Sunday, September 8, 2019

Peach Season

I went peach picking this week in southern New Jersey. It was cool in the shade and hot in the sun with a light refreshing breeze. A perfect day for picking peaches. Click to enlarge.
The orchard was full of lovely twisted trees covered with ripe easy-to-reach fruit. 
I learned that picking peaches is much easier than picking blueberries. Click here to read about my blueberry adventure in July.
I came home with about 20 pounds of peaches.
I made peach jam that tastes like summer in a jar.
It's delicious.
And I saw this lovely orange variegated fritillary butterfly, Euptoieta claudia
... and an orange flower that looks like a harbinger of autumn.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Happy Labor Day!

A black swallowtail caterpillar eating dill. Click to enlarge. It's posing like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.
A black swallowtail butterfly. It is the official state butterfly of New Jersey.
Nature blogs are so easy in summer.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Io Moth

This week I am bragging about finding this Io moth caterpillar, Automeris io. This awesome caterpillar is about 2.5 inches long. It has a pretty pink-and-cream stripe down its side and is covered with bundles of branching spines. Click to enlarge.
I hear that the sting from these spines is painful, so if you are lucky enough to find one of these beauties, don't touch it. The tips of spines that penetrate your skin can break off and release irritating venom. Ew.
The caterpillar was eating leaves of a buttonbush shrub, Caphalanthus occidentalis, also called button-willow or honey-bells. The buttonbush is native to eastern and southern North America. Io moths are not picky about what they eat, though, and can be found on a variety of other host plants.
The name Io is from a Greek myth in which Io, a priestess of Zeus' wife, Hera, got in trouble when Zeus became romantically interested in her. After many adventures, which included being turned into a white cow to hide her from Hera, Io bore children with Zeus who were ancestors to all kinds of famous people including Hercules and Perseus.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Butterfly Weed Works

This is butterfly weed, Asclepia tuberosa, a native milkweed that is a host for monarch butterflies. I raised some from seeds and planted the seedlings in my yard to see if I could attract monarchs. Click to enlarge.
A monarch like this one (on another kind of milkweed in this photo) found my small stand of butterfly weed and laid eggs on it. Yay!
They grew like crazy, eating leaf after leaf. Here are two of them tag-teaming a leaf. But then it became clear that they were eating at such a pace that they would soon run out. I think I'll have a bigger supply next year after the plants spread, but this year I'm limited.
So I gathered them up with some leaves for the trip and took them to a spot I know where there is a lot of milkweed. Did I mention there are 7 caterpillars? Can you spot them all?
Here's where I took them -- a big butterfly garden with lots of common milkweed to eat.
Here they are spreading out in their new digs.
Seven more of these coming soon.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

And The Winner Is...

I played a game of creature contest yesterday. Here are the rules: take a walk in a park, photograph everything interesting, choose a favorite. The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly above is the winner. Ta Da! Click to enlarge.
Congratulations eastern tiger swallowtail! See that band of blue spots? It identifies this one as a female.
This perky little summer azure butterfly is the runner up, ready to step in and fulfill the duties of winner if the tiger swallowtail is unable to do so. Congratulations summer azure!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

My Orchid Trophies

Now that summer has settled into the dog days, I'm reminiscing about all the cool spring afternoons I spent hunting for orchids in the New Jersey pine barrens. I found all four of the flashy pink ones that I had hoped to see this year by scouring the edges of bogs like the one pictured above. The photos are my trophies. Click to enlarge.
This is the dragon's mouth orchid, Arethusa bulbosa. I took this picture in mid-May.
These are pink lady's slippers, Cypripedium acaule. Also seen in May.
These are rose pogonias, Pogonia ophioglossoides. This picture reminds me of these words from Confucius:  "An orchid in a deep forest sends out its fragrance even if no one is around to appreciate it." This picture is from June.
Here's a closer look at the rose pogonia, also called the snake mouth orchid.

This is the complex and beautiful grass pink,
Calopogon tuberosus. Another June bloomer.
I am resting on my orchid laurels inside in air-conditioned comfort today. Are they not lovely?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Blueberry Season

The heat and sunshine have been intense these past few weeks but that's not all bad. Some of it went into ripening New Jersey's blueberry crop. They are ready!
I went blueberry picking this week on a farm in Hammonton, New Jersey; that's the blueberry capital of the world. Click the photos to enlarge.
I came back with 12 pints of blueberries for which I paid $1.66 each.
I got a fine day out, a good deal, exercise, and...
a picnic beside Hammonton Creek, pictured here. It was lovely.
When I got home, I made blueberry jam. I'm going to try to save some until January. It is summer in a jar. 
Delicious.
The hot sunny days are also good for butterfly spotting. Here are some that I saw on berry picking day. A cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae.
A spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus.
A tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus.
And a buckeye, Junonia coenia.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Baby Hummingbird

Remember this ruby-throated hummingbird nest from two weeks ago? Click to enlarge.
I walked by it today and discovered this young hummingbird sitting in the same pose. It makes its mom seem large be comparison, doesn't it? The little tail barely clears the edge of the nest. The mother did not come to the nest while I was there, perhaps not wanting to draw attention to the baby. I didn't stay long -- partly to avoid disturbing them and partly because the temperature was beginning to approach 100F.
Here's a closer look at the baby. It needs to grow a few more feathers on its face and its crown feathers are a little crazy. Has its mom's beak, though, don't you think? I'll keep an eye on it as it matures and will try to get a picture of them together.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Threadleaf Sundew Has a Flower

This is a picture of a few leaves of the  threadleaf sundew plant, Drosera filiformis, that grows in New Jersey pine barrens bogs. It's a carnivorous plant that supplements its diet by capturing insects in sticky hairs on its slender upright leaves. The insects are slowly dissolved and the plant acquires nutrients from them. I am always delighted to find these pretty sparkly red plants at my feet in the mud at a bog's edge.
And it gets better! The threadleaf sundews are flowering right now. Here's a picture I took this week of a  single dainty pink flower. The flower stalk rises from the base of the plant and lacks sticky droplets. Each of the flower buds on the stalk opens for a single day.   Click to enlarge. Lovely, isn't it?

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hummingbird Nest!

Meet my tiny neighbor, a female ruby-throated hummingbird, Archilochus colubris. She's about 3.5 inches long with a wingspan of just over 4 inches, and weighs 1 or 2 tenths of an ounce. The nest is about 2 inches across and an inch deep. It's made from plant matter like dandelion and thistle down held together with spider silk and covered with bits of lichen and moss. There are probably 1-3 tiny white eggs inside. I'll keep going back until I see them hatch and I will report.
Female ruby-throated hummingbirds do all the work of nest-building, incubation, and chick-rearing. The ruby-throated is the only hummingbird that breeds in eastern North America. Click on the photos to enlarge.
These birds are accustomed to human activity and have been known to build nests on man-made things like loops of wire or electrical cords. This little bird sat still at her post while an entire 4th of July parade marched past within 20 feet, brass bands and all.