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Snow bunting visitors

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Snow Bunting making a rare visit to the Chesapeake Bay

In late November, four Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) were spotted in a park along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Snow Buntings are considered scarce this far south, and worth braving a cold wind to see.

Snow Buntings breed among rocks and crevices in Arctic Canada and Greenland. They migrate south to winter in Canada’s southern provinces and across the northern US. Every so often, a few venture farther south.

Even in their winter plumage, they are a very pretty little bird.

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Our visiting Snow Buntings chose an old earthen pier habitat that provides large rocks for concealment from predators and protection from the elements as well as grasses that supply seed for foraging. They are well camouflaged amid the rocks and grasses.

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Good camouflage for Snow Buntings

Despite their name, Snow Buntings are more closely related to Longspurs than to familiar buntings.

Time will tell whether the four visitors will stay the winter or move to another shoreline or field.

 

Chilly beach scenes

The full Hunter’s Moon rose over a chilly, windy beach a couple weeks ago. Even though I didn’t see the Monarch migration I’d hoped to see, there is always something interesting along the Maryland seashore.

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American Oystercatcher — The dark beak tip reveals that this is an immature bird. From the coloration of its legs, eyes and plumage, I’d guess it is 12 – 24 months.

 

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Ghost crab, one of many scurrying in the sunshine on Assateague Island

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Ghost crab camouflage

The full moon and wind made for extreme tides.

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Patterns cut in the sand by the changing tide

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The moon creates tides. October 2016 Full Hunter’s Moon

 

 

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A season of butterflies

With the cold weather arriving to the Maryland Piedmont, here is a look back at the butterflies that visited my native plant garden this year.

While no match for country meadows or coastal flyways, this succession of native plant blooms (listed below) support butterflies, bees and other beneficial pollinators from spring to fall, creating habitat even on the edge of a city.

In my garden (photos not to scale):

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Eastern Black Swallowtail male emerged in May, having over-wintered as a chrysalis. Released here on Golden Alexander, one of its host plants, although they seem to prefer to lay eggs on fennel.

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Eastern Black Swallowtail female ready for take-off

Gray hairstreak milkweed crop

Gray Hairstreak on swamp milkweed

 

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Red-banded Hairstreak on mountain mint

 

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White M Hairstreak. See the “M” touching the red spot.

 

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Eastern-tailed Blue on white clover. At less than an inch in size, the Eastern-Tailed Blue and Summer Azure in the next photo are the smallest butterflies in my garden.

 

Summer Azure better crop

Summer Azure on Mountain Mint

 

Eastern tiger swallowtail coneflower

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are common visitors to purple coneflowers

 

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Eastern Comma, named for the white comma mark on the underside of its wing

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Variegated Fritillaries were abundant this year

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Common Buckeye on mountain mint. A small, fast, beautiful, migrating butterfly, it’s my favorite.

 

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Pearl Crescent on white aster

 

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Fiery Skipper, one of many skippers to visit the garden

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Clouded Sulphur

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American Lady on aromatic aster

 

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Monarch, one of 16 that paused to nectar on aromatic aster on a late October afternoon on their journey to Mexico

And seen nearby:

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Red Admiral on neighbor’s zinnia

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Spicebush Swallowtail on Allegheny Monkeyflower in a park meadow

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Silvery Checkerspot on Queen Anne’s Lace in a park meadow

 

Sun-loving flowering native plants in my garden include Golden Alexander, False Indigo, Bee Balm, Blazing Star, Cardinal Flower, Wild Petunia, Mountain Mint, Swamp Milkweed, Butterflyweed, Joe Pye Weed, Purple Coneflower, Prairie Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, False Sunflower, Ironweed, Goldenrod, and — the best for late-season and migrating butterflies — Aromatic Aster. Common blue violets, clover, white aster and white snakeroot grow wild in abundance. Late this season I added Boneset and Button Bush that will bloom next year.

