Saturday, December 19, 2009

14" of Snow!

It started about 2:00 yesterday and snowed about 1 inch an hour all afternoon, evening, and night. I measured at 11:00 a.m. and it was still 14 inches even though the temperature rose above freezing. On this photo, you can see my dog, Kookie, in the middle coming back up our driveway. She loves it.

It looks like more than 14" on top the bee hive. We cleaned the front opening so that there was ventilation. The bees will cluster with the queen in the center. The worker bees take turns being on the outside (just like in March of the Penguins).

I walked down the driveway (dog in front) in the ruts Steve created with the UTV. He still got stuck in a couple of places--no way our 4WDs will make it out anytime soon. Our road isn't plowed and Interstate 81 is still closed. The governor declared most of Virginia a disaster with the National Guard helping stranded motorists on the interstates.

We had to cancel our trip to the Grand Canyon--we can't get to the Charlotte Airport. But, I guess we will have a white Christmas! And, this makes our dog very happy.

We stocked the feeders this morning with the downy woodpecker already taking big bites out of the suet cake. I noticed so many dark-eyed juncos on the ground--now I know why they are often called snowbirds.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Snow-- Purple Finch and Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Yesterday, I awoke to 3 inches of snow on the ground. Darn--I had to go to a meeting in town in the morning (where there was little snow--only slush and freezing rain). When I returned, I bundled up and went on a walk.

At noon, the snow was still coming down and sticking to the trees like cotton candy.

The field across from our land did not seem to have as much snow. Maybe the wind blew it away.

Later (while watching endless college football), I heard a bird fly into our new patio door. The Purple Finch sat on a chair for a long while, then flew up into this burning bush about 10 feet from the house. I was glad he flew off later.

This morning, a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker enjoyed a suet cake. No other bird will challenge him at the feeder.

Even though winter is not my favorite season, I don't mind that this snow is sticking around for awhile. Hope it stays until Christmas but around here, that's doubtful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fern Driveway, Milkweed, and Native Bees

It's a rainy cool Wednesday so thought I'd post some photos from the last two weeks.

Christmas Ferns November 6, 2009

Once the leaves fall, the Christmas Fern (Polystichm acrostichoides) is more noticeable since it stays green all winter (perhaps accounting for its common name).

This slope along our driveway used to be red clay before the ferns colonized it. I try to keep it in ferns by pulling out the multi-flora rose.

Common Milkweed November 6, 2009

There seems to be more milkweed along our road this year, all the better for the monarchs. Maybe it has something to do with the state budget cuts--less mowing. I wish they wouldn't spray or mow the roadsides--maybe just cut the tree saplings every few years. The insects would appreciate that.

The pods open up in October and were still opening up this week.

Carpenter Bee November 16, 2009

The temperature was in the 70s for several days so bees were still out. The only blooms I noticed were on this heather shrub (usually blooming in late February). Sweat and carpenter bees were seen on the tiny flowers. The carpenter bee does hibernate in the winter so he or she must have been trying to warm up before crawling back into their hole (probably in our house's siding).

I won't probably be getting out too much until after Thanksgiving--it's the deer firearms season. I read this morning that a Ferrum College student was killed by a hunter only one mile from campus. I wear blaze orange anywhere outside (unless I'm in town). While most hunters are responsible, it only takes one reckless person to create a tragedy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wren Visit and Relentless Storm

Yesterday, the rains started in the afternoon. By 9:30 p.m., our power went out and it did not come back on until 11 p.m. It rained steadily all night--this morning the gauge registered 2 inches of rain. The power continued to come off and on all day and evening. Two trees fell on our driveway--luckily small enough that I could carry them to the side.

We are not even on the map for this storm. It's mostly east in Virginia Beach and Richmond which will get as much as 12 inches of rain. The remnants of Hurricane Ida combined with another storm from the west to create a churning storm that is supposed to last until Saturday. This is not good.

Carolina Wren November 1, 2009

Yet, the birds still manage to get to the bird feeders. And The Carolina Wrens visit me on the front porch, fussing at me through the window while I type on my computer. She does this every day but I am not sure what she is trying tell me.

