Archive | August 2017

THERE IS A RED-SHOULDERED HAWK IN MY BACKYARD!

       During the past few weeks, a couple of homeowners have sent me pictures of hawks perched in their backyards. 

       In both cases, the birds proved to be red-shouldered hawks.  This was not surprising as the red-shouldered hawk is one of the hawks most commonly seen in Georgia backyards.   

     Adult red-shouldered hawks are easily identified by their rufous shoulders, which can be seen when the bird is perched.  Adults will also have a heavily barred, reddish brown breast.  The tail displays distinctive white and black bands.

       The red-shouldered hawks seen in backyards are often spotted perched atop poles, on the limbs of trees, or light fixtures.  Frequently they will remain there for hours on end.  If they find a particular perch to their liking, they will sometimes return to the same spot day after day.

       Since red-shouldered hawks prefer to hunt from a perch, most likely, if you see one perched in your backyard, it is hunting for one of your unwary backyard neighbors.

       When they spot a potential meal, the hawk launches itself into the air and silently glides toward its prey.   

       Since they prefer to eat small mammals, chances are it is looking for an eastern chipmunk, or rodent attracted to the seeds that have been spilled from your feeders.  Since chipmunks are now out and about gathering sunflower and other seeds to store in their winter larder, they are particularly vulnerable to red-shouldered hawks at this time of the year.

In some cases, they will even attack something as large as a gray squirrel.

       Other food items include fence lizards, skinks, green anoles, and even snakes.

       A red-shouldered hawk has even been reported attacking a garden hose.  I am sure this was a cast of mistaken identity; the hawk probably thought it was pouncing on a snake.

       From time to time, red-shouldered hawks will prey upon a mourning dove, European starling or other birds.  Rarely, however, do they try to captures small birds such as chickadees.

       On rare occasions, red-shouldered hawks will even eat suet.  Now that is something I want to see!

       Keep your eyes peeled for a red-shouldered hawk in your backyard.  If you happen to see one, pull up a seat and take the time to watch it for a while.  If you are lucky, you may have a the opportunity to watch one of our most handsome avian predators trying to catch a meal.                 

      

      

RED SALVIA AS A CONTAINER PLANT

My wife and I are big fans of native saliva named red salvia or scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).  We like the fact that it is easy grow from seed, very attractive, and blooms for weeks on end. 

In the past, we have planted patches of the plant in flower gardens containing a variety of flowers.  It has performed extremely well when cultivated in this manner.

       This year my wife decided to experiment planting red salvia in a large ornamental container standing along the rail of our deck.  To say the least, this experiment proved to be a success.

      The salvia has done well in the pot.  In fact, it has grown a couple of feet tall.  Some folks might consider this a bit “leggy” for their taste; however, its tall stature is all right with us.  The scores of plants growing close to one another gives the salvia plants the appearance of being a small shrub.

       One thing I have liked about the plants growing in this setting is we have found we pay closer attention to them than if they were growing in a garden.  Since we walk by them several times a day, we have many opportunities enjoy their beauty and study their blooming habits.

       We have also come to recognize that pollinators tend to visit the flowers more often earlier than later in the day.  I am sure this is linked to nectar flow being greater in the morning.

       The red salvia is in full bloom right now and providing us with some fantastic butterfly and hummingbird viewing opportunities.  For example, with an influx of cloudless sulphurs, more often than not, the blossoms are hosting a few beautiful bright yellow butterflies. 

       Whereas throughout most of the summer, cloudless sulphurs seem elusive, those currently visiting our potted salvia are extremely tame.  In fact, they often allow us to walk up with a yard or less of them without ever removing their long, thin proboscis from a salvia bloom.

       Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also regular visitors.  One morning this week, my wife was standing within five feet of the salvia plants when two rubythroats flew up and fed with paying her any attention.  That was truly an exciting experience.

       If you have never considered planting red salvia in a container, you might want to consider trying it next year.  If you do, I am sure you a pot of red salvia will provide you with hours of gardening and wildlife watching pleasure.  

THE NATION’S LARGEST BUTTERFLY

This dark brown and yellow butterfly can be easily identified without the aid of a pair of binoculars.  The topside of its wings are dark and marked with bands of yellow spots. These bands for an X near the tips of the wings. The longest band extends from wing tip to wing tip.  In comparison, when seen from below, the wings appear predominantly yellow.

       The giant swallowtail’s characteristic pattern of flight can also help in identifying this large, colorful butterfly.  The butterfly alternately flaps its wings and then glides.  In addition, when the giant swallowtail is feeding at flowers it constantly flutters its wings.

       Although it is possible to spot a giant swallowtail anywhere in the state, those folks that live south of the fall line have the best chance of seeing it. However, during the summer giant swallowtails might show up in backyards just about anywhere.

       The host plants used by the giant swallowtail include wafer ash, prickly ash, trifoliate orange, and Hercules club.

      

 

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.