august is abuzz with visitations (and not just humanoid)

I HAD A GARDEN-VISITING ‘OPEN DAY’ here of the human variety on the weekend, but every day I have visitors who fly in or hop in or slither in at will, without tickets or any other formalities. August is abuzz with visitors, including seven or eight Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies (above), who have been enjoying a patch of Verbena bonariensis every sunny afternoon the last week or so. Look who else is in evidence lately:

snowberry clearwing mothYes, the spring-into-early-summer dawn chorus has gone silent, but oh, the sounds of the night. The birds may have stopped most of their alarm-clock duty for the season, but August is the moment of insects, of crickets and katydids with their overnight music. It’s also the time of often-colorful flights by day, by butterflies, moths, dragonflies, hummingbirds and more.

Like the snowberry clearwing moth, above, and its cousin the hummingbird-hawk moth, below. Yes, they are moths–and often referred to generically as “hummingbird moths” for good reason.

hummingbird hawk-moth 2Since I began really looking at moths, and looking for moths, more closely a few years ago, it has opened a new world of great diversity. Butterflies have nothing on moths; moths are not drab or dull.

waved sphinx mothI co-hosted another Moth Night a few weeks back in the Taconic State Park that surrounds my garden. Look who showed up: above, on the green-polished hand of a visiting entomologist, and below, on the hand (and later head) of my friend and fellow bug-lover Maceo). That’s a Waved Sphinx Moth.

waved sphinx moth 2In each new visitor’s arrival there is a lesson to be learned with a bit of homework, in my field guides and online, or sometimes by pestering an expert friend. The questions I want answers to: What made them show up? What are they in search of? And why now?

great spangled fritillaryI attribute my lackadaisical approach to weeding out wild violets (meaning: I don’t) as the catalyst for the video up top. Apparently Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies in the video and the photo just above have an intimate relationship with violets. The females lay their eggs in late August and early September in my Northeast region on the violet leaves, specifically; the adults you see here on the Verbena are nectaring. More about their life cycle.

common whitetail dragonflyI don’t own the right camera lenses for any of this insect photography, but upgrades are on my wishlist. Even if I did have serious pro gear, it’s hard to photograph dragonflies, who move so fast. They seem to be everywhere, suddenly, when a weather event–especially a rain shower–presumably triggers good hunting in the form of swarms of smaller insects.

If only they’d slow down a bit, please, maybe I could ID them. The one above, a male of the Common Whitetail dragonfly, is one of the few I’m certain of, and who sits still long enough to accommodate me and my short lens. I can see that there are four or five other species in the garden lately because their color or size is so different from this one’s, but who knows which they are. (Odonate expert Dennis Paulson would know.)

giant swallowtail 080715I was blessed the other day to see my first Giant Swallowtail butterfly (above), also in the Verbena. I asked my friend Andy Brand of Broken Arrow Nursery about this one, since it’s more commonly seen farther south. Andy’s a butterfly expert, too, founder of the Connecticut state butterfly society. I learned I was seeing something that is as yet not understood:

“Over the past two years Giant Swallowtails have been seen throughout CT and other parts of the Northeast, which is unusual,” Andy wrote back. “Typically they were mainly seen in the northwest corner of CT, near one of their host plants Zanthoxylum, prickly ash. Why they are more plentiful now is up for discussion. I have seen them feeding on Rue, and Dictamnus in my yard. Also, Ptelea trifoliata (wafer ash) is a host plant.”

monarch verbenaAnd for the first time in years in the garden proper: a Monarch butterfly showed up (above). Because their populations are so drastically diminished, it always feels hopeful to see even one.

young green frogWhat would a discussion of visitors be without mention of those of the amphibian persuasion? The year started out very cold and then very dry, so it has been inhospitable for many of my usual, larger friends to make their way up from the brook down the road to see me. (Remember?) I’ve had a few adults in residence all season, but now the number of individuals is expanding. By August, the many tadpoles in my inground water gardens have metamorphosed; a whole new generation is out and about.

Who’s visiting you right now?

