Fields, Knapweed and Insect Visitors

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Old fields, forest edges and road corridors harbor an impressive variety of summer flowers, many of them alien. Knapweed is one that I have grown to appreciate due to the tremendous insect activity associated with its flowers.  On a hot, muggy summer afternoon it is possible to hear a field of knapweed in full bloom before you see it….bees! I liken the sound to that of the faint hum of traffic on a distant highway.

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I appreciate the importance of this bloom as a food source for bees, and couldn’t walk away from a serving of knapweed honey. However, the main reason I trudge through the matted, thigh-high tangles of knapweed in the mid day heat is butterflies.

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Skipper

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Fritillary

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Painted Lady

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Tiger Swallowtail

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Viceroy

Photos by NB Hunter (late July, 2017). ©All Rights Reserved.

A Milkweed Project

Several years ago I discovered a group of milkweed plants growing at the edge of the property. They were in the shade of a 60-foot-tall Norway spruce and lacked the vigor and floral production of open-grown plants. Mindful of the decline of Monarch butterflies and their habitats, I transplanted about 15 plants to better sites in full sun. This was done in the spring of 2015 and 2016.

Most plants survived the stress of transplanting but they didn’t become fully acclimated and established until this year. I’m now pleasantly surprised with the results, and plan to continue the project. The new colonies are producing root sprouts as well as flowers, and the response of nectaring insects was immediate.

Here is a small sample of milkweed visitors last week – and several plants have not reached full bloom yet! This is a wildlife manager’s dream scenario: one action, with multiple benefits.

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Banded Hairstreak butterfly (milkweed flowers are a preferred food source)

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Virginia Ctenucha moth

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Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Given the insect activity, I wasn’t surprised to find a common 8-legged predator lurking in the flower clusters: the Flower Crab Spider (I had to gently lift the flower cluster and shoot one-handed to get the image).

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Flower Crab Spider

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Small Farms and Cultivated Fields: Priceless

In late spring patches and ribbons of vivid colors are dominant in open landscapes. The spectacular, multi-colored bloom is Dame’s Rocket, a garden escapee gone wild.

Invariably, my interest in this wildflower opens my eyes to the visual resources beyond the bloom. Fields, mostly cultivated fields on local dairy farms, become a subject of interest.

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Dame’s Rocket in full bloom 

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Front to back: Dame’s Rocket, grain fields and woodlands (8June2017)

The appeal of cultivated fields is much more than the dynamic beauty of line, color and texture through the seasons. They’re wildlife magnets, providing critical habitat for a host of opportunistic birds and mammals.

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Buck in velvet, foraging on new growth following the first cutting of hay (27June2017)

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Hen turkey foraging in a hay field; there might be youngsters underfoot, chasing hoppers {1July2017)

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Lingering storm clouds after days of torrential rains and damaging flood waters (1July2017)

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Red-winged blackbird foraging in a field of barley (1July2017)

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A hay field colonized by wild black mustard (30June2017)

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Orchard grass, a common forage plant in hay fields (27June2017)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wild Daisies

In the summer months the fragile spring flowers of moist, shaded woodlands give way to hardy species that thrive in open, disturbed sites. They colonize places that are inhospitable to most of our native plants, including nasty roadside habitats. Daisies are a group of plants that occupy that niche and their flowers, en masse, are now a pleasing sight.

Oxeye Daisy in full bloom, field – road ecotone (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum; Composite Family).

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

Apple Tree Blossoms 2017

May is apple blossom season in Central New York!

I worry like a farmer when the flower buds begin to open. Killing spring frosts are common and they can wreak havoc on new growth. We escaped those this year, but the bloom was greeted by cool, wet weather that greatly reduced the activity of bees and other insect pollinators.

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Warm weather finally arrived! Several days of summer-like weather really perked things up and the bloom peaked.

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We weren’t “out of the woods” yet. A clash of cold and warm air masses produced severe thunder storms, complete with high winds and hail. Wind in excess of 40 miles per hour damages trees, especially those that are predisposed due to poor form and/or location. Of the dozens of wild apple trees that I manage, two were affected. One, on soft, wet soil in a stream bottom, was uprooted completely and will become firewood and cottontail habitat later in the year. The other, pictured below, had poor structure: two large stems separated by a seam of “included” bark rather than solid wood. Lacking a strong connection, the trunks were ripped apart in the high winds.

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Days after the storm, the resilience of nature was apparent. Most trees, as well as their blossoms, appeared to have survived our erratic spring weather and should produce some apples this fall.

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The bloom is fading, the ground now littered with petals, but I’m still looking up. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, singing in the tree tops as they forage on flowers, have my attention!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wildflower Favorites

Early spring wildflowers, the spring ephemerals, are vivid reminders of the fragile beauty and existence of life on earth. They tease and please with spectacular, short-lived blooms. They always leave us wanting more, and we’re quite willing to wait another year for another show. It never gets old.

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Serviceberry (Amelanchier), a small flowering tree

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Marsh Marigold in the wet soil along a small stream

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White Trillium, a woodland wildflower favoring rich, moist soils (1 of 2)

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Red Trillium in filtered light on a rich woodland site

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.