Category: Critters

I like it

I felt an itch today.

An itch to garden, whatever that means.

I walked my grounds in flip flops and a t-shirt because it was a pleasant 60 degrees outside.

I desperately wanted to weed. Or dig. Or snip.

But that opportunity didn’t exist.

The birds were raising hell throughout the backyard and I decided maybe running around and trying to photograph them might scratch the itch.

It sort of did.

 

 

Damn it is difficult to get them to sit still. Oh well.

When I was done I took one last pic before I walked through the front door.

Pat on back time.

My garden looks so much better in winter than it has before.

I actually stopped and let it all soak in.

I like gardens.

And gardening.

Even in winter.

 

Chasing down the hummingbird

I’ve noticed one remaining hummingbird that has been buzzing around the last few days and so I made it my mission to capture one last photo of him or her before he or she heads south. This hummingbird has been attracted to a batch of pink obedient plant (Physostegia ‘Vivid’) so I set up camp nearby on my deck. After an hour of failed surveillance and a lot of sitting and waiting, I finally got something as the hummer lingered in a nearby crabapple tree for only a few seconds.

humming-3

Not too bad of a shot I guess. At least I walked away with something. My guess is that the hummingbird has since packed a bag and is off to greener and warmer pastures.

I did try killing time by snapping a few shots of other birds coming and going from the river birch tree also near my deck.

bird-2

 

bird-3

And shocker, a few photos of the garden as she quickly descends into hell autumn mode:

Joe Pye, Bee Balm and Karl Foerster grass

joe-pye-foerster

 

The blooms of Indian grass.

indian-grass-blooms

 

And moving from back to front: Boltonia, Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’, Baptisia and Joe Pye Weed.

driveway-bed-2

QOTD: What did you do in your garden this past weekend?

 

 

 

 

The latest and not always greatest in the garden

Some observations from out in the garden:

This white bee balm is the only one to have survived last winter and while it is nice to see it blooming, it honestly doesn’t do much for me and the powdery mildew is real bad, worse than with all of the other bee balm. We don’t know until we try, right?

white bee balm

 

Right plant for the right location = happiness, as seen with the Physostegia (Obedient Plant) below. This first photo was taken back in May when I dug up and divided a massive batch of these and relocated them to my newly extended and very empty garden bed.

divided obedient

Two months later and they are thriving in a very wet and full sun location. I am very psyched for the massive pink display to arrive next month.

obedient vivid

 

You’ve all seen all of my numerous pics of Veronica ‘Royal Candles’ and read my raving reviews of this perennial but in the spirit of my last post and with full disclosure, here is the reality of the “legs” on these right now.

veronica bad

Fortunately, I’ve shielded most of them with other low lying plants so the blooms remain the attraction.

veronica good

 

I love how one ‘Karl Foerster’ grass (Calamagrostis) can break up a mass of perennials and not only lend a different height/uprightness, but a different texture as well.

front bed

 

I cleared this area of nasty Canada Thistle by cutting them all at soil level and not by attempting to pull out the roots like a dope which has failed me miserably for years now since it actually multiplies the number of weeds when pieces of root break off.

thistle path

I will now finally track the results properly. Here is one example of the cutting.

thistle cut

And about one week later. I’m going to now cut it back again soon and will continue to do so until it kills itself by sapping all of the plant’s energy. Or so I hope. More to come.

thistle

 

I just purchased a few ‘Delft Lace’ Astilbes solely because I fell in love with the red stems and red tinged foliage. I’ll be sure to track this one for you and hopefully I don’t fry them since you know, they need constant moisture and it is the dead of summer. Smart.

delft astilbe

 

My attempt at a path with a true destination worth visiting.

 

These purplish bee balm are incredible right now and are my favorite current place in the garden. 

planter bed 2

 

planter bed

 

bee balm 2

They are bringing in a ton of visitors. 

hummingmoth 2

 

butterfly bee balm 2

 

Check out all of the action with this video.

QOTD – Where do you purchase most of your plants? And I want specific names and locations please.

Thank you.

 

Butterfly and Bee chasing

I really wish I could record myself as I’m busy chasing around the butterflies and bees. There is nothing goofier than watching a 6 foot 3 inch man run from flower to flower trying to get the perfect shot of one of these creatures. The only thing funnier than watching me gallop around like an infant chasing a balloon, is watching me attempt to get into position for the money shot. It’s like a lesson in how not to perform a yoga move. Downward Dog gone wrong.

So as you look at these photos and the video below, just keep in mind what went into securing them. Know that there is someone on the other end of the camera who puts his own awkwardness aside for the benefit of the reader/viewer. A true selfless man who looks possible injury in the face and pushes on.

I am a warrior.

Grats.

butterfly coneflower

 

butterfly cone flower 2

 

macro 2

 

butterfly bee balm

 

butterfly bee balm 2

 

macro

 

 

One flower, one foliage and one fail

THE FLOWER – nothing carries a more powerful scent in the garden right now than the flowers of Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’ (Koreanspice viburnum). When people knock at my door, I take my time answering just so I can watch their nose twitch a bit, see them turn around and try to locate the origin of the smell and then eventually ask “What smells so good out here?” 

viburnum aurora

 

THE FOLIAGE – This is my first year with Sambucus racemosa ‘Lemony Lace’ (Elderberry) planted in the garden (was in a container last year) and it was the quickest of all the deciduous shrubs to emerge this spring. I’m in love with it even at only a foot in height right now.

elderberrry

 

THE FAIL – The Eastern Tent Caterpillars are back on the Crabapple tree for a second consecutive year. Last year I simply slashed open the “nests” and let the birds have their way with the caterpillars and the tree seemed unaffected by it all. Will do more of the same this year.

bag of bugs

Hummingbird Moth

My absolute favorite time of the year in the garden is the beginning of summer when it is hot, the days are long and flowers are in full bloom everywhere. I like it hot. Like a lot hot. During that same time, my garden is inundated with a certain creature who happily flies from flower to flower in search of the almighty nectar. And her name is hummingbird moth.

hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth and milkweed

Upon first glance, this moth looks and moves just like a hummingbird but upon closer inspection, it is clearly a damn handsome moth. The species that visits my garden year after year is Hemaris thysbe, also known as the hummingbird clearwing. Some facts about this hummingbird moth:

  • They hover in the air and unfurl their long tongue to sip nectar just like the hummingbird.
  • They are typically an olive and burgundy color.
  • They range from Alaska to Oregon in the west and Maine to Florida in the east. They are most commonly found in the east, typically in your standard suburban garden.
  • The caterpillars feeds off a number of different plants including Honeysuckle and Hawthorn, both of which are located on my property (who knew?)
  • They then burrow into the soil to overwinter.
  • The moth emerges in late spring with red scales which it loses upon its first flight. The wings are then transparent, hence the name “clearwing”.
  • They are most commonly seen during the heat of day in summer and most often witnessed sipping the nectar of the Bee Balm plant.
  • They lay their eggs on the underside of leaves and those eggs hatch within a week or so.

While they can be difficult to photograph due to their constant motion, I am up for the challenge each summer and enjoy spending hours following them around like an infant chasing a balloon.

Here is a hummingbird moth enjoying my phlox.

hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth and Phlox

hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth and phlox

hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth and phlox

And as mentioned previously, two of them devouring the nectar of their favorite flower, Monarda (Bee Balm).

hummingbird moth

Hummingbird moth and Bee Balm

Summer cannot come soon enough.

Critter pics

A lot of “activity” going on in the garden right now:

I chased/stalked this Hummingbird Moth for what felt like hours and here are the best of the photos I was able to take:

I believe this is a Silvery checkerspot on my Mountain Mint:

And after spotting me taking their photos without permission, they tried to hide on the Ninebark. I’m still on to you dudes:

And all the rest:

Butterfly hunting at the Horseshoe Bend Preserve

I know it is cliche, but it is also dead on – Some of the coolest and most interesting things are in your own backyard.  

When I read the following article this past weekend, it all hit home as I felt excited yet stupid all at the same time:

Horseshoe Bend Preserve is Home to Gray Comma Butterfly

First off, a little background. I literally live right down the street from this park/preserve and have never been there. How that is possible, I don’t know. I wish I had a bunch of valid excuses, but I don’t. I’m just unaware, dumb and lazy.

But even worse than that, is how clueless I was about the battle/negotiation that has been going on for years over the preservation of this land. You can read about all of the details here, but the short of it is that there was approval to build 70+ homes on this land before the Hunterdon Land Trust stepped in and aided in the preservation.

I vaguely remember seeing the battle in the newspapers/media over the years, but not once did I educate myself on the details of the negotiation. And that is a shame. I can pontificate all I want on land preservation but here was a chance to step in and get involved and I didn’t do that. Strike two against me.

So now is where I step in and avoid strike three. It is time to explore and enjoy this treasure and I did just that over the weekend immediately after I read the article above, specifically the phrase – “the big butterfly news of the year”. Are you kidding me? This is the only spot where the Gray Comma Butterfly has been spotted in New Jersey? I am on this and will locate one myself. It reminded me of a search I attempted as kid to find Bigfoot in the woods, except this is a little less terrifying and life altering (long story).

So off I went with camera in hand ready to spot me some rare butterflies. In addition to the Gray Comma, I was also looking for a White M Hairstreak and a Sleepy Orange.

Nothing was going to get in my way.

Upon entering the preserve, you immediately take in the vistas of the Delaware River Valley:

It was stunning and worth the trip just for the views.

I found a spot to park along the side of the road and realized I was the only one around within miles. My Bigfoot nightmares were creeping back in but I fought them off and ventured on.

There were a number of available paths to travel down and I had no idea where to begin:

I eventually settled on the main passageway figuring I was less likely to get lost and eaten by coyotes if I kept it simple. Upon entering into the “forest” I was immediately taken by how the sunlight filtered through the trees:

It was beautiful and a reminder of how this blog started simply as a diary of my own garden but now has given birth to my love of photography. I am light years away from grasping all of the intricacies of photography, but I can tell you “filtered light in the woods” was something that never crossed my mind even three or four years ago.

Just like with yesterday’s post, I was totally digging the early stages of the changes in foliage color as we enter into Autumn:

I may have only hung out in the preserve for 45  minutes or so, but in that time, a whole lot of lightbulbs went off. Besides the aforementioned photography love, I was reminded that plant life is a lot more interesting and diverse beyond the nice clean plants I’ve added to my own garden. I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the plants I cam across in my little sojourn, but I feel determined to change that:

But enough of my life altering discussions, we were here to find those butterflies and become famous better educated. I hunted high and low for any signs of critter activity and the first thing I spotted was this caterpillar that I’ve yet to identify:

Pretty cool but I need more details before I can determine if it was “special”.

But ladies and gentleman, the moment we’ve been waiting for. Did he or didn’t he find the mysterious butterfly?

I am happy to report, after running around like an idiot for minutes on end, I am 95% sure I found the elusive creature. I couldn’t get a perfect shot but I think I got enough to prove that I was a successful butterfly hunter:

What do you think? Let’s compare to a good photo I found online:

  
I think I nailed it right?

I’m liking this A LOT so watch out for more “hunting” in the near future. Not to mention, enjoying what my part of the world has to offer and getting frggin involved once and for all.

Good times.

John