Here are a few specifics for doing your part for planting a pollinator-friendly garden.
*Use native plants. Research has indicated that native flowers are four times more attractive to native
bees than non-native flowers.
*Include many different flower shapes and colors.
*Bees are most attracted to blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.
*Butterflies are attracted to flowers with a wide, landing area.
*Hummingbirds need plenty of nectar, which tubular flowers have tucked back in their corolla. They are attracted to red flowers.
*Plant flowers in groups – at least 4 feet in diameter is a good rule to go by.
*Be sure there is something flowering all throughout the growing season.
*Have nectar-rich flowers. Some flowers have been bred to be just showy, with no nectar. Avoid
double-petaled and nectar-less flowers.
A list of plants that attract:
* Black-eyed Susan
* Joe-pye weed
* Purple coneflower
* Red Columbine
* Trumpet Vine
* Orange Spotted Jewelweed
* Canada Lily
* Cardinal Flower
* Trumpet Honeysuckle
* Mountain Rosebay
* Bee Balm
* Indian Pink
* Phlox (many varieties)
* Bee Balm
* Butterfly Weed
* Queen Anne’s Lace
* Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
* Verbena Bonariensis
* Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
* Butterfly Bush
* Blueberry bushes
* Bronze Fennel
* Daisy fleabane
* Common Valerian
* Black-eyed Susan
* Joe-pye Weed
Is posies the
Where wonder I
Ris’ has grass the
Sprung has spring
This is the only poem I can recite backwards and forwards. (Hint, now read it backwards.) Gotta love spring. Flowers blooming, birds singing, grass greening, buds bursting, all that. There’s a lot that happens this time of year. It happened last year too, and the year before that. Actually, spring has sprung for a very long time now.
Have you ever wondered if those chickadees are nesting the same time this year as they did 2 years ago? Is the skunk cabbage pushing its way up through the snow the same time it did 10 years ago? Is that sugar maple flowering this year near the calendar date it did 40 years ago? Naturalists like myself ask these curious questions as do scientists studying global warming trends. This study of periodic happenings, especially as they occur in nature is called phenology.
I’ve spearheaded my Naturalists’ Club in a phenology study for the past 10 years. Henry David Thoreau, in his meticulous note-taking way, documented springtime occurrences 150 years ago. Some British naturalists have listed occurrences much longer ago than that. When we note the blooming times for specific flower species this year, and compare it to when it flowered many years earlier, that’s where the intrigue begins.
Folks at Boston University did exactly that. They compared their flower blooming times from 2004-2006 to that of Henry David Thoreau’s from 1852-1858. Location, elevation, plants studied all being the same, these BU folks learned some pretty telling things:
• The mean annual temperature rose 4°F (2.4°C) over this 150 year span.
• Events like bird migration, amphibian mating, and flowering times are occurring earlier now than in the past.
• Every plant studied blooms earlier now than in HD’s time, some a full week earlier.
• Highbush blueberry now blooms 21 days earlier.
• Yellow wood sorrel blooms 32 days earlier.
• Some species’ blooming cycles are changing rapidly while others are not.
Even in my club’s meager 10 years of collecting phenology, from 2001 – 20010, I saw a trend toward earlier blooming for many plants, including:
• Wild Blue Phlox
• Foam flower
I’m not going to get all scientific on you, but hey, things are happening and nature is responding. Even us gardeners and wildflower lovers can see it. Is spring sprouting earlier these days where you are too? Get in on the action and take notice. Start a phenology of your own. A simple chart of:
is all you really need to get going.
The longer you keep track, the more valuable the information becomes. Plus, it gets you outside and noticing the beauty of spring. You can’t go wrong. In addition, you can add your data to that of many others on the National Phenology Network online. Visit here to learn more.
Look deep into my eyes. What do you see? My inner soul? True feelings? Hang on. I’m not that romantic. Let me share with you the non-existential angle of eye gazing.
My friend was curious about looking closely at the compound eye of a lacewing. She slowed him down by putting the dish he was in on a bed of snow. With the aid of a handheld digital microscope she could get a pretty close look.