Butterfly Hairstreaks

 

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Gray Hairstreak is North America’s most common and widespread Hairstreak butterfly

Hairstreaks are a family of small, fast-moving butterflies, each not much bigger than an inch — easy to overlook and a delightful challenge to photograph. It is said they are called Hairstreaks for the thin “tails” on their hindwings. Most Hairstreak species are specific to selected patches of the country. Several Hairstreaks are found in Maryland and a few visit my garden, particularly attracted to the abundant native Mountain Mint.

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Gray Hairstreak basking with open wings – an uncommon sight

Red banded hairstreak blue spot

Red-banded Hairstreak is more common in the southeast than in Maryland. Like many Hairstreaks, it sports hindwing spots or “eyes.”

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White M Hairstreak, also more common to the south, named for the prominent “M” touching the red spot

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A closer look at a Gray Hairstreak probing sedum for nectar

 

 

 

 

 

Tranquility

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Green frog on lily pad

A little water garden is nestled between the old fields and woods of a local park. On this August day, a Green Frog soaks in the late afternoon sunshine, surrounded by Common Water-Lilies. It’s a peaceful scene.

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Common Water-Lily

Common water-lily in a row

Blossoms in a row

 

 

Queen Anne’s Lace

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Silvery Checkerspot butterfly on Queen Anne’s lace. The tiny red flower in the middle of the blossom is said to represent Queen Anne pricking her finger while making lace.

Queen Anne’s lace is in bloom in every field and roadside. It is so common it is easy to overlook. When viewed from different angles and at different stages, the flower is in its lacy glory.

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Another full-bloom view

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Post-bloom nest

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Queen Anne’s lace in winter

Since being introduced from Europe, Queen Anne’s lace has spread across the US and most of Canada. It is listed as a noxious weed in a handful of states where it fouls pasture land. Also called wild carrot, like other members of the carrot/parsley family, Daucus carota is a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Queen Anne’s lace resembles its close relative, the highly poisonous Water Hemlock. Even touching Water Hemlock is dangerous and ingestion fatal. The flower heads of Water Hemlock are looser than the tight umbrella of Queen Anne’s lace, and its stems are smooth with purple or black streaks compared to the hairy green stems of Queen Anne’s lace. But identification can be tricky, so beware!

 

Uncommonly beautiful

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Common Buckeye (and friend) on Mountain Mint

A visit from the uncommonly beautiful Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) is the reward for native plant gardening.

 

Bold butterflies

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American Lady nectaring on Buttonbush, Assateague Island National Seashore, 7/28/16

Having posted recently about inconspicuous butterflies, here’s a look at a few of the showier butterflies that are now flying in Maryland.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are common visitors to Purple Coneflowers in the garden

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At least 9 Eastern Black Swallowtails and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails going wild for Wild Bergamot growing in a park

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Monarch male perches in a milkweed field

 

 

Baby dove

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Short tail feathers, pale legs. Must be a juvenile Mourning Dove.

How is it that I’ve never noticed a baby dove before now? Mourning Doves are one of the most widespread and abundant birds in North America, and adults have several broods a year. This little one frequented the front yard, probably from the nest in one of the hollies beside the front door. Short tail feathers, drab plumage — it’s young.

Adults care for fledglings for only 12 days after they leave the nest, and then the young are on their own. They stay close to their nesting area for a couple weeks.

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A few days later and the tail feathers are getting longer

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Just after being rebuffed by a Cardinal that wasn’t interested in feeding it.

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Where it sheltered from weather and predators

When it matures, the little Mourning Dove will acquire an iridescent plumage and other characteristic features. And it will have the long tail feathers and wing feathers needed for longer flights.

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Adult Mourning Doves have bright pink legs and blue eye rings

 

 

Little bitty butterflies

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Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly nectaring on white clover

They’re there, no bigger than a thumbnail — dancing at your feet in the clover, flitting across the flower tops. Not as showy as Monarchs and swallowtails, these little butterflies from the Blue and Hairstreak families have their own intricate beauty.

ETB butterfly perspective

The view at your feet

Gray hairstreak milkweed crop

Gray Hairstreak on milkweed

 

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Gray Hairstreak at full wingspan, basking in coreopsis

 

Summer Azure better crop

Summer Azure on Mountain Mint

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