Friday, December 31, 2021

Some Signs of Life at the Beginning of Winter

We've already had a bit of snow and some very cold days this month, but the afternoon of December 16 was relatively warm and sunny, and I took the opportunity that day to wander around outside. With such short days and long nights, and with mainly cold and snowy months ahead, I was especially looking out for signs of life as winter started to settle in.

Plants may be dormant now, but it's really interesting to see how some of the plants around here have gotten ready for next year's growing season. I transplanted Allegheny Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) into our front yard this fall, and beneath the dried stems from this year's growth, spiky purple shoots have already appeared:

The neighboring Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) produced several tiny plantlets along their flower stalks this year, and I tucked those stalks into the dirt. Now rows of baby Cardinal Flowers are waiting through these cold and dark times -- with green leaves intact -- to start growing in the spring:

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) also keeps its leaves through the winter, making a carpet with colors ranging from green to rusty orange:

The American Hazelnut shrubs have dangling catkins and little round buds that will grow and flower in the spring:

In the woods, this fern (I don't know the species yet) holds next year's fronds in coppery coverings at its center, looking like a small collection of coins:

These Common Milkweed seeds were ready to float off and start new plants, and after taking this picture I helped them along:

The Shagbark Hickory tree in our yard produced a large number of nuts this year (although strangely, most of the nuts I cracked open were empty) and a bird has stashed a hickory nut inside a crack in the neighboring Tulip Tree:

Because the weather was so warm on this day, I even saw a few insects out and about. This Honey Bee landed on some aster seedheads; I'm sorry, little bee, I don't think there are any flowers blooming around here right now:

A beetle (some sort of soldier beetle?) was climbing along Little Bluestem stalks:

The beetle even opened its wings a few times and flew a bit:

Finally, I watched a small caterpillar make its way up a Pawpaw stem and pause at a bud, where it seemed to nibble on the bud's outer layer:

It's nice to see signs of life in the middle of December, even as winter is settling in.

As I write this, 2021 is coming to a close, and 2022 is in sight. Here's to the new year! Who knows what 2022 will bring!

August-October, 2021

I'm still catching up with 2021! Here are some assorted sights from our yard, meadow, and woods in August through October of this year.

Young Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were a steady presence in our yard in August, and they seemed to especially enjoy tasting a variety of plants in my vegetable garden. I would've preferred it if they didn't munch on the tomato and pepper blossoms -- those plants had a hard enough time already during this very wet summer -- but there were plenty of peas to go around, and I enjoyed seeing these rowdy young birds snacking away at the top of the pea trellis on August 2:

I think this young Rose-breasted Grosbeak may have struck a window on August 6 (a rare occurrence at our house, fortunately), because it sat for a few minutes on our upstairs balcony, allowing for some unusually close views before it flew off:

For the second year in a row, American Robins nested on the front of our house, making close neighbors with the Eastern Phoebes above our front door. On August 3, the stripey robin babies were looking alert and nearly ready to leave the nest:

This is actually the first year I've seen American Robins successfully produce new birds on our property -- the nests I've seen in the previous three years have all failed. And even better, there were a total of three successful American Robin broods on our property this year. Hooray for a productive year for robins!

The House Wrens were also productive this year, with two broods in their chosen nest box. Here's one of those young House Wrens on August 6:

On the morning of August 8, I was shocked to see a really big bird walking around next to our house. What in the world is a Great Blue Heron doing in our yard??

There are ponds and streams a short flight away from here, but we have no aquatic environments in our yard at all.... As it turned out, though, this Great Blue Heron was hunting food of the small furry variety, and our yard has plenty of those. We watched through a window as the heron snatched up a Meadow Vole:

Here's a closer view of the vole's plight (as clear as I could get through the window):

Down it goes:

The heron hunted over quite a bit of the yard. Look, there's a huge bird walking behind the cars (!):

The heron grabbed one more wriggling vole from the bank between the road and the driveway:

And then a passing runner startled the heron and it flew away. What a cool and unexpected visitor! Now I can add Great Blue Heron to the list of predators who sometimes stop by to keep our vole population in check.

We had so much rain this summer that our little pond in the woods kept water in it all year, instead of turning into a big muddy patch as it has done in previous years. On August 6, I was happy to see some Green Frogs hanging out in the water:

On August 8, I saw the cutest little Gray Treefrog (a young individual) in a patch of Orange Jewelweed in our yard:

I hear Gray Treefrogs frequently enough around here that they must be fairly common, but I so rarely get to see them. And this little creature was so adorable! It was climbing among the jewelweed stems, hunting tiny flying insects, and pausing long enough for a picture now and then:

This lovely Black Swallowtail showed up at the zinnias on our back deck on August 28:

While gardening in the front yard on September 3, I came across a couple of fun little creatures (and had only my phone's poor-quality camera to document them). This small Spotted Salamander was burrowed below ground, before I accidentally unearthed it:

And I found a really bizarre larva on Black Walnut leaves -- at first, I assumed this was a caterpillar infected with some sort of fungus, but it turned out to be the normal larva (they're supposed to look like this!) of a species of sawfly, the Butternut Woollyworm (Eriocampa juglandis):

On September 11, I watched a flock of Cedar Waxwings feasting on Pokeweed berries:

These birds looked so fancy surrounded by Pokeweed and blooming goldenrod:

Nearby, an industrious Eastern Chipmunk watched me from one of the many holes in the old apple tree next to our driveway:

Look at those stuffed-full cheeks!