A compound eye is made of of a lot – could be thousands – of individual light sensors called ommatidia. Each one, arranged on a spherical surface points in a slightly different direction, catching light from that specific angle. The resulting image is a mosaic of light and dark spots. Much like pixilation, the more ommatidia, the better resolution of the image. Grasshoppers have comparatively few ommatidia, and their images are coarser grained as compared to a honeybee or dragonfly. But, because a moving image is caught by many ommatidia in a sequence, a compound eye is great at detecting motion over a wide field of view. Some insects, like the honeybee have visual cells in the ommatidia that can detect certain colors. Bees and butterflies among others can see ultraviolet light too. These abilities help them identify nectar-rich flowers for nutrition.
Anyway, my friend and I were just fascinated with the reflective/refractive properties of our lacewing’s eyes. A regular rainbow of color. I hope you like gazing into his eye.
I have plenty of good company this winter when I say I have mountains of snow outside my house. Literally, mountains! It has been difficult to go or do anything without considering the snow. My love/hate relationship is determined on whether I’m going snowshoeing or driving. In any case, I sat down and got to know snow intimately.
The molecular structure of any mineral dictates its crystalline form. Snowflakes are made of water vapor, H2O, where two hydrogen atoms are bonded to an oxygen atom. Under the right conditions, these water vapor molecules bond together, aligning themselves into hexagonal groupings upon which more water vapor builds.
“No two are exactly alike.” Have you heard that saying about snowflakes? Snowflakes form in a cloud, an environment of water vapor. There are varying conditions of humidity and temperatures and air currents and even dirt and dusts particles throughout the cloud. The hexagonal plate that every snowflake starts out as, tumbles through the cloud, attracting more water vapor that adds to each of the 6 arms or perhaps melting a bit before growing again. Since each snowflake encounters slightly different conditions in the cloud, vapor crystallization varies for each one, making it improbable that any two would be identical.
Temperature has everything to do with the form snow takes. Really cold temperatures produce intricately branched flakes, a condition found typically in very high clouds. Under warmer conditions, snowflakes grow more slowly and have a smoother, less branched look. Mid and low level clouds therefore produce 6-sided needles and flat hexagons and other shapes. Of course if snow melts and becomes rain as it descends to earth, we could have something completely different. Sleet is frozen rain that falls as icy pellets. Freezing rain is supercooled water droplets that forms ice upon impact. Graupel is light, fragile snowy pellets formed when supercooled water droplets condense onto snowflakes.
So, the next time it snows, don’t dismay. Take a minute to closely examine the intricately formed flake on the sleeve of your jacket. That snowflake has gone through a lot to get to you.
The white blanket muffles distant sounds. Serenity embraces me. This new 19 inches of snow creates a winter wonderland that I love to be a part of.
Eastern hemlock, white pine, mountain laurel and rhododendron sporting dollops of snow on evergreen leaves make for a white, green and brown landscape. But wait, there’s splashes of orange here. Not all deciduous trees stand stark naked. There are misfits about. Orange leaves still cling to branches of young beech. What’s with this?
I crumple a handful of lifeless American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) leaves, but they don’t crumble into pieces. They are dry, yet springy. This is one reason why resourceful early settlers collected these leaves and stuffed their mattresses with them. I can see how they would be so much better than straw that would compress.
This retaining of dead leaves or other plant parts, is called marcescence. I’ve found it on oaks (Quercus) and witch hazel (Hamamelis) too. Why would a tree hang onto its leaves all through the winter? A couple theories are bantered about.
It’s primarily the young trees that clutch determinedly to their dead photosynthetic factories. They are the ones whose branches are within reach of browsing deer and moose. These large herbivores are seeking succulent buds and twigs for nourishment in the winter. The dry parchment-like, leaves perhaps act as unpalatable deterrents and help the young trees retain their branches.
Perhaps too, water retention or temperature control may play a part. Evolutionarily speaking, perhaps the beech and oaks have not yet mastered being deciduous yet. Maybe these youngsters retain some fragment of a time when losing leaves for the dry part of the year had not yet become a necessity, and it is advantageous for them to retain leaves when young.
Fact is, nobody really knows the reason for marcescence. We do know how it occurs. The abscission layer, separating a leaf and its twig, is formed in autumn. This shuts the leaf off from its supplies, causing it to drop. The abscission layer is not fully formed with marcescent leaves. Why, isn’t known. I just know it is nice to have a mystery afoot to keep curiosity alive on a winter hike through the woods.
