June 6, 2010
A Natural Hodgepodge
The wood thrush, our favorite songbird, has returned. It’s a common bird, and one would think by the size of the forest that surrounds us, it would have been around for decades of summers.
The first year we heard its flutelike song was in 2001. I remember because it was the second spring after my mom died and, in a spell of mind-body-spirit sensitivity, I was hoping for a sign from her. The call of the thrush fulfilled my wish.
A wood thrush has arrived each May since. It warbles from the top of the trees inside the woods behind our house. Only once have I seen it, before Michelle cut down the maple in her front yard next door. It was trilling on a dead branch, not hidden by leaves or other branches. It looked just like this photograph:
Because the wood thrush has a complicated syrinx (song box), the equivalent of two sets of vocal cords, it is able to sing two overlapping songs at once and harmonize with its own voice.
Knowing the thrush’s anatomy is nice, hearing its beautiful song is so much nicer.
A Bee Update
Since I wrote the column A Sleeping Bee, we have had three more queen bumblebees flop around in our basement office. Bill has mastered insect catch-and-release, trapping the bee between an old WLTF coffee mug and a slip of cardboard, then setting her free outside. Two queens zoomed away, the third tumbled into the myrtle. We don’t know what became of her.
In a “be careful what you wish for” moment, one queen began building a nest in a kitchen window screen. She found a small hole on the outside wooden frame, and as I Windexed the glass inside, I studied her filling the hole with her thick yellow waxy goop.
Bill and I discussed what we should do. Leave her be, and watch as a science experiment? That could be very interesting. Instead, we were rational. Bill gently brushed her away from her nesting site with a broom, then sprayed the hole with bug repellent.
Good thing too. This queen was not a bumblebee, but a carpenter bee, which looks very similar except that the top of her abdomen is blue-black and nearly bare. (Why is it bees confuse us so?) The carpenter queen bores tunnels into wood, which can extend to10 feet. The girls like to hang with each other, building their nests close together so they can help each other out. They like to reuse old sites, expanding the size year after year with multiple branches where the bees overwinter. Woodpeckers like to feed on the larvae deep inside the holes, which they make bigger in the process. Worse still, carpenter bees poo right below the opening to the nest.
We would be wise to inspect every nook and cranny, wouldn’t we?
A brutally damp and icy February in the high altitude conifer forests in central Mexico is believed to have killed more than half of the wintering Monarch butterflies. Those returning to the U.S. this spring have been confined mainly to Texas, more so than during any other in the past 10 years.
The director of Monarch Watch says that monarchs can bounce back, and you and I can help. We can plant milkweed.
Monarchs will always return to areas rich in milkweed (Asclepias) to lay their eggs as milkweed is the only thing the larvae can eat.
Milkweed also entices swallowtails, painted ladies, American ladies, red admirals, fritillaries, and hairstreaks. It attracts hummingbirds too.
Invite adult monarchs to stay in your yard with aster, black-eyed Susan, coneflower. goldenrod and monarda; they’ll hit on your lantana, liatris, coreopsis, sedum, and joe-pye weed as well. Monarchs also like to drink from leftover mushy slices of banana, oranges and watermelon. I’m going to give this a try.
In Ohio, adult monarchs have already been spotted as far north as Toledo and Kelleys Island on May 15, with sightings in Akron, Oak Harbor, Chardon and Bedford a week later.
Let’s get planting!