January 26, 2017
Posted by uconnladybug under Birds
| Tags: bird nest
, mourning cloak
, nesting boxes
, ring-necked duck
, winter glow
Leave a Comment
Cedar waxwings on a crab apple in winter
“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.”
Winter is a good time to get out and about as weather and gumption allow. Depending on where you go, there can be interesting things to see, and there no lack of books or other resources to help you learn about whatever you find. I like the shore and the woods in winter, especially on sunny days.
Ring-necked ducks can be found in small ponds or flooded fields during the winter. These small ducks dive to for mollusks, vegetation and invertebrates, and may be seen in small groups or in pairs. Males are more dapper than females, having a glossy dark head with a purple sheen, black chest and back and silvery sides. The bill is boldly patterned with a white ring near the dark tip and a base outlined with white.
Male ring-necked duck
Another small duck that overwinters along the Connecticut coastline is the ruddy duck. They can be found in coastal estuaries and brackish rivers and streams near their entrances to the Sound. Males congregate in small to large in large flocks resting on the water during the day, heads tucked under a wing. Tails may jut nearly strait up and males have blue bills and a contrasting white cheek patch. More cute than handsome, they are also a diving duck.
Another bird that may overwinter here as long as food is available, is the red- breasted nuthatch. This cousin to the white-breasted is mainly found in coniferous woods or patches of pines, spruce, hemlocks or larches. They have black and white striped heads, slate-blue wings and back and reddish underparts. They sound similar to the white-breasted nuthatch, but their voice is more nasal and often more repetitive. They creep up and down trunks and branches probing bark for food, and may visit suet feeders.
Red breasted nuthatch
Winter is a great time to look for any bird’s nests that still remain in deciduous trees and shrubs. Baltimore oriole nests are probably the easiest to identify as they hang down from moderately high branch tips, and often are decorated with purple or orange ribbons. Birds are often very particular as to what materials they will use- dog or horse hair, lichens and mosses, grasses etc. Cattail or cottonwood down is a must for yellow warblers and American goldfinches. I am lucky to have found two ruby-throated hummingbird nests, tightly woven tiny cups constructed of spider webs with lichens decorating the sides.
Nest made of grapevine bark and colored trash- possibly a catbird nest
If you have bird house, especially for bluebirds, make sure to clean them out by early March, as bluebirds start staking out a suitable nesting sites early. They will use old woodpecker holes, high or low in the tree trunk, in the woods or on the wood line. Just be sure to have no perch below the nesting box hole as bluebirds like to cling to the hole while feeding their young and seldom use a house with a perch.
Male bluebird on nesting box
Fireflies have been out during the warmer, sunnier days of winter. Check out the sunny sides of tree trunks. Another insect that may be out on warm days is the Mourning Cloak butterfly. These butterflies overwinter in tree bark crevices, sheds, tree cavities or anywhere else they can escape winter winds and snows. They may be encountered flying around the woods on sunny, warm winter days.
Fireflies on a sunny tree trunk during January
Mourning cloak butterfly
Just before sunset, check out the surrounding trees for a characteristic orange glow. Caused by clear skies to our west and the scattering of blue light, houses and trees can reflect the bright winter oranges as you look toward the east. Lasting only a few minutes, if that, it is one of the winter highlights for me.
Pre-dusk winter glow
This winter, many paper wasp nests were unusually small. Not sure what to make of that, except maybe the wasps had a lack of food, or were out too late last January and were not able to acclimate properly to the sudden cold. As for snow, so far not much to speak of in my part of the state. But I’ll take the rain over the snow as long as the ground isn’t frozen. While snow can be pretty, I simply don’t miss this ….
