Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mockingbirds Don't Forget!

   An interesting new study that came out this spring found that mockingbirds can remember people who have threatened them in the past.

IMG_2444 Northern Mockingbird - photo by Alan Pulley, 2009

The study was lead by Doug Levey, a professor at the University of Florida, showed that mockingbirds ignored most passers, but attacked when they recognized people who had approached their nest just days before.

"Sixty seconds of exposure was all it took for mockingbirds to learn to identify different individuals and pick them out of all other students on campus," Levey said.

Check out the article and video when you get a chance - it's very interesting:



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August Sunset - Skywatch Friday

This was the scene in my backyard a few nights ago...

So that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.
Isaiah 45:6 (NIV)

Be sure to visit the Skywatch Friday home page for more great photos.

A Day at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens


I spent a fun day earlier this week visiting the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. I remember going there once at a young age but haven't been back since. It's about 35 miles from where I live and I've been trying to get back to it for a long time now. Needless to say, my expectations weren't let down.

Norfolk Botanical Garden is nationally recognized for its deep-rooted history and celebrated for its blooms in every season. The 155 acre garden is home to 30 distinctive themed gardens, 95 species of birds and 30 different kinds of butterflies. There's also a 3-acre children's garden where they can explore the connections between plants and the environment.

Here my daughter is intrigued with a tiger swallowtail butterfly.


The butterfly exhibit was one of the more exciting areas, especially for the kids. This enclosed exhibit was filled with hundreds of butterflies.

Black Swallowtail


Gulf Fritillary


The Japanese Garden was another favorite.



Norfolk Botanical Gardens has one of the largest, most extensive collections of azaleas, rhododendrons and roses on the East Coast. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait and go back next spring to see them in peak bloom; however, there were plenty of other blooms to explore. The following is some of my favorite photos I took in the gardens.





A few roses were still looking good...



The park was home to some gorgeous crepe myrtles.


I hope you've enjoyed this brief pictorial tour of the gardens. If you're ever in the area and have a day to spare, swing by Norfolk and visit their botanical gardens - you wont be disappointed.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Hawk ID Presentation

  I wanted to share this  really cool hawk guide, I recently found, created by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). This free guide is a PowerPoint presentation that combines photographs of flying raptors, silhouettes and in-flight identification tips to help improve your hawk watching skills. The guide has been out for a few months but I just came across it this past weekend thanks to RGVBirding Fest, who posted it on Twitter.

Here's some screen shots from the presentation guide:




The free guide is called Identification of Raptors of the Northeast and can be found here:

HMANA is a membership-based organization committed to the conservation of raptors. They are the same organization that put out the Silhouette Hawk ID Guide about a year ago.

Like I mentioned, this guide is a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. If you don't have PowerPoint on your computer you can download PowerPoint Viewer for free. PowerPoint Viewer allows you to view PowerPoint presentations but doesn't allow you to create or modify presentations.


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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mystical Moths


Isn't this a striking creature?

I'm not sure what species of moth this is. If anyone knows please leave me a comment. I've tried to ID it thru Bug Guide but haven't quite narrowed it down yet.


In my efforts to make my yard a better habitat for birds, butterflies and bees, I've found that other little creatures tend to tag along as well - like moths.

I've taken a little time here recently to try and familiarize myself with moths and their purpose in the natural world. They are considered a pest to many. Some moth caterpillar species become invasive and can cause extensive damage to plants while others like the clothes moth can cause damage inside a home.

Aside from a few problematic species, moths play an important part in our ecosystem. They are a big part of the food chain, making meals for others like spiders, frogs, bats and birds. Moth larva also serve as a source of food for wildlife. Moths are also important pollinators. Many plants, especially night blooming ones, depend on moths for pollination.



Moths ans butterflies are closely related - both being of the order Lepidoptera. Some of the differences between moths and butterflies are fairly obvious if you look closely. Butterflies fly in the daytime, while most moths fly at night. Butterfly antennae are thin and smooth, with small clubs at the end. Moths have a thicker, feathery antennae, without the club on the end. Most moths have thicker bodies as well.


The above photo may look like a moth at first glance but if you notice the "clubs" (circled in red) on the end of its antennae, you will see that it's a butterfly.

Another easy way to tell butterfly and moths apart is to watch it land. If it's wings are folded together pointing up, its probably a butterfly. If its wings are folded against its body or pointing out flat from its sides, it's probably a moth.

My daughter has a bug book with a recipe for attracting moths - called "moth sugar". I personally haven't tried this but my daughter and I hope to do this before the summer ends.

