A Plague of Locusts?

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It’s been a very dry summer–I believe I mentioned Friday that we are in moderate drought. July brought less than an inch of rain and was the second hottest July on record, (last year was the first).

So with the lack of rain, I have been trying to water very carefully–only containers and newly planted plants are getting water from me at this point. But I have rarely seen the gardens look so sad.

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Take this garden for example. This is self-sown goldenrod and asters, with a few other plants added by me in a garden where a magnolia used to grow. The fact that the natives are wilting so severely in a garden that’s actually in a very wet part of my yard (usually) tells you how dry it’s been.

And I suppose I am lucky that I haven’t planted too much due to the pandemic–it would only need watering.

The things that I have planted–or that were already planted years ago–are being ravaged by “critters,” and who blames them? Between the drought and the fact that plants aren’t producing normally because of drought, things are definitely looking for food–and moisture–where they can find it.

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I am lucky to scavenge tomatoes off my own two plants before something–chipmunks, probably–beat me to it. Because the tomatoes are container-planted, I can control the pest damage, somewhat.

But the other day, I came home to find a green tomato on the walk. When I turned it over, dozens of ants scurried away. Ants on a green tomato? Now you know they’re desperate for moisture!

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My sage in the garden has been eaten into lacy bits. I don’t mind–I have more in a container by the door. But what on earth is so desperate that it needs to eat sage leaves? The jagged holes mean it could be anything–beetles, slugs, caterpillars (although I didn’t see any currently)–whatever.

I find that during times of drought things like katydids and earwigs, which normally just eat garden detritus, (the earwigs, I mean) resort to eating “good” parts of plants as well.

And when I was watering the other night, a grasshopper jumped out at me from between 2 containers. Just what I need: a plague of locusts in a pandemic!

At First Light

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I love going out with the dog first thing in the morning. Everything is still and quiet, if we’re lucky, we see no one else and no other cars either.

On this particular morning, there had been a light rain the night before and it had caught all the spiders’ webs in the grass. This isn’t something I usually see in my neighbors’ lawns as we walk because most of them use pesticides, as I have remarked before.

Nature is going to do a lot of the work for you if you let it. There’s a nice combination of funnel web weaving and sheet weaving spiders that have made webs here on my lawn, just waiting for whatever might happen by.

When we think of spiders’ webs, we most often think of–and notice–the large orbs that look like the Halloween decorations. But spiders build all sorts of webs.

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This is a sheet web between these two plants. It looks just like a messy bunch of silk, but it’s quite effective at catching–and holding–insects.

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And this is a web built by a grass spider, who is a funnel web weaver. It gets its name from the “funnel” you see at the top of the web. The spider hides at the bottom the funnel and when something gets caught in the web, it comes out and pounces.

Grass spiders in my part of the country can actually get quite large. Of all the spiders in my yard, they–and the orb-weaving cross spiders–are about the largest. By the end of the season, their bodies can be larger than a quarter–or so it seems to slightly arachnophobic me!

So I am actually quite brave taking photos of all these webs. I shudder at the thought that the spiders are anywhere near–although I love that they are the “good guys” in my garden and yard! I do treasure them for that!

Hydrangeas as Food for Pollinators

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You probably remember this photo from Wednesday. It’s not one of the ones that has the real mist and fog behind it.

If I want to work around these plants, I try to do so either very early in the morning or later in the evening. As soon as the sun hits them, the bees find them–and they are covered in bees.

You may remember my remark from Monday about not being able to get good photos of bees. I see lots of good photos of bees on social media and I marvel.

I think with me it stems from 2 things: the first is my own limitations. I am not nearly patient enough to wait for the right shot, to set it up, etc.

I also don’t use the right equipment. A tripod would help steady the camera and a macro lens would get me closer to the bees without getting on top of them.

But all of that comes from me believing that a bee has to do its thing without any more interference from us humans. Isn’t its job already hard enough? Do you really need to see a picture of a bumblebee? We all know what a cute fuzzy bumblebee is.

But I digress. And yes, bumblebees are one of the bees on my hydrangeas. As are honeybees. And smaller bees that I haven’t identified.

