BEE a Naturalist
September 20, 2023
Coming on September 23 . . . the Autumn Equinox!
I love recognizing and celebrating the change of seasons. If fact, I keep track of each passing day of each season. This year, the official start of Fall, likewise known as Autumn, is September 23. You might recall that the start of summer is called a "solstice." The summer and winter solstices record the longest day of sunlight (start of summer) and the shortest (start of winter). However, the spring and fall equinoxes record those days when the daylight is equal in length of time to the night. "Equinox," then, is a word that means "equal."
Fall is know for falling leaves, cooler days, and when plants release their seeds to hopefully germinate in the spring to begin a new cycle of life and growth. So let's use this opportunity to check in on the milkweed and monarch situation in my garden.
To the point: Not one monarch chose to lay her eggs on the milkweed plants in my garden. How unfortunate given my high expectations. You see, last year at this time, there were four fat monarch caterpillars on only FOUR milkweed plants. This year, I had more than forty milkweed plants but not a single egg.
I wonder if the severe heat and lack of rain discouraged monarchs. It took some effort to keep these plants alive. And Monarch eggs are also susceptible to extreme heat and harsh conditions.
But there is a happy side to this story. When the milkweed was in bloom, the blossoms provided lots of nectar and many different bees and pollinators had a huge feast during those heady days in early summer.
Also, as you can see from the image provided, the pods of my milkweed plants are popping open to release their seeds on white, fluffy "floss," silken strains that help carry the seeds in the wind. And you know what that means--more milkweed plants next years!
For an excellent look into milkweed and the pollinators it feeds, check out this
article at The Prairie Ecologist:
August 14, 2023
Monarch/Milkweed Update: No Eggs Yet
On June 4, 2023, I last updated you on my "Monarch Watch." At that time, the milkweed, a monarch butterfly's host plant, was just about to bloom. Since then it has bloomed and produced its seed pods, which will eventually ripen and split open to release seeds. Currently these seedpods are still mostly green and tightly closed. See them at the top of the photo to the right. And below see a closeup view.
Though I check the back of many leaves each day, I've yet to locate an egg. That doesn't mean, however, I've given up. Monarchs typically lay eggs in this area of the country in July and August but can do so even later the farther south you go. So be assured. I'll let you know immediately when I spot the first egg! Until then . . .
My current interest however is not with the seedpods but with the leaves of the milkweed, because the monarch will lay its eggs on the back of these leaves. These eggs then will hatch into the tiniest of caterpillars, which will grow in stages known an "instars." Read more about his process here
June 21, 2023
Welcome to the Summer Solstice!
Let's begin our photo tour on Marsh Creek . . .
We can measure the Earth's annual orbit around the sun by noting four special days in the year:
Summer Solstice: The longest day of the year, that is, the day with the most hours of daylight.
Fall Equinox: When daylight hours are equal in length to the night (after sunset).
Winter Solstice: The shortest day of the year, that is, the day with the least hours of daylight.
Spring Equinox: Again . . . when daylight hours equal nighttime hours. (See my post earlier this year on the Spring Equinox on March 20, 2023 ... to be exact).
These changes in the length of daylight are caused by the Earth's axis, which tilts. On the Summer Solstice, the Earth tilts in toward the sun whereas on the Winter Solstice, it tilts away from the sun.
To celebrate this day, the first official day of summer, enjoy some photos taken on recent creek "walks" with the dogs on Marsh Creek here in Gettysburg, Pennslyvania.
Now let's add a couple of dogs . . . Rosie, the lab, and Henry, the border collie/pointer mix.
I think we should relieve the tension with a nice water turtle, a slider, though I can't tell the species by this photo.
Let's add one snake for a bit of drama. Sorry, I don't know the species.
And we'll conclude this tour with my constant friend on the creek, a Great-blue Heron. I see one on almost every visit!
I also saw (but could not photograph) a curious and LARGE crayfish who jutted out from beneath a rock under the water by my feet! And of course I heard and saw many, many birds . . . but again no additional photos. Here's wishing you a wonderful summer of natural discoveries where ever you live in the world.
June 4, 2023
Monarch and Milkweed Update
On Earth Day, I wrote about the milkweed plants I was growing to help the Monarch Butterfly. Read about it directly below. In that post, I promised to update you through the summer on my efforts to provide habitat for the Monarch to reproduce and to feed on the nectar of flowers.
Last time, I provided a photo of a young milkweed plant (it's Latin name is Asclepius), maybe six inches tall. Now these plants are between three and four feet tall! Here is a photo of one with closed clusters of flowers preparing to bloom in upcoming days or weeks.
I've checked the leaves of these plants for signs of the eggs deposited by the Monarch but haven't found any as yet . . . but keep tuned! In this area, Monarchs lay their anywhere between June and August. Come back soon for my next update!
