Milkweed: plant it and they will come!

In recent years milkweed has received much attention as habitat for dwindling populations of monarch butterflies. Most of the more than 100 species in the Americas are tropical, but one species in particular is a staple of monarchs in the North: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

My backyard milkweed project started in 2015 with a few transplants from a nonproductive, roadside location. Establishment was slow, but they’re now flourishing. Vegetative reproduction by root sprouts has created a colony of about 30 stems and the large, fragrant flower clusters are insect magnets (according to the US Forest Service, over 450 insects are known to feed on some part of the plant, including flower nectar). I focused on the Lepidoptera, attempting to document the variety of butterflies and moths that benefit from flowering milkweed. Multiple benefits from a single management action is a best-case scenario. The value added from a colony of milkweed is much greater than monarch habitat.

I’ve observed 9 or 10 species of butterflies and moths thus far, as well as countless bees, flies and other insects. This is a sample!

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Honeybee

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Monarch

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Tiger Swallowtail

CabbageWhite10July18#6152E2c8x10

Cabbage White

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Ctenucha Moth

Fritillary10July18#6082E5c5x7

Fritillary

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Tiger Swallowtail

WhiteAdmiral11July18#6311E3c5x7

White Admiral

Monarch11July18#6336E2c5x7

Monarch

Photos by NB Hunter (early July, 2018). © All rights reserved.

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The Wonderful Month of June

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A favorite freestone stream in the mountains, alive with aquatic insects and foraging trout

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A massive White Pine with centuries of stories locked within

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Tiger Swallowtails “mud-puddling” to ingest nutrients and improve reproductive success

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A chatty House Wren, rewarding me for the nest box I hung on a garden post

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Taking a grooming timeout while guarding the nearby nest and solitary eaglet.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird incubating 1-3 eggs; they’ll hatch in about 2 weeks

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An egg-laying Snapper; she dug her nest in roadside gravel near her swampy habitat 

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A month-old whitetail fawn learning about mobility

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Wild mustard colonizing a fallow field on a dairy farm

Photos by NB Hunter (June, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Searching for Spring in 2018

Despite the cold, late spring, I started searching for wild flowers in late April.  The search is a rite of spring, even if there’s snow in the air and it makes no sense whatsoever.

The flower buds of willow shrubs were on hold (April 27),

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As were the new shoots of False Hellebore after a freezing rain (April 29).

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Desperate for color in a wintry April landscape, I detoured to the edge of a wetland and discovered a reliable indicator of the advancing season: Skunk Cabbage (April 29).

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Finally, the weather took a serious turn for the better. The season of renewal erupted, with April events spilling over into early May. Migrating birds, black flies, wildflowers, baby animals, mud…..Spring!

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Bloodroot

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A Rails-to-Trails recreation path, with willow shrubs in bloom (May 5)

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The early blooms of willow shrubs (May 3), a lifeline for hungry bees

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Marsh Marigold (May 5)

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A tumbling brook, swollen by melting snow and frequent rain (May 5)

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White Trillium (May 5)

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Red Trillium (May 5)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Happy Earth Day

Celebrating Earth Day with images from April, 2018.

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Starlings searching for spilled grain on an active farm

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Mallard at rest on a wintry spring day

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Ring-billed Gull foraging in a flooded field

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Mature whitetail after a long, cold rain

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Turkey Vulture cleaning up a road-kill

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White-throated Sparrow with a kernel of corn

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Breeding Wood Frog in a vernal pool – today – a month behind schedule

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Wild turkey (a young gobbler or “jake”)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Glory of the Snow

As I follow the sequence of bloom through the seasons, my focus is “wild” flowers, plants that occur in natural, uncultivated landscapes. There are exceptions of course, and no better example than Glory of the Snow. This hardy garden escapee, naturalized in my lawn, appears in late March and early April, often blooming in snow.

In addition to the visual treat of seeing the first floral color of the season, Glory of the Snow gives me an opportunity to observe the influence of annual variations in climate on the life cycles of plant and animal life (phenology). I selected and dated images from 2016 through yesterday to illustrate this fascinating annual conflict between winter and spring. Spring always wins, but more convincingly in some years than others!

18April2018: A week or more (?) until full bloom

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14April2017: full bloom and a welcome event for hungry honey bees

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29March2016: approaching full bloom, but experiencing a snowy delay

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14April2016

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Spring Arrivals: Vultures

Almost Spring? A deep, crusted snow lingers on a bitterly cold, four-degree (F) morning. Old Man Winter has a death grip. Soon, there won’t be a hungry vulture in the county.

This sequence, my second sighting of vultures this season, was captured at a small abandoned barn and traditional vulture roosting site.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wetlands in Ice and Snow

Deep snow, rising melt-water and stressed animals have caused me to observe and photograph from a distance, often using my truck as a blind. Two storms and forty inches of snow blanketed the landscape in early March, leaving an interesting mix of “signs of Spring” … ice … and a blanket of snow.

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Open wetland with seasonal water

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Hooded Merganser in a hardwood swamp

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Muskrat feeding on submerged vegetation

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Hardwood swamp teaming with wildlife (location for the remaining images)

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Muskrat in a hardwood swamp, browsing Northern White Cedar (1 of 2)

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Wood Ducks cruising along in a hardwood swamp; 1 of 3

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.