Mid-August at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

Mid-afternoon at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, August 14th. A sunny and pleasant afternoon to be looking for things to photograph for the PBase Blog. My first sighting was of the Sphex ichneumoneus, the great golden digger as it is sometimes called, nectaring on swamp milkweed. Its counterpart, the great black digger, S. pensylvanicus, is often more numerous, but both are large and impressive.

Other insects found include numerous Acutalis treehoppers, one of our smallest treehoppers, tiny little green and black insects, usually found on the stems of plants such as goldenrod. The large (for a planthopper), Acanalonia bivittata, with its distinctive shape, is easily recognized. It is bright green, with reddish eyes and a dark stripe down its back. It also comes in a vivid pink form, something I’m still hoping to see. The large swathe of Monarda fistulosa, our beautiful lilac-coloured native species, in the butterfly meadow, is alive with bees and other nectaring insects, including a hummingbird moth and a very tattered silver-spotted skipper. The big Bicyrtes sand wasp, smaller mud daubing wasps, sweat bees, leaf-cutter bees, ragweed beetles, goldenrod leaf beetles, the predatory larvae of green lacewings sometimes called aphid lions because of their propensity for feasting on aphids, pennsylvania leatherwings (soldier beetles), tiny ragweed fruit flies, and a host of other insects can be found on the abundant flowering plants around the site.

In addition to the skipper, lots of cabbage whites, a few white admirals, and several newly emerged ringlets, the second generation in our area, were also seen.

Birds are vocal and active, with broods of young following the adults, calling and begging for food. House wrens are especially vocal these days, as are catbirds and song sparrows. Robins, baltimore orioles, chipping sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, cedar waxwings, and many other birds are very noticeable right now. While our tree swallows have long gone, barn swallows can still be found swooping over the garden. Shrubs such as elderberry and tartarian honeysuckle are providing much food for birds. Diane and I watched a cedar waxwing guzzling down the fruit of the honeysuckle as if he couldn’t get enough!

It is fascinating to see how the vegetation changes from year to year. New plants appear in odd spots, others vanish. All the annuals found last year in the old field’s rototilled section, have gone, but in their place scores of the biennial evening primrose (native plant), some big scotch (or bull) thistles, much beloved by insects, especially bees, and a variety of other species. The native wild cucumber plant is sending its sprays of creamy white flowers up in various spots including in the old field area.

There are lots of photos on the August 2013 Blog here:
http://www.pbase.com/fwg/fwg_blog_aug_2013

Be sure to visit so you can also see the great photos submitted by Diane and France, who photographed a gorgeous giant swallowtail at the garden on August 15.

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August 6 at the FWG

Ruby-throated hummingbird nectaring at cardinal flowers

Ruby-throated hummingbird nectaring at cardinal flowers

by Christine Hanrahan

You can certainly see that summer is pushing on. Goldenrod is blooming, New England asters are starting to flower, evening primroses are finishing up, Solanum is fruiting, many grasses are in seed – food for wildlife is abundant. Families of catbirds, red-eyed vireos, and song sparrows are vocal and noticeable.

A green heron was calling from somewhere near the pond, a lone red-winged blackbird male flew into the cattails there, a couple of tree swallows flew over, but probably not ones who nested at the FWG, for they left a month or so ago. Chipping sparrows were seed feeding along Green Heron Way, and American goldfinches were busy with nesting duties.

In the Backyard Garden, two ruby-throated hummingbirds were zipping around the garden, chasing each other, occasionally stopping to rest in the big willow above the pond, and taking turns to nip down to the cardinal flowers to feed. They were too quick for me and I managed only one not very good shot.

Ragweed beetles (Zygogramma suturalis)

Ragweed beetles (Zygogramma suturalis)

I spent some time looking for ragweed beetles, as this is the time to find them. I’ve learned that I have more luck finding them on Bidens, if there is any growing near ragweed, as there is at the garden. I found about 8 of the elegantly black and white leaf beetles. This species was exported to Russian as a biocontrol agent for our native ragweed, which is a big problem there. Or, I should say, a potential biocontrol agent, because at least so far, they have not been a great success. Perhaps in time… And perhaps we’d have far more ragweed than we have already, if these beetles were not exerting some control. And then there is the ragweed fly whose larvae eat the seeds of ragweed, and no doubt also help control ragweed to some extent.

A hummingbird moth was nectaring on phlox in the Backyard Garden, at the same time as the real hummingbirds were feeding on cardinal flowers. Other insects of late summer include the big Sphecids, in the genus Sphex, both of which can be seen anywhere there are flowers. I took another look for the Enchenopa treehoppers (which look like thorns on branches) and found one adult, but lots of egg masses, so next summer there should be lots more of these neat little guys. I generally find them in good numbers in early July, and if you want to see them, there are photos on the July Blog and in the Treehopper gallery.

Tortoise beetle (Charidotella)

Tortoise beetle (Charidotella)

I also spent a lot of time on my hands and knees looking for tortoise beetles and found one which I initially thought was a golden tortoise beetle. However, now I am not sure, and it may be another species in the same genus. Nearby was a little larva of the same species. These critters fascinate me as they are such an odd shape, and like many other beetles, they make full use of their poop to protect themselves. In their case, they create a shield that they carry over their body, rather like an umbrella. This larva was black, unlike all others I’ve seen which have been bright green.

Speaking of bright green, I found a gorgeous little treefrog sitting on a walnut tree leaf by the pond.

Lots more photos on the blog