Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Rest of Summer and Fall

Where does the time go? Since the last time I posted -- in late July -- I've seen lots of interesting creatures and plants in and around our yard, and I guess I'd better share those sights before we get too far into winter now! So here's a collection of sights from the last few months, in chronological order.

I was excited to see Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars munching on the leaves of my Spicebush plants, slowly getting bigger and sporting those cool snake-mimic eye spots (this picture is from July 29):

But then after a few days, every one of the caterpillars ended up getting eaten. Maybe next year's caterpillar cohort will have better luck? (Maybe I should think about protecting them.)

August 1 was a warm day, and a Blue Jay spent a few moments sunning itself on our deck railing (this fuzzy picture is the best I could manage through a window screen):

And a Mourning Dove over on our platform feeder had the same idea:

The night of August 15 brought a couple of cool visitors to our front porch. We haven't had another big invasion of Spring Peepers since the summer of 2017, so it was a nice treat to see this tiny peeper perched on the wall:

And on another part of the wall, a wingless moth was laying her eggs:

I knew that some species of moths have females that don't have wings, but I'd never actually seen one before. I'm not sure what species this is (perhaps a type of tussock moth?). Without wings, I have a hard time seeing the moth connection, but there you are. Nature is so bizarre sometimes! Here's another picture from closer up:

On August 17, an alarmingly large wasp -- a Pigeon Tremex (Tremex columba) -- got itself momentarily trapped in a tray of water on our deck. That's quite the abdomen on this creature!

I saw several White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillars this year -- here's one of these fancy caterpillars on our front porch on August 24:

On August 31, a walk into our woods let me cross paths with two beautiful male Hooded Warblers:

I'm fairly certain that Hooded Warblers nest in our woods during the summer, but seeing two adult males together makes me think that these individuals were migrants passing through. It was really exciting to get to see these birds up close:

While walking through the meadow that same day, I found a grasshopper with its abdomen pushed into the dirt of the path, perhaps depositing eggs underground?

Also on August 31, our yard was host to a Giant Swallowtail, a totally new butterfly for me:

This really was a large butterfly, noticeably bigger than the Tiger Swallowtails we frequently see around our yard in the summer. It fed at this patch of garden phlox for several minutes, flapping its broad wings the whole time:

And then it moved on. How cool to get to meet what I now know is one of the largest butterflies in North America!

This was a good year for Red Efts (the juvenile form of Red-spotted Newts) in our yard. I usually see efts on the ground, but this hefty individual was lounging on top of some hosta leaves next to our house on September 8:

Twice in September, I moved a rock next to my garden and found a tiny Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) underneath. This is only the second reptile species I've seen so far on our property -- before this point I'd only seen Garter Snakes here -- and I was happy to find at least a little more reptile diversity! Plus, Brown Snakes are so small and cute:

On September 14, I watched a perfect and brilliantly colored Monarch visiting the zinnias on our deck:

These colors are so amazing, and this is the first time I've noticed those tiny flecks of white near the front edge of this individual's wings, like reflective highlights setting off the black marks:

Another Monarch was feeding at some mint blossoms a bit further away, looking like an intricate ornament hanging from those sprays of pale purple flowers:

And while I watched the Monarchs, a House Finch stopped by to eat an apple in the nearby tree:

By mid-September, the New England Asters on our property were putting on an incredible show. The house had a few New England Aster plants already when we moved in, but we scattered more seeds in the disturbed part of the meadow in fall 2017, and this is the first year that those new plants came into full bloom. Many of these plants were tall and robust, with bright purple blooms:

It was a joy to see other colors of New England Aster blossoms in the meadow as well, including these delicate pink ones:

Here's a group of pink, purple, and deep-purple New England Asters on September 28 (when many of the plants were already past their prime):

Each year I try to identify more of the incredibly diverse and abundant asters that grow on our property; I'm up to at least 10 species so far. September is a spectacular time for flowers here, and I'm very happy to have added this New England Aster show to our meadow!

An old Concord Grape vine produced plentiful clusters of grapes this year, which we very much enjoyed. These Bald-faced Hornets made good use of the grapes as well:

The American Hazelnut bushes I planted in 2017 have now gotten big enough to produce their first little catkins (in preparation for the spring), and I loved seeing these structures dangling among fall-turned leaves in late September:

I think the fall colors of these American Hazelnut leaves are especially beautiful, and they made such a lovely stage for this little yellow caterpillar (I don't know the species) on September 28:

Here's another insect and plant pairing from September 28, this time a katydid with super long antennae on turning sumac leaves:

On October 12, I was happy to come across a Hermit Thrush foraging at the edge of the meadow. What a beautiful bird, whose subtle brown outfit seems so suited for fall:

Other cool encounters from the past few months (without accompanying pictures) include yard bird species #102 -- a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers foraging in our spruce trees on September 12 -- and #103 -- a male Wood Duck flying over our meadow on September 28. In October, something broke apart our bird feeders, and when I asked our neighbors whether bears ever show up in our area, they said they'd seen a bear on their trail camera not too long before. So we're pretty sure a bear came through our yard!

Now that November's winding down (how did we get here already?), the landscape is all brown and dormant, and daylight is getting slim. Our first snow stuck around for a few days and teased winter, but we're not quite into the snowy months yet. That will come soon enough!