Meadows on Fire: Monarchs and Goldenrods

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Many of the goldenrods are going to seed now and temperatures are falling 20 – 30 degrees at night. Fall is arriving .. and butterfly season is coming to an end. Monarch sightings in September are now a special treat. Warm, sunny afternoons find them nectaring with a purpose and sense of urgency, fluttering from flower to flower, goldenrod to aster, in a fast-paced and unpredictable manner.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Goldenrod Meadows and Summer’s End

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Goldenrod honey in the making

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White Admiral

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Cabbage Whites planning ahead

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A Cabbage White butterfly caught in the web of life; one of two

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Monarchs: a species at risk; one of two

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fruiting Bodies!

Woodlands come alive in late summer as fungi and related plants respond to warm, moist growing conditions with visible forms of their life cycles. Fruiting bodies of myriad shapes, sizes and colors appear, sometimes overnight (they thrive in darkness!). The show can be every bit as rewarding as the spring flush of wildflowers…and just as fleeting too.

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Mushrooms emerging through a layer of spruce needles

 

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Coral Fungus

The Ghost Plant (Indian Pipe) made its way into this series on fungi because it lacks chlorophyll and can grow in the dark. In reality, it is a non-photosynthetic flowering plant that parasitizes the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi associated with tree roots.

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The Ghost Plant (Indian Pipe)

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Spindle Fungus

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Hummingbirds in Late Summer

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Our hummingbirds will be gone in a month so I’m savoring every moment with these little marvels. Numbers have peaked, boosted by the young of the year, and all are feeding voraciously in preparation for the long journey to the Gulf Coast and Central America.

They’re devouring sugar water in feeders, in some cases swarming like bees and constantly fighting for position.

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Gardening for hummingbirds is a more natural and satisfying method of attracting and feeding hummers. Red and orange tubular flowers like this Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ can be dietary staples.

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Perches near feeders are my favorite setting for observing and photographing hummers. Portraits that capture the nuances of perching behavior shed an entirely different light on a species best know for its aerial magic!

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When out and about in the summer months, I often think about hummingbirds foraging in natural areas, apart from the direct influence of man and artificial feeding practices. Are there tubular flowers blooming in the wild now? If not, what are the hummers feeding on? Three native species come to mind: Bee-balm (Monarda), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia) and Jewelweed (Touch-me-not; Impatiens).

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Jewelweed or Touch-me-not (Impatiens) in early August

Photos by NB Hunter. All Rights Reserved.

 

Summer Scenes in Farm Country

Most of my travels take me through rural areas where dairy farms still dominate the landscape. These are priceless visual and ecological resources that attract and support diverse wildlife populations as well as livestock.

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Pigeons and crows are permanent residents, usually seen foraging on waste grain in harvested fields or in spread manure.

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Once or twice a week I sit in the evening near a field of corn, oats or hay to observe wildlife. Most evenings there is a predictable sequence of visitors, starting with groundhogs, does and fawns.

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Small flocks of geese glide into cut hay fields throughout the evening.

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Bucks, especially the seasoned veterans, arrive as the sun leaves the fields and camera gear is nothing more than extra weight.

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The last light of the evening, in the clouds. Somewhere below the cloud, in an open field on the highest hilltop, was the dark silhouette of a huge buck. It was his time.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Flowers Along the Way

Every so often we see wildflower planting projects along highway corridors, state and federal programs aimed at the beautification of “scenic byways”. Mother Nature does this too, but in a cheaper, more sustainable manner. Ironically, I took most of these photos on a rainy Sunday in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the road maintenance crew.

Locally, Queen Anne’s Lace and Chicory dominate roadside ecotones. Knapweed is a prolific associate. All are extremely hardy aliens that colonize the most inhospitable places!

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Queen Anne’s Lace and Chicory

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Roadside corridor dominated by Queen Anne’s Lace

Unfortunately, these flowery scenes can’t be fully appreciated from a vehicle. Close examination reveals an impressive variety of flowering plants and associated wildlife activity.

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Queen Anne’s Lace and daisies

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Daisies

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Chicory

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Birdfoot Trefoil (surrounded by Knapweed)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Swamp Rose Visitors

I follow the bloom of a group of wild swamp roses along the edge of a swamp. They appear to be thriving in several inches of water and muck, their feet wet year-round; an incredible display of site adaptation and tolerance.

Bees swarm the blossoms, presenting a target-rich environment for my favorite Arachnid: the Flower Spider. Also called Goldenrod Spider or Crab Spider, they’re an impressive ambush predator with a deadly toxin that immobilizes prey instantly. Bees are common prey, but I’ve photographed Flower Spiders with kills as large as the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and Hummingbird Moth (Clearwing) in their grasp!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.