Pamm Cooper all photos copyright 2017 Pamm Cooper
January 16, 2017
“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”
– Benoit Mandelbrot, introduction to The Fractal Geometry of Nature
At this time of year many of the trees and shrubs in our landscapes are mere skeletons of their summer glory. Their beautiful canopies of leaves have been shed and they provide little visual interest. Unless you look a bit closer…
This is actually a great time to observe the branching patterns of deciduous trees. A closer look reveals that they are eerily similar to our own vascular and respiratory systems. As each system goes from the main trunk to the larger limbs to the smaller branches and then the twigs we see the same fractal branching that occurs in the network of blood vessels in our lungs. How incredible that such like systems are actually performing a reverse process. Trees are taking in our exhaled carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen (O2) into the atmosphere. In turn, we inhale that O2 rich air into our lungs where it travels through the increasingly smaller vessels until it reaches the capillaries where it passes through into our bloodstream. As the oxygen-rich blood travels through our body our cells use the oxygen and release CO2 back into the bloodstream where it travels back to our lungs before releasing CO2 as we exhale.
The important thing to remember is that for both of these systems to work well they need to cover a large surface area and fractal branching is the most efficient way for that happen. Fractal branching is a pattern that repeats itself in either larger or smaller scales, each step looking like a copy of the same overall shape. These patterns are called self-similar and are found in many areas in nature from trees to rivers and many more. Ferns are a great example of a self-similar fractal as each pinnate leaf is a miniature version of the larger frond that it branches off from although natural branching fractals do not go on infinitely as mathematical fractals can. Remember the Fibonacci Sequence from your high school math class?
Most of the fractals that we are familiar with and see on a regular basis fall into the category known as spiral fractals. Spiral fractals are responsible for some of the most beautiful forms that can be found in nature. Many galaxies are spiral fractals. The marine animal known as the Nautilus is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of the spiral fractal. But there are also so many spiral fractals that we encounter in the plant kingdom on a daily basis.
Ferns exhibit fractal properties in two ways. The uncurling of a new fiddlehead in the spring is a lovely example of a spiral fractal while a mature Japanese Painted fern (Athyrium niponicumn) pictured above shows the self-similar pattern of a branching fractal.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) has a most interesting growth pattern with each branch a continuing spiral of tough, scale-like leaves. Although native to Chile and Argentina, these images are of a specimen that is located on the Long Island campus of Hofstra University.
Closer to home are some plants that are in many of our gardens during the summer season. The compact spirals of Stonecrop, also known as Sedum, help to form the tight clusters of thick leaves that give it its distinguishing look. I always love the way that dew or rain collect in the in little cups that are formed.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), Gerbera (Gerbera) daisies, and Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) show their spirals on a grand scale.
Decorative cabbage and kale (Brassica oleracea) are seasonal plants that bring their cold-resistant beauty to our fall landscaping and thus complete a full year of natural fractals that can be found all around us .
January 11, 2017
Spittlebugs are common and easily recognized by the white foamy ‘spittle’ produced by the nymph or immature stage of the insects as they feed. Adults are less often seen but are commonly known as froghoppers (close relatives of leafhoppers, etc). Depending on the reference, there are anywhere from 30 to 60+ spittlebug species in the United States. All feed on plants, including both woody and herbaceous types. Some spittlebugs have broad host ranges and others narrow.
‘Spittle’ produced by nymphs on a plant. Photo by: G. Lenard, LA State Univ.
There is usually only one generation per year and most overwinter in the egg stage inside overwintering plant tissue where they were deposited by the females in from mid to late summer to early fall, depending on species. Hatch occurs in the spring, probably in May in Connecticut. Even though spittlebugs feed by extracting plant sap/juice through needle-like mouth parts, they seldom cause notable injury to the plant. There are a few exceptions including the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) and the pine spittlebug (Aphrophora cribata).
Light brown meadow spittlebug
Dark colored meadow spittlebug
Color variations of the meadow spittlebug adult. Photos: Cheryl Moorehead, bugwood.org
The meadow spittlebug has a broad host range that includes both herbaceous and woody plants. It is reported to cause damage in clover, strawberry, mint, herbaceous ornamentals and both coniferous and broad-leaved woody plants when present in high numbers. Other common names include the common froghopper and the cuckoo spit (most common name in the UK). Eggs are laid in the stems or crevices of host plants in the fall. When they hatch in the spring, nymphs usually feed on the plant the eggs were laid on but they will move to younger more tender tissues as the plant grows. There are five nymph stages and all produce spittle as they feed. Once the adult stage is reached, spittle is no longer produced and the adult is quite mobile, quickly jumping a long distance relative to its size when disturbed.
