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MIGRATING MONARCHS NEED OUR HELP TOO

       From the reports I received this week, a wave of monarchs was apparently migrating through Middle Georgia.  In addition, it was encouraging to hear that most of those reporting the appearance of these large orange and black butterflies were seeing more monarch than they had seen in years. 

       For example, my wife and I saw no fewer than seven monarchs at one time in our yard.  While that might not seem remarkable, during the fall, in recent years, we have not seen more than two or three at time visiting our flowers. A friend that lives in Lamar County said she was thrilled to discover 15 monarchs nectaring on ageratum late one afternoon.  She went on to say this was far more than she had seen on her property in years.  In another instance, a friend that lives in McDonough reported seeing many monarchs flying along the highway while driving from his home to Jonesboro.  He was excited that this was more monarchs that he had seen in long time.  Yet another friend reported larger than normal numbers of monarchs showing up in his Monroe County yard. 

       The appearance of monarchs in Georgia backyards in autumn points out the need for all of us to ensure that these iconic butterflies have plenty to eat on their epic journey to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.  This extremely long migration can take as long as two months.  During this flight, monarchs touchdown in many places as they travel anywhere from 25 to 100 miles a day.  At each stop they need to be able find enough food (nectar) to restore their fat reserves that fuel their long journey to their winter home, survive the winter, and then return to the United States.

       Some researchers feel that the ability of monarchs to find enough nectar along the fall migration pathway is extremely critical to the survival of the species.  As such, we all need to put out the welcome mat to America’s favorite butterfly as it moves south.  The best way this goal can be accomplished is to grow a variety of fall-blooming nectar plants in our backyards.  If we all offer a helping hand, we can create a series of stepping stones monarchs can use as they cross the state each autumn.

       The problem is the nectar plants in many backyard gardens across the state are pretty ragged by this time of the year.  As such, they do not provide monarchs with nearly as much nectar as they could.

       When the monarchs arrived in my yard this year they were greeted to a mix of flowers including butterfly bush, zinnia, cosmos, scarlet sage, Turk’s cap, mountain mint, liatris, ageratum, goldenrod, and lantana.  By far, the monarchs most often fed at butterfly bush blossoms.  The next most popular plant visited was lantana.  Interestingly, while monarchs preferred ageratum at my friend’s house in Lamar County, they never visited it in my yard.  In addition, while they have fed at Georgia mint growing in my yard in past years, they did not visit it this year.

       This points out the fact that we need to provide migrating monarchs with a variety of nectar plants.  When this is done, chances are the butterflies will find one or more plants in just the right stage of blooming to provide them with much-needed nectar.

       If you are interested in adding some autumn bloomers to your landscape to help southbound migrating monarchs, here are a few of the other nectar plants reported to attract monarchs in fall: Mexican sunflower, ironweed, aster, marigold, blanket flower, and petunia.

       If you have noticed monarchs feeding at other flowers in your yard at this time of the year, I would appreciate knowing about it.

BACKYARD SECRET: THE CHIPPING SPARROW WAS ONCE CALLED THE HAIR BIRD

Back in the day when horses were our main form of transportation, the chipping sparrow was called the hair bird because horse hairs were often found woven into their nests.  Nowadays since horses have given way to cars, chipping sparrows rarely use horsehair to construct their nests anymore.  However, deer and cow hair are sometimes found in the nests of this common sparrow.

CHANGING WATER IN ANT MOTES HELPS THWART THE SPREAD OF WEST NILE VIRUS

       The recent news of two cases of West Nile virus being diagnosed in the Georgia has heightened the fear that this dreaded disease might show up in our neighborhoods.

       Public health officials have advised that, since the disease is spread by mosquitoes, we can all help thwart the disease is by reducing the places where mosquitoes lay their eggs. One of the easiest ways for homeowners to accomplish this is by ensure water is does not collecting in open containers.  When folks police their yards for buckets and other containers that collect water, they often overlook a potential place of mosquitoes to lay their eggs that is hiding in plain sight.  What I am referring to are ant motes.     

       For years, ant motes have been used to prevent ants from converging on hummingbird feeders.  In case you are not familiar with an ant mote, it looks much like the plastic lid of an aerosol can.  A wire runs through the center of the bottom of the mote.  It is hung, with the open end of the mote facing up, between a feeder and a shepherds hook or other support.  Once in place it is filled with water.  It works because ants trying to reach a feeder will not swim across the water in the mote. The downside of this simple device is it can also serve as a great place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Consequently, if we want to protect our hummingbird feeders from ants and not encourage mosquitoes that might potentially carry West Nile virus, all we have to do is to empty the water in a mote every two to three days.  This will prevent mosquito larvae swimming about in an ant mote from developing into adult mosquitoes.

BUTTERFLIES AT A FEEDER?

     For years, I have fruitlessly tried to attract butterflies to a feeder.  During that time, I would occasionally see a red-banded hairstreak, cloudless sulphur, or American snout perched on a hummingbird feeder.  However, I was never convinced any of these butterflies were actually feeding.

      I have even hung specially designed butterflies feeders in my gardens.  Much to my chagrin, the butterflies ignored them too.  Then, for reasons I do not understand, during the past week cloudless sulphurs have been feeding regularly at one of my Perky Pet Four Fountains Feeder. 

       It all started about a week ago.  While working in my office I noticed a single cloudless sulphur obviously nectaring at one of the feeding ports on the feeder.  When I spotted a single cloudless sulphur feeding at the feeder during each of the next two days, I realized that this was not an accident; a butterfly was selecting the artificial flower as a source of food.

       The next day, when I walked to my office, I was greeted to the astounding sight of seven cloudless sulphurs actively feeding at the feeder.  I have seen at least that many cloudless sulfurs feeding there every day since.

       I find it interesting that whenever a hummingbird shows up to feed, the cloudless sulphurs scatter.  However, within minutes of the hummingbird flying off, the cloudless sulphurs return and resume dining.

       I cannot explain why the butterflies are feeding at this feeder.  I have used it for a number of seasons and never saw a single cloudless sulphur visit it.  In addition, cloudless sulphurs have been feeding each day at zinnia, Turk’s cap, scarlet sage, and lantana plants.

       Obviously, I have a lot to learn about the feeding habits of the cloudless Sulphur.

BACKYARD SECRET: Coneflowers Are Great For Wildlife And People Too

        The coneflower’s value to wildlife is widely recognized.  It is a source of food for native pollinators such as native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  In addition, long after its blooms fade, American goldfinches and other birds feed on the plant’s prickly seeds.

       Those of us that plant this plant in our gardens enjoy the beauty of it uniquely shaped, colorful flowers.  However, according to many herbalists, the value of this plant to humans may go far beyond its pleasing appearance.  It has been purported to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of ailments.  For example, it has been reported that chemicals found in the coneflower a natural antibiotic and even enhance white blood cell counts.

       While I cannot substantiate claims of its medicinal values, I can attest to its value to wildlife.  This year, for example, my wife and I enjoyed watching bumblebees and carpenter bees daily visiting the blooms of coneflowers growing in our backyard.   In addition, the flowers produced by these plants were particularly popular with common buckeyes.   In fact, this year we saw more common buckeyes on coneflowers than any other plant growing in our backyard.  Numerous times, a single flower hosted four or more buckeyes.  

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.