Posts Tagged Common Buckeye

Pollinator Palooza

Feather-legged fly

Feather-legged fly

I have been spending way too much time outside with the camera lately. I’m not sure whether the diversity of pollinators in my garden has expanded this year, or I just wasn’t paying attention until now — mostly because I never had a camera that could come close to capturing these tiny, very active insects.

Well, mostly tiny. That very cool-looking creature above is actually relatively large, maybe the size of one of our common carpenter bees. Those “feathered” back legs are its diagnostic feature. It was bouncing around on my bronze fennel flowers.

It always held out its wings like this.

It always held out its wings like this.

As I mentioned on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page earlier, this fly is a garden ally, not just for its pollination prowess. Its larvae parasitize the larvae of squash bugs and green stink bugs. Bring on the feather-legs!

A scoliid wasp maybe?

A scoliid wasp maybe?

This one was much smaller and also on the fennel flowers. Its red body-black head and wings conjures in my admittedly strange mind a mini-superhero pollinator.

Ready to leap into action?

Ready to leap into action?

All of these little wasps, bees, and flies are covered in tiny hairs that catch pollen.

A scoliid wasp, I think, enjoying the tiny flowers of my Greek oregano.

A scoliid wasp, I think, enjoying the tiny flowers of my Greek oregano.

I’ve learned that scoliid wasps come in a dazzling array of colors and stripes. All have larval forms that parasitize scarab beetle larvae, many of which are also garden pests. Until I had a camera that could capture these tiny beauties, I never realized how diversely wonderful they are.

Another scold maybe?

Another scoliid wasp maybe?

I ponder the shape of this one and wonder how such tiny “waists” are adaptive.

Perhaps another scoliid wasp -- this one with reddish-yellow stripes.

Perhaps another scoliid wasp — this one with reddish-yellow stripes.

The oregano and fennel flowers — both tiny and numerous — seem to attract the most diverse array of pollinators. This fall, I’m going to add some new perennials that will produce similar flower clusters. I want to attract all the squash bug and beetle eaters that I can!

The honeybees like the oregano flowers too.

The honeybees like the oregano flowers too.

Many different bumblebees, carpenter bees, and honeybees were all over the fennel and oregano too, but not dominantly so. The bees seemed to prefer anise hyssop flowers, zinnia blooms, and the abelias currently perfuming the humid air.

A buckeye enjoying oregano flowers.

A Common Buckeye enjoying oregano flowers.

The butterflies are still around too, but still not as numerous as I’d like. I still haven’t seen a Monarch, although sitings not far from me have been reported.

A battered Red Admiral enjoying abelia flowers.

A battered Red Admiral enjoying abelia flowers.

Far more numerous than the butterflies are the dragonflies. I think they are largely responsible for the ragged look of many of the butterflies.

They patrol the skies from dawn to dusk.

They patrol the skies from dawn to dusk.

Writing spider finishing her breakfast

Writing spider finishing her breakfast

Of course, I’m not the only one who has noticed the pollinator palooza going on in my garden. The predators become more numerous daily. In addition to the sky dragons, spiders are setting up shop between tomato plants, on the bean trellis, among the tall zinnias — anywhere that’s likely to intercept the flight path of an unwary pollinator.

An Asian Praying Mantis doing its best to imitate a bronze fennel bloom stalk

An Asian Praying Mantis doing its best to imitate a bronze fennel bloom stalk

This mantis set up shop in the bronze fennel several days ago. It’s still there, so I’m thinking it is enjoying picking off the busy pollinators visiting the flowers just above this predator’s head.

Pollinators beware!

Pollinators beware!

When the mantis is extra hungry, it eschews its disguise, preferring to perch boldly right on top of the flowers.

Wheelbug on a fennel stem

Wheelbug on a fennel stem

This wheel bug moved in on the mantis’s fennel turf yesterday. They are ignoring each other, so I guess there are enough delicious pollinators to go around.

Small skink in the boulder garden

Small skink in the boulder garden

Of course, pollinators also need to be wary of non-insect predators like this young skink, which was chasing Pearl Crescent butterflies in the boulder garden.

Green frog on rim of water feature

Green frog on rim of water feature

As always happens in summer, mature green frogs have moved into my little water feature. Here they are safe from predators, such as water snakes, and can focus on being predators themselves.