Here is the recipe:

Moth Sugar

  • 3 tbs sugar
  • water
  • 2 tbs apple juice
  • 1 quart plastic jug/container
  • old paint brush
  • sponge

(1) Fill jug with water (2) mix sugar and apple juice into the jug of water (3) use the paint brush to brush the "moth sugar" on a rock, stump, fence post or wherever...or soak the sponge in the mixture and hang it up in a tree (4) just after dark, go see if you have any moth visitors!

Have a good weekend everyone!

Camera Critters

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Benefit of Bees

As many know, there’s a lot that goes into managing a vegetable garden. No matter the size, there’s always something to do – like soil prepping, weeding, watering, planting…you get the idea. With all that we do to help improve our chances for success, we’re not the only ones in control. Believe it or not, there are other busy workers out and about giving us a helping hand, and their presence could determine the success or failure of our efforts.


That’s right, I’m talking about bees!

I’ve come to learn that the longer I garden the more I get interested in the little things that help make it all come together. The importance of bees is sometimes under estimated. A close connection exists between the bees and our vegetables. Most of the vegetables and fruits we eat depend on bees for reproduction. Bees are truly a gardener’s friend.

To ensure my veggies like squash and cucumbers get pollinated, I like to add a few flowers throughout the garden to help attract more bees.


I did a little research on the subject and came up with a few cool facts about bees and pollination:

This from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign

  • Almost 90 percent of flowering plants must be pollinated by animals.
  • More than 200,000 species – from beetles to bees, from ants to butterflies, from hummingbirds to bats – act as pollinators; but bees pollinate the most plants.
  • Pollinators (mostly bees) are responsible for about 1/3 of the food that we eat
  • Honeybees are not native to the United States. They were brought over by the colonists in the 1600s.


Want to attract more bees? Here are some tips...

  • Plant more native plants.
  • Bees like herbs. Plant a few of them in the garden and allow some to bloom.
  • Pick plants that will flower throughout the year - even in winter. Bees forage anytime the temperatures are above 50 degrees.
  • Avoid using pesticides whenever possible. If you must spray do it in the evening when bees are less active, and if you can avoid it, don’t spray the bloom itself.
  • Flat flowers are best for bees because they don’t have long proboscises like butterflies do. They don’t like to go down to deep in a flower.
  • Create a drinking area by filling a saucer with wet sand and sinking it into the ground. Keep the sand wet. Puddling areas like this will attract both bees and butterflies.
  • Some recommended plants include goldenrod, yarrow, bee balm, hyssops, salvias, mints, lavender and thyme as well as fruits, like blueberries.

With all the benefits that bees provide, why not provide them a little something extra in your garden.


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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Great Egret - Bird Photography Weekly


The Great Egret is one of my favorite herons. It's pure white plumage makes it hard to miss. Nothing is more graceful than watching one glide just a few feet above the water.


It's the largest of the egrets, and did you know that the Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.


Pretty cool, huh?

Be sure to stop by and visit this weeks edition of Bird Photography Weekly!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer Blooms in the Rain

The dog days of summer can be very uncomfortable here in Hampton Roads. This is the time of year when the days get hot, humid and dry except for the occasional late afternoon thunderstorm. While the hot and humid part has remained consistent with the season, the weather here has been anything but dry. August has been a very wet month here thus far. As a matter of fact, I had to slip out between rain showers to snap the photos of this months bloom day. I'm not complaining however, any time spent taking photos in the garden is time well spent.

My landscape drains very well so the extra rain lately hasn't been a problem. It's actually been a blessing to my young, first year trees and shrubs planted throughout my landscape. The first year can be the most critical for any perennial type plant. Rain now will help the roots of these young plants become better established before dormancy sets in.

With that said, lets start with this months lineup -

First off is a knockout - a knockout rose that is. These roses live up to their name - requiring very little care. Keep them cut back and deadheaded and they will bloom all season long. Just be sure to keep the Japanese beetles off them.


Another pink bloomer is the 'Carolina Beauty' crepe myrtle tree. I have four of these trees planted in my front yard along the edge of the road. It's another carefree low-maintenance plant.


Here is a new addition to my landscape - 'Blue Fortune' Hyssop (Agastache 'Blue Fortune'). It has fragrant blooms and can be used as cut flowers. There are many different varieties of hyssops that come in many different colors and shapes. They are a great plant for attracting pollinators to the garden. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds alike are attracted to this plant.


