This September was reminiscent of last year’s, with pleasant & mostly dry weather. We received a scare with the threat of a very early hard frost in mid-September, but some rain the day before and some un-forecast cloud cover the second night buffered us just enough to allow sensitive plants to keep producing through the month. All in all, an unremarkable but enjoyable month in our ecosystem.
Featured plants of the month: Ladies’ Tresses Orchid (Spiranthes cernua, I think). Right: Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), a common wild tree here, but they’ve rarely produced fruit. Two trees have a good crop this year, and hopefully we’ll get some before the critters eat them all.
Featured reptile of the month: Young Ornate Box Turtle. Cute! Anyone know how fast these grow or what age this one might be?
Featured hornworms of the month: Left: Hog Sphinx (Darapsa myron), on a wild grape along the front walkway. Its droppings gave away its location. The only time we’ve seen an adult Hog Sphinx was a couple of years ago, also just in front of the house. Right: Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta), the species that commonly devours tomato plants. We didn’t see any for most of the summer, then had a population explosion in the early part of September. By then we had given up on most of the tomato plants anyway due to blight.
Featured mimic of the month: These photos feature larvae of the Giant Swallowtail. The caterpillar on the left is an earlier instar, and it is a very effective bird-dropping mimic, shiny skin and all. Caterpillars of Eastern North America points out that the later instars are also effective snake mimics; see the scale-like markings in the inset photo and the “snake tongue” that appears when the caterpillar on the right is provoked.
Featured pest of the month: Based on the photographic record, September was a good month for caterpillars. September also happens to be a great month for growth of brassica food crops that are loved by caterpillars, including the larvae of the Imported Cabbage White Butterfly (shown left) and the Cross-Striped Cabbage Worm. We’ve found that using shade cloth or row cover over the crops (see photo on right) is a great way to limit opportunities that the adult butterflies/moths have to lay eggs on the plants, thus minimizing caterpillar damage.
Featured orthopterans of the month: Left, mating grasshoppers. Right, katydid. Too busy to id more specifically. Saw both of these on Common Milkweed while looking for Monarch caterpillars.
Featured milkweed specialists: Left: milkweed bug (genus Oncopeltus). Right, Monarch caterpillars. September was a really good month for watching both adult and larval Monarchs. At one time, we had at least 20 caterpillars present in the main field. Didn’t find a chrysalis in September (but we’ve started finding them in October). Adults Monarch sightings were fairly routine through the month, averaging one or more per day. That’s far more than we saw in 2013.
Other miscellaneous notes
- During the middle of the month, we had sizable populations of migratory Common Green Darner dragonflies appear. We were unable to photograph these fliers, but identification is based on this Xerces society publication on migratory dragonflies. The combination of large size, green head, and blue on the abdomen seems to be diagnostic. This is the first year that we’ve tried to do any dragonfly identification, so we don’t know if swarms of these passing through in the fall is the “normal” pattern or not, but we did also see them during a September visit to Eagle Bluffs.
- Deer sightings have become more regular, as they typically do in the fall. So far they continue to respect the vegetable fences, but they continue to eat the best out of the goat pastures that have yet to be grazed, and they continue to be a source of concern for disease/parasite transmission to the goats.
- A groundhog has excavated a home under the goat barn and has evaded our attempts to trap it. We suspect it has been feasting on sweet potato leaves and cowpeas. We know of an abandoned groundhog tunnel in a nearby pasture, but this is the first live groundhog we’ve experienced first hand in ~8 years here…an increase in the farm’s mammalian biodiversity that we are uninspired to celebrate.
Last September seems to be a low outlier in our bird numbers, likely for observational reasons (as it was a very exhausting month for us and we had contractors working on the house much of the time). 2014 seems to have returned to more “normal” counts. Cooper’s and Broad-Winged Hawks are listed with “?”, as we saw a number of smaller hawks and accipiters migrating overhead this month but weren’t quite able to make absolutely certain identifications. We’re pretty certain each one passed through at least once, however, due to different spotting features. We had a few nice pulses of fall warblers, including a Wilson’s Warbler (life bird for Eric).
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