Up Close and Personal

Red-Shouldered Hawk that greeted me yesterday morning

Though the mulberries are almost gone, I still try to start the days with a half-hour watching the birds in the mulberry and cherry trees.  Yesterday morning as I was rubbing the sleep out of my eyes on the way out to the garden I heard the characteristic cry of the Red-Shouldered Hawk.  And there on the garden fence, not 25 feet away was this awesome hawk.  The cry is actually a mating call so that I was probably just a distraction.  Nonetheless the look I got was an irritated one.

Red-Shouldered Hawk getting ready to launch

Red-Shouldered Hawk takes off, note the talons

You would think that this would make the birds of the neighborhood lie low.  But moments later I witnessed this same hawk getting dive-bombed by this Eastern Kingbird (no bigger than a Robin).

Eastern Kingbird atop cherry

Just two days earlier I had seen a family of Great Crested Flycatchers amongst the Cherry trees.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher youngster

So despite the fact that I missed the last couple of weeks of the mulberry/cherry season there is still a lot of bird watching to do — and it remains rewarding to get up and out in the morning.

Yesterday also yielded a Swallowtail hanging out in the Agastache ‘Tutti-Fruiti’.

Swallowtail on Agastache

Swallowtail fully spread out on the Agastache 'Tutti-Fruiti'

Seneca Blues

Blue Flax (Linum lewisii) in the early morning

One of the delightful treats in the early morning on my photographic rounds looking for the birds of the season is seeing the Flax that persist from planting wildflowers in previous years.  These are a lovely shade of blue that is present only in the mornings and then the flowers close by mid-afternoon.  The plants are quite rugged and compete well with the grasses.

The shade of blue in the flax flowers matches that of the bluebirds that I saw this week on the garden fence.  It was the first really good look at the bluebirds that I have gotten this year.

Female Bluebird

And right next to the bluebirds were the first of the Bearded Iris coming into bloom in the long row that we have planted just for picking.

Bearded Iris starting to bloom

Twenty feet away is a little patch of columbine that came from seeds via the American Horticultural Society seed exchange last year.

Columbine 'AHS seed exchange'

I think these will be a favorite for years to come.

Another patch of blue is the Jacob’s Ladder that is just now appearing in the Camellia garden.

Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum)

Well, in addition to the beauty of these flowers and birds, I had another reason for focusing on blue this evening.  I received an email from Seneca Hills indicating that they were going to be leaving the retail business.  This was just two days after my receiving another delightful order of rare delights (a white flowering Glaucidium palmatum and a Hylomecon japonica).  It made me sad to see this transition even though I know that small businesses, like gardens, depend upon an intensity of effort that is usually transitory in nature.  Ellen Hornig, the owner, ran an excellent nursery with great plant stock and fine service.  I for one will be reminded of Ellen Hornig and Seneca Hills every time I look at one of those primulas or peonies that they have contributed to our garden.  I wish her all the best.

Watch for flying objects…

I was crouched down underneath the Witch Hazel today trying for a shot of the yellow flowers against a pretty blue sky when I heard a commotion in the forsythia bushes next to me.  I glanced over just in time to see a hawk about 4 feet away from me.  It had apparently just struck a smaller bird.  We stared at each other through the branches for a moment and then I finally had the presence of mind to raise my camera, but too late!  He launched with the small bird in talons.  I took pictures as best I could having neither the right lens or the time to look through the viewfinder.  As it turns out in looking at the pictures later I believe that the small bird was a cardinal — the beak is a giveaway.  It was amazing how fast the hawk could fly even carrying the other bird.  They are certainly the masters of the sky.  I can’t tell which hawk it is from the pictures, but something tells me I will get another chance to see in the future…

Hawk with Cardinal

Hawk w cardinal as he flys away

And oh yes, I did get the witch hazel against the blue sky….

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) against the blue sky

Garden Blogger Bloom Day January 2010

Well, here we are starting off a new year with Garden Blogger Bloom Day.  Sad to say there aren’t many flowers to show from a tour around the property.  Certainly the most spectacular on site is a very nice Moth Orchid growing inside the house.

