Archive

Dragonfly

The Monarchs are back. I spotted the first on Flag Day (14 June) — a full 11 days later than my first spotting last year. It was in the lower meadow and took me by surprise when I flushed it. In fact, while it certainly seemed the right size and coloration for a Monarch, I did not get a good look. Then two days later a pair of Monarchs were aloft above their more traditional portion of the meadow near the evergreen hedgerow.

Common Ravens, an uncommon sight here, are disturbing the Common Grackles who do a top-rate job of devouring whatever seed or suet I put out for target birds making them my least favorite feeder. Three Ravens at least are back and forth between the Norway Spruce and the evergreen hedgerow making their distinctive call as the Grackles — uncharacteristically silent — chase them. Who am I rooting for in this contest?

Today’s Espresso email from The Economist included a story they titled “Art of the deal: clever corvids.”The corvid family includes crows, ravens, rooks and magpies but not the lowly Common Grackle which is a member of the icterid family. But the Grackle is one wily bird and, as I hinted above, eats me out of house and home. The ravenous Grackles at the Kennel House have learned to feed upside down so as the polish off the suet intended for the Woodpeckers and Nuthatches. They have developed an insatiable appetite for the grape jelly on the Baltimore Oriole feeder, maybe because they are both icterids. The Cowbird — also in this family — has not developed a taste for grape jelly, although it too is around. Restocking that feeder could be done twice a day, if I chose to keep it full. All this is to say that the Common Grackle is not without its own form of smarts.

The herb garden with four bird feeders, including the station for the Orioles

And speaking of the “Art of the Deal,” I had been planning to post the Song of Sixpence nursery rhyme to offer our American king a disgusting desert. Wishing even such a vile person as our king anything unseemly would no doubt have meant that I’d been the maid in the garden hanging out the clothes of the final verse when down would come a blackbird and peck off my nose.

Eastern Phoebes nested again this year in the rafters of the folly, though I never caught a glimpse of them. Tree Swallows have nested in two bird boxes. A pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived last week. The Gray Catbirds came back last month; I do love its slaty gray with a little black scull cap and rufous undertail coverts. A friend from Princeton and the 70s was visiting last week. She remarked that she’d dress like the female Northern Cardinal; I’d choose the Catbird for my sartorial model.

Phoebe nest in the folly’s rafters

The Downy Woodpeckers are showing their offspring how to eat the suet.

Downy parent feeding baby atop the suet feeder

Remarkably few House Sparrows have elected to feed and nest here. Writing that no doubt will produce an influx.

It’s June so the lightening bugs are flashing in the meadow at night. And the heat ans sun of an early summer afternoon bring on the Dragonflies. Look hard to see them. One’s in the upper left-hand corner but you can see others as well.

Dragonflies, upper left and upper center

Finally, belying the title of this blog, is this only tangentially related photo of an uncommonly marked White-tail Deer in the meadow. Photographing through the porch screens creates that double image. With its distinctive patterning, we’ll be able to keep tabs on this meadow visitor even if s/he arrives on foot.

Advertisements

This may be the year for fire management of the meadow. After a four year hiatus, Dodder is again ensnaring the Goldenrod and Joe pye weed in the wetland end of the meadow.

DSC00467

Dodder in the field

DSC00468

Dodder encircling its host

DSC00469

Dodder on the Joe-pye weed

Dodder, to refresh your memory, is a parasitic plant that drops its own root once it has borrowed into the stem of its host. “Burn it,” is the instruction I remember for ridding an area of Dodder. Nic, now a college graduate who cleared dodder from the lower meadow before his freshman year at Vassar, built a funeral pyre of the infected branches that I planned to burn.But my fastidious neighbors, who did not like the looks of a heap of decomposing vegetation, suggested that they’d ask the tree men to haul the pile away. I explained my plan for a fire thinking that would convince them to leave my problems to me. I also cautioned that the tree men would not want to collect dodder given how hard it is to eradicate after it gets established. To my dismay, the site of the pyre is now the location of the most intense invasion of dodder!

The pile disappeared. I never asked whether the tree guys had knowingly taken away such a pervasive parasite.

As a concession to my neighbors and to spare the tree service further pollution, Jim and Emily, who have taken Nic’s place in the meadow, are bagging the dodder for delivery to the household waste collection chute at the transfer station. So far, they have carted away four contractor-sized garbage bags’ worth of the stuff.

