Archive | August 2017

MOUNTAIN MINT IS A BUTTERFLY FAVORITE

 

       If you are looking for a native plant that is popular with butterflies and other native pollinators, you should consider mountain mint.

       In case you are not familiar with mountain mint, chances are you can spot it growing along a country road.  The plants stand upwards of three or more feet tall.  Although it is nondescript, it can easily be identified from a distance.  The leaves surrounding the flowers will appear as if they were sprinkled with powdered sugar.  This makes the blossoms seem to be much larger than they really are.

       The small, whitish blossoms are formed in clusters.  The plant blooms from June through August.

       While recently participating in a butterfly count on the Big Lazer Creek Wildlife Management Area in Talbot County, I found mountain mint blooming in profusion.  If fact, I have never seen more mountain mint in one place.  Much to the delight of the folks taking part in the count, the mountain mint proved to be a butterfly favorite.  Among the butterfly species I personally spotted on mountain mint on that hot, humid August day were gulf fritillary, long-tailed skipper, pearl crescent, eastern tiger swallowtail, and pipevine swallowtail.

       Fortunately, this perennial native plant can be easily grown in backyard settings.  However, I need to tell you mountain mint can rapidly spread by rhizomes.  Consequently, plant mountain mint in an area where it will not crowd out other plants.  

       In the wild, mountain mint is often found growing along woodland edges, old fields and along roads where the vegetation is not regularly mowed.

       Mountain mint does well a variety soil types.  However, sites need to receive sunlight for at least half a day. In addition, mountain mint can withstand dry conditions.

 

 

BACKYARD SECRET: The Secret of the Vanishing Spiderweb

Have you ever found a beautiful spiderweb one evening and returned the next morning to admire it in the sunlight only to find that it had mysteriously disappeared?  When you have such an experience, you cannot wonder what in the world happened to this remarkably structure.  The answer to this mystery is perhaps as odd as the disappearance of the web itself.

Surprisingly, in many cases, the web is simply eaten by its creator.  If that is the case, you might ask yourself, “Why in the world would a spider eat a web it only used for a few hours and required a lot of time and energy to fashion?”    Part of the reason is webs lose their stickiness.  As a result, they hapless insects that would normally find them stuck in a web are able to struggle free before the spider can dispatch them.  Also, if a spider eats its own web, it recycles some of the energy and protein used to spin the sticky strands used to weave its beautiful and deadly web.  In addition, it ensures that each night it is using a fresh, highly efficient web.          

THE GRAY HAIRSTREAK DISPLAYS SUBTLE BEAUTY

One of the most common butterflies you are likely to see in your backyard is the gray hairstreak.  Although this small (1-1.5″) butterfly is predominantly gray, I think it possesses its own form of subtle beauty. 

It has been my experience that you will rarely spot this butterfly with its wings spread open.  If you do, however, its wings will be colored slate gray.  This most distinguishing feature displayed on each hindwing is an eyespot consisting of a black dot surrounded by an elongated orange splotch…

To me, the butterfly is far more beautiful when viewed with its wings closed.  The underside of each hindwing is light gray and also marked with an orange and red eye spot.  However, you will quickly see notice a white line bordered in black meandering across both the hind and forewing.

Each hindwing features a short, slender hairlike appendage.  If you look closely, you will see the butterfly moving their wings back and forth.  It is thought that the eyespots and constantly moving “hairs” on the tail are designed to confuse predators.  Supposedly, a predator will strike at the butterfly’s hindwings instead of dealing a deadly blow to its head and body.

The first flight of the hairstreak appears in February.  The last gray hairstreaks of the year are spotted in early November.

The gray hairstreak has a number of plant hosts including partridge pea, beggarweed, bush clover, and vetch.

 

WIDOW SKIMMERS MAY BE PATROLLING YOUR BACKYARD

The widow skimmer is one of the most striking dragonflies you are likely to see patrolling your backyard.  This is especially true if you live near water.

       The adult male can easily be identified as it has a primrose blue abdomen, dark shoulders, and a black band at the base of each wing.  The outer edge of the black band is bordered in white.

       Females and immature male widow skimmers look very much alike.  Their wings have dark brown stripes and their abdomens sport a dark dorsal stripe bordered on each side with yellow.  In addition, the tips of the females’ wings are tipped in black.

       These flying predators capture airborne prey with their feet.

       Widow skimmers do not continuously fly through the day.  Instead, they prefer to perch atop weeds and other plants.  From these vantage points, they frequently take wing and patrol their territory in search of food; this behavior is repeated throughout the day.

       Widow skippers typically fly from May through early November.

       This large dragonfly is very common above the Fall Line, uncommon in the Coastal Plain and mostly absent in the southeast corner of the state.

 

 

A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

In January 2017, I published my second book entitled, A Journey of Discovery.  The book is a collection of stories about a wide variety of wildlife and plants ranging from the ruby-throated hummingbird and wild turkey to Queen Anne’s lace, and flowering dogwood.

If you enjoy this blog, you should also like the book. Click on the link A Journey of Discovery at the top of page to read the back cover of the book.

A Journey of Discovery may be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other online book retailer.  Signed copies can be bought at the Monroe County Reporter in Forsyth, Georgia and at The Bird Store in Macon, Georgia.

Front cover

ESTIMATING HUMMINGBIRD NUMBERS BY NECTAR INTAKE

Lately it seems like everywhere I go folks are talking about how many hummingbirds are visiting their backyard feeders.  Indeed, it seems there is no shortage of these small, flying dynamos invading Georgia backyards this summer.  With that in mind, most hummingbird fanciers would like to know how many hummingbirds they are feeding.

       Several years ago, an Arizona hummingbird fancier named Stephen Russell came up with a novel way to estimate the numbers of hummingbirds feeding in his backyard.  This technique is based on the amount of hummingbird food the birds consume.  Here is how it works. RUBYTHROAT AT FEEDER 2 - Blog - 2 August 2017

       I will not go into all of the calculations he used to determine how many birds a gallon of hummingbird food mixed at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water will feed.  Suffice it to say he determined that a quart of hummingbird nectar will feed 137.25 birds.

       Therefore, if you know how much food disappears from your feeders in a day’s time, you can easily calculate how many birds you are feeding.  For example, if the birds consume a pint of nectar in a day, your are feeding roughly 68 hummers.

       If you try this technique, let me know what you think of the estimate obtained using the Russell formula.