Ailanthus Web Worm moth on Joe Pye Weed flowers

Ailanthus Web Worm moth on Joe Pye Weed flowers

I’m picking beans and tomatoes every day, thanks in large part, I’m sure, to all these busy pollinators. But that productivity won’t last much longer, unless summer rains decide to visit my yard. In the last few weeks, all the storms have missed me. My creek has stopped flowing; it’s just a series of puddles between sand bars at the moment. Here’s hoping some juicy clouds have pity on my yard soon.

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Happy Birthday, Wonder Spouse!

Birthday Boy shooting a Jack-in-the-Pulpit fruit.

Birthday Boy shooting a Jack-in-the-Pulpit fruit.

Yes, that’s right, folks. Wonder Spouse celebrates another trip around the sun today, and like fine wine, he just keeps improving with age. I took this shot of the Ace-Photographer-in-Action last weekend, when he shot all those pictures I told you about in my previous post. You’ll see more of those as he finishes post-processing them.

Wonder Spouse believes his birthday should be ignored, but I could not be prouder of my spouse and his achievements, so today, I want to share just a few more of his amazing photographs. These were taken over the course of the last 4 years, and I think you’ll agree they are spectacular.

Family photo taken at the NC Zoological Park.

Family photo taken at the NC Zoological Park.

Lest you think Wonder Spouse only shoots botanical subjects, I thought I’d include a couple of his photos from our trips to the NC Zoological Park in Asheboro, NC. We try to get there at least once a year, usually in the late fall when there are fewer visitors, but the animals are still active. This shot speaks for itself, I think.

A close-up any rhino would love.

A close-up any rhino would love.

I love this one. It proves that wrinkles can be beautiful!

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' flowers

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ flowers

Long-time readers may remember this photo. Our now 50-foot-tall Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ glows magnificently in our landscape when she’s in full bloom. But you really need to view her flowers closely to fully appreciate this tree.

Luna Moth close-up

Luna Moth close-up

I love the details visible in this close-up of a Luna Moth — the feathery antennae, the almost fur-like look of the wing scales — exquisite, yes?

Daylily 'Siloam Dan Tau'

Daylily ‘Siloam Dan Tau’

This Wonder Spouse photo really highlights the subtle beauty of this daylily. If you click on it to enlarge it, you’ll see the petals almost shimmer. Daylily blooms only last one day. I’m so glad Wonder Spouse preserved this blossom for eternity.

Bearded iris drama shot

Bearded iris drama shot

This photo really shows off Wonder Spouse’s artistry. He wanted to play with light, so he brought a bloom into the house and experimented with lighting until he got the effect he wanted. I think he got it right. What do you think?

Buckeye butterfly on Joe Pye Weed

Common Buckeye butterfly on Joe Pye Weed

I think this shot really shows off the beauty of our native Common Buckeye Butterfly. Although, I don’t think its looks are “common” at all. Wonder Spouse makes it look easy to photograph butterflies and other creatures, but, trust me, those little critters never stay in one place for very long. It takes considerable skill to frame a shot like this one. Even plants are trickier than non-photographers might think. The slightest breeze can turn a perfect shot to blurred fuzz.

Our front garden in the winter 2009

Our front garden in the winter of 2009

We haven’t had a photo-worthy snow in a few years now. I love the way a good snow obscures all the imperfections in a landscape while highlighting structural elements like trees and garden benches. The Birthday Boy’s skill in framing a landscape shot is fully evident here. I think you’ll agree with me that he is a true artist with the camera.

He has many other praise-worthy attributes as well, but he’s likely going to be unhappy with me as it is for making him the subject of a blog post.

Too bad, Wonder Spouse. Today is your day. It deserves to be celebrated. And I count my blessings daily that I get to share your journey with you.

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Residents and Visitors

Common Buckeye enjoying Joe Pye Weed.

My five-acre patch of Piedmont is positively bustling with animal life these days. Perhaps the creatures have noticed the sun’s later risings and settings, and have begun their preparations for winter. Whatever their reasons, every day we seem to stumble upon an interesting resident or visitor.

Wonder Spouse spotted this Common Buckeye nectaring on the abundant blooms still perfuming the yard.  We see them off and on throughout the growing season, but it had been a while since we’d seen one. Here’s what it looked like with its wings folded:

Earlier that same day, I spotted a Red Admiral hanging around the front flowerbeds:

Red Admiral enjoying Seven-Sons Flower Tree blooms.

Here’s another angle:

The Seven-Sons Flower Tree blooms attract pollinators of all kinds.

