Thursday, September 30, 2010

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis and Signs of Autumn

This monarch butterfly chrysalis was hanging from the top tier of our trellis.  This is first ever chrysalis I have found in the "wild".  I think it is literally too little too late.  :-(  As far as I have been able to find out, monarchs do not overwinter as chrysalises at this latitude.  The butterflies actually migrate south from here all the way to Mexico to overwinter as adults.  In spring they begin to migrate north again and lay eggs along the way, caterpillars hatch and mature, and butterflies fly farther north, going through several generations before they reach our area.  I think time has run out for this little chrysalis because we will have our first freeze of autumn Saturday night.
I thought time had run out for the moon flowers too.  For the past week all the buds that should opened during the night failed to unfurl, probably due to the cool temps.  But our recent daytime temps in the low 70s (21 or so centigrade) allowed at least these last 2 buds to open completely.  I tried using a little paint brush to pollinate the flowers, but even though the flowers had opened, the pollen had not matured to be "fluffy" enough to adhere to the paint brush.  I tried anyway; we'll see if anything happens.
I took my camera with me work today to take some pictures from the 12th floor of the building where my office is.  I wanted to capture some of autumn colors of the trees.  You can see we are just getting started with the colors.  I hope I will have more later as the colors intensify.  I believe these are mostly maple trees that are showing color so far.
The day was so beautiful that I decided to walk partway home and took my camera with me.  Along the way, I took this picture of the sun low in the sky backlighting this goldenrod seedhead. 
I arranged for Dennis to pick me up on his way home at our favorite cheese shop where we bought some nice cheeses and a fresh French baguette to have for our dinner along with some of the wine that we bought at our visit to the nearby winery a couple of weeks ago.  A nice way to end our day and only one more work day to go until the weekend.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dewy SUNday

After a long week of torrential rains and flooding, Sunday dawned true to its name.  Not too far from us, the small village of Zumbro Falls suffered major damage from the flood; 60 of 93 homes were destroyed or irredemiably damaged by the flood waters of the Zumbro River.  Our house is less than a mile from the Zumbro River, but fortunately for us, we live downstream from a major flood control project that was built a couple of decades ago to protect the city of Rochester from flooding.

When I saw the sunshine this morning, I grabbed my camera to see what photo opportunities the mellow dawn light provided.  The plants, flowers, and even the insects were sparkling with dew.  The morning sun shining through the dew on this rain-battered hollyhock lent it a delicate beauty.
We planted these hydrangea bushes just a couple of weeks ago.  The flowers are fresh and ready for what the day brings; they almost look like spring.
 
A couple of weeks ago I posted pictures of these milkweed bug larvae right after they had hatched.  They are beginning to gain some adult characteritics now. The dew-covered bugs look like little jewels.
 
I love how the dew drops catch and magnify the sunlight on these columbine leaves.
Each of the multitude of petals in the chrysanthemums is outlined in dew drops.  They look sugar-frosted, don't they?
The squirrels will have plenty on hand to eat this winter.  Look at all the black walnuts on the ground, a bumper crop for sure.
And more still to fall from the tree.  Too bad the black walnuts have such a harsh taste, not nearly as mild as their English cousins.  Many people do eat them, but the work of getting the husk off and then the shell cracked is not worth it to me for a nut that leaves something to be desired in taste anyway.  I say let the squirrels have them!  Maybe it will keep them away from the bird feeders.  Not likely! ;-)
Right now, the maple tree is the bright spot of autumn color in our yard.  Most of the trees in the woods behind the house are still green; except for the walnuts and hickories - their leaves seem to turn brown and fall off early.
As you can see from the photo above, our place suffered no lasting ill-effects from the rain.  In a bizzare cosmic coincidence, in almost the same timeframe, Tropical Storm Matthew made land fall right on top of our place in Belize.  Again, our place didn't seem to have sustained any damage, although at least one bridge was washed out.  We are indeed fortunate. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Back in July -- Blue Jays, Purple Flowers, and Hummingbird Moth

Way back in July, (it wasn't really that long ago was it?) all the bluejays in the neighborhood descended on the feeders at once.  There were at least 15, and can they raise a real ruckus!  Most were this year's fledglings mixed in with a few of their older sibs and, of course, their parents.  If you look carefully, you can see 8 of them in the photo below.
Too lazy to take their own seeds from the feeders, these 2 juvies were begging for food while the adult seems to throw its wings up in defeat.  I hope those 2 can manage for themselves now that the cold weather is on its way. 
 Along the river back in July were lots of wildflowers including these lovely purple ones.  I think they are a vetch of some sort, but I am not really sure. 
 Nearby in some lavendar colored flowers was this fantastic hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis).
 
