Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bee Good to Pollinators

 In case you missed it, this week (June 21st-22nd) was National Pollinator Week. Three years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of the final week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has grown to be an international celebration of the valuable services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other insects.
One of the leading organizations for this cause, and a great resource for all things pollinator related is Their mission is to protect pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research. Signature initiatives include the NAPPC (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign), National Pollinator Week, and the regional Planting Guides. Be sure to check out the regional planting guides on their website. Once there, input your zip code and it will give you an informational guide (.pdf) for selecting plants in your area for pollinators along with other useful information about the pollinators in your area. Here is the regional guide for my area:
In addition to planting a variety of pollinator favorites, you can also provide housing for our native pollinators like the orchard mason bee and the leafcutter bee. Here's a photo of my mason bee house.
Mason bees nests in natural holes, creating individual cells for their brood that are separated by mud dividers. Unlike carpenter bees, they cannot drill there own holes in wood. They will often use holes created by carpenter bees or any other small hole or crevice found in nature. They are great pollinators to have around for your garden, and you can help attract them by purchasing or making one of these houses for them.
I put my house up a little late this spring so I haven't had any mason bees in it but it has attracted a few leafcutter bees. Like Mason Bees and just as fascinating, leafcutters have a similar nesting style and will nest in the same wooden bee houses except, as their name suggests, they line their cells with small pieces of leaves instead of mud. Here's a close-up comparison:
Mud sealing - a Mason Bee hole
leaf sealing - a leafcutter Bee hole
Leaf cutter bees are also great pollinators to have around.
Check out these links for more information on our native bees, as well as attracting and constructing housing for them:
Information about solitary bees and attracting them:
Managing and instructions on building a mason bee house:

Great site about native bee conservation:

Also, check out the pollinator page over at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Big Bird on the Loose

 As most of you know, I’m all about attracting wildlife, especially birds, to my yard. It’s always exciting to catch sight of a bird at the feeder that I haven’t seen before. But the bird I saw last week wasn’t one I expected, or better yet, didn’t even think was possible.
I was cutting grass on my riding mower one afternoon last week when something caught my attention. I looked over to my left and what was there didn’t seem real - oh, but it was! It was Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). The closest I had ever been to one of these Australian birds was at the VA Zoo, which is at least 30 plus miles away.
Emus are large flightless birds that reach up to 6-1/2 feet tall. They are native to Australia and are one of the largest birds in the world, second only to the ostrich. Emus forage on a variety of plants, seeds and insects and are capable of traveling long distances in search of food (not good news for the owner still looking for this big bird). In recent years Emu farms, both abroad and here in the U.S. have become very popular. They are farmed primarily for their meat, and sometimes for leather and oil. They are also popular animals to see in petting zoos and hobby farms.
For just a split second, the Emu was coming straight towards me at a hasty trot before veering off to one side. I think the running mower probably startled it a little. I turned the mower off and just stared at it in disbelief for a moment. I knew this wasn’t normal, but I wasn’t aware of an emu farm nearby and wasn’t sure who to call. I continued to watch as the Emu slowed to a casual walk and proceeded across my front yard. At that moment I realized I should document this or possibly be considered crazy for telling everyone what I just witnessed, especially since my wife and daughter were not home at the moment of encounter. As a matter of fact, none of my neighbors where outside to witness this. I was definitely all alone on this one. At that moment I jumped off the mower and went inside to grab my camera. I came back out and was able to snap off a few photos before the emu disappeared down the street.
My feeling went from disbelief to comical later on when viewing the photos with my family. I’ve attracted many birds to my yard using bird feeders and nest boxes, but without saying, this was definitely the oddest bird I have ever had in my yard.
A few days later my mother-in-law emailed me an article from the local paper that helped to put the puzzle pieces together. It seems as if several emus escaped from an animal farm in a neighboring city and have been showing up in odd places, one of them being a local golf course. Here’s a link to the article:
Just this past weekend another article surfaced in the same news paper. Seems as if one is still on the loose:
And just this evening the story made it on our local TV news - hey, this is big news for a small city like Suffolk.

UPDATE: The last emu was captured on Tuesday (6/22) and moved to the VA Zoo. Here's a link to the local article:

Be sure to check out other birds this week over at Birdfreak's Bird Photographer Weekly #96

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Great Dismal Swamp 2010 Birding Festival - Better Late than Never

 Okay, so I've gone AWOL for a few weeks and gotten behind on my post again. I guess it happens to the best of us, or worse depending on how you look at it. Now back, I wanted to follow up on our trip to the Great Dismal Swamp for last months birding festival. Better late than never, right?

My daughter and I set out early that morning before the weather got to hot. Our destination was to the Washington Ditch canal were we intended to check out and hike the new boardwalk trail that just opened up to the public.

Upon entrance to the Washington Ditch we were greeted by a couple of whitetail deer browsing along the field edges. I managed to snap a photo before the last one casually disappeared in the thicket.


Here's a look at the entrance of the new boardwalk trail.

New BWTrail

This new trail winds 3/4 mile deep in and out of the forest. It goes through a variety of habitats found within the swamp. My daughter and I hiked a small portion of it.

Along the trail we saw encountered a lot of familiar native flora. Here's one of my favorites, the coral honeysuckle. It's a favorite of hummingbirds as well.

C Honeysuckle

We stopped along the trail to check out out a variety of birds and other wildlife. Morgan (below) seems to be interested in something above. I think it's wonderful that she shows an early interest in nature and the outdoors. I think it's very important to get children outside as early as possible so that they can learn to appreciate the great outdoors and all it has to offer. If I could only get her over her fear of bugs!


After the hike we headed over to the Dismal Swamp headquarters where the main event was taken place. There they had a variety of displays and nature activities set up for kids and adults to learn and enjoy.

Like the previous years of this event, Morgan's favorite display was the snakes. Here she is getting ready to handle her favorite one - its an Corn Snake. Corn snakes are found throughout much of the southeastern and central United States. They're docile snakes that reach approximately 4 to 5 feet in length. Sometimes they are referred to as red rat snakes.

By the way, here's a cool site that list the snakes of Virginia if interested:


Below she is holding the corn snake by herself. Believe it or not, this is the main reason she enjoys coming to this event each year.


Below she is holding a smaller Mole Kingsnake.


After the snakes we walked over to one of the activity tents where we built a bluebird nest box. Notice how well she hammers. She looks to be taken it very seriously.


Needless to say we had a great time at the fourth annual Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival. And if you live in the area, here's a link to the swamps summer calendar of events. There may be something that interest you: