New Addition to Our Backyard

For years we have been talking about how nice it would be to have a pond in our backyard. Finally, we decided to turn our dream into a reality. Of course, when our contractor could fit us in it was a bit late to find a good selection of pond plants locally. We ended up ordering submerged plants and a water lily by mail because we wanted to buy native plants. That way we won’t have to worry whether our plants will survive the winter.

Great Expectations

Our native garden is still attracting many insects, and no wonder. While the common milkweed and butterfly weed are going to seed now, the purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, blazing star, and wild bergamond are enjoying many insect visits. The blue lobelias are beginning to open and the Joe-pye weed will not be far behind. It is vital to have continuous bloom in a garden to provide food for butterflies throughout their life span.
Yesterday morning we observed an exciting event: an adult monarch butterfly flitted around our milkweeds. We weren’t quite sure what it was doing. And then it occurred to us: It was looking for places to lay its eggs. Finally, it placed its eggs underneath the leafs of the plants. A couple of times it flew away – apparently looking for other egg hosts – only to return and lay some more in our patch. That means that there are no other milkweed plants in the area. While we have no intention of cutting down our milkweeds, it is important for their survival to spread their eggs around to more than one habitat. It is sad that so many people grow nothing but lawn, which goes brown this time of year anyway. Wouldn’t you rather have butterflies than brown grass?

Build It and They Will Come

On the rare occasions when we venture outside in this hot, humid weather we have had numerous butterfly and insect sightings. A monarch visited a common milkweed the other day; fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtails, and an eight-spotted forester checked out the purple coneflowers; an eastern black swallowtail landed on the black-eyed Susans; and a spicebush swallowtail gave our spicebush a once-over (could it be that it was laying its eggs in there?).
The milkweed is also very popular with bees and other insects of all sorts. Next to bloom is the Joe-pye weed, which is already beginning to open. Word is out that our cafe is open for business. One reason, though, why our backyard is so popular is because none of the other neighbors have anything but lawn and alien plants. Build it – or rather, plant it – and they will come!

A Blazing Star

Last year we went on a Blazing Star hike at Jennings Environmental Center. I liked the flowers so much that we purchased two this year. The first one has begun to bloom and is already attracting butterflies. They look better in masses and we’re hoping to collect some seeds this fall to expand on our garden.
Butterflies and bees are busy in our garden. The purple coneflowers, bergamond, sunflowers and cosmos are blooming while the black-eyed Susans are beginning to open. Next will be the Joe-pye-weed. A week ago I thought I saw a monarch butterfly on a butterfly weed.

Gardening Update

The berries on our serviceberry are now a distant memory, but there are other feasts to look forward to. Our two virburnums (arrowwood) are finally growing some berries. The common milkweed and butterfly weed are blooming now and are very popular with fritillaries, bumblebees, honey bees, and other insects. Our Joe-pye weed is growing taller than last year and I am already looking forward to photograph the butterflies it will surely attract. The blazing stars we bought this year are looking good, especially since we caged them to protect them from the rabbits that are causing havoc in our garden. The rabbits have made a meal out of the zinnias I planted but they are slowly making a comeback now.
Notable bird sightings include: a hawk that perched on our neighbor’s tall willow tree, only to be chased away by crows or grackles (in the commotion it was hard for me to tell). We see Baltimore orioles around but they never visited the feeder I put out for them, so I took it down.
For weeks we have been wondering why our front yard bird bath was often muddy. While we were out weeding today we saw a robin taking a full bath and the water got muddy quickly. Apparently, it had not wiped off its feet before getting into the bird bath. Another mystery solved!

Success Story

When we planted a serviceberry in our backyard, we had two goals in mind: providing a natural food source for birds; and an additional object for me to photograph. We succeeded on both counts. They are, of course, related. The serviceberry has an incredibly large amount of red berries, which the birds devour. There is a bully among them, however. A robin loves them so much that he chases everyone away when he’s eating them. The berries are irresistible to cedar waxwings, cardinals, and house finches. We tasted them and liked them too. Some people make marmalade out of them, but I think you need more than one shrub to have a decent yield. Of course, if we made marmalade I wouldn’t have been able to take this photo. So for now, we are happy to provide food for wildlife.

At the Marsh

Yesterday morning we headed to Independence Marsh for the first time this year. Besides seeing plenty of wildflowers, here is a list of birds we saw: Canada geese (naturally); killdeer; mockingbird; house sparrows; one female wood duck; hummingbird; great blue heron; hawk; turkey vultures. Of course, we also saw plenty of dragonflies and a bullfrog.
Apparently, the wood duck tried to lure us away from her nest, since she stopped chattering once we were gone. Seeing the duck took me back to the photo workshop I attended in Ohio last fall. Observing one on a local lake was quite a treat. We did not spot a male duck or any chicks.
While we could do without biting insects, a trip to a wetlands is almost sure to offer plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife and wildflowers.

Plant it and They Will Come

The serviceberry has quite a few desirable features: a beautiful – if not very brief – spring bloom; red berries that are a favorite source of food for many birds; and a russet colored fall foliage. It is also called Juneberry for good reason. Its berries are ripening already, and it isn’t even June yet. Cedar waxwings are checking out the berries for ripeness several times a day and we have even spotted robins and cardinals tasting them. It seems as if we hit the spot by planting a serviceberry. That’s what happens when you plant native plants instead of aliens.

Backyard Bird Sightings

In my presentations I am telling people how to garden for the birds. Case in point: Our serviceberry is growing berries right now, and the cedar waxwings are already checking them out. Of course, once I grab my camera they perform a disappearing act. I plan on setting up my blind soon to await their return. Or perhaps I’ll wait till the berries are ripe…
Another exciting sighting is a Baltimore oriole. I hung up our oriole feeder and hope to lure them into our yard.
I finally took down our bird feeder today, after it became too big a draw for grackles. Between our shrubs, flowers and the bird baths I hope we will lure them into our yard nonetheless. And I kept a few sunflower seeds to bribe the birds when I want to photograph them.

Brief Update

I did not do much birding last week, for a reason I explained in my other blog. One afternoon I was in our backyard photographing birds. My highlight was a white-crowned sparrow. They visit our feeder every spring for a short period. I also saw a male ruby-throated hummingbird.
Yesterday, my husband observed a Baltimore oriole flying through our yard. I am sorry that I missed that one, as they are quite beautiful with their bright orange color. I am never sure whether to hang up an oriole feeder or not. They don’t seem to stay around.