Carolina Wren October 27 , 2009

A pair sleep at night in the clay birdhouse on the south side of the front porch while another pair stay a tolerable distance away on the north side in an A-frame birdhouse. During the summer, they usually raise their young in the houses.

I will especially enjoy the company of the wrens during this storm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Peggy O's Memorial Bench

Last summer, a noted naturalist and birder, Peggy Spiegel Opengari, passed away. In her honor, the New River Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists has installed a bench at Pearisburg Library. The chapter also donated money to The Nature Conservancy as Peggy requested in her will.

Peggy was a well-known birder and founding organizer of the Mountain Lake Birding Festival. She was very active with the local bird club, conducting many of the field trips with her husband. She was also involved at the state level (Virginia Society of Ornithology).

Peggy Spiegel Opengari Memorial Bench

Peggy took her grandchildren often to the Pearisburg Library so it was fitting that a bench would be placed there. Debbie, fellow Virginia Master Naturalist, and I are conducting Peggy Spiegel Opengari Nature Journal Workshops for children every summer as well--also supported by the master naturalist chapter.

Close up of Plaque on Bench

I met Peggy for the first time 5 years ago when I wanted to go beyond identifying birds at the feeder. I went on the New River Bird Club's website and saw they were having a field trip at Pandapas Pond. I just showed up there and Peggy made me feel like a friend right away. I remember learning to identify the yellow-bellied sapsucker. When I arrived home later that day, I spotted the bird right away in our woods. I know I will never be the birder that Peggy was (I don't even have a life list!) but I was inspired by Peggy's enthusiasm for birdwatching.

When I installed the plaque the other day, a woman with her two children asked me what I was doing. I told her about Peggy. The woman thought it was a nice bench in a good place (right outside the entrance). She said she must have been a special lady and I said she was.

Through the bench and the nature journal workshops, I hope Peggy's legacy will live on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Red-Tailed Hawk Sighting--Sample Post

Red-Tailed Hawk October 23, 2009

I posted this photo last night as part of my presentation to the New River Bird Club. Now, the back story.....

For several days in late October, a pair of red-tailed hawks have been in our driveway (1/3 mile through a wooded hollow). That's not unusual but I never get a photo because a hawk quickly flies away. This time the hawk did not--he just flew up into a tree and so I was able to get this shot. I think the hawks were on some dead animal but I am not sure what since I didn't see it.

Notes on Posting Photos

Blogger allows quick posting of photos but the resolution is low. So, I clicked on the "Edit Html" tab to find the size: "width: 320px; height: 213px;" Then, I multiplied times 1.3 to get a 416 x 277 resolution and pasted those numbers over the original ones. Once published, a reader also can click on the photo to see the larger resolution (this one is 1687 x 1124 pixels). They have to click back to get to the post (ought to open up in a new window!).

I also feel it is important to post the date your photograph was taken. I know when I see great photos on other blogs, I want to know the story behind them--when and where found, situation, date--maybe even the weather if relevant. That to me is the essence of a nature journal or blog.

Someone came up to me last night and cautioned about indicating the location of rare flowers, butterflies and birds in case someone might be inspired to collect them. I agree. I don't think most bloggers I read post that detailed information. Nevertheless, his caution is worth noting.

Welcome New Bloggers!

I hope some of you who saw my presentation last night might be encouraged to start your own nature blogs. You can get inspired by clicking on some of the blogs in my blog roll. In a few moment's time, you can travel all over exploring nature through the eyes and voice of some very interesting people!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nature Blogging and Twitter

On November 4, I'm making a presentation to the New River Valley Bird Club about nature journals and blogs. Now, I have to think about why I do this. Here are some of my notes:

Why I Blog

I've kept a paper journal for many years but only started blogging two years ago. I'm surprised I'm still doing it but it must be good.

  • I learn something new every time I get on to check my blogroll. Example: post on sandhill cranes.
  • Part of Worldwide Blog Community of Nature Watchers. Each blog is unique, reflecting each person's interests--some informative, lovely, funny, etc.
  • Makes where I live seem special when others are interested.
  • Can post my photos, text, and videos (see below):
  • Collaboration: An artist took this photo from one of my blog posts and made a painting. She sent me a print.