The froghoppers or adult stage are so-called because their bodies are somewhat wider at the rear like a frog. The name cuckoo spit may have come about because the spittle tends to be first seen in the spring around the same time that the first calls of the cuckoo bird are heard. Most adults are brown to green in color with only subtle markings but some species have striking coloration or patterns. The meadow spittlebug adult is quite variable in coloration.
So, about the spittle. The spittle offers some clear benefits to the nymph(s) hiding within. First, it helps prevent the soft-bodied little guys from drying out. In addition, it protects them from detection by potential parasites and predators. A single mass of spittle may be inhabited by multiple nymphs feeding in the same area on the plant. How is the spittle produced? First, the spittlebug ingests more plant sap than it needs for its nutrition/sustenance. The excess is expelled through the anus as a watery waste product. It mixes with a mucilaginous fluid produced by glands on the abdomen and air bubbles are introduced from a special canal by abdominal contractions. This is pretty interesting stuff going on in gardens, forests and meadows all around us each spring and early summer!
Spittlebug nymph. Photo: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org
If you would like to get a closer look at a nymph, don’t be afraid to brush the foam carefully away from a plant and look for them inside. They will be up to ¼” long depending on their stage of development and may be yellowish, greenish or brown in color. They are elongated and generally are positioned head down. This facilitates the movement of the spittle downward to cover them. Nymphs are shy and will not be happy to be exposed. They will attempt to walk away but cannot run or fly.
The biggest problem with spittlebugs in the garden, whether it’s an ornamental or food garden, is the unsightliness of the spittle masses. Spittle and nymphs can both be washed off the plants with a steady stream of water. On a small scale, they can be hand-removed and disposed of. Normally, no chemical controls are recommended and the spittle protects nymphs from contact insecticides. Not sure if there are enough spittlebugs to cause plants to be weakened? Look for distorted or stunted new growth, and of course numerous spittle masses on the same plant.
In a few cases, additional injury to the host plant can occur if toxic substances are introduced into the plant while feeding or if the froghopper/spittlebug is vectoring a plant pathogen (could be a virus or phytoplasma). Feeding wounds can create entry points for some pathogens.
By J. Allen
January 6, 2017
January always finds me a bit restless. The holidays are over and it is time to dedecorate the house, the weather may or may not support outdoor activities like walks or cross-country skiing, and that New Year’s resolution of cleaning up the attic seems more daunting with every passing week. So to find some peace of mind, I reach for a hot cup of herbal tea and my stack of seed and plant catalogs that has been climbing higher each day the mail comes.
Like many gardeners, I start off with a wish list. Fanciful, curious, gorgeous or productive new, or previously unknown to me, selections are listed in my seed notebook to be later pared down to what I actually have room in the garden for. The eyes are always bigger than the garden!
I thought I would share some selections in the first few catalogs that I have received which caught my eye. Several new selections from the Park Seed catalog (www.parkseed.com) got my attention. Since I am always looking for cut flower selections, cosmos ‘Cupcakes Mixed’ looked interesting with its fused petals resembling a cup, hence the name. It is supposed to grow 4 feet tall and stand up to heat, rain and drought.
Multi-colored marigolds may work well as bedding plants. ‘Strawberry Blonde’ has double pompom blossoms with petals of coral, peach, gold and orange. I am seriously considering it for lining the front walkway this year. ‘Fireball’ also offers big double flowers that are open red and then turn orange, bronze or gold. Both are compact plants reaching about 10 inches high.
Parks also offers a blueberry that fruits twice in one year. ‘Bushel and Berry™ Blueberry Perpetua’ not only fruits in midsummer and again in fall but the leaves change to red in the fall and the yellow stems turn red in the winter making this 4 to 5 foot high plant productive and attractive year round.