Earth Day: April 22, 2023
Tomorrow is Earth Day, a day when we assist Mother Earth and all her children. Of course, you don't want to limit your relationship with our Earth to just one day--you want to live every day keeping in mind what's best for you and her and her children--all the animals (including insects) and plants. Too, we want to keep her waters and skies clean. People like to pollute, but we can't do it any longer.
One way people pollute is through the use of pesticides and herbicides to kills insect "pests" and "weeds." As a nation we pour about one BILLION pounds of poison into our earth and waters each year for this reason. Of course there are many natural alternatives, but people are used to buying poison and don't think otherwise.
Unfortunately, these poisons are also killing butterflies, bees, and other pollinators that we depend upon to grow our fruits, vegetables, and flowers. That's why it's important to help pollinators by planting what they need to thrive. For instance, the Monarch Butterfly depends upon milkweed to reproduce. (See my September 9, 2022 posting below). Monarchs lay their eggs on the bottom side of its leaves. From these eggs, tiny caterpillars hatch by eating away their fragile shells. Then they feed on the leaves of the milkweed to grow big and strong. What happens next? After about two weeks, these caterpillars create cocoons within which they will metamorphose into butterflies! Come back to watch the process with me.
Above is a group of young milkweed plants growing at the base of one of last year's woody stem. To get help monarchs thrive, you must first supply what they need: milkweed. I've some 25 milkweed plants which have sprouted from the seeds of last years plants. I'll share the journey with you. Until then, check out this Jefferson Lab youtube video of a hatching Monarch butterfly!
March 20, 2023
Today is March 20, 2023, the first day of spring! Spring is my favorite season of the year, and so I'm super excited. Today marks one of four important times in the yearly cycle: the Spring Equinox, also known as the Vernal Equinox ("vernal" means spring). And "equinox," of course, means "equal."
On the Spring Equinox, daytime is equal to the nighttime, about 12 hours each. For instance, here in Pennsylvania, the sunrise was at 7:04 am and will set at 7:22 pm. (By the way, the three other important times are the Fall Equinox, the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year) and the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year). But my favorite season is SPRING!
In spring, migrating birds return to their breeding grounds. That means many different birds will return from their warmer wintering grounds in the south to return here to Pennsylvania to breed. The same as in your state.
Now the Red-headed Woodpecker, shown above, is a year-round resident here in Adams County and in many other counties as well, though in more northern ones he/she merely migrates through the state. (I took this photo yesterday through my kitchen window.) However, other birds in my yard yesterday were migrants returning from places south (even if not far south) to breed in Adams County, for instance, the Red-winged Blackbird. These blackbirds disappear from our county in the fall and return early in the spring. And, yet, just a few counties east of here, the red-wing is a year-round resident. I keep "tabs" on the birds who live here in Adams County year-round, who come here only to breed, or who migrate through at the web site sponsored by the Pennsylvania Society of Ornithology.
Your state also has an ornithological society. Search for it one the web to learn about the "comings and goings" of birds in your state. And enjoy this wondrous season!
The Great Backyard Bird Count February 17 - 20, 2023
Are birds visiting your backyard right this minute? Don't know? Why not peer out your kitchen or living room window to see? Better yet, if the weather permits, go outside for a bit and find a quiet place to sit and observe the activity in your backyard.
On the right is a fellow I bet you recognize--a Northern Cardinal. Sorry the image is blurry, but you can still see his ''rad" crest--ha! I took this image at about 1:00 pm EST on February 17. I'm also participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count or GBBC.
Here's another visitor to my backyard (among many others), an American Goldfinch!
The GBBC is an annual event whereby people like you and me all over the world help scientist understand the current status of bird species and populations. All we need to do is select a location, our backyard or a nearby park or wherever, and record what birds we see in 15 minutes (or more). This is vital information if we're to help birds of all kinds to thrive. And you don't have to be a 'birder" to participate.
Learn more about the count and how to submit your list at the GBBC web site
January 8, 2023
Happy New Year 2023!
While most people see the start of the New Year as the season of winter (which it is), I see only the season of spring so tantalizingly close! In fact, yesterday I was out turning turf and prepping a flower bed for Columbine or Aquilegia canadensis, a herbaceous perennial native to woodlands of North America.
This is a Public Domain image provided through Wikimedia.
It's important to grow plants that are native to your region and local habitat because pollinators and other local animal species are adapted to these specific food sources. For instance, not all flowers are food sources for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, only specific ones, those that have evolved within the same region and habitat. So, when planting a garden, always think NATIVE.
Bees and hummingbirds enjoy this native plant that in Pennsylvania blooms in April and June.
Come back again to see how this and other gardens in my yard progress throughout the growing season!