The UC Davis website is not as clear that burning is the management tool as I remembered. It cautions to remove the host plant before the dodder sets seed. The seeds, as we have just witnessed, can stay in the soil for five to 10 years, maybe longer. Under my lax management, the dodder removal job has not been accomplished before the dodder set seed. At least, we’re throwing the host plant and the dodder in the trash, as recommended by the UC Davis site.

The website also recommends frequent mowing. I could ask Scott, the meadow path mower, to mow dodder-invaded spots or to keep plants from regrowing after Jim and Emily cut out the dodder.

I have not ruled out burning either. That area still has more Bittersweet than I’d like. A general fire could be beneficial.

Despite the dodder problem, management of the meadow to keep invasives and succession at bay has become a simpler task in recent years. I have not sprayed Triclopyr on anything in the meadow (save poison ivy and the persistent Black swallow wort that peeks out from under the folly) for about two years.

I (or Jim and Emily) dug Bittersweet as the meadow was beginning to regrow in the spring. I dug up a dozen Thistle plants as they emerged and Lonicera bushes — maybe its Latin name is Lonicera maackii —  and a couple of Japanese barberry bushes, known for its nasty thorns, deep yellow roots and invasive habits. I chopped back many a Wild cherry (Prunus serotina), a native but a successional plant. So far, I have left two sumacs, Rhus glabra, growing in the wetland section. They are also signs of succession and, like the cherry, loved by wildlife. The sumacs can’t stay beyond their setting seed, but I plan to collect — before the fire — the fruit that the birds leave for grinding on top of humus.

Most of my interaction with the meadow involves watching it from the paths, the folly and the porch. It is, to me, endlessly entertaining even when it is depressing. The butterfly count is not what it should be. Only 4 Monarchs, circling endlessly, have made the meadow their home. A few Cabbage whites have been above the meadow and the gardens beds all summer. One Eastern tiger swallow tail has visited the Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis). I have not seen Painted ladies or Mourning cloaks. I need a butterfly/moth authority to report on the small browns (Satyrs, Frittilaries, Eyespots) of which there are a few. But the tally is way down from past years.

DSC00478

Very long distance shot of a Monarch using my new Sony camera.

DSC00485

Some of the plentiful Common milkweed on which the Monarch larva are laid. The insufficiency of Monarchs is not the result of a shortage of milkweed.

The Dragon and Damsel flies have not appeared in the numbers they should. I recently learned from an authority on those insects that their populations are drastically reduced state-wide. But, in June we had, to the delight of Henning, my German son-in-law, a meadow full of June bugs/ Fireflies. The calls of Tree frogs provided the sound for the Firefly light show.

My grandson, Owen, was disappointed that he visited so early in the season that he did not get to see Wild turkeys. They are around now.

Meadow management may include an element of fire this year but mostly its the practice of observation.

 

 

 

As soon as the sun heats the meadow to the day’s highest temperature, the dragonflies take flight. They fly above the grasses in a zone about 8 feet deep for hours. Swooping one way, then the other, they don’t land for photos. They also don’t show up in a photograph unless the camera is pointed into the sun.

For the second year, I have breathed a sign of relief at this activity. I take it to mean that herbicide applications have not killed off the dragonflies or the insects they are eating on the wing.

The photo doesn’t capture the excitement. You have to be looking at or standing in the meadow to know the marvel of it. And it is marvelous — every warm sunny day of late summer.

A dandelion in bloom says the bees could be getting ready to swam. But not when the dandelion blooms in November.

Forsythia blooms when its time to put corn gluten on the grass. But not when the forsythia blooms in November.

Rosa ragusa is still blooming at the beach. And Daucus carota, Queen Anne’s lace, is in bloom in the south east corner of the meadow. See the photo.

The meadow pops with grasshoppers. A dragonfly caught bugs while I snipped nearby. A white moth flew out of the dry thatch I removed. I was stung twice but not by the bees, a few of whom were out foraging. In the still warm soil, the worms, always sluggish, seem no less content than when the sun is high in the sky.

The color in my cheeks is not from the cold. Were it not for fear of ticks, a short-sleeved shirt would be sufficient warmth for meadow work.