I’ve been spotting a small anole hunting in the pineapple sage and lantanas for about a month now. It is only about three inches long, and I suspect it may be the result of an encounter I documented here. But it is too small and too shy for me to catch with my camera. However, the same day that I saw the Red Admiral, I also spotted a large, Green Anole climbing in the warm sun on the south side of my house. I saw no evidence of a throat patch, so it might have been a large female, but I’m not sure. See for yourself:

See how the end of her(?) tail is brown? I wonder if she injured it.

She was reasonably patient with me, but eventually turned to face me, as if to say, “Enough already!”

The Writing Spiders continue to flourish. Some are growing faster than others. I call this one Big Bertha, because she is by far the largest:

Big Bertha has claimed a prime location, where many unsuspecting pollinators become her  victims.

Wonder Spouse continues to document some of the numerous dragonflies currently patrolling our gardens, like this one:

Check out the head on this predator.

This one was posing on some Coneflower seed heads:

Dragonflies are more cooperative models than butterflies, which tend to flutter from flower to flower too frequently for optimal photo ops.

The creepiest photo Wonder Spouse took that day was this fly. I don’t know its species, but I do know it is big, mean, and aggressive. This fly and its kin are the reason we do not wear shorts in our yard. The bites of these monsters hurt for weeks.

I’m sure it has a place in the ecosystem, but its kin are not my friends.

Today is has rained much of the day, so we didn’t expect to see as many critters going about their business as we usually do. Imagine my astonishment this morning when I looked out my window onto the floodplain and spotted two dark shapes. I soon realized they were too small to be deer. When I decided they were birds, my first thought was vultures, because we have a group that sometimes hangs out around our creek. However, these birds were walking around in a very un-vulture-like manner. A thought occurred: “Could these be Wild Turkeys?”

They were walking in the mowed area at the far end of the floodplain, strutting about in the rain, one often chasing the other. Once we got the birding scope on them, we were able to confirm these were indeed Wild Turkeys. Over the years, we’ve seen a few not far from here, but never in our yard. As we watched, they gradually wandered closer to us, but never closer than the large Red Buckeye that grows near the creek. In fact, when the rain grew heavier, they both huddled beneath the thick canopy provided by that Red Buckeye. We could just make out their dark shapes through the driving rain.

When the rain let up, the Turkeys wandered back out into the grassy area, so Wonder Spouse grabbed his tripod and set up his camera — with telephoto lens —  in front of the sliding glass door overlooking the floodplain. It was still raining too hard to take the camera outdoors, the light was dim, and the Turkeys never stayed in one place long enough for a decent shot. But these photos at least confirm a visit from two Wild Turkeys — females, we think.

The only shot of both birds together.

Yup, it’s really a Wild Turkey.

Despite the off-and-on hard rain, the Turkeys wandered around the floodplain for about 45 minutes, until something caused them to dash out of sight for good. We thought we were done with visitors for the day, until we spotted what had caused the Turkeys to flee: a large Common Snapping Turtle! We don’t think she was after the Turkeys, but we don’t blame them for erring on the side of caution when dealing with this species of reptile.

When the rain paused for a bit, Wonder Spouse and I went out for a closer look at the Snapper slowly lumbering across the floodplain. We see Snappers and River Cooters every once in a while; they are always females in search of the soft sandbars they prefer for nesting sites.

Wonder Spouse was able to get a few close shots of what we think is an old female during a pause in the rain.

We are guessing she is old because of the significant wear evident on her shell; the characteristic ridges seem to have been eroded.

She froze in mid-step when Wonder Spouse stepped, respectfully, in front of her for a head shot.

In this close-up, you can see what looks like green algae growing on the top of her head:

She looks almost as if she were carved from local stone, or perhaps a cypress knee.

We didn’t bother her for long. A quick online search revealed that these turtles often come out to lay eggs in weather like today’s, probably because the ground is softer, I imagine. We have a healthy respect for the Snapping Turtles that share our property. We leave them to their business, and they don’t bite off our toes or fingers. Seems a fair deal to me.

I’ll be keeping watch for another visit by the Wild Turkeys. We found a Web site that included recordings of their various calls. When I listened to them, I realized I’ve been hearing these calls all summer. I think Wild Turkeys probably nested in the floodplain woodland across the creek from our property. I had been hearing bird calls I couldn’t identify, and had decided they must be a neighbors’ poultry. But now I realize that the Wild Turkeys have been talking in the adjacent woods all summer.

What a great day this has turned out to be. Not only did the plants get a much-appreciated dose of moisture, but the Snapping Turtles got a chance to multiply themselves, and a new bird species stopped by — in the pouring rain!

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