Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Rest of 2022, Part IV: Insects and Plants

Whew, I guess I did have a lot to share from 2022, since this is the fourth post wrapping up this year's sightings from our property. But really, this is what I get for letting things pile up since March. In any case, here are some final assorted highlights from 2022, featuring insects (and spiders) and plants!

The first significant wave of spring flowers always makes me very happy, and our show started in late April this year. I was especially happy to see flowers that I've planted in front of our house in recent years (mostly thanks to our local native plant nurseries!). A small bee was enjoying these Bloodroot flowers on April 24 as much as I was:

Nearby, the Wild Ginger I planted last year was opening its first flowers at ground level:

And I was super excited to see the first flower buds on a Virginia Bluebells plant that had been in the ground here for a couple of years and that I was starting to think might never bloom:

Here are the Virginia Bluebells on May 7, open and accepting pollinators:

On May 12, I finally identified the spider species that builds intricate double-layered webs throughout our meadow every year as a Bowl and Doily Spider (Frontinella pyramitela); what a cool creature:

And here's the meadow lit-up with Bowl and Doily Spider webs on May 16:

I've been so happy to see the meadow's progress over the past few years, since we needed to have some excavation done in late 2017 and scattered a mix of native seeds over the disturbed portion. This year, the meadow settled into basically three waves of dominant flowering plants (with other species joining the show to a lesser extent). Beautiful Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) took the first wave, and here's the lupine-filled meadow on May 30:

By late July, Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) was the star, casting a pale purple wash over the meadow (the gradually increasing presence of Common Milkweed also helped); here's the same portion of the meadow on July 28:

September is the time of goldenrods and asters here, and goldenrod in particular turned the meadow overall golden this year; this is a view from a different point in the meadow on September 4, but this view was similar in other parts of the meadow as well:

I will be very curious to see how the meadow progresses in future years. I mostly expect the goldenrod to take over from other plants, but who knows, perhaps the lupine and bergamot will be able to hold their own and continue to add their waves of color in future years as well. We'll see!

Speaking of goldenrods and asters, here's a scene from the edge of our property on September 14. Our place really is at its most decadent in September, with blankets of flowers covering every unmown surface -- what an absolute treat, and a total surprise, since those plants were all there waiting for someone to stop mowing them so they could burst into bloom:

A few other new flower combinations in the front beds made me especially happy this year. Here's amazing Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) with Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. pilosum) and Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) peeking in on the side, all blooming profusely on July 27:

And here's Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) together with Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) on September 10:

I so love adding plant diversity to our yard, and the pollinators seem to like it, too. I plan to keep expanding and diversifying in future years!

Jumping over to insects, here's a dragonfly in the yard on June 11, an aptly named Dot-tailed Whiteface:

We found this Maple Spanworm caterpillar (Ennomos magnaria) pretending to be a stick on the mailbox on June 16:

Is that an incredible stick mimic or what? It looked especially at home when I put it on a Silver Maple twig (one of its many food plants):

I planted some Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) in the front flower bed last year, and this year a whole bunch of American Lady caterpillars (Vanessa virginiensis) showed up to munch on the leaves and developing buds. These caterpillars are cool and the butterflies are pretty, but they also ate a lot of the plant, so if they show up again next year I'll likely relocate most of them:

Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is a native plant that already had a strong foothold in a semi-shaded area near our house when we moved in, and it's continued to expand in this area in recent years; these pictures are from June 23:

I love this plant's crinkled purple flowers:

I still haven't been able to identify the species of fritillary butterflies we have in our yard every year, but this individual was looking especially pretty on July 17 on Purple Coneflower:

A few Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars grew nice and big on our Spicebush plants this year; here's a big caterpillar with its fancy eyespots sheltering in a leaf on July 28:

I also saw a bunch of Black Swallowtail caterpillars this year, both on wild Queen Anne's Lace plants and on my fennel and dill plants in the garden. Here's a big fennel-munching individual on August 17:

And here are a couple of caterpillars on Queen Anne's Lace on August 21:

It's hard for me to pass up an opportunity to take pictures of Hummingbird Clearwing moths, even though these fancy moths are quite common on our property in the summer. They're just so cool. This moth was enjoying a patch of Garden Phlox flowers on August 7:

And this individual was feasting from New York Ironweed (another relatively recent addition in our front flower beds) on September 3:

I love the Ironweed's super curly bits in this next picture:

These Gray Dogwood berries were looking especially pretty on their pink stems on August 26:

Also on August 26, I found this cute baby White Pine in the meadow, surrounded by seedheads of what I'm pretty sure is Wild Basil (Satureja vulgaris):

Here's a backlit view of Wild Basil seedheads on October 14 -- these plants are common throughout the meadow:

In the woods, a few Wild Basil plants were still flowering:

Our White Ash trees are gradually being eaten by Emerald Ash Borer, but this year nearly all of the trees on our property had a big crop of seeds; here's a picture of the seeds on otherwise bare branches on October 14:

Also on October 14, I admired the gorgeous colors of American Hazelnut leaves, with next year's catkins and buds also in view:

In the woods, fallen White Pine needles had turned the surface of the little pond golden:

This falling needle had enough force to punch through a yellowing beech leaf:

Meanwhile, the Virginia Creeper vines that cover the trees on the edge of our woods had dropped their leaves but were still holding on to brilliant pink stems, making the tree trunks look like they'd sprouted some weird pink growth:

And for one last burst of color in this post, here's a Six-spotted Tiger Beetle that was hiding in our front yard on October 29, until I exposed its sandy hiding place under a rock:

And those are some highlights from 2022! Happy new year! Perhaps I'll manage to post more frequently in 2023. :)

The Rest of 2022, Part III: More Birds

We're continuing an account of sightings on our property in 2022. In addition to the birds who took up residence and raised families here this year -- which I wrote about in a previous post -- we had several other birds visiting our property. Here's a sampling!

This bright male Yellow-rumped Warbler stopped by the small pond in our woods on April 30, presumably on his way to northern breeding areas:

I enjoyed watching these American Goldfinches munching on Daisy Fleabane flowers near the house on July 7:

On August 18, an especially unusual bird showed up in the yard. I'd never seen a Blue-winged Warbler x Golden-winged Warbler hybrid before, but this bird's combination of yellow cap, black eyeline, pale throat and breast, and yellow wingbars were all the right marks; this particular hybrid is apparently common enough to have its own name -- Brewster's Warbler -- although it's not a distinct species. Here are a couple of very poor (but identifiable) pictures of this fancy bird:


Also on August 18, some young Rose-breasted Grosbeaks perched on plant stakes on the deck:

Although this next picture is very blurry, I'm sharing it because I love seeing the fancy marks on these birds' wings, including surprising rosy patches:

This Chestnut-sided Warbler looked adorable under a Purple-flowering Raspberry leaf on September 3:

A bunch of young and/or female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visited the potted zinnias on our deck in late August and early September. Here's one of these handsome birds perching on a stake on September 4:

I love that these flowers are big enough for the hummingbirds to put a little of their weight on the petals:

Here's another hummingbird practically perching on the petals as it drank on September 7:

 This Black-throated Green Warbler stopped on our deck on September 11:

And I love seeing Gray Catbirds (perhaps one of our residents or else another bird passing through) with Pokeweed berries; this picture is also from September 11:

On September 18, I happened to be outside while a bunch of hawks were wheeling overhead, flying together in numbers and heading south. This one picture includes three Broad-winged Hawks and what I think is a Cooper's Hawk; there were at least a dozen more hawks in the air, and soon they all moved on:

Other bird highlights this year -- without pictures -- included two new bird species for the yard: #112 was a female Common Merganser who flew overhead on May 15; #113 was a Green Heron who perched in one of the trees next to the meadow on July 16. Also, thanks to help from the amazing Merlin app's Sound ID feature, I was able to learn that I frequently hear a Northern Waterthrush calling during the summer at the back edge of our woods, which means this species probably breeds somewhere near our property.

It's always exciting to see and learn new things! I have one more batch of sights to share from 2022 before this year is over. Up next: flowers and insects!

The Rest of 2022, Part II: Mammals, Amphibians, and Reptiles

Let's keep going with 2022 sights on our property, continuing from my previous post about breeding birds! Here, I'll share some assorted highlights featuring mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. We'll still need some more posts after this. Here we go!



On June 11 in the woods, I came across a female and male White-tailed Deer who, strangely, didn't run away when they saw me, but instead watched me carefully from not too far away for a few minutes. The female, in particular, was intent on watching me:

The male was a little further back, and I was very impressed with the sizeable antlers he was growing:

I wondered whether there might have been a fawn hidden somewhere nearby, but I didn't see anything, and I stuck to the path so I wouldn't accidentally disturb anyone. The deer and I watched each other for a while, and then I moved on.

Eastern Chipmunks are a common feature in our yard throughout the non-freezing months, and I couldn't resist a picture of this chipmunk on our old hollow apple tree on June 20:

Our vegetable garden is generally well-protected with tall netting to keep out deer and short metal fencing with small holes to keep out rabbits and rodents who would love to nibble on veggies. Every once in a while, though, some industrious creature finds a way through these defences, and in July this year, I returned from a trip to find whole bean plants and eggplant branches snipped off by a mysterious muncher, and only some of the leaves on those branches eaten. After a few days (and some more damage), I figured out that the culprit was a mother Meadow Vole who had found enough of a gap in my fencing and had moved her family of babies into a rock pile in the corner of my garden. On July 17, I removed the rocks and uncovered a handful of furry toddlers -- here's one of these cute and hungry creatures:

Meadow Voles are numerous in our yard and meadow, but I don't often get to see them up close like this. I moved the babies outside of the garden, saw the mother make her exit, and re-secured the gap in the fencing where she was probably getting through. Unfortunately, either I didn't successfully fix the gap or the mother vole was able to climb over the ~2-foot fence -- and I read some sources that suggest that voles can indeed climb if they have enough motivation -- because she kept removing bits of the beans and eggplants over the next few days. And then when I put out a live trap in the bean row, hoping to relocate her, she got caught in the trap and died; I suspect now that the trap might have gotten too hot in the sun. I was really sad to have caused the death of this inventive and persistent creature, but it is also true that we have tons of voles here (including her new batch of babies), vole mortality is high in general, and the purpose of my little vegetable garden is to make food for people, not voles. Here's hoping the fence keeps little furry creatures out of the garden in the future; it's really better for everyone if they stay outside.


Reptiles and Amphibians

Our first amphibian sightings this year were on March 19, when night-time temperatures were in the 50s and the ground was damp, and our first really big salamander night was on the rainy night of March 24, when we helped at least 20 Spotted Salamanders across the road near our house in a span of around 10 minutes. Amphibians were waking up and on the move! On March 26, I re-learned that it's best not to tidy up flower beds too early in the year, when I accidentally uncovered a Spring Peeper that was hunkered down in the dirt beneath some dead leaves on this freezing cold day; after taking this picture, I quickly covered the little frog back up:

The night of March 31 was another great time for amphibian movement. Here's a big Spotted Salamander who we helped across the road that night:

And here's a much more awake Spring Peeper on the damp pavement that night:

Although my garden fencing is (usually) pretty good at keeping out unwanted mammals, somehow amphibians and reptiles still find their way inside fairly regularly. I'm not sure how this large American Toad ended up submerged in the garden dirt on May 13, but I was very happy to have it there, and I encouraged it to please enjoy the slug buffet on offer:

This Brown Snake was living in the same rock pile in my garden as the Meadow Vole family, which I uncovered on July 17; I was surprised at this neighboring arrangement at first, but Brown Snakes are too small to pose a threat to voles, and instead this creature is also primarily a slug eater (yes, please, have all the slugs you want):

Sometimes amphibians show up in other unexpected places as well. This small Spotted Salamander spent some time in October in a little cave-like corner of our basement, and this is actually the second year we've found a salamander in that same spot; we weren't able to reach the creature well enough to relocate it, so we just enjoyed looking at its friendly face, pictured here on October 24:

I hope this little salamander was able to find its way back out the way it came, because I'm not sure we have enough food for it down here; and in any case, it should probably be sleeping. Good luck, little creature!


In the next post, look for more bird sightings from 2022, followed by insects and flowers!