Monday, May 29, 2017

Winter Fox

For Valentine's Day, a long time wish was realized: 
a Browning Trail Camera 
with night video and photo capability. 

I was surprised to see all the fox action at all hours this past winter. 

I positioned the camera on a cherry tree, located at the lower meadow on March 5th.
It's around midnight and only 5 degrees. 

I repositioned the camera on the opposite side of the same tree, to see if I could capture the fox coming towards the camera and I did. The camera must make a noise or project a light to startle the animals each time.

Here is the fox around 7 p.m and 20 degrees out. He comes shooting by again at 10 p.m. and now 11 degrees out.

I was curious if there were fox hunting in the upper meadow, too. I caught a glimpse of this one during the day, headed up the middle path on a cold, sunny day on March 11.

A couple of weeks later, a fox trotted by near the upper meadow during a snow storm at 3 a.m. and 22 degrees out. 

With all this fox action, I was curious if it was a female and with a den near by. 

I never did find one. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Birdhouses Closed for Business

Before the birds begin making their selection for new birdhouses for the season, we chose this grey, cold, wet day to get the houses cleaned out.

Some interesting finds and observations included:

> One nest had a prominent blue jay feather featured, although it hadn't been used by one:

> Three plumb mice promptly jumped out as we removed the thick nesting material, jumping wildly into the air, practically onto us as, but landed in the snow below and scurried away:

> Another house, at the top of the property and usually used by bluebirds, had a small, very messy, loosely built nest made of small twigs and moss. It looked like it must have been very uncomfortable for baby birds:

We have never seen this type of nesting materials in this birdhouse before. Perhaps, it was a Carolina Wren's, Northern Mockingbird's, or Great Crested Flycatcher's nest? 

Northern mockingbird nests are composed of a lot of twigs, and seem to resemble the nest we found the best.


> As we made our way back to the meadows, we flushed out a very wet Coppers Hawk, who routinely can be seen here, by the vernal pond:

> The newest birdhouse hasn't been used recently and was completely free of bird nesting material:

The birdhouses will all be left wide open this year to hopefully break the cycle of house sparrows using them.

Every bird is on their own for the nesting season this year!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Swallowtail Butterfly Mimicry

While I was out to the garden, collecting a sprig or two of parsley for a veggie stir fry, I was startled by a beautiful caterpillar:

When I looked closer, there were over 10 of them in my parsley patch.

After some investigation, I identified them as Eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar.

They start as a little greenish-yellow iridescent egg, from which emerges after 4 to 9 days, depending on the weather, a black larvae, with a conspicuous white saddle, which mimics bird droppings. This stage lasts 10 to 30 days, and includes several instar phases and a caterpillar.

Another 9 to 18 days, as a pupa, are needed to become a butterfly.

Black swallowtail butterflies frequent the zinnia garden, 

but wait, after some double checking, I find these butterflies are NOT Eastern black swallowtails, but a dark morph of the female Eastern tiger swallowtail (Paplio glaucus) and their caterpillar looks like this:

Female Eastern tiger swallowtails are dimorphic and this chart from Wikipedia shows the differences :

3 - dorsal female dark morph; 6 - ventral female dark morph

"In the dark morph, the areas that are normally yellow are replaced with dark gray or black. A shadow of the "tiger stripes" can be seen on the underside of the some of the dark females."

From one of the photos above, I zoomed in closer, and indeed, you can see the "tiger stripes":

So the differences are easier to identify, pictured below together are the female Eastern black swallowtail and then the female Eastern tiger swallow tail- dark morph.

Note the prominent white spots on the body and wings, for starters.

Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - dark morph (Papilio glaucus)

There is also a Spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus), which also looks similar:

and all these dark swallowtails are mimicking the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

This is called Batesian mimicry, where the butterfly's resemblance to a noxious one, protects it from predators.

There are numerous interesting scientific articles on the subject, but these two studies are especially relevant. In Evolution (33 (1) March 1979), "Batesian Mimicry: Field Demonstration of the Survival Value of Pipevine Swallowtail and Monarch Color Patterns" by M.R. Jeffords, it was shown that mimetic swallowtail butterflies have longer survival times, and are less frequently and vigorously attacked by predators.

Also, why are only the females mimetic? 

In an article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, titled "Diversity in mimicry: paradox or paradigm", by M. Juron, three possibliities are offered, including 1. being mimetic reduces mating success in males, 2. reduces success competing against other males and 3. since females are more vulnerable to predators because of their predictable behavior while feeding, mimicry would offset this. 

Here is a link to the full article: 

A simple visit and observation in the garden led to just a peek 
into such a fascinating and 
complex world. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Carpenter Bees, Blueberries and Catbirds

In early spring, a queen Carpenter bee took up residence right next to our blueberry field. 
See the hole on the post to the right:

She regularly worked the blueberry blossoms, pollinating them, one by one, day by day. 
This helped ensure fully developed fruit.