Watching birds in the winter can be an unending source of entertainment. There are so many insights you can gain by simply observing with a sense of curiosity. Try these birding activities and you’ll be hooked.
What’s the pecking order?
Black-capped chickadees are common visitors to northern bird feeders. In the winter, they form loose flocks of 4 to12 individuals and cover a territory of 24 acres or more. This winter flock has a distinct social order.
Try to determine who has more social standing. If a chickadee is at the feeder and another arrives, what happens? Does the newcomer alight nearby and move in only after the first has departed? The newcomer has less social standing in this case. Or does the newcomer swoop in and displace the other at the feeder? This newcomer is ranked higher in the social order of the flock.
Where did it Go?
Chickadees, nuthatches and titmice all cache seeds under bark or in lichen for later retrieval.
Watch a bird after it has picked a seed from your feeder. Does it eat the seed right away? Does it take the seed and cache it somewhere? How many hiding places can you identify? What kinds of trees to they tuck the seeds into?
Male or Female?
White-breasted nuthatches join foraging flocks of chickadees and titmice in winter as they can watch out for predators and find food more effectively together. Nuthatches get their name from their habit of taking acorns and other seeds and wedging them into tree bark crevices to hold them while they hammer or “hatch” the nutmeat out. They also store seeds under bark for later consumption.
If a white-breasted nuthatch moves in on another that is feeding, does the first move away or stand its ground? If it moves away, chances are it is a female, as males tend to displace them at feeding stations.
Train Birds to Come to You
Do you have a leftover scarecrow from Halloween? If you have some straw and some old clothes, it may be worth your while to make one. Perhaps just laying a mitten on the railing will do. Experiment with “your” birds.
Take the scarecrow and set it on a chair or bench by your feeder with sunflower seeds, or pieces of nutmeat from peanuts, walnuts, cashews or pecans in its mitten or on the hat. After a few days, curious (and hungry) titmice and chickadees will soon get used to it and come pick the food right off. When the birds have no fear of the stranger anymore and realize it is a ready source of food, remove the scarecrow and replace it with yourself. Put the shirt, hat and mittens on and sit quietly with food in your hand right where the scarecrow sat. Soon, birds will be coming over to eat from your hand.
Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count
For a more intense winter bird activity, get involved in the Christmas Bird Count. This bird census organized by the Audubon Society helps us keep track of bird populations and therefore influence conservation efforts. For some spirited competition grab your binoculars, bird guides, and fellow birders, leave the comfort of your home and chock up as many birds as you can within a 15-mile radius in a 24-hour period. Dates are from December 14th through January 5th, so the census period has already begun. Go here http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count for more information.
Make up your own winter birding activities and let me know your winter bird games. There is so much fun to be had right outside that window.
AllAboutBirds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Do internet searches frustrate you? The first-ranked result just doesn’t give you enough of what you want. Your second choice isn’t as in-depth as what you were hoping for. The next possibility gets you the same information and more advertising. Back and forth you go, to no avail. The real meat of your question eludes you.
NaturePods has been offering a solution to the dilemma of in-depth nature-based information for two years. Today we announce a new partnership that provides this tremendous benefit to hikers.
NaturePods has teamed up with EveryTrail to offer detailed stories and insights for hiking trails across the nation. EveryTrail provides apps for your iPhone or Android of trail descriptions across the globe. Hikes include digital maps, photos of scenes and waypoints, descriptions of the trail, and now, NaturePods is one of the first to also provide audio and video guides. Not only can these guides help you plan hikes to places you’ve never been, but you can also contribute and share your hikes through EveryTrail.
A NaturePod EveryTrail Guide combines that digital map with a selection of our videos. As you hike with your phone by your side, your phone will notify you as you approach specific waypoints. A quick push of a button, and you’re listening to expert insight on the scene before you.
NaturePods has already produced 4 guides for EveryTrail.
The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park:
To understand the geology and get the most out of your views, download this challenging signature hike. Perhaps you might even catch a glimpse of a peregrine falcon. Your NaturePods EveryTrail Guide will give you the background story of how the National Park Service has brought this magnificent bird back from the brink of extinction.
