Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Re-thinking your lawn

 Today I had a marvelous time with the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs at their annual meeting, which was held at Mohican State Park Lodge. They asked for a program on attracting  critters into one's yard with native plants.  That happens to be my favorite topic!

 The program ended up entitled Native Plants Add Drama.  Believe me, they do!  I can hang out all day taking pictures and following the birds, butterflies and mammalian wildlife around in my yard.  It is an ongoing circus, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

This saying from "The Wild Ones" tells the tale best.  IF you don't have action in your yard, you need to re-think your plants and your chemical usage. One of my most requested programs is Butterflies as Bioindicators.  If your yard is healthy and chemical free you should be seeing butterflies.

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor philenor
 The latest hatch in my yard was Pipevine Swallowtails. But before one can have these lovely insects, you must have their host plant. I believe my pipevine is Aristolochia tomentosaGood thing I planted one several years ago and it now festoons the side of my barn.

Prickly-ash, Zanthoxylum americanum in seed
 Another unusual plant on my property is the Prickly-ash.  It occurs naturally along the edge of my woodlot, and is the host plant for Giant Swallowtails.  Imagine my surprise when I realized there was already a well established population right in my own yard!

Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphones
These seven inch beauties have two broods each year.  The early spring brood loves to nectar on my Azalea plants, and the second brood heads for the Purple Coneflowers. I also had a Giant nectaring on a Common Milkweed a week or so ago.  It is important to cultivate milkweed for Monarchs, but other species of butterflies and bees will use milkweed too.  It is a staple in my home's habitat and vital to Monarch conservation.

Thursday Aug. 21th at 7:00 pm I will be previewing a program Midwestern Monarchs at the Gorman Nature Center in Mansfield.  I will also give this program for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Conservation Symposium- The Point of No Return- on Sept. 5th.  They have a stellar line up for that event, and I encourage you to go the notice in the side panel of this blog, and follow the link to register.  There is a lot of information on Monarchs that has slipped past the general public and I hope you will join me for one of these programs.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer of the Pipevines

Among gardeners, it is common practice to change environments and create the conditions required for a particular plant.  Want blueberries?  Acidify your soil, because the mid-Ohio clay is not going to work for those acid-loving plants.

It is also possible, within reason, to accomplish the same thing with butterfly gardening.  As I add host plants to my yard, I am creating habitat, where none existed previously.  It may be pushing the envelope for some, but I just have to have big excitement in my life!

Pipevine Swallowtail, denizen of the south
 Take for instance the Pipevine swallowtail. It is generally a southern species, at least in Ohio. You'll find plenty of them in Shawnee or maybe Dayton, but not in my half of the state.  So we are pushing boundaries by introducing plants that normally don't grow here.  We are not talking about introducing non-native to the U.S. plants, just plants that are not native to my state.  Butterflies don't see state boundaries anyway!.

Dorsal view of Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philnenor
This metallic blue butterfly is a trendsetter for his fellow lepidoptera. Because they are somewhat toxic and distasteful to birds, other butterflies (i.e. Red-spotted Purples, Spicebush Swallowtails) mimic the coloration in order to confuse predators. Since there are no Pipevines, or Pipevine  Swallowtail in northern states, the "red-spotted Purples in Michigan and New York have the "White Admiral" coloration.

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar
 The Pipevines caterpillar has some kind of ugly going on.  It also utilizes nature's warning system of orange and black coloring.  Just like the Monarch butterfly, orange and black signals, "You don't want to eat me!"

The the flower is a 1 inch pipe!
 Pipevine Swallowtail are rare in northern parts, because their host plants are rare.  I have seen a native population of Pipevines at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.  The are apparently feeding on Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria.  In southern states, the Pipevine uses a vine, Pipevine, Aristolochia macrophylla. It is a robust climbing vine, with unusual "pipe" shaped flowers.  The flowers are rather inconspicuous, but the butterfly makes it worthy of a place in my yard.

You might say I am practicing a little assistance for vegetation to keep up with the warming climate.  If it includes Pipevine Swallowtails free-flying in my yard, it works for me.

has become a chysallis.

