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CONTAINER GARDENS ATTRACT WILDLIFE

        If you would like to attract wildlife to your backyard, but do not have a lot of space, time or equipment, consider planting wildlife friendly plants in containers.

       This year, my wife planted eight containers with a variety of flowers in hopes adding some color to our deck and food for some of our wildlife neighbors.  The results of her efforts have exceeded our expectations.

      Before I get started, I would like to tell you something about our backyard.  We have a fairly large backyard in which over the years we have planted a multitude of ornamental and native plants.  These plants have enhanced the beauty of our yard as well as provided our wildlife neighbors with an abundance of food throughout much to the year.  These plants range from host and plants for butterflies and moths, nectar plants for wild nectar feeders and seed and berries-producing plants for birds and other wildlife.

       As you can see, we did not have to resort to container gardens to attract wildlife, however, we were captivated with thought of being able to observe and photograph wildlife without having to leave our deck.

       This year my wife planted eight containers with scarlet sage, lantana, zinnia, black-eyed susan, and cosmos.  Since she has a green thumb, all of these plants have flourished creating a kaleidoscope of color. As the blossoms produced by these plants increased, so has the  wildlife visiting them.

       On any given day, we can sit on the deck and enjoy the comings and goings of bumblebees, American ladies, eastern tiger swallowtails, pipevine and spicebush swallowtails, nothern and southern cloudywings, gulf fritillaries, Horace’s and zarucco duskywings, pearl crescents, common buckeyes, as well as fiery, long-tailed, silver-spotted, fiery, clouded, checkered, ocola and dun skippers, to name but a few. In addition, ruby-throated hummingbirds make forays to the plants throughout the day.  Just this past week, as I sat beneath the umbrella shading a patio table, a ruby-throated hummingbird fed at Scarlet sage blossoms just four feet away.  Suddenly out of nowhere, another rubythroat flew in and chased the feeding bird away.

       Close encounters with butterflies and hummingbirds are commonplace.  In addition, the flowers have provided terrific opportunities to study wildlife close at hand without the aid of a pair of binoculars. 

       In addition, we have taken untold close up photos of butterflies, bees, and other nectar feeders attracted to our container gardens. 

       Creating these mini gardens has provided our wildlife neighbors with an abundance of food, and allowed us to gain a better appreciation of those critters that live just outside our backdoor.   Believe me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

THE UNCOMMONLY BEAUTIFUL COMMON BUCKEYE

       Like it or not, whenever somebody mentions the common buckeye, unless you are familiar with this backyard butterfly, it is easy it as being drab.  This is unfortunate since it is truly uncommonly beautiful.

       The common buckeye is medium sized with a 1.5-2.7-inch wingspan.  Males and female look alike, however, females are usually larger, and have bigger spots on the hindwings and broader wings than the males.

       From above, each wing on this brownish butterfly displays white patches and two orange bars, and a large eyespot on each of their forewings.  The hindwings are marked with two eyespots.  The underwings are colored with varying shades of brown and a white band. 

       The common buckeye uses its large eyespots to confuse would-be predators.  For example, often birds will strike at a buckeye’s eyespots instead of its body.  This enables the butterfly to fly away with nothing more than a damaged wing.  The common buckeye ranges across the entire state.  Some common buckeyes can be seen flying about during the winter, particularly in South Georgia.  However, from the Piedmont south, they can be seen most often from March into early November.  Buckeyes are most common in north Georgia from spring to fall.

       Although some common buckeyes overwinter in the warmer sections of the Peach State, this butterfly actually migrates.  Often their migrations are more pronounced along river corridors and the coastline.  In the spring, some migrants actually reach Canada.  In the fall, migrants head south with most wintering throughout Florida and the lower portions of the southern states.

       In Georgia, common buckeyes have upwards of four broods a year.

       The list of host plants used by the common buckeye includes snapdragon, figworts, wild petunia, plantains, and false foxglove.