This hike will take you to one of President Thomas Jefferson’s favorite places. Along the way learn about the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in developing the park by building roads, trails, and planting thousands of trees. You will be delighted to learn the reason for Mountain Laurel’s complicated flower structure when you see these blossoms by the millions in summer. Winding your way off the ridge, you will become enchanted by this dynamic forest and its residents, from endangered salamanders to black bears.
Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park
Download this guide to explore the depth of the canyon. As one of NaturePod’s satisfied customers once told us, “your guides can make you an instant expert.” Along this scenic and challenging trail, you’ll stop to explore the wildlife of the canyon and the history of some its most wild pioneers.
Check out this guide for a hike in Cades Cove. You’ll enjoy videos covering geology, human history, and the ever-popular black bears of Cades Cove, allowing you to experience the Cove as it is today and as it once was.
As a co-author to the Hiking Trails of the Smokies, and an avid hiker, I know the importance of a good map, trail profile, and accurate description. EveryTrail offers all this plus interpretation and actual trail photos in the convenience of your own pocket device. A paper trail guide would never be able to include all these features and still be portable.
EveryTrail offers these NaturePod Trail Guides for just $1.99 each; a small price for the expertise to enrich your hiking experience. Why not get a few for the hiker on your holiday list? Watch for more guides here.
You’ll be missing lots of adventures if you hide inside this winter. New escapades are available for visitors to many national parks in the winter. If you enjoy winter sports, there are parks for that. If you want to escape the winter, there are parks for that too. Here is a sampling.
Death Valley National Park is open year-round, but most visitors avoid the fiercely hot summer months and schedule a visit in the milder winter. The 61st annual Death Valley ‘49ers Encampment is the unofficial season kick-off and a big crowd-pleaser with activities like a pioneer costume contest, wagon train parade, western-style music, craft show, and much more. It just took place November 10-14. With average August highs around 115 and January highs in the 60’s, winter is the time to hike, camp, explore and enjoy the Mojave desert environment.
Big Bend National Park encompases the Chisos mountains to Chihuahuan desert, so depending on where you go, winter temperatures range greatly. Generally, winter is the dry season, but storms can blow in suddenly with snow or cold rain. November to April is the popular season, peaking in March and April. Because of this diversity and latitude, birding any time of year here is fantastic. Over 450 bird species have been recorded. Hiking and camping and all sorts of activities are great here in the winter.
Grand Canyon National Park is also open for various winter activities. November 28th marks the seasonal close of the visitor center, campground, roads, and services at the North Rim, however primitive group campsites are still available to hikers and cross-country skiers with a backcountry permit. The South Rim’s amenities stay open year-round.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park reveals even more vistas in the winter when deciduous leaves are absent. The summer crowds are gone and locals enjoy this time of year most in the park where solitude is easy to find. Clingman’s Dome Road closes to vehicular traffic in winter, and becomes available to cross-country skiers or hikers. Periodic closures of other roads, especially Newfound Gap road is likely to occur due to snowy or icy conditions.
Acadia National Park offers a playground for winter enthusiasts. If you are looking for scenic drives in your car, better come in summer. Most of the Park Loop Road is closed to car traffic in winter, except two short sections. Sargaent Drive and Route 102A are also available to cars and take you to some scenic views.
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing – The forty-five miles of carriage roads and the unplowed park roads provide fantastic opportunity for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Be aware that snowmobilers can also use the Park Loop Road.
Snowmobiling is permissible on the 27-mile Park Loop Road as well as the road up Cadillac Mountain. The carriage roads are for the skiers and snowshoers, with the exception of two miles as connector trails only.
Winter Camping – Blackwoods Campground is available for primitive winter camping from December 1 to March 31. A camping permit is required.
Winter hiking, ice fishing and even dog sledding and skijoring are winter sports enjoyed by Acadia visitors in the winter.
Shenandoah National Park is always open. Now when the deciduous leaves don’t obscure vistas and the cool temperatures improve visibility, it is a great time for some hiking and backcountry winter camping. That said, December through March you’ll find services such as lodging, food services, campgrounds, and visitor centers closed. Four picnic grounds: Elk Wallow, Dundo, Pinnacle and South River are open year-round. Inclement weather will occasionally close portions of Skyline Drive, which is normally open 24 hours a day. Even so, you can still enter the park on foot. Skyline Drive is also closed dusk to dawn mid-November to early January due to deer hunting season.
Don’t let winter close you inside. Your parks are still there awaiting your visit.
And, remember to download your NaturePod before you go. Northern parks with winter closures don’t have ranger programs available, so you’ll want to get the scoop from your own iPod or iPhone.
Would you like to know what food to provide in your yard to attract your favorite birds? Mix and match the following types of winter birdfeed to attract, or deter, birds and other animals to your feeding stations.
In short, sunflower seed is the most versatile; stay away from fillers such as red or golden millet.
Grosbeaks, Nuthatches, Tufted titmouse, Chickadee, Cardinal Goldfinch, House finch, Purple finch, Mourning dove, Pine siskin, Junco, Woodpeckers
Cardinal, Chickadee, Grosbeaks, Mourning dove, Native sparrows, Tufted titmouse, Purple finch
Fortunately, some of our less desired species such as house sparrow, European starling, and squirrel don’t like safflower seed, but recently, some have acquired a taste for it.
This small seed is a favorite for ground feeding birds such as Mourning Dove, Native American sparrows, Quail, Towhee, Junco, Cardinal, Indigo bunting. Unfortunately, it is also enjoyed by the Cowbird, Blackbirds and House sparrow.
Grouse, Pheasant, Turkey, Quai,l Cardinal, Grosbeaks, Crow, Raven, Jay, Dove, Ducks
Unfortunately corn is also eaten by house sparrows, cowbirds, starlings, geese, bears, raccoons, deer and more. Corn can easily harbor aflatoxins, which are naturally occurring toxins produced by a fungus affecting a variety of crops. It is harmful even in low doses. Therefore, don’t let the corn get wet. Put out only enough that can be eaten in a day in wet or humid conditions and rake up old corn.
Jay, Crow, Chickadee, Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse, Nuthatches
This high fat food is also a favorite of squirrels, bears, raccoons, and others that you don’t want to supplement with feed. Keep peanuts dry as they also may contain aflatoxins and put out only that which can be eaten within the day.
Quails, Mourning dove, Goldfinch, House finch, Purple finch, Juncos
Goldfinch, House finch, Purple finch, Indigo bunting, Mourning Dove, Dark-eyed junco, Pine siskin
Chickadee, Nuthatches, Tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, Woodpeckers
A favorite of insect-eating birds such as:
Bluebirds, Flickers, Woodpeckers
Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Bluebird
Red millet, Golden millet, or Flax. These are fillers. None of our birds prefer them, and in fact discard them for more preferable seed. If left on the ground they get moldy and harbor disease-producing organisms such as fungi and bacteria.
Get a new hobby by joining Project FeederWatch, a bird counting program through Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Count birds that come to your feeder or water source November to April. Novice to expert bird watchers can participate. Its not too late to sign up. Go to Project FeederWatch for more information and to sign up.
Go now. Drive along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Seldom a better fall show than one experienced there. Red maples, sugar maples, hickories, ashes, and more deciduous trees contribute to the collage of fall colors. But in this park, the tulip trees have a unique story.
In a survey done in Shenandoah in 1940, there were no tulip tree groves to be found. By 1990, tulip trees covered sixteen percent of the park.
Tulip trees, or yellow poplars as they are sometimes called, grow in moist sites. They are tall straight trees that have whitish bark. In late spring they blossom with large orange and yellow tulip-shaped flowers. They are not tulips at all but actually part of the magnolia family. They are frequently found in uniform stands. Because of their fast growth rate they shade out many other plants. Morel mushrooms and puttyroot orchid are some of the few understory life forms found in tulip tree groves.
Tulip trees are a “gap” species. This means that they can sit in the understory of a forest and grow very slowly until they get more sunlight. When an opportunity that allows enough sunlight to reach the forest floor occurs, they take advantage of it and speed up their growth rate. Events that open up the forest floor to sunlight would include a tornado, storm, fire, or human activity like lumbering. Tulip trees are often found in old home sites, along forest edges or former orchards.
One tulip tree grove is found at mile marker 8 in the northern section of the park. In the fall, the filigreed canopy of bright yellow leaves attract an abundance of leaf watchers especially in the evening when the sunlight streams through and highlights the leaves like golden Christmas ornaments.
(by Ann and Rob Simpson, excerpted with modification, from Shenandoah NaturePod)
Copyright © 2009. NaturePods. All Rights Reserved.