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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Weather: Light thundershower yesterday afternoon - more rain expected soon. Looks like we are now back to the rain every day pattern. The trees, shrubs and perennials have mostly been very happy with all the rain. The black haw viburnums in the woods have some kind of mildew on them, and some of the dogwoods and sassafras trees are starting to turn yellow, but everything else is much more green and happy than they have been for years.

Wildlife notes: Saw a hummingbird on Thursday around the Cuphea. Blue Jays are now getting into the Nuttery feeder. They hang on at the bottom edge of the feeder and stick their heads in enough to reach the seed. Since this tilts the feeder, some seed spills on the ground to be be picked up by grackles, mourning doves and squirrels. I thought the squirrels wouldn't build nests in our trees this year, since they had been mostly using the pines which are now gone. But yesterday, I watched a squirrel building a nest in a small willow oak, in a fairly open area straight back from the house. This doesn't look like a very sheltered spot to me, but I guess it looked OK to the squirrel.

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Thursday, August 28, 2003

Weather: we had a big thunderstorm last evening around 7 pm - no hail and not quite as windy as Tuesday, but still a big storm with lots of rain. So this morning when I went out to get the papers I was surprised that the sky was clear enough to see stars - and winter stars at that! I first noticed the Pleides, and then looked for Orion. I'm not ready for winter stars just yet, but they were there.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Weather: hearing thunder now - radar shows more rain headed our way

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Birds: saw a hummingbird this afternoon, so they haven't disappeared.

Pictures: New pictures today, including this one of the Eragrostis spectabilis (Love Grass) blooming by the front steps.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Weather again: We had a big thunderstorm about 4:45 pm - lightning, thunder, wind, hail, rain. We don't usually get hail....

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Weather: warm and humid; we had a rare midday thunderstorm about 11:30 this morning; more thunderstorms expected later today.

Flowers: Thinking that the cosmos would be flattened by the approaching thunderstorm, I cut some for the house. When I came outside this afternoon after the storm, the cosmos were still standing straight.

Butterflies and Birds: Still seeing swallowtail butterflies, but they don't seem as numerous as a week or so ago. Now seeing many, many small dark butterflies. Have no idea what they are. Haven't seen a hummingbird since the weekend. I hope the tree-stump grinding didn't scare them off.

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Monday, August 25, 2003

Weather: still sunny, but warmer and more humid; was cool (60s) Saturday and Sunday nights.

Paying: had the tree stumps ground out today. Now there shouldn't be anything to trip over back in the woods.

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Saturday, August 23, 2003

Weather: Beautiful - low humidity, cooler, sunny, breezy. We had thunderstorms last night but the rain didn't amount to much.

Bird: Got a closer look (through binoculars) at one of the hummingbirds today, and now am wondering whether it is a female rufous. I saw a bright orange-red spot glinting in the sun on its throat, which is what the Sibley Guide says to expect from a female rufous. At first I thought it might be an immature male ruby-throat, now I have no idea. Needs more investigation.

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Friday, August 22, 2003

Weather: Too hot & humid to garden.

Chores: weeded and deadheaded a bit, and watered the containers in back.

Pruning: had the hollies and other shrubs in front pruned yesterday. Now they are all in proper, sheared suburban shapes. But it does look nice and tidy.

Birds and Butterflies: saw quite a bit of the hummingbird(s) yesterday, but not at all today. Still seeing a lot of swallowtail butterflies and the occasional monarch and some smaller ones that I can't identify.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Weather: Beautiful weather today - feels like September... cooler, lower humidity, sunny....

Chores: deadheaded - Nicotiana 'Domino Antique Shades' has set seed and stopped blooming. Will probably just remove this from the planters in front and replace with some fresh new chrysanthemums.

Wildlife: filled bird feeder - still getting a variety of birds at the Nuttery feeder - goldfinch, downy woodpecker, chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina? wren, house finch. Still seeing hummingbirds a lot too - today sipping at Coleus flowers, Cosmos, Veronica, and the usual Lantana and Cuphea.

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Monday, August 18, 2003

Weather: rain Saturday night, but dry since then - supposed to stay dry through this week for a change

Pictures: posted 5 new pictures today, starting with this one - have no idea what this blue bug is, but it flew onto this grass leaf while I was trying to get a picture of the Strobilanthes.

In Bloom: Didn't get any actual gardening work done today, but did note a few new things in bloom - the late summer/early fall flowers are now starting

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Saturday, August 16, 2003

Weather: hearing thunder now, but the sun is shining brightly.

Birds: Lots of hummingbird sightings in the backyard lately. We seem to see them every time we look outside. Usually it's only one at a time, but yesterday around lunch time there were 2 at once. This is far, far more than we have ever seen them before. They seem to really like the Cuphea and the Lantana, more than anything else.

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Friday, August 15, 2003

Very Hungry Caterpillars: This morning I noticed that my Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) was almost totally defoliated in places, so later on I went out to have a look at it. I found approximately 25-30 strangely tufted caterpillars all over the stems and leaves. So I did what I always do now when I want information - I did a Google search. Found nothing like it. Uh oh, now I have to do things the old-fashioned way - ask somebody or find a book. So off to the library after lunch. Looked at one butterfly book after another and still found nothing. There are very few pictures of caterpillars in butterfly books. I picked up one more tiny book - Peterson's First Guide to Caterpillars - and finally found a picture of what I had seen in my garden.
Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar.
Now, with a name, I went back to Google and found a site called Identifying Caterpillars, where they have a picture of a Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar. Mine seems to have more colors than theirs, but I still think it is the same thing. We are used to thinking of ugly caterpillars turning into beautiful butterflies, but in this case it is the other way around. The adult Milkweed Tussock Moth is very plain. Well, I was not going to let these cool caterpillars eat my Butterfly weed just to turn into ugly moths, so I scraped up as many as I could into a bucket and went to look for some other milkweeds (real weeds, not garden plants) that they could eat. (The caterpillars are alleged to only eat milkweeds.) I didn't see any along Charlie's fence where I expected to, so I dumped them in the weeds by the woods on the other side of the pipeline. Maybe there are milkweeds around there that I didn't see, but in any case they have a long crawl back to mine.