  • time-consuming sometimes leading to lack of focus (must be disciplined to use)
  • interesting posts keep you online and out of nature!
  • weight gain!

Why I Tweet (Sometimes)

I tweeted for the first time a year ago when a fellow nature blogger and myself tweeted back and forth. I couldn't understand any good use for Twitter then. A few months ago, I gave it another try when I noticed some of my favorite bloggers were online tweeting away (Kerri and Dawn). This is what I perceive as the major advantages:
  • Real-time links to relevant posts, images, and other articles.
  • Quick IDs (versus blogs which can take several days).
  • Smart phones allow immediate transfer of data/text from the field.

  • Same as above but maybe even more!

Facebook--I don't use for nature blogging, more of a personal/family connection.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rat Snake in my Shed and Shaggy Mane Mushroom

I put up my bird feeders in my garden shed to keep the night critters away. I had to put the feeders in a container to keep a mouse out but I knew he was still in there, probably to keep out of the cold. Much to my surprise, the mouse met his demise....

Black Rat Snake October 19, 2009

This snake is fairly small, not more than a foot but he was able to swallow the mouse--look at the big hump! At first, I wasn't sure of the ID. The field guide said that Black Rat Snakes have the coloration of gray rat snakes (not usually in this area) when they are young so that explains that he is not black.

Close-up of the Black Rat Snake

Shaggy Mane Mushroom October 13, 2009

Our driveway is full of these mushrooms, usually in September but they came up in October. This one, probably several days old, shows how it got its name.

I photographed this zinnia the day before a freeze which killed all my zinnias and cosmos last week. I planted these flowers from a few seed packets and got lots of flowers, enjoyed by bees and butterflies alike. They are a cheap way to help the bees!

Bee Update: I had to start feeding the bees since there is so little forage for them and I wasn't sure of their winter stores of honey (since I swiped a little from them). I did notice them bringing in pollen--there's till some asters. I even saw some bees on my pansies and mums.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall Colors in Appalachia

Dogwood Leaves

Having traveled to the Northeast and seen the brilliant colors of the Northeast states, it has taken me awhile to appreciate the more subtle colors of my fall woods. The dogwoods are the first to change color--maroon but like all the trees, each tree varies. Some are still green or others, like the photo above are in the process.

The Sugar and Red Maples are the main color in the woods with the tulip poplars already shedding most of their leaves.

Red Maple Leaves

Sourwood Leaves

Around our house, I enjoy the red and orange colors of the Sourwood. The trees keep the bright red for a couple of weeks. The American Goldfinches are enjoying eating the seeds.

Spice Bush Berries

These berries stay on for most of the winter while the dogwood berries are being eaten quickly--yesterday by a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Crab Spider Kill and a Bee with Ears

White-banded Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes)
September 23, 2009

This crab spider caught one of my honey bees last week--I came back out several times to see her in the same position, perhaps sucking fluids from the body. This spider has the ability to change colors over several days to match the flowers where its sits waiting for prey (rather than spinning a web).

Why yellow when the phlox is purple? (Note: my garden phlox blooms late because the deer eat it early in the summer) I assume the spider was trying to fool the bee thinking it's a big source of yellow pollen--as the anthers on the other blossoms have.

Crab Spider with eggs rolled in petal
September 24, 2009

The next day, I went out to see the bee gone and the crab spider had rolled two petals to protect her eggs which she deposited. She won't eat while she protect the eggs which will hatch in about 3 weeks.

Today, I went out to check and could not find the spider or her rolled nest nor any flowers on the plant. The flowers probably fell during our deluge of rain on Saturday--over 3 inches.

Honey Bee on Obedient Plant

This honey bee looks like it has ears on its head but it's the anthers of the plant. The plant evolved its design perfectly so that the bee picks up the pollen while feeding on the nectar deep inside. Then, when it goes to the next flower, it will deposit some pollen. When the pollen piles up, the bee uses its legs to put the pollen in sacs.

I am so glad I have quite a few fall flowers in the yard because there's very little in the fields now.