It is also called a clearwing moth because it loses most of the scales from its wings soon after it emerges.
 
By now it has surely laid its eggs, or fertilized some eggs, as the case may be, in time for the larvae to over-winter in cocoons.  Somehow the summer went by far too quickly ...
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Winery in Autumn and Zelus (again)

We spent a large part of the afternoon at a nearby winery.  But before I write about that, there are a few shots I took in the yard this morning that I want to show you.  The last (probably, anyway) lupine flower is a bright spot in the front flower bed when most other flowers are history.  And I found the very same Zelus assassin bug nymph is still on the very same oak leaf!  Even after we had almost 2 inches of rain in less than 2 hours and lots of wind the other night.  Once again it posed obligingly for me, giving good views of its pointed rostrum and red eyes.  I was also surprised to see a fairly fresh looking red admiral flitting around in the cool morning sunshine.
But signs of autumn are all around us.  The milkweed is beginning to disperse its seed.  I love the silky shininess of the hairs that keep the seeds aloft when the wind blows them.  The bright red leaves are on a euonymous that I just planted last week in front of the house.  Soon the whole bush will be afire.  Along the country roads leading to the winery we spotted the fall asters blooming next to red sumac, golden rod, and what looked like brown-eyed susans.
We visited the winery (Salem Glen Vineyard) with some friends.  The vineyard is barely 4 miles from our house.  This is the first time we have been there, but it will not be the last.  We had a wine tasting and enjoyed them all, even bought a few bottles to take home with us!  Below is a picture I took from the deck at the tasting room.  A few of their vines are in front of a small observatory.
We came back to our house and had more wine with a variety of cheeses, olives, pears, apples, out on our patio; a great way to spend an autumn afternoon.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Assassin Bug Nymph – Zelus spp.

I spotted this little fellow on the underside of an oak leaf.  This is a nymph of an assassin bug in the genus Zelus.  If you look closely at the largest picture in the collage below you can see a feeding tube called a rostrum tucked under its head.  It uses the rotrum to puncture the body of its prey and inject saliva that contains enzymes to kill the prey and liquify the innards so it can suck it out.  That brings a new image of "feeding tube" to mind!
While taking these photos, a red squirrel in a walnut tree began fussing incessantly.   
It kept a close eye on me and the cats (Max and a neighbor's cat that we call TK) as we made our rounds. No way we were going to be able to sneak up on anything.
Not too far from the red squirrel and the assassin bug is the flower bed with the hollyhocks.  The 6 feet tall hollyhocks have been blooming all summer.  Their white and yellow flowers are not particularly large or striking  but they do have a certain charm.  At least the deer think so, and unless I spray a deterent on them, they never get a chance to flower.  I think the deer like the flower buds best of all.   The hollyhocks are also favorites of the bees and bumblebees.  And it sure looks like the bees do a good job of pollinating them; just look at the lovely seed heads!
 
With all of those seeds, the deer should have plenty of flower buds to snack on next year.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Moonflower

For this followup to yesterday's post on moonflowers, I took more pitcures during the day today as they succumbed to the sunlight.  One of the first signs is visible in the top lefthand photo in the collage below - a tear along the fusion line between petals.  As the day wore on, the petals began to sag against the ribs (bottom right).  This vine is in shade most of the day, so the flowers seem to take several days to dry up, but eventually they do dry.  In their native habitat, they attract moths as pollinators, but even though I saw a moth flying around one this evening, I am not sure if the right moth is around to pollinate them at this latitude.  I am hoping for some seeds.
More flowers were set to open this evening and I was able to take photographs as the sun disappeared behind the hill to the west.  As expected, the first flower to start opening was on shady side of the trellis at 4:45 pm.
An hour later, it had opened even more.
And more still in another 30 minutes.  You can see the last rays of sunlight in the background on the hills across our little valley.
Meanwhile, on the sunnier side of the trellis, the buds are just beginning to unfurl.  I really like this shot because you can see the flower that is opening, two tightly furled buds, yesterday's dried up flower, and buds that are still held within the funky pointy purple sepals.
 
