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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. karen rogers says:

    damn groundhogs! and tons of juvenile bluejays, catbirds and downy woodpeckers. occasional snakes, inside empty pots.

  2. Lynn says:

    Good morning Margaret, It was so nice to wake up to your newsletter today about non-human visitors to your garden over the weekend. I was there for Open Days yesterday and was similarly enthralled with the abundance of non-human life in the same area you depicted in your photos. I waited for that elusive Monarch but didn’t have the pleasure of seeing it (nor have I had the pleasure yet this season). Thank you for sharing your photo of it and all the other beautiful visitors, including the Great Spangled Fritillary. Your garden is a gift to humans and non-humans alike. Lynn

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Lynn, for saying hello today — and for visiting. You are very kind to comment, and I do appreciate the encouragement!

  3. Rodrica says:

    Highlights were 3 baby raccoons sleeping,nursing and climbing over mom high in a pine tree that I could comfortably watch with binoculars from my deck. Not much gardening got done while that was happening…couldn’t tear myself away. Foxes and a bobcat often seen at the edges of daylight.

    1. margaret says:

      That is hysterical, Rodrica; I would have been riveted, too, by the young raccoon family. I love years when the foxes come, but none this year in the garden proper. Across the road in the woods…but not here so far. Love them.

  4. Peg Lotvin says:

    Deer and their spring fawns eating the dropped apples. Since my Christmas present, an 8 foot fence totally around my garden, I like to see the deer and they clean up the apples that try to wrench my ankles when I walk through the area.

  5. Lorie says:

    Just the BEST time of the year to observe the “visitors”. The swallowtails are finding the Joe Pye and spend a drunken afternoon. The hummers are drinking faster than I can make nectar. With a knee replacement this is the first year I didn’t plant asclepias and so no monarchs. I feel the guilt as I was the sole planter in the neighborhood and still they’d find it. And, of course, the tree frog lives “somewhere”, but loves the inside of the closed market umbrella.

  6. Patricia says:

    Lots of deer, wild turkeys, grasshoppers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and other assorted birds. We have had blue birds nest in the past, but now they just seem to pass through on their way to other places. The neighbor’s cat keeps the grasshoppers in check and it is hysterical to watch her hunt them.
    Thank you for posting the picture of the great spangled fritillary butterfly. I was wondering what was spending so much time around my milkweed.
    Yesterday I saw the biggest monarch butterfly that I have ever seen on the milkweed. Last time I saw one in my yard was about 5 years ago. I took the cocoon into school and made a shadow box for it. The kids were so excited, but the butterfly decided to emerge just as the bell rang for dismissal. I took it home with me and brought it over to the butterfly bush in the front yard. It was very happy and I was so excited. Hope I get to see another one emerge this year.

  7. Kathy says:

    Have a lot of Tiger swallowtails,skippers Red Admirals and a variety of native pollinators in the bee and wasp families attracted to my Mexican Sunflower or Tithonia and JoePye weed. Saw my first Monarch last week. The hummingbirds are loving the Zinnias and bat faced cuphea and the dragonflies are abundant this month.The bluebird successfully fledged 2 Broods of 4 each in the 2 houses we set up and seem to be flocking together around the property. Have an extraordinary amount of Cardinals this summer and I keep the feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seed and the suet all year round for them and an assortment of other visitors. Now if I could find a way to keep the squirrels out!!

  8. Catherine W. says:

    Margaret,
    Thanks for the proper introduction to the hummingbird-hawk moth. I’ve been meaning to look up this visitor to my butterfly bush. It looked for all the world like a flying lobster to me!

    Our least welcomed visitor has been the woodchuck which is eating the sweet potato and winter squash vines! Grrrr…..

  9. Bonny says:

    Loved the article about the humming bird moths. Now I have to look closer to see if I have more than one variety. I guess their abundance this year is due to the messy garden floor.
    I have been so excited to see the great spangled fritalary, both the yellow and black swallow tail, one Monarch and a variety of tiny black and orange fritalaries which I will now have to go try to identify. The favorite flower seems to be the Zinnias. We have several varieties of toads, an abundance of blue tailed skinks which seems to be my cat’s new favorite toy, and a couple of turtles. Most of the bad critters are kept away by my new fence and the vigalance of my mole hunting husband.
    Fun Post. Thanks

  10. Lorie says:

    A small tidbit for the Monarch admirers. I live in Bellevue, the oldest city in NE, on the Missouri River where fur traders were abundant in the late 1800’s. Just a few miles west is the city of Papillion, established soon after, by the fur traders. The spelling should have been “papilon”, named by the fur traders because of the huge numbers of Monarch butterflies they found near the Papillion Creek. The Monarch is still the city symbol and, though the numbers have diminished, there are a good number of Monarchs to be seen (if you take the time to look) migrating south in the fall. What used to be prairie is now developed, but the migratory path is the same.

  11. Michelle says:

    Turkeys with their brood, deer, hawks (keeping the mice population down in the field next door), garter snakes, frogs, tree frogs, toads, dragonflies, butterflies. A coyote ambled by my door! Did not see the large black and yellow garden spiders this year. We also hear a lot of owls. Lightening bugs in the field at night. Very loud crickets. The only unwelcome wildlife are all the voles tunneling through my gardens and the chipmunks. Since my neighbors gave away their cats, there has been a population explosion!