And even a couple of steel blue cricket hunter wasps.

So you can see that these hydrangeas are magnets for pollinators. Or you can at least hear about it.

Bamboo Stakes as Pollinator Hotels

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It’s been a disappointing couple of days with my tomato plants, although this photo doesn’t really indicate that.

The tomatoes were coming along nicely when something–probably a squirrel– completely stripped one plant of all the green tomatoes, doing a fair amount of damage to the stems in the process.

It tried to do the same thing to this plant but the stems weren’t quite as sturdy. So after breaking 2 off, it gave up and went away.

I think that’s a partial win for me. Hard to say.

So in the process of pruning back all the damage and broken stems, all of a sudden I noticed a smallish black and yellow bee hovering.

I stepped back a moment and it landed on the top of the bamboo stake and entered.

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Unlike most other people, I cannot get good photos of bees. All I have here is “bee butt.”

A little sleuthing determined that it’s a type of sweat bee–not the cool metallic green one, but a black one with yellow stripes.

And it’s a tomato pollinator. So, if I can keep the squirrels away, I should have a nice crop with this plant.

Where’s my pesky barking dog when I need her? I thought that no squirrel moved on this property without her knowledge. Apparently I am mistaken.

Those Pesky Birds Again

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I’ve had this hanging basket for about a month or so but it’s just never done as well as I had hoped. Since I had the same variety in this spot last year (or the year before–sometimes the years blur together) I decided to investigate.

I took it down and started to pull out dead leaves and it seemed that there were far too many dead and decaying leaves in the plant. We are seriously dry–we should have had about 4″of rain for the month at this point and we have only had an inch, all at once.

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Suddenly I realized that what was coming out in my hsnds–along with dead leaves–was part of a bird’s nest! I was appropriately horrified. I looked in quickly to see whether it was an active nest but although it was beautifully constructed, there was no sign that it was in use.

I think, rather, that it was the work of the Male house wren. They build multiple nests in an effort to entice a mate. Not all of them get used–in fact, I don’t know why my house wren bothers. He always goes back to the nest box that I have for him. There are babies in there now, in fact.

But it gave me a little scare when I first thought that I had dismantled some poor bird’s little nest.

Anyway, the plant is already doing better as well. Whew.

Squirrel Fodder

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When I lecture on critter proofing, some of my audience will inevitably describe squirrels as “rats with tails.” That’s not at all accurate, but it’s not surprising either. Squirrels can be amazingly destructive little critters in the garden.

Despite the damage that they do, I have always admired them. (For that matter, I admire rats as well, so long as they are not in my house. They are even more clever than squirrels. But I digress).

The above two photos are what’s left of immature black pine cones. For some reason, this year, the squirrels are decimating them, both on and off the tree.

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This is what the cone looks like before it is ripped off and chewed up. Sometimes it’s left in place on the tree and chewed up right there. This black pine is 30 years old and I have never seen the squirrels do this before.

We are having a dry late spring/early summer. I can’t think that these immature cones help provide moisture in the diet, but I am not sure what else to think. I do know that I have pulled an extraordinary number of dead wildlife from my pond despite 2 birdbaths on the edge to help them.

So, clearly the squirrels know more than I do. I just hope they are enjoying the harvest because they are making a mess of my pond!

A Tale of Two Lawns

Happy National Pollinators Week! This is the week in June, every year, that the Pollinator Partnership uses to focus attention on the plight of declining pollinators and the role pollinators play in our ecosystems.

With so much going on in the country and the world, it’s tempting to ask if this isn’t just a distraction. I assure you that it isn’t. Pollinators play such an important role in our world that without them, humans literally cannot survive. We need to care for them because they cannot afford to be wiped out.

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So with that being said, take a look at the photo of these lawns. It’s pretty clear that there’s a line between them. The one at the bottom–or closest to the eye–or in front of the “thank you first responders” sign–is my lawn.