Native Bee on White Snakeroot Flowers

Finally, I wanted to post this photo of a copper-colored bee on White Snakeroot. It's about the length of a worker honey bee but slimmer. Does anyone know what it is?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

House Hunting Wren and Migrations

Every winter, Carolina Wrens sleep on my front porch. This wren seemed to be checking out the clay birdhouse. Not sure she will like it since bumble bees nested there this summer although they are gone now. The last few nights have been very warm so maybe the wrens don't need the cozy shelter.


Birds are migrating through here. The American Redstart has been seen in our little pond/waterfall this week. I have seen this bird before but not so close to the house. Also very close was a Brown Thrasher in a thicket of blackberries and multi-flora roses.

Monarch Butterflies are flying south to Mexico, passing through Virginia right now. It's amazing that they fly that far on such fragile wings.

I saw one earlier this week in my yard and then this one yesterday. They seem to stay for several hours feeding on the nectar and then leaving. I thought I saw one flying high in the sky, above the trees.

With the sunlight shining through, the wings look like stained glass windows.

I saw two Monarchs this morning at two different stoplights in town. Both butterflies seemed to know to fly well above the traffic. I wondered if anyone else noticed.

Good Migrations!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bees on Wingstem, Kick the Bums Out!

Honey Bee on Wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia)

My honey bees are foraging nectar and pollen for the past several weeks on Wingstem, a native plant in the composite family. The plant is easy to identify by the stems which have "wings" actually leaves on each side of the stem (seen in the upper right of the photo).

Wingstem in Pasture

The tall (4 feet or more) plants cover most of the pastures around here. Cows don't eat the plants so I am glad the farmers don't brush-hog the plants to get rid of this important source of nectar. Both bumble and honey bees collect orange pollen from the Wingstem. Fritillary butterflies were also on the flowers. I admit I never thought these plants were pretty but now I have an appreciation for this plant now that my bees seem to love it!

When I went back to the hive, I noticed that bees were collecting several different colors of pollen-orange, light yellow, and bright yellow. Perhaps they are foraging on the goldenrod but I haven't seen it (not much goldenrod compared to wingstem here).

Lion's Foot (Prenanthes serpentaria)

This lovely native wildflower, Lion's Foot, came up around my hive this summer. I did see a honey bee on it so maybe that's where they are getting the white pollen. I was surprised this flower was in the composite family (daises, dandelions, sunflowers). The leaves do look similar to dandelion leaves though.

My Bee Hive Update

My hive inspection of September 4 showed that the bees were very strong in 2 of the medium boxes (box 2 and 3 of 4)--good brood pattern surrounded by pollen and nectar. Bees were all over the 8 frames. On the bottom of the hive, box 1was almost empty of brood--and only a little pollen and not that many bees. Box 4 on the top had more bees and 3 frames of honey.

As I have done all summer (usually 10 day intervals), I used the powdered sugar treatment for varroa mites. This time, I kept the mite check board underneath just to see what I was getting. The next day, I counted about 150 mites on the board! Also worrisome was that I counted 3 wax moth caterpillars--these guys can ruin honeycomb quickly.

Last week, I attended the meeting of the local bee club (New River Valley Beekeepers Association). There I told the group about what I found. Jerry, club president, reassured me about the mites--the powdered sugar treatment gets rid of 80% of the mites so I probably don't have too much of a mite problem.

Mark, an expert beekeeper, recommended the following:

1. Reverse boxes, putting box 1 where box 3 is to have the bees clean it out. Later, if it's empty, remove it for the winter. That will put more bees on the bottom where they can guard against the wax moths and other intruders.

2. Keep box 4 on--hopefully the bees will fill it out and keep it for their winter supply (darn--would have liked that honey!).

3. Start feeding with 1:1 syrup to prompt bees to build up the brood--should have 3 medium boxes of brood/honey/pollen for winter.

I did not have another medium box to use for the jar I put on the top for the syrup. With my husband's help, I made a box out of old shelves--it works fine on top.

During my last inspection (Sept. 11), I noticed there were no wax moths so I was relieved. I reversed the boxes as recommended and noticed more bees at the entrance already. I again did the powdered sugar treatment. I checked for mites on Saturday--only a couple found on the mite check board!

