It just started to rain again, so I have time for another posting. Only a week left in Maine, and then I will probably go quiet for a while.
Milkweed is a remarkable plant. Native to New England, it is the only plant that the threatened monarch butterfly caterpillar eats, so I encourage it until it tries to take over the entire field. This summer, the monarchs were here, and so were their caterpillars. (The butterfly is on a liatris flower, not a milkweed.)
Monarch butterfky caterpillar on milkweed. The head is to the right. The thorax, to the right, has three pairs of true legs. The abdomen, at left, has 5 pairs of prolegs ending in tiny hooks which they use to hang on with.
Milkweed has a very unusual flower, botanically speaking. The anthers are fused up the outsides of the stamen, like little pillars, and instead of loose pollen they contain capsules of pollen, Pollonia, which insects dislodge and carry off. I took these photos a few years ago.
Milkweed have unusual flowers. The anthers are fused up the outsides of the stamen, like little pillars, and instead of loose pollen they contain capsule of pollen, Pollonia, which insectsdislodge and carry off.
It then produces a big fat seedpod, and the seeds inside are arranged like roof tiles, each with its own tiny parachute. I opened one up, and took these photos.
A spell of wet weather, so I shall compose a flurry of blogs!
Some animals and birds spend a lot of time on vertical surfaces, so they are specially equipped to find footholds just about anywhere. This squirrel is using its front paws to eat upside down on the hickory trunk, so it is only using its back feet and its body to hold on to the rough bark.
Nuthatches are good at this too, and tend to do their scavenging and eating head down.
They have very long claws which seek out tiny cracks in the bark.
Finally, this woodpecker has claws like grappling hooks, seen in closeup on the bird feeder.
On the tree trunk, it uses them to seek out tiny holes and crevices, to make itself truly stable before it begins to hammer away. Mountaineers, watch and learn.
There is a flat rock covering an old well by our hickory tree, creating a good flat platform that is little higher than the rest of the garden. Both the red squirrels and the chipmunks like to take their food there because it is a safe vantage point. The red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are a different species from the ones in England, and are very aggressive. This time of year, they are gathering hickory nuts for the winter. They chew off the green outer casing, then gnaw through the very hard nut to get at the kernels inside.
The squirrel left for a bit and the chipmunk came along.
But then the squirrel came back, and took a dim view of this intruder. The much smaller chipmunk, after a brave show of aggression, beat a hasty retreat.
Summer is winding down now, but we still sit outside with a glass of rosé in the evening. Last night George was joined by a large flock of wild turkeys, four females and all their little ones, maybe twenty in all. They practice communal childcare, very sensible.
At the same time, on the scarlet honeysuckle growing beside our porch, was our smallest bird, a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. An adult weighs about 3.8g.
A fully grown male wild turkey can weigh up to 14Kg. That is as much as 3500 hummingbirds.
Too late, I realized that even though we were well away from the path of totality, it would still have been smart to get a pair of special eclipse glasses. So I had to improvise. The pinhole camera I made out of a cereal box was useless, but even simpler methods were rather magical.
The first photo shows the patterns made by the sun through the leaves of our hickory tree: see how the crescent shape of the 50% eclipsed sun shows up?
The next photo is the shadow cast by my kitchen colander’s round holes: each hole creates its own pinhole camera, and the screen is the white siding on our house. And each hole shows the crescent shape.
The last photo is the intact sun at the end of the same day, setting over the White Mountains seen from our porch.
Human skin is so familiar we pay it little attention. But other creatures have the most astonishing outer garments, if you get up close enough to see.
The first picture is a Gray Treefrog. It is about 2 inches long, and lives mainly on the bark of trees, for which it is well-camouflaged, but on the ground it is more vulnerable. When scared, it freezes, which makes it possible to get in close for a portrait. But just look at its knobbly skin, And it can change colour from gray to green too.
The second picture is a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar, about 1/2″ long. We have a large hickory tree behind our house, so its presence in the garden is unsurprising. Amazing eyebrows, and so many spines you can’t tell which end is which, though in fact the head is to the left.
I am used to seeing birds preening, but I hadn’t really paid attention to the fact that bees groom too. After a very heavy rainfall, this bee spent twenty minutes or so using its hind legs to groom its fuzzy body, top and bottom.
The same morning, this Chipping Sparrow found a sunny rock, and then yawned. You can see his tongue.
The young male Hairy Woodpecker, whose plumage was still not quite how he wanted it to be, embarked on a serious grooming session. Notice how he uses his tail to brace himself against the tree branch.
Then he worked his way around his body, missing nothing.
This week I walked in to my beaver pond, and sat for an hour by the water. Next to me was a carnivorous sundew plant. If you look closely you can see the sticky mucus that traps the flies, and two small victims near the bottom of the closeup photo.
A curious beaver came and swam up to me. Their vision is very poor, so although he knew there was something odd, he wasn’t sure exactly what. A few tail slaps, but he didn’t leave.
And a family of young wood ducks appeared in the distance. They are usually very skittish, but these ones never noticed me.
As I was about to leave, there was loud squawking in the distance, and an eagle swooped down on a heron, but the heron saw him off, and continued to fish.
All this, only 45 minutes walk back in the woods behind my house.
Sometimes people hint that taking so many photos interferes with truly looking at what is in front of me, but for me the reverse is often true. Consider things that are too tiny for my unassisted human eye to see, and that I often don’t notice until I look at the photos later on my computer.
This tiny lichen is called the Red-fruited Pixie Cup, for obvious reasons. Each cup is 6-25mm tall, and the bright red protuberances are the fruiting bodies.Or consider these ants. A child knocked over the rotting tree stump by mistake, exposing these pupae. Out rushed the ants to move them one by one to safety. Each pupa looks like a perfectly formed white waxy proto-ant.
Mushrooms grow with astonishing speed, and the fully-grown mushroom often looks quite different from the baby version. The photos below are both amanitas. As the mushroom grows, the universal veil usually leaves patches stuck to the cap, and the partial veil (which encloses just the gills), often leaves a ballerina-like skirt around the stalk. And just so you know, these are poisonous.
This is a different species, but it grew nearly as fast (I was away for a day, so it might have been less time than my photos show). But the transformation is even more dramatic, from something that looks like a cottage-loaf (or a puffball), into a true toadstool.