The Pipevine caterpillar...
The caterpillar has fed on pipevine leaves for the last couple of weeks.  Next, he makes a run for it.  Many caterpillars travel away from their host plants before they go into their chrysalis, but these caterpillars were marathon racers!  It was nearly impossible to keep track of them as they wandered about.  

Finally, the caterpillar settled in and spun a cord to hold his body in place.  It will be a long winter and we won't see this guy again until next year (hint: he'll look quite different!)  This caterpillar's chrysalis was multi-colored ranging from brown to gray and spatter with orange.  One of his brother caterpillars has a lime green chrysalis, the better to blend in with the vegetation surrounding his chosen wintering location. 

If you would like to learn more about native plants and the wildlife which is sustained by native plants, I recommend attending the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton this weekend.  If you are unable to attend, then head to your local library and check out this book by Douglas Tallamy or anything by Rick Darke.  Now they collaborated on a new offering- and I hope there are copies available in Dayton.  See you there!

Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden is now availableBy Rick Darke and Douglas W. Tallamy 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Story of a Wee Beastie

Once a long time ago, there was a wee beastie who had a very unhappy childhood and found himself locked up in a dog pound.  Fortunately for him, our family decided he would be a welcomed addition to our clan.

Argus circa 2002
The little fellow had some serious issues, but lots of love brought him around. He got over his shyness and flourished in his new found home.                              

J.J., Argus, and Shelly
He had a couple of co-conspirators who tried to undo all the good manners and training I worked to instill in him. Their favorite game was "London Bridge," or an adaptation of that children's game.  He would get in between them, until they put the squeeze on him. He loved every minute of it.

Holding the great beast at bay.
 Here's your blogger, a few years back.  Argus and I were very active in the local dog education scene. We were teaching the weekly dog obedience classes at the local Humane Society Shelter. He was so charismatic the clients loved him.  He could do all the lessons "off-leash" and had total control in a class full of wild dogs and puppies. I was often told that he "should be on television!"

Bird watching with the first grandchild, Maia.
 Argus had a way of empowering children, especially ones who were afraid of dogs.  Once they learned he would do whatever they commanded (sit, stay, come) they did not feel afraid, because they were in control.  He was also a huge hit at the local kid's program at church and visited the rest homes.  This guy was a well-loved working dog.

 He loved to visit his "kids" when they were attending Ohio University.  Here he is helping J.J. on an aquatic assessment project at the lake at Stroud's Run.  He was trying to tell them,"The fish are over here!"

Argus, the butterfly hound.
Argus was a big help at home, too.  He was a regular butterfly-hound and he often walked the transect at home stirring up the local lepidoptera.  When people asked what breed he was, we were always ready to tell them he was a BOUFU (Big ol' ugly friendly unknown.)

Yes, he was a ham bone!
Sure, he was on the Christmas cards, had run of the house and yard, and was a fabulous watch dog.  He was adored by man and beast alike and he had no enemies, other than some ding-dangy ground moles who didn’t deserve to live anyway. They hated his guts and feared him as a vicious predator. He didn't cotton any mice in the house or deer in the yard, either. That type of attitude suited me just fine.

Kozak was Argus'  understudy.
 He helped me train other dogs.  In fact, my only regret about this magnificent beast was the fact that we didn't train an understudy to take over his job here at home.

Whenever we would work with a dog, such as this gorgeous 75 lb. German Shepard pup, Argus was able to teach them what I expected, in half the time.  He did the work, I just had to hold tight to the leash on the understudy.

So here's to my wonderful friend, a working dog and beloved family pet.  He served his master well and was loved by all.  It wasn't too hard to let him go, cause I loved him that much.  We all knew a dog's life is short, but this fellow had twelve wonderful years of productive work,  and a family who loved him.  We are proud to say, it just couldn't get any better for a dog.  We kept up our end of the deal.

Thanks for bearing with me. I don't usually write about personal things and am not really looking for sympathy. I simply had a few words that I needed to get of my chest. Sometimes, writing can be therapeutic, but it is not quite as good... as the love of a dog.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Milkweed pollinators

Milkweeds are well known as the host plant for Monarch butterflies.  It is also an nectar source for many, many other insects.  This summer I have spent a lot of time in my garden monitoring my milkweed for Monarch caterpillars (none so far.)  The rewards for that effort has been witnessing a host of other amazing "bugs" in my yard and garden.

