Monarch migration

Monarch butterflies started migrating through the farm about a month ago, but I saw a few still coming through as late as last week. There are very few wildflowers left for them to use for refueling. The last of the goldenrods and asters are declining and the butterfly bush, hyssop, coneflower, milkweed, bee balm, and joe pye weed that attracted so many pollinators over the summer are long-spent.

I visited my daughter in western Maryland over the weekend and was amazed at all the monarchs stopping to fuel up on her Mexican sunflowers (of course, I didn’t have my camera with me). She has a very large flower cutting garden and they mow around it so it’s like a shining beacon to hungry migrating monarchs on their way to Mexico.

Next year, I will take my camera!

just wandering on a beautiful fall day

Bill and I try to take the dogs for a walk every day. Yesterday started out cold, but warmed to 55 degrees by 10 o’clock. I particularly relish these mild November days because I know colder days are just around the corner.

With all the wildflowers now gone, the landscape is dominated by late autumn shades of brown and tan. I love the fall and I find these muted earth tones to be beautiful and inspirational. Even as she prepares to sleep, Nature is elegant.

Looking out across the fields, little bluestem, a native warm-season grass, is going to seed. Its abundant seed stems will provide forage for many songbirds throughout the winter. Below, milkweed pods have opened, revealing whimsical, silky tufts of seeds that will ride the wind to recolonize an area away from the mother plant.

With summer and the miraculous season of pollination behind us, the once-yellow, wand-like clusters of goldenrod are now beige tufts, waiting for the wind to help sow their seeds for next year’s crop.

I found a great website that shows the incredible ways that seeds are dispersed by the wind: The shapes and sizes of seedpods, which are as diverse as the seeds inside them, have to do with how far the seeds are transported.

I’m not sure what flower produces these clumps of rounded seedheads (bergamot?), but they would make a nice addition to a dried flower arrangement! Hmmm, gives me an idea….

Along the way, we spotted a cocoon and this is one of those times I wish I had a biologist along with me to tell me what insect constructed it. I could have opened it to have a look, but something makes me hesitate to tamper with even the simplest and most ubiquitous of nature’s handiwork.

In a perfect ending to a perfect walk (at least from a retriever’s perspective), our yellow lab Autumn decided to go for a swim in our neighbor’s pond. She spotted a decoy floating in the middle of the pond and, true to her breed, couldn’t resist going in to retrieve it.

We took a longer walk than usual, trying to take in every minute of this gorgeous fall day. I know there are those who love winter and can’t get enough of the white stuff, but I’m not one of those people. Truth be known, I wouldn’t mind a whole winter just like today.

yep, fall is here

This time of year, the landscape is changing rapidly. We don’t need a calendar to tell us that fall is here; the change in the seasons is reflected all around us. We see it in the trees, the flowers, the birds, and even the squirrels madly gathering and stashing acorns in preparation for winter.

Most of the summer wildflowers are gone or in decline, bowing to the onset of the golden reign of the goldenrods that are so prominent now.

The asters, also blooming in large numbers, fill the fields and woodland edges with color.

These late-season flowers provide sustenance to bees and other pollinating insects searching for food that is increasingly harder to find.

Like the rest of nature, the grasses are also reacting to the shorter days. Little bluestem, festooned in contrasting shades of green and maroon, stands in beautiful contrast to the yellows of the ironweed and goldenrod.

Butterflies are becoming less numerous as their favorite flowers decline. The monarch butterflies, which began their fall migration through western Virginia five days ago, still can be seen winging their way south. This one is enjoying a brief stopover to visit a butterfly bush before continuing on to its wintering grounds (for more on monarchs, see previous post, “monarchs on the move“).

Just by chance, we were lucky enough to spot this praying mantis watching us from the camouflage of the autumn grass – it’s amazing how the insect’s coloring matches the grass reeds, making him virtually invisible to predators.

As I look out, the fields are awash in hues of yellow, gold, russet, and brown. The trees are in transformation as well; some, like our neighbor’s maple, are showing tinges of yellow and orange. In just a couple of weeks, it will be a blazing reddish-orange.

Soon the Blue Ridge will be blanketed in a glorious quilt of autumn colors, a sight more breathtaking to behold than any postcard or photograph could ever portray.

Each moment of the year has its own beauty.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

the color of spring

It’s just barely spring in the Blue Ridge, but nature can wait no longer, bursting forth in glorious color. Driving the back roads, all along the woods’ edge the pink blossoms of redbud and wild cherry trees are visible. The yellow and gold hues of buttercups, daffodils, and goldenrod dot the fields and meadows. Bees feast on the purple henbit that grows in the poorer soils along field edges and hillsides.

Redbud trees peeking out from the woods. Photo by Jo Ann Abell

After this morning’s rain, though, the landscape is dominated by green. The grass is growing so fast you can almost hear it grow and the trees are hurrying to send out their new leaves to catch the rain and the sun’s rays. The yellowy-green willow tree next to our neighbor’s pond sits in contrast to the darker green of the surrounding grassy meadow and the pines at the base of the mountain in the background. On this particularly verdant morning, green is the color of spring.

Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire. ~Virgil