I have seen scarlet tanagers in this general area occasionally, but not close to my house. Today a male tanager visited a suet feeder:
I have seen scarlet tanagers in this general area occasionally, but not close to my house. Today a male tanager visited a suet feeder:
I observed courtship among holler birds beginning in mid-February this year -- first with northern cardinals, then doves and Carolina wrens -- but activity has intensified over the past few weeks.
My observations of breeding behavior among birds had been comparatively limited before I started maintaining feeders -- mainly songs, calls, and some phoebes and wrens that built nests close to my house. Yesterday, I managed to get photos of courtship feeding in pairs of cardinals and wrens.
When I saw a couple of Carolina wrens together on a porch step right outside my window, I fired the shutter as fast as I could, ending up with a few usable images. The first one below is the first one in the sequence, and shows what I think is the male of this pair feeding a small seed to his mate:
He then hopped down to find another seed. In the second photo, the female stands on the step with an open bill. At the bottom right edge of the image, you can see the male's bill and part of his head just before he hops back up to bring her another seed:
Later in the afternoon, a pair of northern cardinals engaged in the same behavior. In the photo below, the male has just given his mate a sunflower seed (visible in her beak):
At the same time, and a few branches up from the cardinals in the white oak tree, a pair of mourning doves sat near each other:
I couldn't tell if they were the same couple that sat on a post below one of the bird feeders on March 9th:
Or this pair in the same tree (and maybe the same branch!) on March 31st, just before an attempt to copulate (the photo I got of that was too out of focus to say for sure):
Late in the afternoon now, four to five pairs of doves come to feed together. Other species that have been around the feeders in larger numbers all winter seem to have spread out, and only one pair Carolina chickadees, cardinals and downy woodpeckers, along with two pairs of tufted titmice, continue to show up around the feeders every day.
Watching for migrating birds in the spring (and fall!) is such fun. In my last post I featured the first returnee to the holler, a pine warbler. This morning another migrator flew in: a male purple finch! He is the first of his kind that I've seen in the holler since I moved here, though I used to see purple, house and Cassin's finches quite often when I lived in Colorado. Such a pleasant surprise to see one again.
I had just started today's eBird checklist when I saw a really yellow bird among the American gold finches. He found a few seeds on the ground under the feeders, and flew in and out of my view-shed at least twice, allowing me to get a couple of usable photos. This is the first warbler I've seen in the holler in 2021.
I have some photos and stories about plants ready to compose but I face a major distraction: birds. Lots of birds. Different kinds of birds. Birds I've not seen here before. So first I'm going to do a post on what's flying, singing, eating and nesting in the holler this spring.
Indigo buntings have shown up in the holler every year -- usually late March or April -- since I moved here twenty years ago. For several years, now, goldfinches from open fields farther down the holler have been coming to feed on Echinacea fruits. Last year I added bird feeders around my planter garden, and they have attracted quite a few more goldfinches.
I bought a digital SLR camera last year specifically to catch more bird images. Here are some early photo results for indigo buntings and American goldfinches:
Rose-breasted grosbeaks, a species I had never seen in the holler or anywhere else, showed up at my feeder on April 25th. First I saw a male and female. Since then, more have gotten brave enough to stop by -- as many as four females and three males so far. Here are some photos:
I see Tufted titmice and Carolina wrens year round. Both species build nests and raise chicks near my house every year. The wren couple has not been around much in the past week. They often come together in the evening and groom, eat and play around my planter garden. Once a new batch of wrens has fledged they usually come to play as well.
In addition to the birds I've managed to photograph this spring, I've seen others at a distance and heard many more voices in the woods around my house: cardinals, eastern phoebes, blue jays, crows, wood thrushes, hooded warblers, white-eyed vireos, common yellowthroats, yellow-throated warblers, and some others I'm still working to identify. I'm pretty sure that at least one pair of northern cardinals is nesting nearby. A male phoebe has been around since January 27th but I don't think he's found a partner yet. The first ruby-throated hummingbird of 2020 -- a female -- came to my window on April 30th, the earliest I've seen one, I think. She came several days in a row after that, but I haven't seen her since May 3rd.
