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

Dewdrops and Spiderwebs

Lately we’ve had temperatures in the high 70’s and low 80’s during the day and at night the temperature drops to a comfortable 65° and below. Those cool night temperatures bring the daytime water evaporation back to earth in the form of sparkling dew.

I love a dewy morning if only to check out the variety of spider webs that festoon the trees, shrubs, grass and just about everything else: cars, mailboxes, doors. Webs that are next to invisible on a sunny day glisten like jewels on a dew laden morn.

A Virginia friend made a small hypertufa planter for me and and it’s perfect for a few hens and chicks. I put it in a hot and sunny spot just outside the door, threw in a few herbs and annuals nearby and let it go.

hypertufa containerThis morning I spotted the dewy web draped like twinkling gauze over one corner. Let’s get a little closer to the miniature world of spiders. The spider is in there but not in this photo.

grass spider

…………………………….Click to see the full effect of crystal dewdrops

Here is its hiding place, his funnel. Who is this little spider who wasn’t showing its face this morning? It’s a grass spider, Agelenopsis sp., a funnel weaver. The web it spins is not sticky to trap insects like the orb webs. Instead the grass spider depends on its incredible speed to nail their prey. Usually hiding inside its funnel, it will often venture out and sit in the opening. But this early morning must have been too wet for this spider so….

grass spider tunnel….I stepped outside again after the sun was high to try and capture its picture. After waiting about a minute, out came our grass spider.

Agelenopsis sp.Easily identified by the black and medium brown stripes on the cephalothorax and pattern on the abdomen, it’s one of over 400 species of funnel weaver spiders in N. America. These harmless spiders are seen more often in the late summer and fall…. and sometimes in our houses. This little fella looks to me like a female with her belly perhaps full of eggs. The adult males are much slimmer.

With the extremely wet summer we are experiencing, I hope our gal catches her weight in mosquitoes daily!

Bowls and Doileys in the Garden

Yesterday I awoke to a cool and foggy morning in Gloucester. Until the sun rose to burn it off, the river was shrouded in a thick cloud of moisture, a haze that left the landscape laden in a covering of morning dew. This heavy dew is a frequent occurrence in the fall in Tidewater and it’s a perfect time to check out the almost invisible world of miniature spiders.

Morning fog

There are hundreds of sheet web spiders (Linyphiidae) but one tiny sheet web spider interests me most. The Bowl and Doily Spider (Frontinella communis), found everywhere in the Eastern US, goes unnoticed on a dry day.  Just take a look at what we can see on a dew laden morning.

Bowl and Doily Spider Webs

These tiny webs are named for the unique shapes that the spider weaves. There are two levels to the web, an non-sticky upper area known as the bowl and a lower area called the doily. The spider that lives in the web is found underneath the bowl upside down. Entomologists believe the doily is to protect the spider from enemies below and the bowl may protect it from above. There are ‘trap lines’ that connect all parts of the web to the plants. Although I’ve never seen an insect trapped in the bowl, it’s been said that the Bowl and Doily Spider will bite an insect through this web, then it wraps the prey (mosquitoes, gnats, small flies, aphids) in silk.

Bowl and Doily Spider Web in Dew

I often lean close trying to spot the spider between the sheets of web. But I think I must disturb a trap line and the spider disappears before I can focus my eyes or a camera. We’re talking about a web of three or four inches and a spider about 4 mm in length.

However, I did get lucky this time and captured a fuzzy photo before the little one scampered away.

Bowl and Doily Spider (click for closer look)

In areas of Maine, the native Bowl and Doily Spider is under threat from an extremely aggressive European spider, the Palearctic spider (L. triangularis) that was accidentally introduced into the US. It is overtaking the webs of several varieties of sheet web spiders. The dominant L. triangularis is leading to a decline in spider biodiversity in areas of Arcadia National Park. No one can predict what will happen, but lets hope those aggressive invaders don’t like the climate in Virginia.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Virginia

Argiope, The Beautiful Garden Spider

Like many youngsters, I had a huge fear of spiders as a child, but through the years I’ve gotten braver and learned to appreciate spiders and the benefits of having them in the garden.  I still scream if I run into a web but the neighbors no longer dash to my aid. They all know I simply had another close encounter with a spider.

September and October are the perfect months to discover more about the intriguing world of spiders and webs in our gardens.  Step outside in the early morning while dew still covers the Argiope waiting for her mealgrass and be introduced to a silken wonderland of glistening webs festooning the grass, bushes, and trees in a variety of designs from tunnels to chaotic masses, to long threads connecting shrubs and trees, and to the ones that amaze me the most–the giant orb webs.

The spider that spins these magnificent orbs, Argiope aurantia, is said to spin the strongest web in the spider world.  The highly visible female is the largest and most colorful spider in our Tidewater gardens. Her web spirals out from the center and can be 2 feet across with a telltale zigzag line in the center called a stabilimenta, the purpose of which is not completely understood.

The large yellow and black Argiope, aka Writing Spider, hangs head down in the center of her web.  Although fierce looking, she is benign.  If disturbed, she will either drop from her web to escape or she may vibrate her nest vigorously to intimidate, but she poses no threat.   A bite is rare, but should it happen, the reaction will be mild. The best thing for us to do is to leave her alone since she is fast approaching the end of her life cycle.

We fed one argiope moths a few summers ago and she was able to produce 3 egg sacs.

Egg Sacs

At this time of year she will  produce her eggs.  Her abdomen will swell before producing usually one, but up to three, egg sacs containing from 300 to over a thousand young in each, and her life  will end with the first frost. Her babies hatch inside the sac, where they also overwinter  before emerging in the spring looking like miniatures of their parents.

I have witnessed the emergence of the miniature spiders in the spring and it is reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web.  Off they scurry in every direction to begin their own summer journey of life.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester