THE VANGUARD OF THE MONARCH MIGRATION HAS REACHED MIDDLE GEORGIA

      Late last week the first monarch of the fall fluttered into the Johnson backyard. Since that time, I have seen monarchs seven more times. Seeing these handsome orange and black butterflies is a sure sign the vanguard of the 2019 autumn migration has reached Middle Georgia. Although I am elated to see these amazing butterflies, I fear that this year these long-distance migrants will have a difficult time finding enough food to fuel their flight on south.

       The reason for my concern is for many weeks we have been suffering through a terrible drought. This severe weather has stressed or killed plants growing across the rolling southern Piedmont countryside and in backyards alike. This has significantly reduced the amount of nectar available to monarchs and bumblebees and other nectar feeders.

       If you doubt this, assess the availability of nectar in your own backyard. Even in a good year, fewer nectar plants are blooming in most backyards in autumn than during the summer. This year, however, this year’s drought has made the situation much worse.

       With that in mind, the yards that will offer these hardy migrants the most nectar are those that feature plants that do not require a lot of water. If there is a paucity of such nectar sources in your yard, I hope you will make an effort to remedy this situation.

       One simple way to enhance the availability of nectar plants in your backyard is to grow plants in containers. For example, during the summer my wife sows zinnia seeds in pots sitting on our deck. As a result, currently some of our plants most visited by monarchs, gulf fritillaries and other nectar feeders are zinnias.

       Here is a list of the plants growing about our yard that are currently visiting in the Johnson backyard: lantana, ageratum, butterfly bush, scarlet sage, zinnia, goldenrod, and verbena.

       Keep in mind, providing food for southbound monarchs is every bit as important as offering them an abundance of host plants.

BUTTERFLY FEEDERS

       Not too long ago, one of our blog followers wrote that she had recently purchased a butterfly feeder and was requesting tips that might help her attract butterflies to her new feeder. 

       I must admit that over the years I have tried several different models of butterfly feeders in my yard.  Each one was designed to offer the insects a sugar water solution.  In spite of the fact I placed the feeders in a variety of locations, I was not able to attract a single butterfly to any of them.

       That being said, butterfly feeders do work for lots of folks.  With that in mind, I am convinced I have yet to find the right feeder, location, and/or food that appeals to these beautiful insects in my neck of the woods.  Consequently, here is a brief list of some the techniques others have employed to attract butterflies to their backyards:

       ● Have realistic expectations; the butterflies that most often visit feeders are those that prefer eating dining on such things as animal droppings, tree sap, and rotting fruit.  Therefore, you are more apt to attract a pearly-eye, red admiral, or question mark to your feeder than an Eastern tiger swallowtail or one of the sulphur butterflies.

      ● Carefully follow the directions provided with your feeder.  For example, some of the feeders I have tried recommended sugar solutions stronger than the formula commonly used to feed hummingbirds.

     ● It is always a good idea to change the solution in your feeder after a rain.  Rainfall can seep into the feeder and dilute the fluid’s sugar content.

    ● Protect your feeder from an ant invasion.  As such, use the same technique you employ to thwart ants from reaching your hummingbird feeders.

   ● Keep your feeder clean.  As is the case with hummingbird feeders, fungi and bacteria can spoil butterfly nectar.

  ● Finally, if you are unable to attract butterflies to your feeder, move it to another location.

       If you have been successful in attracting butterflies to a butterfly feeder in your backyard, please let us know what works for you.  I am sure that many folks would love to know the secret to your success.

ALERT: FALL MIGRANTS ARE STILL PASSING THROUGH OUR BACKYARDS

        When October arrives, many of the songbirds such as the orchard orioles that entertained us with their beauty and songs during much of the spring and summer have long since passed on south.  Fortunately, permanent residents such as mockingbirds, cardinals, towhees, Carolina wrens and others still offer us great backyard wildlife viewing opportunities.  However, over the past week or so a couple of our fellow bloggers have taken the time to report their sightings of migrating songbirds that at still passing through the Peach State.

       Ron Lee has been hosting rose-breasted grosbeaks at his feeder during the past several days.  

       At the same time, Walter Brown was lucky enough to see a female American redstart and several yellow-throated vireos.

       If you would like to increase your chances of spotting a southbound migrant or two just outside your backdoor, there are a couple of things you can do.  For example, keep your feeders stocked with seed (rose-breasted grosbeaks are particularly fond on sunflower seeds). 

       However, more different species of birds can be drawn to your backyard with water than seeds.  With that in mind, keep birdbaths full of clean water.  Better yet, install a mister or dripper over your birdbath.  Moving water acts like a bird magnet.

       If you are successful in attracting migrants to your personal wildlife haven during the next few weeks, please let me know.  I am sure many other bloggers will also love to hear of your success.