What can you say about 'Miss Huff' Lantana? This plant will begin blooming in late spring and will keep right on until the years first frost. It's a low maintenance plant and is drought tolerant once established. If you like butterflies and only have room for one plant - this is the plant for you! In most southern states 'Miss Huff' will come back year after year. In other areas its sold as an annual.


...and here is it's little cousin - 'New Gold' Lantana. It's smaller than 'Miss Huff' but blooms just as well with bright yellow flowers all season.


One of my new favorites is the Chinese Abelia. It's another butterfly magnet. This shrub reaches 6 to 8 feet tall with branches sticking out in all directions. As the summer wears on, plants produce massive terminal clusters of white, bell- shaped flowers. Look closely into the photo below and you will see a hummingbird clearwing moth hovering over one of the flower clusters.IMG_4263

Another hummingbird clearwing on the Chinese abelia.


Next is a 'Fan Scarlet' Lobelia (Lobelia speciosa). This is a new perennial I planted this summer. Seems to be doing well. It has showy flower spikes that bloom throughout most of the summer. It also attracts hummingbirds.


Another reliable summer bloomer is the coral honeysuckle. This is by far a favorite of the hummingbirds. I have it growing up one of the post attached to my deck. Look closely and you can see a hummingbird resting on one of the limbs in the center of the photo.


And as a bonus, red berries develop in late summer through fall on this honeysuckle.IMG_4614

A new addition to the landscape this spring is the Harlequin Glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum). This shrub/small tree offers a late-summer display of jasmine-like white flowers. Bright blue berries in autumn are accented by conspicuous bright, pinkish-red calyxes. These flowers have a nice scent and it's another plant that the butterflies and hummingbirds like.


Here's a close-up of the harlequin glorybower bloom.


A plant that's often overlooked is the marigold. Marigolds are easy, dependable and they bloom all season. Who could ask for more? I plant these plants along the edges of my vegetable garden because of their reputation for repelling certain harmful insects, and attracting beneficial ones.


Last but not least is my caladium plants. Not exactly a bloom but their foliage color is just as attractive. I have these mixed in with a few coleus plants to add some extra contrast. These plants are great for adding some color to shady spots in the garden. This is the first year I have grown caladium and was wondering if I could dig up the bulbs in the fall and replant them next year. I'm thinking you can but wasn't sure if there was some special requirement for storing them. If anyone knows for sure just let me know in my comments. I would like to plant some of these in pots next spring.


TIP: To help keep color in the garden year around I've learned by visiting local garden centers throughout the year helps keep me informed and provides a good indication as to what's blooming during that time of year.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this brief tour through my garden. Be sure to check out more flowers in bloom over at May Dreams Gardens blog - there's lots of good stuff to to see there!

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mobile Blogging

This is just a 'test' post from my new Blackberry. I wanted try out the mobile blog app to see how it worked.
Lovin my new BB. What's your favorite mobile app?

UPDATE: I had to manually (from the pc) add the title to the post. Hmmmm…I’ll have to figure out how to do that from the phone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer Vegetable Garden

  It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about my summer vegetable garden, but don’t let that fool ya, it’s been very productive this summer. So much so that it's been consuming most of my outdoor time recently – but with all this, who’s complaining, right?IMG_4135

As you can see, I enjoy growing a variety of vegetables. I tend to plant lots more than I can keep up with but the neighbors don’t seem to mind receiving the overflow.

Tomatoes are the main crop right now. They are really coming in at full force.


Tomatoes are one of my favorite veggies to grow in the garden - there's just so much you can do with them in the kitchen. I grow several varieties of hybrid and heirloom tomato plants. I personally prefer the paste (roma) variety. These are determinate tomatoes plants and are best for making and canning my favorite salsa.


However, tomatoes don't come without their fair share of problems. They can be finicky plants. I always plant a few extra in the garden incase I loose some to disease of any other unforeseen circumstance. Because they are susceptible to various spreading diseases it's a good idea to plant them in various spots around the garden as opposed to putting them all in one area. That way if a disease strikes a particular plant, it hopefully wont infect the whole bunch.

Crop rotation is also very important practice that I apply in my garden. I like to draw a sketch that outlines where I plant each thing in the garden so I can track where vegetables were located the year before. Rotation is especially important with tomatoes. Tomatoes are part of the solanaceae (night shade) family of plants that include potatoes, peppers and eggplants. If you can help it,  it's best not to plant these vegetables in the same spot where they, or any of their kin (solanaceae family) were planted the year before.


A few simple techniques like these will not only help grow happier tomatoes but will help improve your overall garden vigor.

Just remember to keep it simple and have I've heard Felder Rushing say "it's just digging a hole and putting stuff in it".