Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bees' Knees (Corrected)

Honey Bee on Glory-of-the-Snow (March 22, 2009)

Since I posted this yesterday, I have received replies from several entomologists so I corrected this post. First, the yellow bee is actually a fly! Feral colonies of honey bees can exist in this area.

I have paid more attention to bees lately because this year I am becoming a beekeeper! When I was researching about honey bees, I wanted to find out whether the honey bee, essentially an alien, would harm the wild bees, that is replace them. Since honey bees have been with us since colonial times, it's not surprising that I didn't find out much about this issue online.

Bumble Bee (July, 2008)
So, I have been watching my favorite, the Bumble Bee, to see if my new colony of 12,000 bees arriving this Friday, April 3 would interfere with it. For a week, I have observed bumble and honey bees foraging together on my Glory-of-the-Snow tiny blue flowers. Besides these two bees, I saw two other types, both smaller than the honey bee. Even the wasps were getting along with the bees.

On this photo, you can see how the honey bee carries pollen in a pouch on his legs (or knees? Ha!) while she sucks the nectar. Both foods will be carried back to the hive.

I also inquired about where those honey bees might have come from because I understand they don't usually forage more than a mile from their hive. Honey bees can survive in the wild in our winter, especially if they find a good hollow tree, their natural nest. I since learned that a couple of farmers keep hives about 2 miles away.

Dung Fly (Scathophaga stercoraria)

My interest piqued, I went up in our back pasture looking for more bees. Instead, I found this Dung Fly feeding on cow manure.

Luckily no one saw me on my hands and knees over the cow manure (thankfully not fresh), studying these flies.

Spring Azure Butterfly in flight

While I was up in the pasture on March 22, I saw my first Spring Azure butterfly. You can only see the beautiful blue azure color as they fly. When they land, they keep their wings up and the undersides are a dull gray. I tried to capture the beautiful blue azure color but I guess my shutter speed wasn't fast enough. In a way, the photo's a lot like what you experience when you see them fly--a flash of blue.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring in the Virginia Woods

In the late morning yesterday, I sat outside on our back deck reading the newspaper, happy it was warm enough to do so. The birds were singing and the woodpeckers pecking up a storm. I put my paper down and closed my eyes, listening and identifying the bird sounds but then stopped, just enjoying the symphony. I then thought about their location--first the cardinals at 12:00, then the chickadees up close in a bush, the tufted titmouses at 10:00, the juncoes and white breasted sparrows on the ground, and the finches everywhere with their lovely songs. In the background, adding the percussion sounds, were all the drumming woodpeckers: the red bellied, downy, and sapsucker.

Then suddenly as if on cue, I heard the unmistakable loud drumming of the pileated woodpecker and then his call which sounds like a tropical bird.

Northern Flicker (March 24, 2009)

Just about that time, I saw a Northern Flicker, another very large woodpecker looking for insects on the ground and then hopping onto this tree so I could catch him with my camera.

You won't believe it but just as I was the writing this post, the Pileated Woodpecker was on a tree outside my window. I grabbed the camera and took this photo---liveblogging spring!

March 24, 2009

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest we have, about the size of a crow, 16.5 inches long with a 29" wing span. It requires very mature forests so it is vulnerable to development but seems to be thriving on our land.

The Pileated Woodpecker is the inspiration for Woody the Woodpecker character in the cartoon (if you knew that, you are probably as old as me).

Other unmistakable signs of spring are the butterflies. The tiny spring azure and white sulphur butterlifes emerged from cocoons on Sunday and were flying along with the mourning cloak and anglewing butterflies that emerged from hibernation a week ago.

Spring Beauty (March 22, 2009)

On Sunday, I also saw the first native wildflower, Spring Beauty. I spotted it only because I was bent over pulling out the multi-flora rose (a much maligned alien shrub). You can see from my photo how small it is and so easily overlooked.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Phoebe vs. Wren

Eastern Phoebe (March 13, 2009)

It happens every year! The Eastern Phoebe, a common flycatcher bird, returns to our yard in late February.

Carolina Wren (June, 2007)
A few weeks later, he harasses the Carolina Wrens from the front porch where they have been sleeping peacefully at night in a clay birdhouse. The wrens leave the birdhouse in the morning. When they come back to check out all 3 birdhouses on the porch for a possible nest, the phoebe chases them away. I start hearing his constant "fee-bee" call over and over ad nauseum.

Here he is, looking at me taking the photo, saying "You can't stop me." It's really no contest because the 7" long phoebe with a 11" wingspan is much larger than the small 5-1/2" wren.

So, the Carolina Wren's first nest is usually elsewhere. This year, I had propped up a bluebird house in the shed but didn't get around to putting it up back on our pasture. The wrens made a nest behind it so I will leave it until they leave the nest. It's too late to put up the bluebird house anyway.

The Eastern Phoebe has staked out the area in front of the porch where he perches on a branch, flipping his tail up and down and then diving for insects which he catches on the fly (hence the term flycatcher). Funny thing he has never made a nest on the front porch, usually it's under the second story eave on the south side of the house (the north side being taken by the bathouse).

By June, the wrens usually return to our porch to raise their young, the phoebe having calmed down by then. I guess you figured out which bird I prefer on my front porch!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Second Butterfly--Anglewing

I went on another walk on Sunday to see if I could get a glimpse of the Mourning Cloak I saw yesterday (previous post). Sure enough, the butterfly was in the same area, this time on a large Sugar Maple tree. The tree was oozing sap from the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker holes all over the tree. The butterfly quickly flew away before I could get a shot.

To the left of the Sugar Maple on the ground, I spotted my second butterfly of spring--an Anglewing:

Anglewing (March 8, 2009)

I tried to get a better shot but the butterfly flew away. I'm not sure of the precise species, maybe comma or hoary anglewing. This group of butterflies hibernates in tree holes or cracks, and lives in the woods as adults. The guide stated that the anglewing eats sap so he might have been on the tree as well.

The beetle Firefly Mimic (Rhaxonycha carolinus) pictured above was feeding on the maple sap along with many flies.

Who knew the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker would provide so much food for this many insects?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

First Butterfly--Mourning Cloak

About a week ago, I hurt my back splitting wood so I haven't gotten out like I should. The temperature rose to 80 this afternoon so I couldn't resist going for a walk in the woods. I walked so slowly, my dog Kookie quickly got bored and ran way ahead of me. This turned out to be a blessing because I was able to see and hear more birds than usual. For example, a group of purple finches was feasting on some flowers or buds on a tree.

As I slowly made my way up the hill, I spotted my first butterfly of spring. I could see it had a beige or yellowish border on the otherwise brown wings as it was flying in the strong breeze. It finally landed on a Spicebush branch where I could get a closer look.

Mourning Cloak (March 7, 2009)

The Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antipoa, is a member of the Brushfoot Family which includes Anglewings and Tortoiseshells. At first, I thought it might have emerged from a chrysalis today because it was so warm. On the contrary, my guide reports that this butterfly, like the Monarch, migrates to the south for the wintertime. Unlike the Monarchs which winter in Mexico, not much is known about the Mourning Cloak's migration movements. So, perhaps my first spring butterfly came up from the south or had overwintered in our woods. Either way, I was happy to get a glimpse of him today.

Slow down and watch for surprises will be my new motto.