Monday, July 27, 2015

The Milk Thief

The origin of the word butterfly is not clear. Since the term is pre-8th century we have little to go on. Some people like to think it came from a turn on the words 'flutter by', but that is most likely not the origin. 

Our version comes from the Anglo-Saxon word 'butterfloege' (butere and fleoge) and some guess that a common yellow butterfly was the reason for this name as it reminded them of butter flying.  In Russian they are called 'little soul' and the Ancient Greeks call them 'Psyche' which also means soul. 

Some think the name came from butterfly droppings which are a yellow drop.  One folktale is that witches took the shape of butterflies to steal milk and butter when they came into the house.   Whatever, we do know that their name does not really reflect their beauty or fancy or mysterious metamorphosis each summer.

(Still waiting for that rare Monarch.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Addictive Attractions

My volunteer sunflowers are proving to be an addictive attraction for the goldfinch that I rarely see during the summer months.  One would think that with their bright yellow neon glow an observer would see more than the odd yellow leaf falling in the forest.  Yet I rarely see the goldfinch in summer months, and I have a number of year-round of this species.  (All photos taken through a window, so they are not as sharp as those from a good bird photographer.)

As I sit in the living room with my laptop, or reading or watching TV these little flecks of gold frequently catch my eye as they dart across the windows to the deck.

The mom, dad and a few little ones spend mornings, afternoons and early evenings at the sunflower heads.  They destroy the flowers ever so slowly.  It seems that the sunflower seeds ripen from the outside rows toward the center rather than all at once.  These finch pick and pull at the center and even grab a yellow petal and toss it to the deck floor if it is is in their way.  Since the sunflowers are in pots, they often wilt early with their huge root systems and I have to go outside and water and when I do, a flurry of yellow zips across the air into the dark green oaks trees in my back yard.

I watch a mother feed herself and then fight with a young(?) male when he thinks it is time for her to give him one of the seeds.  He grabs the shell held in her mouth and she shakes hard and he must release and then falls almost to the ground as she scolds him. 


At first I thought this was a young male in the photos below, but I researched and found they do not get full breeding colors until the second season, and since goldfinch molt twice a year, this might be just an adult male in molt.  He still looks very young!

He does seem babyish with all his tufts and soft head!  Such a cutie.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Keeping a Sunny Disposition

Every year with optimism and forgetfulness I plant sunflowers.  Sunflowers are not to be grown on a whim.  They take up lots of room, shade plants, and suck up water like a sponge.  Have you ever seen a sunflower root?  Some root balls are the size of huge platters.  Yet, these sunny plants are easy to germinate from seed, come in many varieties, and this year, I even got a few volunteers that fell into pots on my deck from seeds that I had the fed birds over the winter.

Now a caution.  My sunflowers rarely get even a foot high before they are eaten by groundhogs and bunnies.  Groundhogs eat them back to the stem on a summer's eve.  Bunnies sample leaves over several days until just the stalk is left.  So, I have learned to plant them in pots on my deck, and this year, my husband generously gave me some space in the vegetable garden which is behind a wire fence.  The sunflower behind his head is actually a foot taller now and not yet in bloom like the one next to it!

Below are sunflowers on my deck.  This summer there has been LOTS of rain and I have had a reprieve from having to water these beauties almost every day on normal summer days.

I have also learned that seeds from these flowers ripen at an uneven pace and the goldfinch show up and eat about a half dozen each day...even from flowers still in bloom.

He comes each day and visits and waits patiently for the crop to come in picking here and there on an outside row while watching my shadow against the window.

Now, for a tidbit of folk wisdom.  "Sleeping with a sunflower under your pillow will permit you to know the truth of any matter."

Putting this under your pillow might interfere with a good night's sleep!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Burnt Sienna

Burnt sugar spice
Warm smooth sienna 
Pulled molasses taffy 
Reveals that inner glow 
Copper colored wings 
Release the stillness 
On the smothered air 

Moving the sweet
Smokey smell
Of tangerine fog
Against another eternity
While the universe
Waits for the embers
To tarnish black
Or just melt
Into another
Shade of brown

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Written on June 30

It is hard to sleep.  Barefoot, I cross the wet grass on a late June night and see an almost full moon ahead of me just above the silhouette of the trees.  It hangs like a giant milky pearl just above the Eastern horizon chasing the sun which is long gone from the ink black sky.  The night is very still and almost quiet.  Even the frogs seem to be at rest.  It is as if all life on the planet is waiting and watching and anticipating, while the fireflies continue to dance at their ball 30 feet in the air only distracted by their own glow.