Stripped Phalaenopsis

As is true with most of our orchids they blossom with incredible staying power, 4-6 weeks I would guess, and the flowers will stop you in your tracks.

It’s a good thing we have the orchids going on because outside there is not much to show this month.  I took a pretty good walk around and saw only the same little snowdrop that has been out for nearly a month now.

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) in January

Otherwise it was a lot of promising buds but no cigars (to borrow a phrase).  We’ve had a lot of freezing or below days that have only just ended with 50 degrees yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  One warm spell has trouble making up for a lot of frigid temperatures.  Things like the hellebores and quince are just waiting in the wings and I see lots of daffodils sticking up their little green spikes.  Scary to think that we are not even at the middle point of the winter as far as the ground temperature goes.  That could make one start to plan a trip to Florida for spring training (which I plan to do this year…).

Of course even when the plants are dormant many of the birds are still here to keep us company.  The red Cardinals are always a comfort when we get up in the morning.  But today I was noting how nicely even the House Finches are colored when they are not side by side with the Cardinals.

House Finch in January

Another surprising element to me is just how much color is left on the male Goldfinches even in the dead of winter.  Is it always this way and am I just paying more attention?

Goldfinch in January

Along with the warm weather we have had a couple of amazing sunsets.  I sat outside and watched this one with a cup of tea last night.  Those red adirondack chairs on the pasture hillside are wonderful for contemplation until the sun goes down and it gets cold enough to chase me inside.  May your winter seed catalog dreams match glowing colors of the sunset…

January sunset

End of the Line

It’s time for the monthly Picture This photo contest at Gardens Gone Wild.  The theme for November is “End of the Line”.  You can imagine how this leads to lots of visual interpretations featuring change of season, last fruits, flowers, or leaves, or just pathways or roads going off to infinity.  I wrestled with various options including the following shot of Beth hiking down the entry road at Worthington Farm, a part of Monocacy National Battlefield.

Beth at Worthington Farm

Beth at Worthington Farm

And then there was the migration of tree swallows all perched on a telephone wire at Lilypons.

Tree swallows on a wire

Tree swallows on a wire

And then of course when we think of migrations and change of seasons the Canadian Geese surely come to mind.

Line of Honkers

Line of Honkers

Of course the other kind of line that we all get involved in is the traffic jams that are part of daily life.  I couldn’t help but imagine a traffic jam when I saw these two caterpillars both coming to the end of the branch they were chewing on.

Traffic jam

Traffic jam

But as I thought about the theme in terms of the change of season nothing brought home the dramatic end of another growing season than looking at this Cardinal caught in the aftermath of an ice storm.  This will be my entry for November.  End of the line Dear Reader …

Ice Cardinal

Ice Cardinal

Is it Fall or Spring?

Crocus speciosus 'Albus'

Crocus speciosus 'Albus'

We finally saw one of the two Fall Crocus varieties that we planted in September.  I had just about given up on them when lo and behold there they were popping through the grass.  Leaves have just about finished dropping from the trees and the nights are getting chillier but the days still have gone into the 60’s on occasion.  Enough so that some plants seem to think we are actually moving to Spring, skipping Winter altogether.

A highlight is the Camellia Japonica ‘Spring Promise’ that we got from Logee’s last Spring.  It is still a small plant but covered with buds that are bursting into bloom.

Camellia Japonica 'Spring Promise'

Camellia Japonica 'Spring Promise'

Spring Promise is one of the Ice Angel series of Camellias that were specifically bred to extend the Camellia range up into zone 6 territory.  I’m very impressed by this one so far although it seems to have put most of its first year of growth into producing flowerbuds rather than new branches.  It has the big leaves of the Japonicas rather than the smaller leaves of the Sasanquas.

Some of the other plants are also showing spring-like growth.  The Anemone Coronaria has put up new leaves in the rock garden.  Maybe this is why they don’t usually last long in this area.

Anemone coronaria leaves

Anemone coronaria leaves

I also see that the Star Magnolia and the Flowering Quince, two reliable harbingers of Spring are fattening their buds.

