An August wildlife update

If Tiger swallowtails are a bit scarce in this year’s garden, hummingbirds are not, though typically only one is seen at a time, so taking a count is difficult. A tropical Firecracker plant (Cuphea) in a pot on the deck just outside the kitchen window is a hummingbird magnet, but I often see hummingbirds on the red flowered cannas beside the koi pond also.

Curiously, roughly equal numbers of Monarchs and swallowtails are now seen in the garden. Typically, swallowtails are numerous and Monarchs are not.

Again, there are white flannel moth caterpillars in the redbuds, though too few and too late in the season to be of concern. I do not spray to be rid of them, but last year there were none, for whatever reason. As I recall, this is a caterpillar with small spines that sting, so I will approach the redbuds carefully to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain.

In prior years the caterpillars stripped several branches of leaves, but the premature loss of foliage did no harm. Certainly, the small, white moth is not a beautiful addition to the garden, but the loss of a few leaves is not a tremendous sacrifice. I acknowledge the difference for the homeowner with a single redbud on his plot, and this is, of course, the luxury in having a large enough garden so that sharing with wildlife is welcomed.

A caterpillar of unknown provenance is slowly munching leaves of the swamp milkweed, but doing far less damage than hordes of marauding aphids. The aphids, not the caterpillar, are an annual invasion after flowering is completed, and little harm is done other than making the milkweed look horrible a few weeks early. Seemingly, the aphids go on to something else, somewhere else after the milkweeds are gone. Oddly, aphids do not infest other types of native milkweeds in the neighborhood.

After a lengthy, and notable absence, two Northern Brown water snakes were seen yesterday, one of the few sunny days in weeks, which I suspect is the reason for their appearance, sunning on boulders beside the pond. Koi remain shy this summer, perhaps cautious in the presence of the snakes, but also due to blue and smaller green herons that are commonly seen coming and going.

The sealed container of koi food stored beneath a bench by the pond has not been disturbed for weeks. Perhaps neighborhood racoons have realized the difficulty in opening the container after many tries, and several efforts to drag it into the bushes.

I have noticed the first nibbling of hostas by deer, a reminder that the last spray was seven weeks ago, and with over a foot of rain through this period it’s a small miracle that a molecule of the repellent remains. I must spray this weekend, but this has been delayed several times by imminent thunderstorms.

I see that deer have decimated several healthy clumps of the neighbor’s hostas. Signs directing deer across the street are working, I tell him, but several deer bed down in the thicket beside the garden, so every day I delay there is a risk.

The portly, yellow cat that regularly prowled the garden is not seen any longer. The neighbors are frequently heard outdoors (mostly their kids, who evidently do not own electronic devices, a rare and tremendous credit to mom and dad, I think), but not often seen through our dense plantings. We don’t talk as often as we should, so we’ve not heard bad news about this once frequent visitor. As is usually the case with overly domesticated cats, I suspect hunting instincts are greatly hindered by the easy life. In any case, all comers to the garden are welcome, though we reserve the right to squirt foul tasting substances to discourage munching by some four legged beasts.

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Lauren says:

    Hi! What spray do you use that is effective on the deer? Nothing I’ve tried has been effective so far…

    1. Dave says:

      Currently, I spray with Bobbex, but every other month I add a small amount of hot pepper intended to discourage squirrels. This gives it a bit different taste and scent so deer don’t get used to the repellent. I’ve used other repellents and don’t see much difference in effectiveness as long as they are alternated each month. Now, I use Bobbex one month and hot sauce Bobbex the next.

      1. Lauren says:

        Awesome- I’ll give it a shot- thanks for the tip!

  2. Bonnie C. says:

    Dave, your “caterpillar of unknown provenance” is a Monarch butterfly caterpillar. And I’m EXTREMELY envious, as every year I allow a large patch of Common Milkweed to do its thing, have lots of Monarch butterflies about, but in 20 years have yet to see even so much as ONE caterpillar.

    1. Bridget says:

      Hi Bonnie! I came here to ID the Monarch caterpillar as well. But since you beat me to it, I wanted to recommend to you that you locate an egg on your milkweed and raise that baby indoors, away from it’s enemies! I’m raising one right now and it’s fun!

    2. Dave says:

      Since I see only one caterpillar I wasn’t too curious. I haven’t grown tomatoes for years since the garden’s gotten too shady, but I’ve considered growing tomatoes, or dill just so I could see hornworms again. What is it about a person that likes caterpillars? Seems odd, but it must be a good thing since I do.

      1. Bonnie C. says:

        Well, Hornworms I’ve got aplenty as well (the little bastards). Those I pick off & throw as far as I can (squishing them makes me queasy). They can denude an entire tomato plant in just one or two nights. I do grow parsley & dill, & always plant extra so I can share them with the lovely Swallowtail caterpillars.

  3. Bonnie C. says:

    Thanks. I’ll have to start examining the plants to look for eggs. As it is, I seem to have every single other bug known to love Milkweed infesting my patch. Just no butterfly caterpillars.

  4. tonytomeo says:

    Northern brown water snake? That sounds scary. I noticed that garter snakes swim in the irrigation pond, but I do not know what for. It seems odd.

    1. Bonnie C. says:

      Water snakes in this part of Virginia are harmless (as in, non-venomous), but they do have tempers & will bite if annoyed. But so long as you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.

      1. Dave says:

        We occasionally see copperheads, but mostly black and what I suppose are garter snakes in addition to the the water snakes. Several years ago, I would float in the pond for hours. Snakes would regularly swim past at a safe distance. My only concern is that they nest in crevices between boulders, so now and then we surprise one another as I’m weeding or pruning.

      2. tonytomeo says:

        Non-venomous is not necessarily harmless. They can startle their victims to death!

    2. Dave says:

      It is a bit disturbing to reach to pull a sapling growing in a crevice between boulders, and out pops a six foot snake. Harmless, so far, and mostly a problem for my wife.

      1. Bonnie C. says:

        We’ve been lucky here (Rixeyville) in that we’ve never come across a Copperhead. Just lots of Black rat snakes, a few tiny little Ring-neck snakes, & a few Green snakes (which are absolutely lovely, harmless, insect-eaters by the way). Only water snakes we’ve seen have been on other farms, although we most likely have them down by a stream that runs through our property. We don’t spend enough time down there to know for sure.

      2. Dave says:

        This evening, there are more tiny frogs than I can count as I stroll the garden. Withe five ponds, fish, and frogs, no wonder we have snakes.

      3. tonytomeo says:

        Well, YES! That would be VERY disturbing!

  5. Bonnie C. says:

    I surprisingly didn’t have any toad tadpoles this year (as we usually do) in my farm tire rut puddles (known here as “Walden Puddles”), but we did have a large crop of Grey Tree Frog tads, & it was fun to watch them morph.

  6. Carolyn D says:

    good morning, all. I have only a couple years experience with milkweed and and monarch caterpillars, but have seen that the caterpillars tend to show up on the younger common milkweeds and all ages of the swamp milkweed. Perhaps because the leaves are more tender.

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