Throw the Bums Out!

One beekeeper mentioned that the workers (female) were throwing the drones (male) out of the hive. The drones don't do any work except mate with virgin queens. Their job done for the season, the workers will discard them so they don't have to waste resources this winter.

This worker appeared to be biting the large drone. When the drones try to return, the workers will not allow them in, repeating the harassment.

This worker rode on the back of the drone, both falling right out of the hive. The worker returned while the drone flew away.

These workers don't show any mercy. When I have accidentally squashed a bee during inspection, bees come over to get any pollen or nectar. So, I should not be surprised at this behavior--everything is for the hive, no slackers allowed!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's Caterpillar Time

September is a good month for spotting caterpillars. Many overwinter as pupae so they are eating up everything in sight. I use Caterpillars of Eastern Forests published by the U.S. Printing Office as my guide along with Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars.

Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar (Apatelodes torrefacta)

This caterpillar was on our rusted gate--about 2 inches in length.

Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae)

Right above the gate, I saw this tussock moth caterpillar which prefers hickories and walnut trees, all of which were in abundance here.

Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar (Ecpantheria scribonia)

This large, about 3 inch in length caterpillar looks scary enough. It rolls into a ball when threatened, exposing the red rings which make it easy to identify.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

This is also a prime time to see Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. This caterpillar will pupate and then emerge and fly south to Mexico before winter! I watched one for a day or two, then it disappeared or was this one about 3 feet away. This one also disappeared after a couple of days--not sure if there's a chrysalis around but I can't find it.

This isn't a caterpillar but a little stick bug--only about 3 inches in length. It should be on a brown blade of grass to be camouflaged but I spotted it easily on these ferns.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Butterflies on Thistles

I'm behind on posting but still wanted to put up these photos I took 10 days ago. Our back pasture was filled with thistles covered with many swallowtails (giant, spicebush, tiger), fritillaries and other butterflies. Talk about a butterfly garden!

Spicebush Swallowtail

The spicebush swallowtail is our most often seen butterfly, probably because we have a lot of spice bush, its host plant, in the woods.

Tiger Swallowtails

These butterflies are also quite common maybe because their host tree, yellow or tulip poplar, is in abundance.

Great Spangled Frittilary

I believe the thistle is a bull thistle, an alien plant.

Orchard Mason Bee

Bees also love the thistle. I saw bumble bees, orchard mason bees, and many smaller bees but no honey bees.

Thistles are not a flower I would want around my house because of the thorns. But I don't have a problem with letting them grow in the pasture for the insects.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Late Summer Flowers for Honey Bees

I have made notes in my bee journal on the flowers that I see honey bees are visiting for nectar and pollen. From about July 1 to August 1, the Sourwood trees were flowering, providing nectar. Since then, I have spotted honey bees on field and garden flowers.

Honey Bee on Knapweed (Brown?)

In late July, I photographed honey bees on this knapweed which covered a pasture in a nearby county. I had been pulling up this alien plant where I have found it so now I am rethinking that because this plant seems to provide a good source of nectar and pollen. After my bee sighting, I went up to our pasture (about 3 years since it has been brushhogged). It took awhile but I did find a few honey bees on the knapweed but not on the brown-eyed susans and Queen-Anne's Lace that were also there.

In nearby Blacksburg, I saw honey bees on Russian Sage (and earlier in the summer on lavender) which prompted me to buy a couple of the Russian sage plants at the local Home Depot. While I was there, I noticed honey bees on purple coneflower, yellow jackets on penta flowers, and flies on another flowering plant. It's wierd that the bees have changed the way I garden. I think about what my bees might like to have!

In front of my dog vet's office, I saw honey bees on an unfamiliar shrub while they seemed to ignore all the other flowers in his great garden. When I went back to pick up my dog, the vet handed me two pots with cuttings from the shrub and the name: Blue Mist BlueBeard.

Blue Mist Bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonensis)

This shrub also is not native but does not look like it is invasive either so I think I can plant it in my yard. Now that the weather is finally sunny and not so hot today, I will go out and look for more honey bees.