Star Magnolia bud

Star Magnolia bud

The forecast for today calls for nearly 60 degrees and no frost is predicted in the ten day forecast so I think that some of these spring-like fantasies are likely to continue…

We also had a visit from a hawk yesterday that reminded me that I need to clean the windows and remove the screen so I can take better pictures in the wintertime…Visit from a hawk

Garden Blogger Bloom Day for October

Today is GB Bloom Day for October, a tradition started by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.  I took a brief walkabout yesterday and noted there were indeed still some flowers doing their best to have us take notice before the anticipated freeze that should come in about a week or so if the weather is on schedule.  Place of honor has to go to the Cosmos.

Cosmos and our resident Sugar Maple

Cosmos and our resident Sugar Maple

The bees are very fond of the Cosmos (of course they don’t have as much to choose from as the season runs down.

Bee on Cosmos

Bee on Cosmos

And other annuals like Zinnias and Marigolds are still very much in play.

Bees on Marigold

Bees on Marigold

The Dahlias are at their best in the Fall.  These colorful flowers are better and better right up until frost.

Dahlia (fuschia tinged yellow)

Dahlia (fuschia tinged yellow)

I’ll have to see if I can see the label on this one when it’s daylight (*Jonathan says it’s Gallery Pablo and I believe that’s right).

The cyclamens that we bought from Seneca Hills last Spring are also looking better as the season progresses.  All three plants purchased have come into flower.

Cyclamen purpurascens

Cyclamen purpurascens

The surprise for us this week was the Pineapple Sage that Beth planted last Spring in the herb garden.  It’s supposed to take a long time to flower and it did.  But it’s a very nice flower once it comes.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

Aside from the blooms, we also had a butterfly visitor that I hadn’t noticed before flying through the orchard.  It’s name really is the Question Mark — that’s not a stand-in for not knowing the name.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

The season is well marked by that Sugar Maple that I mentioned earlier.  This tree almost died in our front yard, exposed to the winter winds.  When I moved it to the forest (dragged by a logging chain because it was quite big even then), it prospered.

Sugar Maple turning color

Sugar Maple turning color

Another sign of Fall is the steady stream of honkers passing overhead.  The Canada Geese are abundant over at Lilypons where I returned again this week looking for bird pictures after last weeks successful visit.

Landing Pad for the Canada Geese

Landing Pad for the Canada Geese at Lilypons

Great Blue Heron at Lilypons

Lilypons Water Gardens

Lilypons Water Gardens

I went to Lilypons yesterday with photography in mind.  I expected that with all of their ponds I might see some water birds.  They have about 250 acres of ponds and water gardens and specialize in water plants and fish.  The visit more than filled my expectations.  I walked around the outer perimeter just exploring what is at times almost a tropical path with water on both sides of the walk (Lilypons abuts the Monocacy River).  The first thing that struck me were the incredible flocks of Tree Swallows.

Tree Swallows at Lilypons

Tree Swallows at Lilypons

They were continually swooping and diving above the various ponds, even going into the water to grab insects.  I have never seen so many swallows at once.  On the far side of the property there were many, many Tree Swallows sitting on the telephone wires.

Tree Swallows on a wire

Tree Swallows on a wire

Along the ponds were numerous wildflowers, such as Ironweed.

Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

And of course Goldenrod.

Goldenrod at Lilypons

Goldenrod at Lilypons

The real surprise that awaited was on the far side of the ponds where I came upon this Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron at Lilypons

Great Blue Heron at Lilypons

Great Blue Heron Profile

Great Blue Heron Profile

At first as I began taking pictures and walking toward the Heron I thought he was going to leave at any moment.  Then I began to think he was accustomed to people.  It turned out that he was much more interested in his dinner than in this slow moving photographer.  All of a sudden he tensed and darted downward grabbing a good sized snake.  I barely had the presence of mind to grab a photo.

Great Blue Heron with Snake

Great Blue Heron with Snake

I followed him around to the next pond over where he took his prize.  He then proceeded to eat the snake by swallowing it whole.  This is more difficult that you would think when you don’t have any hands…Heron eating snake 2

Of course Lilypons doesn’t exist just to keep photographers happy.  They also sell water plants and fish.  They have sample gardens and ponds set up and publish a catalog as well.  But I will be back to take pictures again in the future.

Sample water garden at Lilypons

Sample water garden at Lilypons