tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” Claude Monet

Any wise gardener knows that it is a good thing to walk around your own property as often as possible often to keep alert to pests, pruning needs, vegetables that can be harvested, plants in trouble or simply to enjoy the rewards of one’s labor. I am a firm believer that gardening is not for sissies nor is it uninteresting. The excitement never ends. A trip around my property this week gave a little insight as to how much activity is going on in such a small area.

welcome rock by step

Welcome rock by the front step

Swamp milkweed flowers are great for insects, among them the Mydas fly, Mydas clavats, a large wasp mimic which was on mine. This fly is recognizable by its metallic blue color and broad orange band on the abdomen. They have clubbed antennal tips, much like butterflies, and a stout sponging mouthpart which it uses to obtain nectar from flowers.

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

I was surprised to find a male Melissodes subillata, a rather unknown genus of the long-horned bees, tribe Eucerini, in my front garden. Males have very long antennae, and the subillata ‘s are reddish brown. Males are distinguished by these antennae, a yellow dot on each side of the mandibles and thorax hairs that are both light and dark. Females pollinate Asteraceae family flowers including wild chicory, plus milkweed and thistles. There was also a golden fronted bumblebee in the same garden.

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

 Acropteroxys gracilis, the slender lizard beetle, is a member of the Erotylidae family of beetles that includes the pleasing fungus beetles. It is reported to feed on ragweed and other agricultural weeds

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracilis slender lizard beetle

There seem to be few butterflies around so far, but recently there was a great spangled fritillary on an invasive spotted knapweed flower nearby. A few skipper species have been around as well as a monarch and tiger swallowtails.

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

spicebush on tickseed my garden

Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

Hippodamia variegate, small ladybeetles that are found especially where asters and Queen Anne’s lace occur in the wild have been studied for use as agricultural pest predators of certain aphids. The reproductive performance of these diminutive beetles is increased with the availability of Brassica and Sonchus (Asteraceae) flowers for pollen and nectar sources. Males and females have different markings on the thorax.

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

Because of continued hot days and drought conditions, it is important to keep birdbaths full of fresh water. Dark colored birdbaths should be kept out of afternoon sun, as should metal ones as water will get hot. A red-shouldered hawk was enjoying a very long bath in my neighbor’s cement birdbath last evening.

red shouldered hawk in neighbor's bird bath

Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

Trimming certain hedges now may get exciting if there are paper wasp nests hidden among the branches. Tap bushes with a long handled rake before trimming to see if there is any wasp activity. At least you will know what areas to skip for the time being. Sometimes a bird’s nest may be found there, and if eggs or young are in it, leave the nest there until young bird have fledged.

chipping sparrow nest in boxwood hedge 7-9-2020

Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

Deer, rabbits and woodchucks or other animals may be eating plants, but squirrels at my place, or at least one nutty one, are the only animal problem so far. The hummingbird feeder is drained daily – had to get a metal one because they chewed through the plastic one. Of course, this meant war, and the solution was to use string as a maze around the branches surrounding the feeder to deny access. So far, so good.

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There are dozens of small frogs, toads and tree frogs all over the lawn and gardens. They seemed to appear within days of each other. There must be plenty of insects for them to eat and I am hoping they are partial to earwigs!

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

Here’s hoping that soon there will come an end to the heat and drought, a rainbow in the afternoon and cool evenings for a pleasant sleep. Also, that woodchucks will not like the taste of any of the garden plants and squirrels will lose their sweet tooth. I am indeed a dreamer…

rainbow

Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper

barred owlin oak UConn campus 2014 - Copyright Pamm Cooper

A barred owl rests in an oak

A thousand stories come together as you observe all of the life associated with oak trees

One of my favorite things to do is to take a lightweight three- legged folding stool out on hikes and sit down for a while in areas that show a promise of something good to come if I can simply wait a bit. It is always a surprise to discover all the activity going on that I would have missed because of a failure to employ the railroad method of outdoor walking: “ stop, look and listen “.