As you can notice, it’s all full of clover again, thank goodness. Why is this important? Clover is a great resource for bees and butterflies like the sulphur. I regularly see all sorts of bees on the flowers–I need to be careful when walking the dog through there, although I think the bees are so busy gathering nectar that they would most likely just move on. Still, I don’t want to test my theory on her.

The lawn in the upper portion, beyond my garden, belongs to a neighbor who uses Trugreen. Most of my neighbors use some service who treat the lawns chemically. Therefore, it’s possible to walk down the street and see who treats and who doesn’t by the clover. It’s really interesting.

Of course clover isn’t the only “weed” that we have, but surprisingly, many of those other “lawn weeds” are also butterfly nectar sources as well. Violets host frittalary butterflies. Plantains host the buckeye, painted ladies and crescents.

Once you begin to see your lawn weeds as food for pollinators, having a perfect lawn becomes far less important. At least it does for me. And it’s nice to know that I never have to worry about letting the dog walk on it either (except where the bees are nectaring)!

Bird Brain

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As a decorating scheme, this is not one of my favorites.

For those who might be having trouble figuring out what the heck they are looking at, I will explain in just a moment. Those of you who have been there with birds probably know exactly what this is.

This is a 3 paneled glass bay window all covered with newspaper. (Yes, fortunately, we still get some newspapers in print or I would need a lot of cardboard).

I have a male goldfinch hurling himself at his reflection in these windows. I taped up the papers, left it for 3 days, and then a couple of panels fell down. So I thought, well, I will leave the few panels off as a test to see if he comes back. Sure enough, he was back the next morning.

Interestingly enough, I can stand there with the Spoiler and the dog and he will fly away for a moment but then come right back and begin beating himself against the window even if the 3 of us are still there. Only once I block all reflection will he fly off.

I may joke about “bird brain” but this is fairly typical bird behavior–among males. They perceive that the reflection is a rival and they won’t fly off until the rival is eliminated. Obviously, when the “rival” is a reflection, it never will be unless we humans help with that.

I have had to wrap a car mirror in plastic to save a cardinal from his rival.

And I had to take a silver gazing ball in for quite awhile to save a robin from his rival.

So it’s a good thing that the plants in this window are snake plants and don’t need a lot of light! I don’t see myself taking the newspaper down anytime soon.

A Walk on the Wild Side

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Through a series of unfortunate events, we are dog sitting for this cute little guy while his owner is in the hospital (not Covid related, but his owner will likely be there awhile. We have already had the dog 10 days). He is as unlike our current dog as is possible so we ramble around the yard.

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It gives me the time to see lovely little nature pairings like this, which I might ordinarily miss.

We also hear lots of lovely bird song. And just yesterday we startled a large rabbit just outside the door. That’s trouble (but it was still nice to see so close up).

The “resident” dog and I have had a few wildlife encounters this week as well, but less pleasant. She and I encountered a coyote so close that even she was able to see it (normally she ignores the coyote and bear that cross our path when we’re walking). Luckily it scampered into some woods instead of making a stand.

We also came home one afternoon to a good sized garter snake sunning itself on our walk. She was oblivious so I just took her inside through another door and tried to return for a photo but as is usually the case, the snake was camera shy.

Ah well. It’s always good to respect the wildlife.

A Tree Popular with Wildlife

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You might remember this photo from Wednesday. It’s a Japanese maple tree leafing out. It’s an unnamed variety that I bought on closeout at a box store in 1995. I had originally planned to turn it into a bonsai because it was so stunted and misshapen.

Fast forward a year or two and my best intentions never happened and it turned out to be an okay tree. So I planted it–I was trying to replace a cornus florida that was dying.

Once again, nature has a way of saying “oh really?” when you least expect it. The dogwood is still hanging on–who knows? Perhaps the Japanese maple protects it from prevailing winds?

And each of them is sitting on rock ledge in only about 4″of soil so the fact that either grows–and stands up at all–is amazing.

But as the maple is leafing out, I am seeing all sorts of bumblebees and small birds–goldfinch, pine siskins and other small finches and sparrows–in it, plucking at the flowers.

I don’t recall noticing this before. Of course, I have rarely had this much time to look out my windows!