Giant Swallowtail nectars on my garden Milkweed patch.
This Giant Swallowtail butterfly was very fresh, nary a mar or mark upon it.  It must have recently eclosed from its chysalis. As a caterpillar this swallowtail probably fed upon the Prickley-ash in my yard.  By offering both host and nectar plants, my opportunities for butterfly watching and photography are greatly increased. Watching one of these seven inch large butterflies never gets old!

The Banded Hairsteak quietly goes about its business.
This Banded Hairstreak is a much, much smaller butterfly.  These diminutive insects require a good macro lens camera or a magnifying glass to identify.  There are numerous hairstreak species and the Banded is fairly common one.  It is a challenge sort hairstreaks to species. Advice to beginners: start with the size of the red and blue color cells.  They alone are often diagnostic.

Death trap to bees.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a robust plant, so no whimpy pollinators need apply.  It has a nasty habit of capturing little bees in "leg hold" traps. The pollinia of the milkweed is sticky and can hold a weaker bee in place. Not all bees get trapped, but if you look at enough milkweed, someday you will find one of these little guys hanging upside-down.  I have never seen a butterfly trapped by this mechanism, so lepidoptera (the butterfly family) must be better suited for the pollination of milkweed.

What are you finding on your milkweed plants?
If you are interested in learning more about milkweeds or pollinators,  I highly recommend the Midwest Native Plant Conference.  You will hear extremely knowledgeable speakers from all across Ohio and beyond.

One of my favorite resources for milkweed and pollinator information is Bob Klips of OSU.  Please check out this link on Bob's Brain on Botany.  Bob is also a speaker at this year's MWNP conference.  See you in Dayton!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Watching Jr. Grosbeak

There is an ongoing parade of colors in the yard.  Sometimes it is butterflies, often it is flowers, but recently it has been in the form of avian life.

Baby Grosbeak (male)
The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have nested and are currently raising young in our yard. This peachy-colored male has been visiting the feeder on a regular basis.  Early on his father brought him in and carried sunflower seeds to him. Now he comes all on his own. 

The awkward age. Who knew grosbeaks went thought a spotted-breast phase?
But sometimes the feeder is a bit crowded.  The local cardinals and titmice are busy gathering seed and bringing their own young to the feeder.  We won't even talk about those pushy House Finches and House Sparrows, both noisy, boisterous lots.

Jr. Grosbeak gleans from the squirrel baffle.
 This young grosbeak is a smart one, though.  Rather than dealing with the pushing and shoving, the standing-room-only at the feeder, he shops the bargain basement. Before now, I have never seen a bird meticulously glean seeds from the top of the squirrel baffle. He has the whole place to himself!

Bird watching arrangement.
My bird feeders have limbs attached to them- all the better to perch on , my dear. It is also better for photography.  The birds come and go in good numbers, and many wait their turn on the limbs attached right to the feeder.  The surrounding area is filled with native plants and much of my window is partially obstructed by vegetation. It makes a very natural looking blind. Those are Common Milkweed leaves you see peaking into the lower left side of the photo.

The "inside view" of my birding blind.
 The window treatment is a blind consisting of large wooden slats.  They create enough of a barrier that the birds pay very little attention to me as I stand and watch them feed and practice my photography. The top window is open; the camera lens sticks out between two of the slats. This arrangement presents very little distraction to the birds as they go about their daily lives..

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
This is a photo of Jr. Grosbeak's proud papa.  The male grosbeak would come into the feeder and check things out, with the juvenile 'beak close behind.  Because of my window "blind" and the perching limb, I am able to take some rather striking "natural" shots of the birds.  In actuality, the bird feeder is but inches away, but one could never tell from this uncropped shot.

This window set up also allows me to take some close-up shots without using much of my camera's zoom copasity.  Therefore, the resolution and quality is the shot is much better than one gets in the wild.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed meeting this wonderful grosbeak family as much as I have enjoyed filming them. It has been a profound experience for me!