I have come to watch that bigger race/dance between Venus and Jupiter, the two largest planets in our solar system, because on this night they will hang side by side like best friends or the winner and runner up in a beauty contest.  Side by side, they glow and twinkle as if they were stars and not planets.  Eventually they will hug and kiss cheeks and then cross paths on their separate destinies and vastly different orbits.

I have read that this conjunction in their paths will not happen again for over two decades, and since I will, most likely, miss this space race another time,I am enthralled to see it tonight.  I wave back like a foolish fan.

As I turn to head back inside I see the white phlox glowing in the moonlight on the planet earth, and I pause to inhale her exotic fragrance and wonder if she is as amazed as I at this race that has gone on for millions and millions of years and seen by so much other life on this planet.

Friday, July 10, 2015


Little by little we have had a break in the rains and the butterflies are starting to show!  Greatly fewer than last year.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


While our garden raspberries and blackberries are done in their production and while we have harvested enough to produce a dozen pints of freezer jam as well as plenty to eat...the wild wineberries are now producing in abundance. 

These are named Rubus phoenicolasius, meaning “raspberry with purple hairs.”  Native to eastern Asia, the plant was introduced into eastern America in the late 1800s as breeding stock for new raspberry varieties. It is still used today in the detection of viruses harmful to other raspberry plants.  It is really an invasive in my area as it covers large areas at the edge of our woods crowding out other native plants. The berries, while smaller than the hybrids, are very sweet and juicy this year, due to our 13 inches of rain this month!   Both birds and deer are enjoying the abundance and while I am out walking and taking pictures I also grab a handful or two for refreshment.

They do freeze well, and if my freezer were not full of the other raspberries, I might harvest more.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Come In For a Closer Look

Day was rainy and wet and just too awful to go outside and take photos.   So, I decided to use my scanner and a black box.  Below is a photo I took a while back of Joy Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) or trumpet weed.  I was actually taking a photo of the bumble bee in this instance, but then I noticed how interesting the small flowers are, like little ballerinas.

Below is a scan of a similar group of blossoms. 

 Fun!  Let us crop and zoom in.  According to USDA it is related to the aster family.  But the blossoms are truly exotic and complex.  It grows well at the edges of woods and in sunny meadows throughout the eastern portions of North America.

They almost look if they have been constructed  from bits and bobs rather than opened from buds.  Yet if you really look closely:

...missed this guy, guess it is now time to take this blossom back outside!

Friday, July 03, 2015

Avian Update

For most of the summer I have seen birds darting here and there, but nothing in the many bird boxes that we have.  We did see one box had chickadees, but they must have fledged before we returned from France.

Yes, cardinals nest in trees, but what about the other birds?  Finally a little wren has picked the woven bird house hanging under an eve by the front door for probably her second batch of little ones, as we are well into summer.  She screeches at me as I come and go, but I think their personalities are such that they need someone to scold, or why else do they nest so close to houses?

 This morning I discovered another wren family is nest building on this mid-summer day, carrying in soft grasses.  Must be a second batch of little ones coming.  This is in a box inside the garden, which means they will eat our bad bugs!

I also have watched a cardinal sitting on a nest in the crepe myrtle tree in my front flower bed as I weed.  No little baby head has shown itself, but she is still sitting on some days if the weather is not horrible hot.  

Yes, a bad photo, but you can see her bill.
 I also noticed a nest in the Japanese cutleaf maple under the front bay window.  A female cardinal was tending it, but it has not been used at all for egg laying.  Maybe it is a secondary nest for distraction to predators?  It is certainly beautifully made.  A cardinal did successfully raise two little ones in this tree a few years ago.

  Our osprey couple is tending two awkward and spotted fledglings.  I am totally amazed they have not fallen out of the nest as they balance and flap their large wings on the skewed sticks.  Yesterday the Parks and Rec boat came by, placed a ladder against the post, remove the two teenagers and banded them and then returned them traumatizing the whole family, even though it took only a minute or two.  The lead scientist has been doing this for over twenty years.  Mrs. Osprey, Ethel, is now even more crazy/angry when we go to our dock.  We were told she is about three weeks behind schedule with her family!  Last year she had none, and must have lost the eggs in some way, so we are happy to see two this year.

Apologies for the blurriness.  It was too hot to carry around my tripod!