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!

Milkweed9July18#6067E2c8x10

Honeybee

Monarch10July18#6108E2c8x10

Monarch

TigerSwallowtail6July18#5891E2c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail

CabbageWhite10July18#6152E2c8x10

Cabbage White

CtenuchaMothFly13July18#6507E2c5x7

Ctenucha Moth

Fritillary10July18#6082E5c5x7

Fritillary

TigerSwallowtail12July18#6434E2c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail

WhiteAdmiral11July18#6311E3c5x7

White Admiral

Monarch11July18#6336E2c5x7

Monarch

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

Advertisements

Deer Antlers

Regardless of the number of whitetails observed throughout the course of a year, antler growth on large males continues to amaze, entertain and educate. Antlers are shed in late winter and in a few months new ones appear, often larger and more complex than the year before. They’ll be fully developed, calcified and glistening in the sun by late summer.

BuckAM29June18#5707E2c5x7

Developing antlers grow faster than any other organ in the animal world, sometimes an inch (several centimeters) a day in a healthy, mature buck.

BuckAM29June18#5716E2c5x7

The key ingredients for this amazing spectacle of renewal are age, nutrition and genetics. The buck in this series, photographed last evening, is sporting impressive antler development but it will be 3 or 4 years before he reaches his peak size. He’s foraging in farm fields, in this case alfalfa, so I doubt that his summer diet is limiting.

BuckAM29June18#5710E3c8x10I hope he sticks around and continues to forage in good light because I’d love to finish his story in September, showing the finished and polished product!

Photos by NB Hunter (29June2018). © All rights reserved.

Whitetails in Early Summer

Recreational interest in deer increases dramatically in early summer. This is especially true in farm country where visibility is good and deer are constantly on the move in response to the growth and management of crops. Patient viewers are often rewarded with sightings of nursing fawns (about a month old now) and bucks in velvet.

Following up on a report of fawn triplets and a mature buck on a local dairy farm, I set out to investigate fields of waist-high corn and uncut hay.

Damselfly26June18#5590E2c8x10

Damselfly on the tall grass of an uncut hay field

Deer were moving into the fields almost immediately after a tractor and loaded hay wagon left for the day. They grow accustomed to big, noisy farm machinery and know precisely where the most nutritious and palatable crops are located on any given day. The adaptability of whitetails never ceases to amaze me.

This buck, approaching the fields from thick bedding cover, detected me before I was set up and bolted for his swampy retreat cover. He is a large, mature deer and I heard the pounding of his hooves on hard ground before I saw him.

BuckAM26June18#5581E5c8x10

BuckAM26June18#5583E2c5x7

BuckAM26June18#5585E2c5x7

BuckAM26June18#5586E2c5x7

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

The Wonderful Month of June

StreamYWC2June18#4577E5c4x6

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

WhitePine4ftdbh2June18#4552E3c8x10

A massive White Pine with centuries of stories locked within

TigerSwallowtails2June18#4433E2c5x7

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

Wren11June18#5111E2c8x10

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

Eagles16June18#5272E5c8x10

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

Eagles15June18#5216E2c5x7

Hummer8June18#4868E5c8x10

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

Snapper19June18#5327E2c5x7

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

Fawns19June14#148E2c8x10

A month-old whitetail fawn learning about mobility

FarmMustard21June18#5440E7c4x6

Wild mustard colonizing a fallow field on a dairy farm

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

May 2018: Colorful Memories

After an agonizingly slow start, Spring in Central New York did not disappoint! The month of May has been a delightful mix of activity in living color, plants and animals alike. I’m posting selected highlights, in chronological order.

Bloodroot4May18#3022E5c5x7

Bloodroot (4May2018)

MarshMarigold7May18#3208E2c8x10

Marsh Marigold (7May2018)

TroutLily8May18#3289E2c8x10

Trout Lily (8May2018)

Amelanchier12May18#3407E2c8x10

Serviceberry (12May2018)

SandCherry15May18#3593E2c8x10

Sand Cherry (15May2018)

RedTrillium16May18#3758E3c5x7

Red Trillium (16May2018)

Goldfinch18May18#3934E5c8x10

Goldfinch on Sand Cherry (18May2018)

 

WildApple20May18#4074E11c5x7

Wild apple flower buds (20May2018)

WildApple20May18#4097E2c5x7

Wild apple blossoms (20May2018)

BaltimoreOriole26May18#4339E5c8x10

Baltimore Oriole on its breeding territory (26May2018)

Photos by NB Hunter. © 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),

WillowShrub27Apr18#2838E2c8x10

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

Hellebore29Apr18#2879E2c8x10

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).

SkunkCabbage29Apr18#2865E2c8x10

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!

Bloodroot4May18#3024E3c8x10

Bloodroot

Trail5May18#3040E2c4x6

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

WillowShrub3May18#2999E5c5x7

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

MarshMarigold5May18#3038E2c5x7

Marsh Marigold (May 5)

StreamOxbow5May18#3123E2c8x10

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

WhiteTrillium5May18#3054E3c8x10

White Trillium (May 5)

RedTrillium5May18#3086E3c8x10

Red Trillium (May 5)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.