She attempted to make additional homes in the poles, as you can see here, with her flying around, checking out different locations,  

and then actively chewing on the wood.

This is what her home looks like inside the post:

After mating, the female will burrow like this into untreated wood and lay eggs in a series of cells, providing balls of pollen for the larvae to feed on. The adults emerge in late summer.


Four of the 14 bushes were netted to keep the birds out.

The 6' foot bushes were ladened with fruit this year, thanks to the excellent pollination by the Carpenter bee. These bees are also important pollinators for eggplants and tomatoes. 

Carpenter bees are the largest native pollinators in the US. 
They emerge in early spring and work early in the morning until late in the evening. 
They have a medium length tongue, are sturdy, with a hairy thorax and a shiny black abdomen. 
These bees can travel up to a mile. 

(See a previous blog entry on March 12, 2012)

Every day, at least 2 - 4 Catbirds found their way into the netted enclosure. 
This has gone on for 2 weeks. I went out twice a day to check and let them out, where they then dashed back into the thicket, turning to meow, squeak or squawk at me.

It was always Catbirds! 

Gray Catbirds especially love blueberries and other fruit. 
They are mimics repeating a variety of sounds and can sing a song for up to 10 minutes.

Here is the first bowl. 

Yesterday afternoon, I went out and found 5 Catbirds in the enclosure and decided to go ahead, take down the netting and pick all the berries. 

After picking over 2 hours, 
the total collection came to 19 pounds or 27 pints.

There were still lots of berries left on the bushes and as I came out to the field today, I found over 10 birds feasting, including Thrashers, Robins, Sparrows and 
Catbirds, of course!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Early July Garden Report

Despite the late cold temperatures this spring, 
along with the frosts, then wet, now dry, 

the garden is doing well:

The lettuces have bolted and flowered and now lay composting, making room for green beans: heirloom Kentucky Wonder Bush (matures in 57 days) and Contender Stringless Beans (40 days). 

Earlier planted beans are flowering beautifully:

The zucchini and squash are prolific with numerous fruits growing right before my eyes:

The edamame is a new addition to the garden this year and growing 
nicely along with fuzzy pods. 

They are soybeans and harvested usually 35-40 days after flowering. 
They can be boiled or steamed and then salted for a healthy treat. 
They are quite tasty as soon as harvested, 
but can be refrigerated up to 3 days.

The July 4 Tomatoes have tomatoes, 

as promised!

But what I'm most excited about are the peas. 

Although we've had some quite hot days, but cool nights, 

the peas are producing!

Peas, peas, peas! 

I love how they are silhouetted in their pea pods:

They are delicious and I can't help but keep eating them 
as I pick them, 
delicately warm and crunchy.

Peas can be stored unshelled and unwashed in the refrigerator for several days. Fresh peas can be blanched in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and then frozen up to 6 months.

Happy Gardening 
and may we continue to be showered with rain, 
keeping a drought at bay.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Beware of Aggressive House Sparrows!

The Tree Swallows have been hunting insects in the meadow, swirling overhead and then off into the nesting box. Great news! They must have a nest!

But, wait, a House Sparrow followed it into the nesting box?

Did I see this correctly? What was going on? I dashed inside and did a quick search of Tree Swallows versus House Sparrow and this is what I found out:

House Sparrows are over 80,000,000 strong here in the U.S. and counting. Also known as English Sparrows, they were introduced from Great Britain 150 years ago and they are NOT a native bird. They are extremely aggressive and will corner Tree Swallows, Blue Birds, and other native birds, who they are competing with, following them into a nesting box and pecking them to death. Yikes!

This is the picture shown on the site listed below:

Shocked and disturbed, I raced to the nesting box to investigate. I found 5 baby House Sparrow inside, which I left in place and they are thriving. I was relieved not to find a dead Tree Swallow.

What was going on in the rest of the nesting boxes? These are nesting boxes that had been erected specifically to help the Blue Bird population in the area!

The nesting box by the fence, historically, always a Blue Bird nesting box, had House Sparrows and 4 eggs. Out that nest came! The Blue Birds had been over wintering in this box all winter and had clearly been chased off.

In the upper meadow, 2 of the nesting boxes housed House Sparrow nests. Out they came. The middle nesting box have a Blue Bird family nesting and they were already being harassed by House Sparrows.

What to do? The site above offers some great suggestions, which I will pursue, including a Sparrow Spooker and Hironbec Pendulum.

Here is the site to access this information:

Another outstanding site offers further suggestions on how to deal with this serious problem:

Before acting, be sure to make a correct ID:

Egg comparisons for making correct ID:

I will continue to monitor these nesting boxes and remove House Sparrow nests every 10-12 days, as recommended.