Archive | October 2017


        For our backyard bird neighbors that eat fruits and berries, autumn is a time of plenty.  During this glorious time of the year, many of the native and ornamental plants that grow in our yards are laden with fruits and berries.  Most of these plants such as oaks, dogwoods, sumacs, zinnias, are easily recognizable.  However, other fruit and berry-bearing plants are often overlooked.  Believe it or not, one such plant is poison ivy. 

       I doubt that even the most dedicated wildlife enthusiasts encourage poison ivy to grow in their yards.  However, as hard as we might try to eliminate this woody vine from our property, invariably the plant’s woody vines decorated with three leaflets crop up again and again.

       Should you find a healthy poison ivy vine growing in an undeveloped corner or along the edge of your yard, as long it could serve as a source of food for birds without posing as a threat to you.

          If the dried fruits and seeds are not gobbled up in the fall, they provide a nutritious source of food for more than a dozen backyard birds well into winter.

       The list of birds known to eat the fruits and seeds of this reviled native include the eastern bluebird, Carolina chickadee, northern flicker, dark-eyed junco, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-throated sparrow, tufted titmouse, yellow-rumped warbler, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, as well as hairy, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers.

       If you look at your yard as a giant smorgasbord, it may be a little easier for you to look at a smattering of poison ivy vines in a different light.  Just do not touch them. 


       One of the most abundant butterflies in my backyard now is the long-tailed skipper.   Although this butterfly can be seen through the state somewhere in the state from April through November, I seem to see more around my Middle Georgia home in the fall.

       The long-tailed skipper is to identify.  The bases of its wings and body are cloaked in long blue-green scales that give them a shaggy appearance.  From above, the butterfly’s wings are brown and marked with light-colored spots.  When viewed from beneath the wings are decorated with two dark brown bands.  In addition, each hindwing is equipped with long tails. 

       Sometimes, however, you will find what appear to be long-tailed skippers but they lack the species’ characteristic long tails.  These butterflies are not a different species; they are simply individuals that have lost their tails to wear and tear.

       On cool mornings this time of year, I often seen long-tailed skippers with their wings outstretched with their backs facing the rising sun.  This enables them to warm their bodies so they can begin nectaring.

       Unlike most other butterflies, long-tailed skippers often feed upside down.

       The long-tailed skipper is one of a handful or our butterflies that emigrate.  Each fall many of them escape cold weather by flying into Florida.

       The long-tailed skipper uses a number of different legumes as host plants.  This list includes bean, beggarweed, wisteria and beans. 


        The zebra heliconian (also known as the zebra longwing) is the state butterfly of Florida.  It flies throughout the year in south Florida. 

       Each year untold numbers of zebra heliconians find their way into the Peach State.  Some years these colonists remain in the Coastal Plain.  However, this year they have been routinely seen throughout Middle Georgia and points to the north.  This summer I have personally received more reports of zebra heliconians than ever before.  Many of these butterflies reproduce here in Georgia. 

       Today I received a call from a woman that lives in Macon.  She called to ask me if I knew where she could find some passionflower vines.  It seems that she has been hosting zebra heliconians for about a month.  Recently she saw a female zebra laying eggs on a passionflower vines growing in her yard.  Realizing that her meager vines will not support very many zebra heliconian caterpillars, she wanted to where to find some.  It seems she cannot stand the thought of the caterpillars starving to death.

       Not knowing the location of any plants, I suggested she check with nurseries that deal with butterfly nectar and host plants.

       If you know where she could find some passionflower vines, please let me know.  I will pass the information on to this concerned butterfly enthusiast.



Chances are you have never seen this insect.  This strikingly black and yellow-marked insect is known as the locust borer (Megacylene robiniae).        

       It is interesting to note that entomologists believe the insect’s bold yellow and black pattern deters wasps from preying this boldly marked beetle.

       The only known host of this insect is the black locust tree. Consequently, if you spot on your property, chances are a black locust is growing nearby.

       The emergence of the adult locust borer coincides with the blooming of goldenrod.  It seems that the locust borer is far more often seen dining goldenrod pollen than anywhere else. With that in mind, if you would like to see one of these insects, now is the time to take a close look at the golden, plume-like blossoms of this beautiful fall flower.  Don’t delay, once the goldenrod blooms fade, along with their passing your chances of seeing this insect also disappears until next year.


         Most Georgians see the rose-breasted grosbeak only during its spring migration.  In fact, it is seen so infrequently in the fall most backyard bird watchers are surprised when one does show up.  I personally rarely spot one during the fall. 

       Blogger Ron Lee looked out his window on October 2 and was treated to the sight of a rose-breasted grosbeak feeding on sunflower seeds.  Ron’s sighting gives the rest of us hope this long distance migrant will make an unexpected stop in our backyard in the near future.

       Let me know if one shows up in your yard.


Blazing star, also called liatris (Liatris spp.), is one of our most strikingly beautiful native plants. Its tall lavender spikes annually treat us with spires of eye-pleasing color.  More importantly, the plant produces nectar and pollen for hosts of wild pollinators.

The plant serves as a food source for bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and moths. However, undoubtedly its most famous visitor is the monarch.  Researchers do not know why monarchs are drawn to this plant. However, researchers suspect blazing star produces chemical cues that draw these large orange and black butterflies to their frilly flowers.

Several species of liatris grow in the Peach State. However, even the experts sometimes find it difficult to identify which species they are looking at.

You are likely to find blazing star blooming from summer into fall.  Those species that bloom during the monarch migration can be important sources of nectar for the long-distance migrant. 

Liatris grows best in full sun in both dry and moist soils.

Gardeners like the fact that blazing star bloom for several weeks.  Interestingly, its spikes bloom from the top down.

If you are looking for a stunning addition to your home flower garden, consider planting this hardy perennial. If you do, you will also providing monarchs and other native pollinators with a valuable source of food.