I love to take porch breaks to see who's around and hear the tweet-storm du jour!
Peak color for most of the trees in the holler happened around the 25th of October. With windy storm fronts moving through during the first week of November, many of the leaves came down. RedMaple2, for example, lost all remaining leaves --95% or more-- early on November 6th in a thunderstorm strong enough to wake me and my pets up at 3am.
As of today -- except for the Amur honeysuckle, forsythia, multiflora rose and the beech tree farther down the holler -- all the forbs, shrubs and trees I observe have lost 95% or more of their leaves.
The holler had a couple of light frosts that shriveled leaves up and down the lane. Out in my planters, however, the chives, lavender, foxglove, and a few of the bee balms still look good. Time for one final chive and lavender harvest, I think.
So, in terms of phenology observations and reporting, I'm pretty much down to noting phenophase shifts for 3-4 plants and watching for birds and animals that will be around the rest of this fall and winter. The quieter times in the holler gave me some space to think about what's happened since my last post, and to write a little about how things went for some of the plant species this season.
I noticed tons of white avens (image above) in more places around the holler than I'd seen since I moved here. The same was true for orange coneflowers and common St. Johnswort (images below).
I hadn't seen much St. Johnswort the last 2-3 years. I'm still checking photos to decipher the species. On occasion I've observed Spotted St. Johnswort considered to be "rare" in terms of frequency in this part of Tennessee. If they come up in such perfusion next year, I need to get a better record of the tops and bottoms of the leaves, and clearer images of the flowers to help myself out on identification.
A new arrival to my eyes this far up the holler is one of the dayflowers. I've seen these down near Terry Creek for many years, but not up here. The blue color of this flower is striking, but it only flowers for one day. Maybe I've just missed them. For now I've decided this one is the non-native Asiatic dayflower:
Among the abundant populations around the house and the holler was Echinacea, leafy elephant's foot, orange jewelweed, and the smaller of the two purple aster species that grow here.
I try to mow around patches of Elephant's foot because it produces a thistle-like fruit that draws goldfinches, white-throated sparrows and other birds to the yard on cold, snowy days.
I observe two different jewelweed plants, both of which are in an area that receives less sunlight than when I began to track them. Compared to larger patches in a sunny area on the opposite side of the lane, the individuals I track did not produce as many buds, flowers or fruits this year.
A year or so ago the utility company did a massive clearing of trees and brush around the power lines that run along State Route 297 from Pioneer to Jellico. Since then, populations of small purple asters have flourished. This summer there were tons of them to inspire jaw-drops and wows from me every time I drove to town. I even had some up here in the holler, but I photographed these growing at the end of Terry Creek Lane just before it intersects with TN297:
Plants having lower numbers than usual throughout the summer and early fall included white wood asters, lobelia, and goldenrod.
For example, this is about as good as things got for the wood aster I track. Before it could produce any buds, the leaves got holes in them, turned gray-brown and disappeared:
On November 5th, however, I happened to catch activity of a relative just a few feet away, on the other side of the tree from WoodAster1:
The wood aster a few inches away from this flowering one already had mature fruit:
So many factors impact the lives of each individual forb, shrub or tree -- a good reason to track more than one plant of the same species.
Great blue lobelias were also missing in the holler this season. I love these plants. They are photogenic and often have an interesting mix of little bugs and pollinators crawling around on them (though this one didn't have any on the day I walked by):
Didn't see as much goldenrod this year, either, and most of what I saw -- at least around the holler -- was early goldenrod:
Some of the other plant stories of 2018 that I'd classify under "kind of weird": I didn't see as much heath aster in the holler, and the one I finally spotted was a volunteer in one of my planters. By the time this species starts to come up, they are already surrounded by a lot of other plants, making initial leaves hard to see. In fact I almost pulled initial leaves of this aster out because I thought it was a weed. As it continued to grow, I didn't really notice its distinctive narrow, pointed leaves because they blended in with the little snapdragons that were supposed to be the only residents of that planter. I didn't figure out I had a white heath aster in there until it made flowers:
I finally located the real HeathAster1 after it grew taller than the surrounding Echinaceas and the bright white flowers caught my eye. It did not produce a lot of leaves or flowers this year though. I wondered if it had to spend most of its energy reserves just to get up out of the Echinaceas.