       Since this uncommonly beautiful butterfly readily nectars on backyard nectar plants, it can add a touch of color to large and small yards across the entire state.

SOME BUTTERFLIES JUST CANNOT WAIT

         Like a growing number of other backyard wildlife enthusiasts I am incorporating native plants into my home landscape. To date, I have been pleased with native plants I have introduced that produce seeds, fruits, berries and/or nectar for my wildlife neighbors.  I wish I could say the same for two caterpillar host plants—passionflower and spicebush.  My problem with them is two of the butterflies that lay their eggs on them do so long before the plants can become established. 

       This problem first cropped up several years ago when I tried to grow passionflower in my yard.  After vainly trying to grow the plants from seeds, I planted young plants.  Much to my delight the plants did well and soon slender passionflower vines inched their way up a nearby fence. 

       One day when I went out to look at my rapidly growing vines I spotted a number of spike-covered orange and black gulf fritillary caterpillars munching on the vines’ tender leaves.  At first I was thrilled that gulf fritillaries were using my plants as hosts for their caterpillars.

       My delight soon changed to concern when it became the insatiable caterpillars quickly devoured every single leaf on the vines.  They then proceeded to eat the vines down to the ground.

       Although my crop of passionflower leaves was exhausted for that growing season, I was hoping the plants would come back the following year.

       The next spring I kept looking for the passionflower vines to emerge from the ground.  When this did not happen I realized the caterpillars had destroyed the plants the previous year.

       This problem resurfaced when I transplanted a healthy four-foot tall spicebush in my backyard last year.  Aided by frequent watering, the small shrub grew well. Much to my surprise, in 2017 I did not see a single spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the plant.

       This spring the tree sprouted a meager crop of fresh green leaves. Eventually, I notice a number of folded-over leaf shelters on the leaves.  This was a sure sign tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars  were hiding beneath their green leaf shelters.  In a matter of days, these voracious caterpillars ate every single leaf on my spicebush.  I was hoping I was not facing a replay of my experience with passionflowers.

       My fear that caterpillars had once again destroyed a host plant in my yard was alleviated when I noticed small green buds had appeared at the shrub’s woody base.  Perhaps I still had a chance to save the plant.

       I decided the best thing I could do to save the shrub was to somehow prevent female spicebush swallowtails from laying their eggs on the few newly-sprouted leaves.  With that in mind, I have wrapped a small piece of bird netting around the base of the plant in hopes spicebush swallowtails will not be able to extend the tips of her abdomens through the netting far enough to lay their eggs on the new leaves; only time will tell whether or not my efforts will prove successful.  

 In the meantime I am checking the shrub daily to see if my efforts prove to be successful.  I also want to make sure a snake doesn’t become entangled in the netting.

If it works, I might just try to plant passionflower again.  In the meantime, I just wish butterflies would be a little more patient.

       If you have discovered a solution to this dilemma, please let me know.

THE EASTERN TAILED-BLUE BUTTERFLY IS A PETITE BEAUTY

Although the eastern tailed-blue is one of our most beautiful butterflies, it is often overlooked simply because it is so small.  This butterfly is about the size of the fingernail on your little finger (0.75-1.0″).

The wings of the male are powdery blue on top. On the other hand, the topsides of the females’ wings are brownish- gray.  The undersides of both the male and female’s wings are silvery gray and speckled with dark spots.  The hindwings of both display one or two orange and black spots near the trailing edge of their hindwings.  In addition, a short thread-like tail extends beyond the border of each hindwing.  Since these tails are so fragile, they often break off.

       Eastern tailed-blues are weak flyers are spend their entire lives within a few feet of the ground.  Consequently, if you are not looking for them, they often go undetected.

       Eastern tailed-tailed blues commonly visit flowers in our backyards.  However, they also inhabit fields and abused landscapes.   

       The list of host plants for this butterfly includes beggarweed, bush clovers, and clovers.

       The eastern tailed-blue can be seen throughout the state. This petite butterfly annually produces several generations (flights).  However, the best time of the year to see this butterfly is from March into October.