  1. Jen B says:

    I am not a butterfly expert, but have enjoyed observing them in my PA yard and learning new things about them each summer. Thanks for the identification of the great spangled fritillary! I just saw one of these yesterday (in the violets!) and didn’t know what it was. Just this week I discovered the complete life cycle of the wild indigo duskywing in my baptisia: eggs, caterpillar, several chrysali, empty chrysalis, and adults. Last year I planted butterfly weed and am beyond thrilled to have a monarch caterpillar. I watch his development each day. I usually only see one monarch at a time, but about 10 days ago I saw 3. They visit my butterfly and Joe Pye weeds, zinnias, and the neighbors’ butterfly bushes. Have also found black swallowtail eggs in the parsley and seen both the black and yellow swallowtails. It has been a fun summer to observe God’s amazing creation.

  2. MomsintheGarden says:

    We have a lot of what’s been described above, including the very unwelcome groundhog that has eluded the trap this year. We also have a good crop of white-lined sphynx moths on our four o’clocks. They are fun to watch at dusk, hovering in the buddlea, verbena, and other flowers.

  3. Rocky says:

    Two Monarchs today!
    So happy to see them on the verbena bonariensis.
    Noticed some very eaten up milkweed across the street so perhaps…….

  4. Polly says:

    It has been a wonderful summer for butterflies at our community garden in Vermont. What is also of interest is who didn’t show up this year: not a cucumber beetle in sight, no bean beetles, and just a scattering of Japanese beetles. Perhaps the long and cold winter was a blessing.

  5. Meredith Bliss says:

    For the month of July, we had a whole troop of coyote. I think they were dening.
    They all had a howl with the 7 pm fire alarm, every night. They have commuted to fuller hunting grounds, using the last full moon of July for their journey.
    I miss them!

  6. Rosie S says:

    In Minnesota, near the Twin Cities, we have monarchs, all sorts of moths, viceroys, black and yellow swallowtails and more frogs and toads than you can catch! We also have a milkweed ‘stand’, new to us this year, and actually have a chrysalis attached to a phlox plant next to it. Hoping for a monarch debut this weekend! Did you hear about the project to add milkweed all the way from Minnesota to Texas along the “Monarch Highway”? A huge undertaking, but hopefully, a successful one!

  7. Melony Sword says:

    This year I decided to plant a butterfly garden, I put in lots of salvia, zinnias, a pussy willow and milkweed. I already had honeysuckle, butterfly bushes and verbena. At one time I had 10 monarch caterpillars on my milkweed, more than the milkweed could sustain, I went to 7 different nurseries to find more milkweed. The monarchs have been emerging from their chrysalises on and off for 3 months. I’ve had had western tiger swallows, American painted ladies, and skippers of all kinds. The most interesting find was 2 huge Achemon sphinx (Eumorpha achemon) moth caterpillars on my grapes. I only hope I get to see them when they come out of their chrysalis. I definitely made the right choice when I decided to plant a butterfly garden. :)

  8. Jane says:

    Could Raccoons Eat Snakes and Mussels?
    I have never forgotten your frog friends and when I started a new garden this year the first thing I did was put a pond in hoping I could attract frogs. The tangles of blackberries,horsetail and scrubby trees could wait- I wanted frogs.
    We have frogs and toads in the area and for quite a few nights in early spring I was wide awake at 2 am excitedly trying to identify the types I could hear with a British Columbia government site with frog calls like the excellent Cornell ornithology site you have mentioned. With luck, there were 100 plus tadpoles in the pond later in Spring. The yard has stood neglected for decades so holds no charm, but a steady flow of neighbours have come to see these tadpoles metamorphosize.
    Who’s visiting today? A small 3′ x 3′ area with flat stones adjacent to the pond has become a pond-side cafe of sorts so each morning I go out to find what the previous evening’s dinner special was- I have found a half-eaten snake, mussel shells, pumpkin stems with the emerging pumpkins eaten, and half-eaten water hyacinths. I am assuming it is a raccoon eating because I know they love the fleshy part of water hyacinths, but I didn’t know they would eat snakes and mussels.
    Another delightful surprise- the very Hummingbird Clearwing Moth you have mentioned was in the clover lawn yesterday and there are a few yellow and black butterflies in a Big Leaf Maple that I need to identify (and figure out what they are doing in a tree.)
    I hope that you know that your lovely website has given me and many other gardeners the ideas for these joyful additions to our gardens. (I’ll read about protecting snakes at your website next)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.