Archive | April 2017

SPRING PLANTING TO ATTRACT BLACK SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES

This is the time of year when backyard wildlife enthusiasts are hard at work gardening for wildlife.  If you enjoy butterflies, you are probably sowing seeds or setting out plants that will attract these flying flowers.

For years, the goal of these efforts has been providing adult butterflies with dependable sources of nectar throughout as much of the year as possible.  Nowadays butterfly gardeners are also planting host plants for these beautiful insects.

Host (also called caterpillar) plants are the plants that provide food butterfly caterpillars.  While as a general rule, butterflies will eat nectar from a wide variety of sources, they only lay their eggs one a small number of plants. If a butterfly’s host plant(s) are not available in your yard or neighborhood, they will not lay their eggs there and your chances of seeing that particular species is reduced.

With that in mind, savvy butterfly gardeners are incorporating host plants into their gardens.  Fortunately, it is extremely easy to provide the host plants used by the black swallowtail.

Black swallowtails lay their eggs on plants that are members of the Apiaceae family, which includes Queen Anne’s lace, carrots, fennel, parsley, and celery.

If you go ahead and plant any of these species in your yard right now, you have an excellent chance of having them used by black swallowtails this year.

Here is a planting tip:  plant a bunch of whatever plants you choose.  If you don’t, should a female black swallowtail lay her eggs on your plantings, the voracious caterpillars could easily eat the plants up before they become established.

A BLUEBIRD NESTING SITE LIKE NO OTHER

BLUEBIRD BOX ON BOTTLE TREE

 

Over the years, I have encountered eastern bluebirds nesting in a variety of locations, however, recently I was shown a bluebird nesting site like no other.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is the most colorful and unique nesting location I have ever come across.

This nesting box is situated in a forest of trees.  This is not a forest of pines or hardwoods; this forest is composed of a kaleidoscope of more than 140 bottle trees.  Dr. Jerry Payne, the creator of this fanciful forest, has dedicated one of his beautiful creations to the eastern bluebird.  Bluebirds must have found this special tree as pleasing to their eyes as we do.  During each of the three years the box has hung on a bottle tree nestled between  an array of colorful bottles, bluebirds have successfully fledged young.

If you have encountered an unusual bluebird nesting site, I would like to hear about it.

THE GRANCY GRAYBEARD DESERVES A PLACE IN YOUR YARD

 

The Grancy Graybeard, also known as the fringe tree, grandfather graybeard, snow flower tree, old man’s beard and a number of other colorful names is a perfect addition to both large and small yards across the state.

The grancy graybeard is one of the last flowering trees to bloom each spring in the Peach State.  For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have been enjoying both the tree’s strikingly beautiful blossoms and aroma produced by a myriad of flowers.

This small native tree grows only ten to thirty feet tall.  I personally have never seen one more than fifteen feet tall.

       Before the tree’s oblong leaves appear, a riot of snow-white flowers erupt on its bare branches.  This startlingly beautiful floral show is created by literally thousands of slender flowers (up to an inch long and 1/16th of an inch wide).  Oddly, the male flowers are larger than the female blooms.

       If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, the delicate, sweet, clean perfume given off by these flowers will.  When in full bloom, the delicate sweet scent of the blossoms will waft many yards away from the tree.

       These unique blooms attract nectar feeders such as small beetles, bees and others.

       Later in the year female trees, bear a crop of blackish-blue fruit that are gobbled up by mockingbirds, cardinals, blue jays and other wildlife.

       In addition, this demure tree is a host plant for both rustic and laurel sphinx moths.

       This tree requires little, if any care.  Although it does best in moist, rich soils, once established it will grow in dry areas too.  The tree’s ability to live in both partial shade and full sun is another plus.

       With that in mind, I hope you will consider adding it to your landscape.  This tree is definitely a keeper.

 

 

      

BACKYARD SECRET: HOW TO TAKE GREAT CLOSE-UP PHOTOS OF FLOWERS AND BUTTERFLIES

If you have ever been disappointed with an attempt to take a great close-up shot of a butterfly or flower, I have a suggestion that may help.  This tip is especially helpful in eliminating shadows and enhancing the bright colors of your subject.

Begin by setting your camera on the Program mode.  On my camera it is represented by the letter P.  I then pop up the camera’s built-in flash and snap the picture.

The result is I eliminate any shadows that may be shrouding part or all of my subject.  This also makes my subject seem to pop out from the background.

One thing to keep in mind is you need to be fairly close to your subject since most of these small flashes don’t effectively illuminate subjects more than six or so feet away.

 

BACKYARD SECRET: NEST BUILDING AND PARENTING ARE NOT SHARED BY MALE AND FEMALE RUBYTHROATS

In the world of the ruby-throated hummingbird, males do not assist the females in nest building, incubation of the eggs, or feeding the young.  To the contrary, although males are sometimes seen in the company of females until eggs are laid, their attraction for one another wanes shortly after mating.

FEMALE RUBY-THROATED__ HUMMINGBIRD

A GREAT ALTERNATIVE TO CHINESE WISTERIA

One of our most beautiful and reviled plants is Chinese wisteria.  Each spring this introduced woody vine produces large grape-like clusters of fragrant, violet-blue blossoms.  In many places throughout the state, Chinese wisteria vines climb to the tops of the trees.  When in bloom, these sinewy vines create cascades of flowers that can literally take your breath away.

When you gaze at the Chinese wisteria’s flora extravaganza, it is hard to believe that this plant has a dark side.  The truth of the matter is that the vine that has become part of the tapestry of spring in Georgia is so invasive that the harm it causes overshadows the delicate beauty of its flowers.

In many parts of the Peach State has become a serious pest since it is extremely prolific, hardy, and able to grow in a wide range of soil types.  Once it becomes established, it can literally smother the native plants growing nearby.  As a result, landowners spend thousands of dollars each year trying to eradicate this showy invader.

If you enjoy wisteria, but do not want to encourage such an unrelenting noxious plant in your yard, this native vine is a plant you should consider incorporating in your home landscape.  The plant I am referring to is American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)This native woody vine is not invasive although it will climb on fences, small trees, and shrubs.  From April through August, it produces clusters of purple blossoms.  While they are not as large as those of the Chinese wisteria, American wisteria flowers are still beautiful.

If you are interested in butterflies, you will be pleased to know that it is the host plant for the zarucco duskywing, long-tailed, and silver-spotted skipper.

 

ODD FOODS EATEN BY BALTIMORE ORIOLES

As anyone that has followed this blog knows, this winter a number of Baltimore orioles were reported wintering in the Peach State.  One of these birds wintered in my backyard.

Although the numbers of Baltimore orioles that winter in United States seems to be going up, there is scant information as to what foods wintering orioles are eating. Most of those that hosted orioles this past winter wrote that the birds ate grape jelly. The most unusual report I received was from a couple in Macon that said they watched an oriole eating the petals off sasanquas.

The bird that wintered in my backyard shunned grape jelly, preferring instead to dine on sugar water offered in a hummingbird feeder. Last week, the bird expanded his diet by dining on shelled peanuts extracted from a peanut feeder.

If you witnessed a Baltimore oriole eating anything else, please let me know. Your input will help us better understand the feeding habits of this unusual winter visitor.