Also on September 11, this European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) was doing its best impression of a grass stem as it staked out a patch of Little Bluestem in the meadow:

This Giant Puffball made an impressive sight in our yard on September 18:

Here's a beautiful Monarch on New England Aster on September 25:

And reddening Virginia Creeper leaves glowing in the sunlit woods:

Furrow Orbweaver spiders (Larinioides cornutus or patagiatus) commonly build webs across the outside of our windows throughout the spring, summer, and fall. This little individual found shelter in a leaf caught against a window in October, and it seems to now be spending the winter curled up in its home; this picture is from October 10:

I didn't get outside much in October and November -- fall is always a busy time. I have a few more sights to share from December 2021, and that will be the next post.

Monday, December 27, 2021

June and July, 2021

When last I shared some sights from around our property -- several months ago, oops! -- it was a green and sunny June. It feels strange to be going back to the height of summer now, when we've just recently passed the Winter solstice, but I can't very well let the second half of the year slip by without highlighting some more of this place's natural goings-on that I love so much. So here are some sights from June and July, 2021!

On June 23, I crossed paths with this male Black-and-White Warbler who snatched up a moth for processing -- I'm pretty sure that's dust from the moth's wings floating around in this picture:

Little colorful creatures in the yard are always fun. Here's a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird showing off iridescent blue/green feathers along his back while visiting hosta blossoms on July 17:

And here's a bright Red Eft (juvenile Red-spotted Newt) making its way across the stone path in front of our house on July 18:

The Eastern Phoebes successfully raised four babies in the nest above our front door, their second brood of the year. On July 16, the babies' eyes were starting to peek open:

And by July 23 the baby phoebes were alert and nearly ready to leave -- I kept my distance for this picture to avoid startling them out of the nest too early; I love seeing the frumpy looks on these little birds' faces when they reach this stage each year:

This lovely Striped Hairstreak (Satyrium liparops) who showed up in our yard on July 8 was a new butterfly for me:

And I love the finely striped pattern on this Mourning Cloak butterfly who was resting on a shed wall on July 16:

On July 21, I found this perfect little cache of Chokecherry berries in the middle of our yard, presumably stored away by a mouse or other little creature for later; the low grass and clover seemed like a strange place to hide food, but oh well:

This small White-spotted Sable (Anania funebris) moth was enjoying some Buttonbush blossoms on July 23:

What a fancy stripey underside this moth has:

Here's another White-spotted Sable on fuzzy Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) flowers in the meadow on July 28:

Nearby, a Silver-spotted Skipper was also visiting Wild Bergamot blossoms:

And this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail looked extra stunning on Purple Coneflower blossoms:

Meanwhile, this Widow Skimmer hunted from a perch in the sunlit meadow:

One last series of sights from July 28: While walking at the back corner of our meadow, bordering the woods, I must've wandered into the overlapping territories of some very antsy male birds -- perhaps one bird's scolding encouraged the others to come keep a close eye on me as well. In any case, I ended up with some very close looks at three local breeders who usually stay much more hidden and/or distant from me. This male Common Yellowthroat was the first to show himself, popping out of the honeysuckle hedge at the edge of the meadow:

What a fancy guy:

Our resident male Indigo Bunting showed up next -- with his patchy blue-brown-white costume, I assume this is quite a young male, but I'd seen him singing in our meadow at various times this summer, so I suppose he must have successfully established the meadow as part of his territory and had a family hidden somewhere nearby:

And then most surprising of all, an Ovenbird emerged from the woods to perch on an old moss-covered apple branch over the trail and watch me intently:

I don't know for sure whether this was a male or female Ovenbird, but given that the first two birds were territorial males, I assumed that's what was going on here, too:

Either way, this Ovenbird didn't take its eyes off of me while I was in the area, and it stayed quite close:

What a treat to see one of our resident Ovenbirds so close-up, and it was being such a good lookout -- all three of these birds did a great job, really, and I felt lucky to meet them:

I had the trail camera running in the woods throughout June and July (and then I neglected to set it up for the rest of the year), so here are a few video clips from our woods trail when no people were around:

1. A Raccoon pausing to survey the woods at night.

2. A mother White-tailed Deer with her baby, the mother making soft raspy vocalizations (what was she saying?).

3. A young White-tailed Deer (the same one from the previous clip?) getting close to the camera.

4. An Ovenbird picking out a morsel (a caterpillar?) from the forest floor.

Every year continues to be a mixture of increasingly familiar sights and new surprises. There's more to share from 2021, so that'll be the next post!