And one final weirdness: the mapleleaf viburnams had a tough year for some reason. I track only one of this species, but new viburnams in its neighborhood have been increasing yearly since I began observing them, seeming to do very well. This year, the only one to get all the way to the flowering phenophase was the plant next to the one I track, and it never made fruits.
As the holler slides deeper into fall and winter, I'm thinking about future posts for the slower observation season. I have expanded my Phenology Album at Flickr. In my next post -- unless something unexpected emerges -- I decided to gather images of my Nature's Notebook observation area and its neighboring landscapes to share more of a "whole holler" background for blog posts on species I observe.
In my last post I talked a little about my new butterfly milkweed plant and its magnetic qualities. Once its flowers opened on June 3rd, I began to see butterflies on it. On June 5th, two great spangled fritillaries came to feed several times:
The next day I saw as many as four fritillaries and a crescent butterfly on it throughout the day. In the photo below are three fritillaries and the pearl crescent:
They are so focused on feeding that they remained at the flower even when my dog or cat walked by. I easily got a close up of this single fritillary:
The butterflies seem mesmerized by the milkweed, and I'm definitely mesmerized by the butterflies. Here a video of them:
Of course, where butterflies and other insects gather, there, too, may be dragonflies such as this pair of common whitetails. I see them hunting together almost every day:
Among the amphibian visitors to my planters are two skink species -- the eastern 5-lined skink and the broadheaded skink. Recently I got short video clips of each while I was recording activity of the butterflies and dragonflies:
Even with all of this happening, the story of life around my planter garden continued to unfold with the return -- exactly a month later -- of the Carolina wrens that fledged on May 6th. I'll share what the holler wrens are up to in my next post.
Out in the holler, trees are fully leafed out and most of the early spring flower species have pretty much finished their above-ground phases. Among the plants I observe for Nature's Notebook, I've turned my focus to Echinacea, jewelweed, wingstem, and hopes of catching initial growth phases of later summer species like the frost and wood asters.
Activity of winged creatures -- birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees -- brings new amazements daily. After zero sightings of red admirals last year, I saw one (images above and below) the first week of June.
There are many butterfly species that I see infequently, for example, the hackberry emperor. Until last week, I had not seen another one since my memorable introduction to this species in June 2010, when one landed on my window sill and walked around for several minutes while I got plenty of great close-ups:
The one I saw last week stayed for a long time on a pile of garden soil, but I was not able to get closer than a long lean out of my study window with my video camera for this photo:
I could have rested in butterfly bliss with the return of the admiral and hackberry alone. Then along came an Appalachian brown, my first ever. Again, I managed to get a few distant images from my window. When I went outside to do some planter maintenance a little later, I saw it just a few inches from me. Not only did it stay put while I ran back inside to get my camera, it let me get right up in its face, so to speak, for 15 to 20 shots from different angles:
Just to make sure it was an Appalachian and not a Smoky brown, I submitted an ID request at BugGuide. You can view the entry and confirmation at my BugGuide user account.
I saw my first ebony jewelwing of the year on May 29th -- too far away for a photo. They are one of the most strikingly beautiful winged creatures that live in the holler.
I'm still seeing toads around. I almost dropped a new tarp for my brush mower in this one's head. If it was sitting there when I approached the car, it's a wonder I didn't step on it:
This toad sighting was of interest because I'm pretty sure now that I'm seeing at least two different toads. American toads' skin can be brown, red, olive or gray. To complicate identification, air temperature, humidity and stress can cause color shifts. Fowler's toads come in shades of gray or brown to brick red.
I have taken this into account as I've collected and recorded toad sightings. It's also why I treasure any photos I can get to look for more reliable differentiations. The one above is lighter in color and slightly smaller, but had the space between the cranial crests and the parotoid glands.
I had a surprise encounter with a darker toad on June 5th when I went out to re-pot a new foxglove plant. I'm not sure if it was a Fowler's or American toad -- no photo to study later. I was happily shoveling dirt around the plant when the toad suddenly popped into view near my hand. I have no clue where it came from, unless it had been sitting within the dense leafage of the foxglove before I pulled the plant from its plastic nursery pot.