Pinetree Garden Seeds (www.superseeds.com) is offering two new kales. ‘Siberfrill’ is quite decorative with its frilly edged leaves while ‘Dazzling Blue’ is just that with bluish-tinged leaves and pinkish-purple midribs. Enjoy them for their decorative as well as eating qualities. ‘Edox’ lettuce is a disease-resistant, butterhead type with attractive burgundy edged leaves that reputedly grows well spring through fall.
Two snap peas will also likely end up in my garden. ‘Sugar Magnolia’ has pretty pink bicolored flowers that turn into deep purple edible podded peas and plants are said to beat the mid-July heat. ‘Opal Creek’ sports white flowers and pastel lemon pods on 6 foot vines and also holds up well to summer heat. ‘Corbaci’ is a sweet pepper with super long, thin fruits that bears heavy and early. This Turkish heirloom can be eaten at any stage and can be used fresh, dried, for pickling or frying.
It is hard to choose tomatoes or peppers from Totally Tomatoes (www.totallytomatoes.com) as there are just too many choices. Usually I just grow sweet peppers but may try ‘Sriracha’ this year. The chili-type fruits are supposed to be mildly hot but not overpowering. The thick-walled, early maturing fruits are good for roasting and pickling. Another interesting pepper is ‘Jupiter’ which is an open-pollinated reintroduction. Blocky fruits ripen to red on 30 inch, tobacco mosaic resistant plants.
‘Sunrise Sauce’ is a hybrid, determinant tomato that is resistant to fusarium and verticillium. Three to 4 ounce orange fruits taste like the traditional red Romas. High yielding fruits ripen all at once which is convenient for sauce making. ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ is in a unique dwarf class of tomatoes. Three foot tall plants produce large 8 to 12 ounce mahogany red, beefsteak tomatoes delicious fresh or cooked.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) is offering All America Selections Regional Winner, eggplant ‘Patio Baby’. This compact mini eggplant would work well in small gardens and containers. Purple flowers are followed by purple, 2 to 3 inch, spineless fruits.
‘Xtra-Tender’ is an early bicolor sweet corn and the first supersweet variety available as organic seed. Supposedly it germinates well in cool soils, is of excellent eating quality and matures in 71 days.
New to me are some mini romaine lettuces. Too often too many lettuces mature all at once and there is just so much salad a person can eat. ‘Dragoon’ is a green, mini romaine that is slow to bolt. ‘Breen’ is a medium bronze mini only 8 inches tall and ‘Trunchas’ is a dark red. All mature in less than 50 days and show some disease resistance.
Sunflower ‘Florenza’ has dark centers ringed with a deep burgundy and tipped with gold. Plants grow about 4 ½ feet tall and flowers have a mild chocolate fragrance.
The last couple of years I lost my basil plants to a disease known as basil downy mildew. New from Burpee (www.burpee.com) is ‘Pesto Party’, a late-flowering basil with tolerance to downy mildew. Coleus ‘Pineapple Surprise’ sounds like a container hit with its chartreuse and burgundy leaves swirled with chocolate brown.
A definite addition to the cutting garden is celosia ‘Red Velvet Cake’. Three to 4 foot plants have strong stems that do not require staking. The vibrant crimson heads look like they will make great fresh and dried flowers.
Territorial Seed Company (www.territorialseed.com) has a uniquely colored butternut squash, ‘Autumn Choice’. Classic butternut-shaped fruit have attractive orange and green speckled bands. Not only is butternut a great tasting squash but because of its solid stems, members of this species, Cucurbita moschata, are not attacked by squash vine borers.
Another fun squash is offered by Henry Fields (www.henryfields.com). ‘Dinosaur Eggs’ is a hybrid summer squash with round fruit in three colors – pale green, dark green and yellow. It is listed as disease resistant and productive.
These are just some offerings that piqued my interest and I have yet a dozen or more catalogs to go through. It is fun to try new vegetables and flowers while growing some old favorites. The hard part is whittling down the list to ones you can afford – both space and time wise.
Happy Horticultural New Year!