Monday, October 1, 2018

Catching Up With Summer, Heading Into Fall

Wow, is it really October 1? It's been three months since I last made a post! I didn't mean to go so long without updating, but things get busy.... And this summer had all sorts of new ways for my time to get away from me. There's my new vegetable garden, for one thing (I'm really happy with this garden's first season!), and on July 1 we brought home this wonderful creature, who sure does require a lot of our time:

Oooo I love this puppy! I already can't believe he was ever that small. He's a very sweet, very smart, very good fellow (most of the time), and he's gotten about three times bigger than he was when we first brought him home! Here he is posing nicely during our daily walk through the meadow on September 22:

Sweet boy. Although I'm outside and walking on our property every day, being tethered to an easily distractable puppy doesn't really allow for a lot of picture taking or careful nature viewing. (Maybe that'll change when he's older?) Even so, I've seen many interesting creatures around our house in the past three months, and since this is now our second summer at this property, I've enjoyed comparing this year's sightings to last year; in some ways, this summer has been very different!

I'm rather sad to say that last summer's invasion of tiny Spring Peepers in our yard (and on our porches, windows, etc.) seems to not be an annual event. In the past few months, I've heard scattered peepers testing out their voices from hidden spots in the yard, and I caught a glimpse of one adult in the woods, but I never saw a single young peeper. I would have expected the wet weather this summer to boost amphibian populations, if anything, but maybe something happened (or didn't happen) early in the spring that affected our local peepers' breeding attempts. Or maybe last year's invasion was a fluke?

Instead of Spring Peepers, though, Ref Efts (juvenile Red-spotted Newts) have been particularly common on our property this summer. I saw one (or more) of these brilliant orange amphibians nearly every day from roughly July through September. Here's a handsome individual in our woods on August 9:

And here's a teeny tiny eft among the flowers of (I think) Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare), a very common plant throughout the un-excavated part of our meadow:

Speaking of plants, many of the wildflowers that came with the property have continued to put on a fantastic show this year. September is when this property practically glows, with wild asters of various species blanketing every edge and border around the yard. Here's just a small section of the swaths that are now covered with our yard's most common aster, Crooked-Stemmed Aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides), on September 14:

And here's a view of the path I've maintained this year through the un-excavated part of the meadow, alight with goldenrod and aster blooms on September 22:

Since last summer, though, we've also added quite a few new plants to the property, making for some very different summer scenery. About 1/4 of our meadow was excavated last fall during a geothermal project, which left a bare stretch of soil and rocks (lots of rocks). In late November, with the ground already starting to freeze, we scattered several pounds of native grass and wildflower seeds (a mixture of 3 grasses and 18 wildflowers) onto the bare ground. In the spring and early summer, we started to see some plants sprouting from the seeds we spread, but we were fairly certain that this disturbed part of the meadow would be mostly bare -- or at least flower-less -- this year. So it was quite a thrill to see species after species appear and bloom over top of what was basically a big empty mud pit at the beginning of the year.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) has done especially well, and these plants make up the bulk of this bright scene on September 15:

Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) has been a delightful discovery from among this mix of seeds, with tall sprays of bright yellow flowers, shown here on August 6:

And how interesting that this plant produces nectar in little wells along its stems -- I'm sure this ant is here for the Partridge Pea's sweet treat:

I found the flowers of this native grass, Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), especially charming (this picture is from September 6):

Overall, I've seen at least some plants of all 3 of the grass species we planted, and 9 of the 18 wildflower species. I'll be very curious to see how this part of the meadow changes and grows in the coming years! (And I'm geared up to battle invasive plants, as I'm sure they will try to take over this recently disturbed area.)

Up closer to the house, the Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) I planted in the yard last fall produced their amazing blooms (this picture is from July 17):

I had never thought of this showy native as a candidate for a perennial garden bed, but there it was at the native plant nursery when I visited last fall, and now it lives here with me. I saw hummingbirds visiting these flowers several times this summer, but I never did manage to have my camera with me at the right moment.... Maybe next year.

I also added Purple Coneflower to the yard, which proved to be very popular with the local butterflies, bees, and beetles. Here's a Tiger Swallowtail at the coneflowers on July 18:

And here's a bumblebee with a distinctive torn wing; we saw this individual at these flowers every day for at least a couple of weeks (pictured here on July 17):

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seemed very happy to also find big pots of flowers on our deck this summer, and we got the benefit of seeing these birds regularly and up close. On September 12, I was able to take some pictures of one of these wonderful little birds as it visited my zinnias:

What a sweet little bird, sometimes even perching on the petals as it arrived for a drink:

The nearby snapdragons were also tempting, but I include this picture here mostly to point out that perfect little paddle-shaped tail:

There have been a lot of birds around the property this summer. A family of Common Yellowthroats frequently showed up to forage in the various shrubs and brush right near the house. Here's one of these perky little birds on July 18:

And here's another angle, because I'm not used to having such a clear view of these birds:

On August 7, I met up with a family of Dark-eyed Juncos along our woods trail. The juvenile -- looking nothing like a junco except for that half-grown white-striped tail -- made agitated chirps from a nearby tree:

While its parents foraged for honeysuckle berries:

A family of Eastern Wood-Pewees (I saw up to three individuals at once) hung around our house for a while in August, and I was happy to get to see and hear these little flycatchers regularly; here's one of the pewees on August 16:

This Gray Catbird watched me cautiously from the edge of the meadow on September 6:

And this molting American Goldfinch looked especially fancy as it foraged on some goldenrod on September 12:

A few more assorted sights round out the summer. On July 14, I moved a rock next to the garden to find a mother wolf spider carrying her many tiny babies on her back:

An impressive Black and Yellow Argiope spider (Argiope aurantia) hung her egg case on our deck, pictured here on August 25 (although the spider disappeared a few days later):

Several Monarch caterpillars showed up this year, including this individual who was eating an immature seedpod on a Swamp Milkweed plant (Asclepias incarnata) on July 30:

I found this gorgeous, big Laurel Sphinx caterpillar (Sphinx kalmiae) munching on the leaves of a small ash sapling on August 1:

But when I saw the caterpillar again just two days later, it was covered with the cocoons of parasitic wasp larvae that had -- it turns out -- been eating the caterpillar from the inside this whole time; isn't nature crazy?

Finally, because there haven't been enough amphibians in this post, here's a little Red-backed Salamander, one of four that I found under three rocks along our woods trail on September 22; it's nice to know that this salamander's population here continues to thrive:

I continue to be impressed and amazed at the variety of wildlife right here at my home. And now the seasons are turning again, many of the summer birds are already on their way out (with others passing through), and increasingly chilly days mean I should be sure to enjoy all these flowers while they still last. Here comes fall!