Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Blooming Wonderful

The Finger Lakes of New York are a bonanza for the nature lover. One of my favorite nature spots in spring is the Mundy Wildflower Garden along Fall Creek on the Cornell University campus. It is a rich, intensely managed natural area with an amazing array of native plants, and it is alive with birds, too.  I have been going there for twelve years and always come away richly rewarded.  To learn more, go to:

Today, I began there shortly after sunrise. I concentrated on the flowers though the birds were very active.  Later, I would join a work party removing invasives and planting more native plants. But first, I would have some play time. Entering the garden,  large beds of yellow surrounded the white flowers of the Great Solomon's Seal hanging gracefully beneath rich green leaves.  I've seen Ruby-thoated Hummingbirds hovering under these to gather nectar.

Near the entrance was White Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda, called Doll's Eyes because the china white berries have a purplish "pupil". The plant in Mundy was in such a charming alignment that a photo was mandatory. The leaves and flower head were in ideal arrangement.

Other delights awaited me in the garden.  Down the trail were the Great Solomon's Seal mixed in with Wild Geranium. Also called Spotted Cranesbill, Geranium maculatum is an easy plant to introduce into the home garden.  Both of these are hardy, though I've learned to keep the Solomon's Seal behind a fence to thwart the deer's hunger. Unlike so many of our introduced garden plants, they are ideally matched to our climate and low maintenance.

Next I came upon some False Solomon's Seal growing among the ferns. These sway in the slightest breeze, so I had to work fast before the sun stirred up the air.  However, unlike a bird, they cannot fly away just as I get ready to fire the shutter.

Not all plants are in peak bloom; the large White Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum, can also be attractive when the white flowers fade to red.  See below.

 Another deer resistance plant that is ideal for the home garden is the Wild Columbine. Watching a hummingbird feed on it is not to be missed.  In many cases, it has been shown that these native varieties have richer nectar than the exotic varieties that may be somewhat showier.  For me, a native plant that is better adapted to our locale means less care in the garden and a great ability to sustain itself over the years.

My saunter through Mundy Wildflower Garden led me to another late spring favorite, May Apple.  I have it in my home garden where its toxicity has proven its worth. Deer have never touched it.  It is not invasive and requires zero care.  Today I headed for a favorite place in Mundy where I discovered a harvestman spider in residence.

I made a final stop on my way to join the work party. I had found another Wild Geranium next to a contrasting tree.  The difference in the textures and colors attracted me.

 There was just so much eye candy to be found, that I found it hard to quit. The ephemeral nature of native plants means that a return next week will present a new set of blooms to enjoy. That is part of what keeps me coming back each year. Throughout the spring, there are both wildflower and bird walks in the Plantations that are expert-led.  They are listed in this link:

So, whether it is birds or flowers, the Mundy Wildflower Garden is a treasure for all nature lovers.  Discover it if you can.


Monday, May 18, 2015


It is late spring now, and the birds are in various stages of the nesting season.  Great Horned Owls have already fledged, Eastern Bluebirds are feeding young and Yellow Warblers are building nests.  The Bobolinks have finally arrived and are filling the air with a wonderful, bubbly song in the meadows.

Today, I went to the Greensprings Natural Cemetery near Ithaca to see the Bobolinks. The meadows are not mowed during nesting season, and an abundance of ground nesting birds can be found. While there was an oversupply of male Bobolinks, I saw two pairs that were defending territory, and perhaps, starting a nest beneath the widely scattered honeysuckle bushes.

The male has this fluttery flight over the meadow accompanying his bubble and tinkle song. It seemed to me that it principally attracts rival males, not females.

The male also take a perch to broadcast his message.  This seemed to be announcing a territory.

This fellow's lady seemed to keep pretty close to him, and foraged among the grasses with a few excursions to the weed stalks for a look around.  I find her quite attractive too.

Greenspring practices responsible management of the meadows with regards to mowing. I recall that they only mow every other year in the late summer when nesting is complete.  The result is an abundant, prairie-like habitat full of the cycle of life.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Competition- Nesting Wars

The Bluebird boxes that so frequently dot the meadows around here are equally attractive to House Wrens and Tree Swallows to name just two. It seems that Eastern Bluebirds are actually minority occupants. I've been lucky to be able to get really close without disturbing the birds at one location. I began well outside of the birds' safety zone, and over an hour or more, moved a few feet closer whenever activity around the nest boxes waned. I never faced directly towards them, and moved forward in a zig-zag path. Eventually, they allowed me to be within 15 feet.  Rather than "taking shots", I am "receiving a gift".

The main competitor for the nest boxes here are Tree Swallows. The pair seen below are the main protagonists.

Just like the Eastern Bluebird, the male is the more colorful one (above) on the upper left. A closer look confirms his elegant form.  As the male shifts relative to the light's direction, his back flashes a lively blue.

Through the morning, the Bluebird pair showed a preference for one of the two nest boxes in front of me.  They chose the perch stick above that box with greater frequency. When the Tree Swallows soared past the box, the male would spread his wings in a display of his size. See below a typical response.

Then, the female Bluebird entered the nest box and remained for over twenty minutes. I wondered if she was laying an egg or simply  establishing ownership?  During that time,  a female Tree Swallow made several attempts to enter. She always retreated quickly.

The male Bluebird remained very close. He even defended the perch over the second nest box.

 I must admit that I am becoming very interested in seeing how this drama between the Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds plays out. Yes, I am rooting for the Bluebird male.  He puts on quite a show in the sunlight. If the Tree Swallows settle in the second box, it will be interesting to see the interplay. Will they work out a truce?