  12. Dawn says:

    So great to see all the moths and butterflies. Thank you for sharing . We live in central Alabama. I have not weeded much this year and maybe that is the reason we are seeing more insects. We have one beehive but lots of other native pollinators of all shapes and sizes. I had some very small wasps all over the fennel last week. There are 2 pairs of bluebirds that successfully raised young this year, 3 pairs of cardinals, blue jays, a pilated woodpecker, hummingbirds, lots of crows and a variety of hawks. I need to get a pair of binoculars and a bird identification book. We had a bumper crop of toads in the orchard swales this year and a tree frog who tried to make a home on the porch screen door. Thank you for all the information and web links posted on your site. I love reading about new subjects and learning more about nature. Thank you Margaret

  13. Brenda Zanola says:

    saw a fox yesterday, lots of deer and all the damage they cause…saw a monarch today, very exciting. thank you for the pictures of the hummingbird moths and the permission to not worry about getting rid of the violets!

  14. Michelle says:

    We have several hummingbirds this year and have seen a monarch or two as well as some tiger swallowtails. Pollinators galore and many small white butterflies, who love the catmint and the oregano blooms, create constant commotion in our flower beds. Mother birds are busy feeding their hatchlings and fledglings and we discovered a fat toad on the wood chip pile, hiding under an overturned wheelbarrow. Nature abounds!

  15. Margaret, I would love to come and visit your garden at night and meet more moths. I’m so glad you wrote about them because people don’t give moths their due. Such excellent creatures who often pollinate the night-blooming flowers. I can’t believe you have a Giant Swallowtail in your garden. I was so surprised. They often come here. I love the swallowtails of all sorts. Grateful for their huge presence. I so enjoyed this post. Thank you.~~Dee

    1. margaret says:

      You’re welcome, Dee. I have to gather all my moth images from the last couple of summers and really take stock. Have started a spreadsheet of the ones I can ID so far — quite amazing how many species there are and how showy many of them are, too. Fascinating stuff.

  16. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    A Sharp-shinned Hawk, two dancing-together-in-mid-air Monarchs, yellow swallowtail butterflies, stinkbugs, gobs of solitary bees sleeping overnight in the Joe Pye Weed, Zinnias and Dahlias, Hummingbirds and hummingbird moths, black swallowtails, cabbage moths, one mourning cloak butterfly and too many cucumber beetles. Once the Goldenrods and Asters wind it up, there will be an “insect zoo” coming to town. Can’t wait.

  17. Pippa says:

    Groundhogs, magnificently striped skunks, many squirrels, and one weird opossum plus hummingbirds, finches, chickadees, some hawks, various songbirds, a cronky raven, some owls, lots of lovely creepies and crawlies, spiders… AND three kids, and, according to the smallest of our children, possibly some fairies….

  18. Stella says:

    We lost most of our vegetable garden to a new family of 3 groundhogs. Some of our plants are coming back, but anything that survived being chewed to the ground will mean a very late harvest for us. Our very hungry deer herd discovered our first-ever peach crop – the day before our grandkids were to come and pick the fruit. They’re now focusing on the hostas and hydrangea ( which they never bothered before) . It’s been a very disappointing and discouraging summer for me.

  19. Sandra R says:

    I have seen 6 monarch butterflies so far (or one monarch 6 different times, really hard to say). But what has me even more excited is a monarch caterpillar on a milkweed in the horse pasture. We have always left the “good weeds”, but this is our first caterpillar this year. It is looking better for the monarchs this year in our area. Your pictures are lovely.

  20. Michelle in WI, Zone 5b says:

    This year my backyard has been visited by eastern tiger swallowtails, monarchs, dragonflies, and lunate moths. Some other smaller moth species I have yet to identify have been visiting as well. By far the most frequent visitor this year has to be the darn cabbage moths. They are everywhere this year, all over the garden centers and in every garden I’ve visited. I’ve even spied the things as I’m traveling at freeway speeds alongside the highway. When are these guys going to be done for the season? Talk about moth love, they apparently never stop.

  21. Steve says:

    Fritillary’s are fairly abundant. Hummingbird moths are daily visitors to Buddleia Miss Ruby. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are seen daily now as well. Like you I did see a Monarch earlier this week, but only once. I’m looking for more as the Goldenrod begins to bloom. I’m in the Worcester, MA area, just a few miles south of Tower Hill BG.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    Here in my Northern California garden, I’ve had more monarchs than ever, and it’s all due to one plant – Tithonia! I’ve never seeded it before, but boy am I sorry about that, because the amount of butterflies has increased quite a bit this year because of it. I’ve planted every kind of ‘butterfly’ plant you can imagine, and none has done the trick like Tithonia.

    Also, the bees love it (I’m a beekeeper), both European and Native, and the hummingbirds too. I keep several pollinator gardens going around my veg beds, and honestly, this is the best result from a flower I have ever gotten. Going to scatter LOADS of seeds next year!

    1. margaret says:

      Another friend mentioned this to me lately — but a perennial species, not the Tithonia rotundifolia I know in my Northeastern garden as an annual flower, but rather T. diversifolia, a Zone 9ish perennial.

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