little like a butterfly midwife as I assisted in the birth by offering a twig. It was readily accepted and it climbed aboard. I gently urged the butterfly onto a viburnum shrub and watched as she began to unfurl and pump up those gorgeous wings… that I believe identified her as female.

butterflyIt was exciting to be so close and be able to study the beautiful wings, her huge eyes, and watch her coil and uncoil her proboscis.  Click for closeup.

I left her on a trunk of the viburnum where she continued to dry and pump her wings. An hour later I checked and she had flown…. I hope straight to the summersweet for a nice first meal as a butterfly.

It made me smile to think she got her start in the parsley beds 5 feet away that I planted just for her and her siblings.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

What’s all the frass about?

I have always planted an abundance of parsley and dill in the spring… one clump for us and 3 or 4 for the butterflies. Not many butterflies have been fluttering through this neighborhood so I was overjoyed three weeks ago when I saw some frass or caterpillar poo beneath a big pot of parsley, the parsley we used for the kitchen! Immediately, I took the pot off the deck and placed it in a secure place in the garden.

I knew exactly what caterpillar made this frass… the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) that uses plants in the carrot family as hosts. I spotted several tiny caterpillars on the parsley and watched them develop through several instars for about two weeks.caterpillar poo

Dainty but constant eaters, they almost cleaned out the potted flat parsley and moved on to curly parsley and dill in the garden.

They were plump and beautiful and ready to pupate when we left for a week’s vacation.

We returned home yesterday and I checked the parsley. All the caterpillars were gone, hopefully tucked securely in their chrysalis quite a distance from the host plant. How exciting to play a part in raising these beautiful butterflies!

I keep checking for an egg, but unfortunately no monarch butterfly has visited their host plant in our garden, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). At Rolling Green Nursery where I work, I have seen a few monarchs feeding on butterfly weed we have for sale. Let’s hope the female below left an egg on the plant. Just seeing the insect is encouraging for our diminishing population of monarchs.

monarch butterfly at Rolling Green Nursery, NH

 

Nuts for this Squirrel

We are a stone’s throw from beautiful coniferous woods with plenty of oak trees. But during the most brutal of snowstorms, ice storms, and frigid temperatures this winter, a small American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) risked life and limb dashing out of the woods, crossing a road, running atop snow several feet deep to eat fallen seed beneath our bird feeder. Looking like a tiny snowball as the snow fell and covered it, we watched month after month as the little fella dined with the hungry birds… until late winter when it stopped appearing. I soon knew why. In early spring, it returned and I could see evidence SHE had become a nursing mother.

It wasn’t too much longer that she introduced her three tiny offspring to sunflower seed. These miniature creatures, unsteady as they navigated trees and limbs, tugged at our heartstrings. The wary Mama and two babies have since moved on. But one brave youngster seems to prefer scraps beneath the feeder more than foraging for coniferous seeds this summer.

SpunkyThis one loves to perch on the stump of an old lilac and eat the seeds one at a time. There are those who say these are the most destructive squirrels but we have not seen evidence of anything like that….yet.  He co-exists with birds, respectfully waiting his turn to feed after the birds. Red squirrels are known for their loud bark and foot stomping in the presence of danger or intrusion. He does none of that. I can drag the hose around the yard and water the garden while he feeds quietly just a few feet from me.

We’re not trying to tame him or have him eat from our hands but we are charmed by his antics. Every now and then, he amuses us by diving for seed that has fallen into the stumps of the old lilac. All we see is a wagging tail as he forages.

Red squirrels usually only have one litter a year in this area so we’re pretty sure we won’t be swamped by these natives. Should he decide he’s had enough of us and head back to the woods, our mixed coniferous-deciduous forest should sustain him well.

I love a rainy night…

6 a.m. Dear gentle, rejuvenating, cleansing overnight rain. You sure freshened things up and washed away a lot of yellow pollen. Many thanks….

Click to enlarge photos:

I’m buggy about bugs

I’ve always been a little nuts about insects. The earliest memories of lying across our front walkway under a hot Virginia sun, sharing my lunch with a multitude of ants that lived between the bricks may have launched the budding citizen scientist in me. Observing ants of all colors, shapes, sizes and behaviors intrigued me and led me to a multitude of other insects.

That inquisitive little girl has aged into an inquisitive old girl who is still intrigued by insects. Here’s an early spring insect resting on my dwarf spiraea japonica. I’ve seen them a few times on cold spring days in New England as they are the first of this family to emerge from hibernation, often in freezing temperatures.

If this fella reminds you of a lightning bug (locals say ‘firefly’), you are right. It’s in the same family, yet it doesn’t look exactly like those we see on summer nights dancing and flickering their lights over lawns and the edges of woods. Although the middle sections are outlined with bright orange bands, the difference is in these wings, which are a dull black.

The Winter Firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) is related to our familiar lightning bugs. It glows as a larva, but lacks the light organs as an adult. And it is active during the daytime instead of night.

Maple syrup producers are familiar with this gentle pest. It dines on the fluid of maples and what better meal than a bucket of sap on the side of a maple tree…. where they often perish in the liquid.

Click HERE to visit a virtual habitat to learn about three groups of flashing lightning bugs in New England.

Spring: Act I

It’s been a long time coming but the vernal season is finally upon us. Leaves are unfurling, catkins are hanging, birds have returned, pink crab apple buds, closed tight, are ready to take center stage along the side of the house.

We’ve had a handful of temperatures close to 80° but also our fair share of rain, cool days and brisk nights. Daytime temperatures in the 50°s seems the norm. What do we have in the garden that loves this weather? Violas, a gift from a new friend in my garden club gives us our only bloom in the front gardens today.

The rest of the yard is showing clear signs of new life. Blooms are lined up like soldiers in two rows along the branches of our doublefile viburnum. When this shrub fills out with showy lacy white blooms and large leaves, it will probably be the site of a robin’s nest.

doublefile viburnumOur other viburnum, arrowood (Viburnum dentatum), may need a little more time to bloom but when it does, it should be covered in lovely white flat flowers at the ends of the branches.

Chicago LustreCandles on our white pines have a long way to go before they begin to spew pollen and cover the deck and furniture yellow. I wonder if the pine pollen is blowing around my Tidewater Virginia hometown yet.

white pine candlesOne of my favorite shrubs is starting to leaf out. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), a native, will bloom in sweet fragrant white blooms that attract the bees and butterflies and me!

clethraThe first blooms of bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) hang like jewels on a necklace. Not sure that I wanted this plant, I removed it from the border and covered it haphazardly with pine needles last fall. It survived and I’m glad. It’s lovely beneath the white pines.

bleeding heartThe bleeding heart plants will go beautifully with several varieties of hosta that I also covered with pine needles beneath the white pines. I am shocked that they survived but I am glad.

hosta