I'm still doing some upgrades around my planter garden. In addition to the foxglove, I found a butterfly milkweed at Stanley's Greenhouse -- my go-to nursery for annuals and perennials -- that already had buds atop very sturdy looking stems, and brought it home to the holler. I've tried to grow this species for the last few years, but I'm doing something they don't like, I think -- new plants have come up every spring, but they're skinny, budless, and only one or two have made it through to the fall. At this point, I'm guessing the problem is that the soil and planters I've put them in don't drain or dry out very well. Also, I am pretty deep in the woods here. Plants that need full sun occasionally require that I move the pots around as the sun shifts across the seasons. Or maybe I need to buy plants that are more mature to begin with.
The first flowers opened on June 3rd. People are not kidding when they say these milkweeds are butterfly magnets. That's my next post.
I've been listening in to the holler for 18 years, now, and there are a few sounds I can't identify even though I've heard them many times. This past week, however, I heard some new ones. I also happened to see some toads and, in trying to verify their identity, got a clue to the "waaaaa!" being sung just beyond my planters, near the edge of the woods.
I believe all of the sightings have been of American toads. I managed to get the photo above on the occasion of the third sighting. Based on the presence of a space (albeit small on this individual) between the cranial crest and the parotoid glands, I decided they were all Anaxyrus americanus.
The toad call I was hearing, however, was closer to that of Anaxyrus fowleri -- Fowler's toad -- another species I've seen around my planters. Fowler's toads typically make shorter, raspier calls (1-4 seconds) compared to the longer, clearer call of American toads (4-20 seconds). It's also possible that I was hearing both, especially before I heard recordings of each one. I was hearing these calls several times a day over a 5 to 6 day period.
Whoever they are, I'm glad they're around, and I'll welcome as many more as want to be here.
The other froggie sound to erupt in the holler this week was that of Lithobates catesbeianus, the American bullfrog. No questions about that one! Very early this morning I heard overlapping bullfrog calls at the upper pond in my Nature's Notebook observation area.
One more amphibian note: I saw my first Southern red-backed salamander -- maybe two weeks ago, by now. Seeing such an amazing variety of creatures makes my efforts to maintain a planter garden worthwhile.
Cutleaf toothwort-1 reached the ripe fruit phenophase around the 10th of May. In the photo above, this plant still has some fruits, but some of the pods have opened and dropped seeds. This is the first time I've gotten a photo of ripe fruits for this species.
The oxeye daisies have flowered in the past week or so, replacing the lyre-leaved sage and fleabanes around my yard that are well into their ripe fruit and seed drop phases:
I noticed this morning that a few orange day lilies have flowered. On trips to town this week I saw quite a few evening primroses and Indian pinks.
In terms of what's flying in the holler, I caught up with one of the crescent butterflies that have been around for awhile. The one below is likely a pearl crescent, but I took the photo so I could study it, because the color seemed a little different. I haven't decided for sure if this is a pearl or northern crescent -- I didn't get a wings-folded image, which would have helped differentiate them. Other butterflies I've seen since my last post include red-spotted purples, spicebush and zebra swallowtails, and a great-spangled fritillary that I've seen almost every day since May 10th around my new planter arrangements.
Whitetail dragonflies are among the damsels and dragons populating the holler now. Almost everyday last week, I observed a male and female whitetail hunting around my planters, in addition to several others congregating in a wet area farther down my lane. I think I saw one of the large petal-tail species yesterday and, a few days ago, a large greenish dragonfly that I could not identify.
Returning birds' songs over the past week or so include the wood thrush and common yellow-throated warbler. I got my annual planter flowers installed just in time to welcome a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds that I hope will nest again in the lespedeza and orange jewelweed tangles in the Hudson Branch floodplain.
Coming back from town last Friday, I came upon a wild turkey trotting up the lane ahead of me. I haven't seen one that close to the house in awhile. One of my neighbors said he saw a hen and 8-9 chicks heading into the tall grass of one of their fields just a few hours before I saw the single turkey further up the holler.
It's still a very busy time of year up here as we transition from spring into early summer.