Finally, Keith from Holdingmoments commented on yesterday's post that moths must be attracted to this flower.  He is correct, but this earwig is the only bug that I have seen here in Minnesota that might be pollinating the flower.  I hope the earwig does the trick!
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Quick Post

This is only a quick post today.  It was a rough week at work with way too many long days trying to meet a deadline.  I didn't take a single photo all week.  I took a few this morning while taking a stroll around the yard to see what has been going on while I wasn't looking.  First up is this red and black Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus.  I had noticed these bugs earlier in the summer all over the milkweed plants; most recently it was mating pairs that seemed to be everywhere on the milkweed.  Just like the monarch butterfly caterpilars, they store the toxins from the milkweed that they eat and advertise that fact in their red/orange and black coloring to deter predation.  It seems to work because there are lots of them!
 
I never saw any eggs, but did find several clusters of the newly hatched young on a number of milkweed seed pods today.  This is the first year I have noticed these bugs.
In the spring, we planted some annual vines to grow on the trellis that has gotten a little too shady for the clematis.  This is called moonflower (Ipomea alba).  The closed flower buds look like a little green unicorn horn the way it is twisted.
 
The flower opens only at night and you can see in the photo below that bud has untwisted, unfurling the fused, white petals.
They quickly open all the way and release a fantastic jasmine-like perfumeThe flowers are huge - about 7 inches across. 
I took these pictures tonight; tomorrow morning, when the sun hits them, they will wilt almost immediately and turn brown.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

September Saturday in the Garden

There is quite a bit of activity in the garden these days.  Large numbers of birds (gold finches, house finches, starlings, and more) are passing through and the year round residents are trying to fatten up for winter.  The collage below is of one of the many male juvie downy woodpeckers that were from at least 2 different families nesting in the woods behind our house.  He is showing off his red crown while trying to decide between the humminbird nectar or the suet block.  Hmmm.  Why not have some of each?
Another comma butterfly was seen too.  Or could this really be a question mark? Can someone help with the ID? It spent a long time getting moisture from a bit of dead wood and sunned for a while on a hosta leaf, letting me get very close for these photos even though I was not able to position myself for a better angle. 
Hummingbirds are also passing through in large numbers.  The ones that spent summer here are very territorial and try to protect "their" feeders from the new arrivals.  I even saw one chase off a dragonfly that wandered too close to the feeder.  The dragon was bigger than the hummer!  The hummingbirds have what we call "hummer wars" where they chase each other all around the garden and through the tree branches.  It reminds me of the chase scene in the first Star Wars movie.
 
Hope you have enjoyed your weekend too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pleasant Surprises in the Garden (or "Frog and Butterfly" for you Heart fans)

There were no frog spawn or tadpoles in the garden pond this spring and summer, probably because our winter had been so cold that the frogs didn't survive.  So I was delighted to see an adult frog in the pond last weekend. 
 
I was able to take some pictures of it sunning on the partially submerged bridge that I have in the pond.
This a very nice sized leopard frog with great markings.  When I got too close, it dove down into the muck at the bottom of the pond. 
It probably uses this tactic to avoid being eaten by the raccooons that sort through the algae for nummies like dragonfly larvae and unsuspecting frogs. Almost every morning I find clumps of algae pulled out of the water by the raccoons. We gave up years ago on trying to keep aquatic plants; the raccoons are convinced we get the plants just for their benefit ...

The other pleasant surprise was something I have never seen before (except in other blogs) - a comma butterfly!  This one was sitting momentarily on one of our patio chairs.  I was't able to get a shot with the wings open, but I was thrilled to even get this shot.
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Hope your garden surprises are also pleasant.