doe sleeping in backyard winter under oak

Doe sleeping under an oak in the winter

Oaks provide a great opportunity to observe all kinds of life, as they are a major food source for many caterpillars, cicadas, katydids and other species of insects.. Holes from feeding insects, leaf shelters containing caterpillars and leaf or twig galls are just a few things you may notice. But a closer look will prove that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Tiny creatures seen crawling along twigs and leaf undersides may be the nymphs of some sort of tree hopper insect. Caterpillars might dangle down on silken threads, spiders may have woven webs among the branches and mushrooms arise from duff underneath the trees. Oaks provide nesting sites for many birds and animals, and food in the form of leaves, twigs and acorns.

spider webs on oak trees October 2016 foggy morning

Spider silk dangling from an oak on an October morning

Early in the spring when oaks are just beginning to show swollen buds, catbirds normally are back. And as leaves begin to unfurl, look and listen for scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles in the top of the canopy of mature oaks. There must be caterpillars there because you will see them poking around and under the newly opened leaves. Male red- bellied woodpeckers advertise the fact that they have constructed a fine nesting cavity suitable for any females in the area. The males can be hard to spot because they sit inside their hole and poke only their head out and sing sporadically all day. Because of past storms, many oaks have dead vertical limbs that are just what red- bellies like for drumming and excavating.

red belly in hole

Male red bellied woodpecker sings from inside his newly created nesting hole

Oaks have the distinction of being the host for many gall insects. While most are not a threat to the health of the tree, they can occur in large numbers. One of the most common galls familiar to many people are those formed by the oak apple gall wasp. These are large and are a smooth with a limey green color. Neatly tucked inside is the larva of the wasp, safe and sound from predators. A gall of the wool sower wasp is associated with white oaks and it looks somewhat like a toasted marshmallow.

wool sower gall

Wool sower wasp gall on white oak

Oaks are also the host plant for over 500 species of moth caterpillars, which makes them the champ when it comes to supplying bird food in Connecticut. From spring until fall, check out oak leaves for any caterpillars that may be there. Late in the summer, walking sticks might also be found on oaks.

 

afflicted dagger on oak

Afflicted dagger caterpillar on an oak

yellow-based tussock moth caterpillar on oak

Yellow-based tussock moth caterpillar on white oak

Butterflies such as the spring-flying Juvenal’s duskywing, banded hairstreak, striped hairstreak and red-spotted purples also use oaks as host plants for their caterpillars. If these butterflies are seen, check out any nearby oaks for the caterpillars.

Juvennals duskywing

Juvenal’s duskywing butterfly uses oaks as a host plant for its caterpillars

Several weevils are associated with oaks, among them the acorn weevil. The female lays an egg inside an acorn by chewing out a hole with its mouth and inserting one egg inside the developing fruit. Look for acorns in the fall that have a small round hole. This is evidence that the larva that was feeding inside has exited by chewing its way out. Sometimes squirrels can be seen turning acorns around in their paws as they look for these holes, or feel the weight of the acorn. They will not waste valuable time opening an acorn that will not supply a sufficient supply of food.

female acorn weevil Pamm Cooper photo

Female acorn weevil on red oak

New York weevil found on oak May 2017

New York weevil on oak

A few years ago, there were lacewing eggs everywhere on the undersides of all kinds of oaks. The next year- hardly any on oak, but there were a lot on cherries. In late summer. Lacewing larvae move about on the top of oak leaves with old molted exoskeletons and other debris piled on their backs. They look like little mobile fuzz balls.

 

lacewing eggs

Lacewing eggs under an oak leaf

Deer and turkeys rely on acorns for food during the fall and winter. Sometimes you can see the places under oaks where deer have dug through the snow looking for acorns. Gray, red or flying squirrels will also eat acorns and may also nest in the trees as well. Once year a pair of young flying squirrels were out during the day because their nesting hole was damaged by a fallen branch.

flying squirrel near nest hole

Young flying squirrel

The next time you see an oak, imagine all that may be happening on, around and under that tree. Look a little closer and see what you can find. And enjoy its shade at the same time.

 

Pamm Cooper

tree frog common gray on tree trunk

You have to look close to see the gray tree frog on this tree trunk