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Weather: mostly sunny, hot and humid yesterday, but poured down rain on Wednesday evening

Chores: deadheaded yesterday

Planting: couldn't resist a few more 1/2 price plants at Cox Farms, so I bought and potted up a bright red Lantana, a blue-purple Angelonia, and Cuphea 'Twinkle Pink'. This last one has very tiny flowers, but it supposed to produce them in abundance.

Birds: yesterday, saw goldfinches feeding other goldfinches with seed from the Nuttery feeder, and this morning saw a red-bellied woodpecker feeding another the same way. The birds being fed do not look like baby birds to me, so why is this and is it common behaviour?

Butterflies: no pictures today, but yesterday saw a Monarch here at home, and a Giant Swallowtail while at Cox Farms. Also noticed this morning that a fair number of Asclepias tuberosa have been completely defoliated (more monarch butterflies?), and the oak leaves just above the Buddleja are skeletonized (don't know what feeds on oaks particularly). Hope they are "nice" larvae and not something nasty like Gypsy Moths.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Weather: humid, no rain since Monday afternoon (when it poured)

Chores: weeded

Wildlife: spectacular butterflies today! Just a few minutes ago, saw a Zebra Swallowtail on Buddleja 'Lochinch'. I had never seen one before, and it looks far too exotic for northern Virginia - black and white striped with a dash of red, and long "tails". The eNature field guide entry says they are common around here. I was outside when it first came around, so I first took a good look at it and then went inside to get the camera. It was still there when I got back, but I didn't get a picture. But earlier in the day, I got a picture of another new-to-me butterfly. I think this is
a great spangled fritillary, but don't know for sure. It was about the size of a monarch. I was in the kitchen and happened to look out towards the Buddleja, and saw
a tiger swallowtail , and then saw something I didn't recognize. This time I grabbed the camera before heading outdoors.

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Monday, August 11, 2003

Weather: just started raining

Chores: weeded, deadheaded, filled bird feeder. Found a variegated pokeweed while weeding and decided to leave it (probably a mistake). The squirrels have chewed all around the lid of the Nuttery feeder - looks like it will now rust where they chewed down to the metal.

Birds: saw a hummingbird around the torenia and hosta flowers at about 12:55 pm; also saw a little brown bird (couldn't tell what it was) taking a dust bath in the woods

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Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Birds: saw either 3 hummingbirds or 1 hummingbird 3 times between 5 and 5:30 this afternoon. It came around the Buddleja and the Lantana, but spent the most time around the Cuphea. It also perched a couple of times in the little oak tree near where I was sitting. While this was going on there was a pair of goldfinches and a downy woodpecker at the Nuttery feeder and a cardinal on the ground.

I just received my first issue of Backyard Bird News today and read it cover to cover this afternoon. I learned that I have been misspelling Buddleia all these years - it is supposed to be Buddleja, with a J not an I. I had noticed this in English gardening magazines, but thought it was a regional variation.

Insects: just noticed last week (or was it the week before?) the cicadas chirping in the woods. They are doing it just now.

Chores: deadheaded the Cosmos and Buddleja yesterday, and watered the containers in back today. All our episodes of rain lately didn't do much good. The lawn service was here yesterday around noon, spraying herbicide everywhere.

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Planets: the weather finally cleared up this morning and when I went out to get the paper (around 5:45 am), Mars was shining brightly in the southwest. I now see what all the fuss is about - with the naked eye you can see that it is a disk and not a point of light. I had seen Mars in the morning earlier in the summer when we were at the Outer Banks, but didn't know what it was until after we got home. Then it was visible in the east even as the sun was rising. Hope we get some clear weather for more observing while it is close and bright.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Pictures: today's garden picture. This is Cuphea purpurea, or so the label said. The flowers are not as orange as they look on my monitor - really much more of a true red - and they are only about an inch and a half long.


Weather: a bit of rain this morning, but not enough to do much good. I'll probably have to start watering the containers again tomorrow if we don't get rain tonight.

Birds: the hummingbird was in the back yard around 5:25 this afternoon. Didn't stay long today (because I was outside?)

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Monday, August 04, 2003

Birds: just saw a hummingbird again. This time I was indoors and it stayed long enough for me to grab the binoculars. It looked to me like a female ruby-throated hummingbird - no red on the throat and white at the end of the tail feathers. I think I may be seeing the same one over and over - it seems to show up about this time of day. It investigated the Cuphea, Lantana, and finally the Buddleia (butterfly bush).

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Weather: cleared up this afternoon - nice to see the sun again. We got some rain overnight, but don't know how much.

Pictures: one new picture today

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Sunday, August 03, 2003

Pictures: New pictures, mostly of the goldfinches - still working on trying to get good pictures of wildlife.

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Admin: changing the look of the blog a bit, and trying to get the design mostly into stylesheets instead of HTML

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Weather: started gray, and now looks like we are going to have a thunderstorm

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