LONG-TAILED SKIPPERS HAVE TAKEN CENTER STAGE IN MY BACKYARD

        The long-tailed skipper is a butterfly that can be seen in all of Georgia’s 159 counties.  Although it can be seen from April into November throughout much of the state, in my backyard, I see more long-tailed skippers from late summer into the autumn than at any other time of the year.  Since it is so common and seen over such an extended period, one might think all of these butterflies live and die in the Peach State.  Actually, many do.  However, some have wanderlust. 

       For reasons that are not fully understood, during the summer some long-tailed skippers take wing and move northward.  These movements are particularly common along the Coastal Plain.  As a result, before cold weather sets in long-tailed skippers are sometimes spotted as far north as southern New England.

       Far more often, however, each fall far more long-tailed skippers will fly south to the peninsula of Florida.  Here in Georgia some longtails are considered permanent residents, particularly in the southeast corner of the state.

       In spring, long-tailed skipper populations in Florida begin moving northward and eventually end up in our backyard gardens.

       I suspect many of the long-tailed skippers I am currently seeing in my backyard are en route to the Sunshine State.  Meanwhile, for the past several weeks, long-tailed skippers are the butterflies I have most often seen visiting ageratum, butterfly bush, zinnias and other fall-blooming plants.  This is the first autumn I can remember when I have seen more long-tailed skippers than cloudless sulphurs in my yard.  I suspect our prolonged drought has played a role in this situation.

       In the meantime, since I am not seeing any migratory songbirds in my yard, and most other butterflies such as eastern tiger swallowtails have disappeared; long-tailed skippers have added an appreciated touch of beauty to a backyard that has suffered immensely from a lack of rainfall.

A BIRD NAMED FOR ONE OF ITS FAVORITE FOODS

       When I was growing up the yellow-rumped warbler was called the myrtle warbler.  Although I had never seen this tiny warbler, I was intrigued by its name.  I guess that was due to the fact that one of my favorite aunts was named Myrtle.

       Much to my chagrin, later on the official name of the myrtle warbler was changed to the yellow-rumped warbler.  Although I understood the reasoning behind this change, to this day, I still prefer the name myrtle warbler to yellow-rumped warbler.

       The more I have studied birds the more I have become intrigued with the reasons why birds were given certain names.  One of the first birds I researched was the myrtle warbler.  This search revealed the bird was named after one of its favorite foods – waxmyrtle berries.  I also learned it is a choice food for many other birds such as tree swallows eastern bluebird, gray catbirds, northern flickers, and eastern towhees.

      This hearty shrub is an important source of winter food for many other birds that winter in Georgia.  It is also provides bird with cover from predators and the elements.  If you enjoy seeing yellowrumps and other birds around your yard, set out a border of waxmyrtle bushes.

       Meanwhile, in my mind, the yellow-rumped warbler will forever be the myrtle warbler.

INSIGHT INTO HUMMINGBIRD PREDATORS

       One of the things I most enjoy about writing a blog is receiving feedback from my fellow bloggers.  These comments have definitely enhanced my knowledge of wildlife. 

       With that in mind, I want to share with you a message I received from a blogger that lives in southern Mexico.  The communication was prompted by a recent blog dealing with gray rat snakes feeding on hummingbirds at a backyard bird feeder.  The response to this posting provided me with a better understanding of the predators that feed on hummingbirds outside the boundaries of the United States.  As you will learn, hummingbirds that live in this part of the world as well as hummers that winter south of the United States have to contend with predators, the likes of which few Georgians have ever imagined.

      Blogger Pelicanbreath wrote,  “I live in southern Mexico and saw a juvenile Mexican spiny-tailed iguana eating a hummingbird on the windowsill next to a feeder.  I of course chased it away and then had to chase it away from two other feeders within the next two days (it’s missing part of its tail so it’s easy to spot).  Since then, I’ve seen the lizard around but never near a feeder.

       I’ve also had a problem with Ferruginous Pigmy-Owl predation.  I’d seen them in the tree next to my house almost daily for years and I only recall one attempt to hawk a bird from a feeder.  That is, until a pair of them fledged in the same tree – and grew up surrounded by hummingbirds.  Since then, I’ve seen the owls take over ten hummingbirds.”

BACKYARD SECRET: THE RED-HEADED WOOPECKER EMPLOYS A UNIQUE METHOD TO STORE FOOD

            The red-headed woodpecker is the only North American woodpecker known to store food by concealing it with either wood or bark.

            If you are lucky, you might see a red-headed woodpecker hiding food in this unique manner in your own backyard.

SCARLET SAGE IS PRETTY SPECIAL

        If you are a wildlife gardener, you realize there is no such thing as a perfect plant.  That being said, I have found plants that exceed my expectations.  One such plant is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

       My wife and I have grown scarlet sage in our home gardens and containers sitting on our deck for a number of years.  As expected, it has done well in our gardens.  However, its performance in containers has been truly remarkable.

       During the spring of 2018, my wife scattered scarlet sage seeds in several large containers.  In some instances, she planted it alone; in others, she mixed the seeds with black-eyed-Susans and zinnias. 

       As hoped, the plants did well and soon the bright red color of the plants’ blossoms could be seen from afar.  In addition, we were pleased to find that with regular watering, the plants flourished throughout a dry, hot summer.  Eventually after they finished blooming, they produced an abundance of seedpods, which soon dropped countless seeds onto the deck and into the containers where they were raised as well in nearby pots.  Many of these seeds, in turn, sprouted and produced a crop of new plants that displayed blossoms from late summer into fall.  In fact, the second blooming did not end until frost claimed them.

       This spring as my wife was preparing to replant our container gardens she noticed that, in each pot that contained scarlet sage in 2018 sage plants were sprouting.  In addition, young sage plants were appearing in pots adjacent to those dedicated solely to scarlet sage.  It was obvious, that enough young seedlings were taking root to eliminate the need to replant them.

       These third generation plants eventually bloomed profusely throughout what turned out to be one of the hottest on record.  The plants’ blossoms were pleasing to the eye and were a source of nectar for wild pollinators such as butterflies (particularly cloudless sulphurs), bumblebees, and carpenter bees as well as a host of other wild pollinators.  As was the case in 2018, the seeds daily attracted hungry beautiful American goldfinches.

       As was the case last year, the majority of the seeds fell into the containers in which they were grown.  Some weeks ago, they sprouted and are now producing blossoms.  This bloom could not come at a better time as from now into fall nectar is more difficult for butterflies and others to find.  Both migratory cloudless sulphurs and ruby-throated hummingbirds heavily feed on scarlet sage nectar at this time of year.  In addition, I am sure that the monarchs that will be passing through my yard in a few weeks will seek out scarlet sage nectar as they did last year.

       Oh, I should also mention more scarlet sage seedlings have emerged in each of our containers–this plant does not stop giving.

       I will never know how many nectar feeders these plants have already fed this year, or the number of American goldfinches that dined on the scarlet sage’s tiny dark seeds.  However, I am certain wildlife watching in our backyard would have paled without their presence.

       Is the scarlet sage a perfect wildlife plant?  No, but this hardy native has become a valued member of our backyard wild community.

BACKYARD SECRET: CLUES TO BIRD MIGRATION ARE BEING UNLOCKED

        We have certainly come a long way in our understanding of bird migration.  For example, it is hard to believe that during the early days of the founding of the United States it was popularly believed with the onset of winter, hummingbirds “migrated” only as far as a nearby tree and impaled its bill in the plant’s trunk.  Here it remained immobile until the land thawed the following spring.

       Nowadays, through the hard work of many ornithologists, we have a far better understanding of how birds fly from their breeding grounds to their winter homes and back with unbelievable accuracy.  This research has reveal birds employ a number of environmental clues such as polarized light, the stars, the sun and even magnetic fields to steer the their course on their epic migratory journeys.

       Have we answered all of the mysteries of bird migration?  Many of us believe we have much more to learn.  I, for one, cannot wait to see what future research will reveal.

BIOLOGISTS USE NEW DEVICE TO TRACK HUMMINGBIRDS IN BACKYARDS

      Modern technology is having an awesome impact on wildlife research.  Drones are now permitting biologists to assess such things as wildlife habitats and animal behavior in a fraction of the time and effort it would take using techniques that are more conventional.  Even PIT (Passive Intergrated Transponder) technology is enabling biologists to track the movements of animals as small as a hummingbird.

       If a dog or cat has found a Forever Home in your residence, you are familiar with PIT tags.  Most dogs and cats carry a PIT tag.  However, PIT technology has advances enough to the point where miniaturized tracking devices are tiny enough to be used to track the movements of a hummingbird.  As with our pets, these extremely small devices are delicately inserted beneath the animal’s skin

       With this technology, biologists can easily track the movements of individual hummingbirds going about their daily lives.  A group of researchers from the University Of California Davis School Of Veterinary Medicine recently reported the results of their study designed to track hummingbirds visiting feeders in a suburban backyard.  Each time a hummingbird visited a feeder their visit was logged by a scanning device similar to those used when we purchase everything from books and clothing to groceries.

       The study involved placing PIT tags in Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbird and then recording how often and long each tagged bird visited the seven feeders scattered about the yard.  From September 2016 through March 2018, the birds visited the feeders roughly 65,500 times.

       Among the fascinating facts the biologists have gleaned from their study are:

● Female hummingbirds have a tendency to linger longer at feeders than males.

● During the spring and summer hummingbirds visit feeders more often in the morning and evening than at any other part of the day.

● Male hummingbirds more often feed with other males than with females.

       Do any of these findings hold true with what you have observed watching ruby-throated hummingbirds in your backyard?