       Currently the eastern tailed-blue is the most abundant butterfly flying about my neighborhood.

MY FIRST BUTTERFLY OF THE YEAR

       Each year I eagerly await spotting my first butterfly of the year.  Living in Middle Georgia my first butterfly sighting usually occurs in February.  This year the big event took place February

       The first butterfly I saw was a sleepy orange.  This was not surprising as the sleepy orange is one of the most common butterflies seen in my Middle Georgia backyard.  Unlike most other species, some adult sleepy oranges overwinter as adults.  On warm winter days they will emerge and fly about only to return to a safe, dry place once the temperatures drop.

       On the day I saw the butterfly, temperatures were in the 70s and it felt more like spring than winter. 

       This sleepy orange looked somewhat different from the last one I saw last fall.  The undersides of the hindwings of those butterflies were bright yellow with brown markings.  In contrast, the butterfly I saw was the winter form of the sleepy orange; its underwings were tan.

       With warm temperatures forecast for at least the next week or so, coupled with the fact the sleepy orange can be seen throughout much of the state throughout the year, one might just show up in your backyard in the near future.

GREAT LATE SEASON NECTAR PLANT

        If you are like me, in spite of the fact it is late November, butterflies are still flying about your backyard.  During the past few days I have seen or have had heard of zebra heliconians, cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, fiery skippers, common buckeyes, common checkered skippers, pearly crescents and both American and painted ladies feeding in backyards in Middle Georgia.

       Remarkably, I still have a few plants that are still providing these butterflies and other wild pollinators with food.  However, one of the plants that has proven to be one of the best sources of late season nectar and pollen is a butterfly bush named sky blue (Buddlea davidii).

       This is a miniature butterfly bush that anywhere from three to four feet tall and three feet in diameter.  This makes it ideal for large and small gardens as well as large pots.

       In my area, the plant has extended blooming season from late spring well into late fall.  In fact, right now it has as many blooms on it as it has displayed all year.

       The purple flowers are both beautiful and fragrant.  In fact, the blossoms’ fragrant honey scent is especially pleasing.

       It grows in zones 5-9 and does well in a variety of soil types ranging from loam to the clay-type soils found in my yard.  It does best in soils with a pH ranging from 5.5-7.0.

       This small butterfly bush has been a pollinator magnet for weeks on end.  However, its nectar and pollen are perhaps more important to the wild pollinators right now than at any other time this year.

       Try sky blue and let me know how it does in your backyard.

 

MONARCH VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

I have used hummingbird feeders for more than four decades.  During that time, I have spent countless hours watching the comings of and goings of literally thousands of hummingbirds.

I have also witnessed Baltimore Orioles and house finches drinking nectar at hummingbird feeders.

Earlier this year I posted a blog and picture of a downy woodpecker visiting a feeder in McDonough.

As for butterflies, red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs are most often seen making brief visits to my feeders.  I have even spotted an American snout or two drop in for a visit.  However, I cannot say for sure the snouts were actually feeding on nectar.

After having logged untold numbers of hours watching my hummingbird feeders, you can imagine how surprised I was about a week ago when a monarch fed at one of my feeders for most of an afternoon.  One visit lasted over fifteen minutes.  During that time, the monarch had the tip of its proboscis dipped into the reservoir of sugar water at the base of the feeder.

Interestingly, there was one other monarch in the yard throughout this time.  However, it did not even attempt to drink at the feeder. 

I should also mention that a specially designed butterfly feeder hung a few feet away and neither butterfly paid it any attention.

Records of monarchs visiting hummingbird feeders are few and far between.  With that in mind, I will always wonder why this particular butterfly chose to feed at my feeder on a warm Saturday afternoon.

A week has passed now and no monarch has made another visit to my feeder.  I hope I do not have to wait years for another monarch to discover a bounty of nectar in one of my feeders.

In the meantime, please let me know if a monarch has ever visited a feeder in your backyard.