Bluebirds Return

We squirrels may forget where we buried our acorns, but it seems like our local bluebirds haven’t forgotten where the good eats are!

The Eastern Bluebirds were chased out of nesting in the backyard nest box they used last year by a pesky House Sparrow–here’s the guilty party.

The humans decided not to let the sparrows–or the catbird!–get a foot in the door and blocked the box.

Wherever the bluebirds reared their young must be close by. The parents have brought the young by to find food!

Maybe a pair will get a chance next year!

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May is for Mayapples

It’s nearly the end of May and we haven’t posted a single Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum.

Ms. Flora isn’t pleased, but the rains have gotten us off schedule. So here you go!

For those not familiar, this very different, umbrella-like leaf is the Mayapple plant.

Those broad leaves hide a flower that blooms only if the Mayapple is old enough to have two leaves. Look very carefully here and you’ll see the flower growing from the axil of the leaves.

A single and sometimes double flower–if pollinated–then produces the ‘Mayapple’ – a little fruit that is poisonous, except when it is ripe.

How can you tell it’s ripe? By smell, of course. Humans aren’t good at this, so don’t try. Just put this on your poisonous list.

But if you see box turtles or other critters taking a bite, don’t be alarmed. It’s a spring treat!

Are you still feeding the birds?

Many humans feed birds throughout the year. Some only feed in the winter, when food is scarcer for the birds–and us squirrels, mind you! We have seen some humans stop feeding when grackle or starling flocks invade their feeding stations. Believe us, we don’t like the noise and the mess of those big, pushy flocks either.

One of our human neighbors is feeding the birds and has quite a variety of birds coming to visit.

Ms. Flora commented on the pleasant coo of the Mourning Dove, which I’ve noticed, but it’s so common it’s like a background music when we leap around the neighborhood. Mourning Doves are practically everywhere except deep woods, and we don’t have too much of that in suburbia.  Hickory and I thought we would look up a little bit about it. We didn’t realize that these birds are hunted! They are no bigger than a robin, so why would people want to eat them?

But they do, and apparently that led to uninteresting discovery: A dove shot in 1998 in Florida had been banded–in 1968 in Georgia. That made the bird at least 30 years and 4 months old! We had no idea these small birds lived that long–to us squirrels, that’s like forever, and something we would only have thought would be the lifespan of something as large as a hawk.

Mourning doves are kind of like chickens, in that they prefer to scratch and pick their food off the ground. We have sort of battle going with them under the feeders. They are round enough that they don’t seem to like perching feeders, but will eat off those tray feeders.

They’re mighty quick to land and take offer and do startle easily. If you haven’t heard their coo, here’s a link to a nice recording of it on All About Birds.

Z is for witch haZel

Again! (We used witch hazel in our 2018 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, too!) There just aren’t enough ‘Z’ names in nature. But we’re lucky witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, has a Z in there for our Trees for Bees posts.

The native witch hazel becomes a small tree–to 25 feet–in the shady understory of the forest, but there are also many shrub forms of this species available. They may bloom at different times, like very early spring.

The native tree’s flower blooms in the fall, right around Halloween, and the long, stringy, yellow petals look like spiders–making us squirrels think you humans named it because you thought the tree was ‘bewitched.’ Not so! The name comes from wiche, which means pliant– as in bendable branches.

That makes no difference to bees or other nectar-seekers! If it’s one of those warm fall days that we are prone to having, they want to eat! Witch hazel and the late fall asters are about the only things blooming in October-November, so planting this tree is a real benefit to insects.

And indirectly to us squirrels, I should fairly add. Once the bees pollinate those flowers, the nuts will form, a tasty treat for wildlife.

Of all the woody trees and shrubs we’ve presented for our April ‘Trees (and Shrubs) for Bees’ challenge, witch hazel is one of our favorites. Those crazy fall-blooming flowers are just a neat thing about about nature. We hope you put it on your planting list!

We will compile a complete list of Trees for Bees for you as a summary of this month…sometime this week!

And remember: Please don’t purchase plants that have been grown with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. You’re not doing anyone a favor with that these days. And if you haven’t yet, please watch Marla Spivak’s TED talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and what  you can do to help.

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

Oops! We got our alphabet days wrong!

‘Y’ day is today for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. We accidentally posted it yesterday. So for today, um…

…remember that blackberrY and raspberrY flowers also are a favorite with pollinators! Just  because these trees and shrubs help the bees doesn’t mean they can’t help us squirrels, too!

Y is for blueberrY

Again, we know this isn’t exactly how the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is supposed to run–with our chosen alphabet letter at the end of the word instead of the start–but desperate times… Honestly, we should have saved Yellow Poplar for Y, used tupelo for T… and on and on, but you know, squirrels!

Nonetheless, you readers are getting a nice list of Trees and Shrubs for bees!

Blueberry, Vaccinium sp, is found as a wild plant and a cultivated one across the entirety of North America. The wild blueberry bushes in our mid-Atlantic states are Vaccinium angustifolium.

They grown in a partial shaded forest floor, whereas most cultivated blueberries prefer full sun. The soil can be dry to average and our native plants only grow to 2 feet high, while the cultivated shrubs are 8 feet tall.

All blueberries have a small urn-shaped flower that opens at the bottom.

Only the smallest of bees pollinate them, or bees with very long tongues. However, some bees–like honeybees, carpenter bees and short-tongued bees–cheat. they chew holes in the back of the flower postal the nectar without pollinating the plants! They bloom in the spring and set berries that ripen throughout the summer.

All of the wild blueberry relatives attract bees: cranberry, deerberry, lingonberry, bearberry and huckleberry

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

 

X is for IleX glabra

Sigh, another hard letter. But we squirrels are up to the challenge!

Ilex glabra, better known to you humans as Inkberry, is an evergreen shrub.

If you look back to I is for Ilex opaca you will see that the American Holly is a close relative–but it grows into a tree, and though we squirrels love our trees, we realize not everyone can plant one. Inkberry you can do and the bees will love you for it! They think the nectar on an inkberry is great. It has a small white flower similar to the American Holly, and unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of them.

Inkberry grows up and down eastern North America, but does best in the southeast. It likes part shade and moist to wet soils. Gardeners favor it because the bushes stay compact and green through out the winter, then set up with pretty purple berries. Take note: that’s only on the female plants and if you have a male plant planted nearby! But your friendly neighborhood squirrels like them and so do the songbirds.

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

W is for Willow

Both willow, Salix species,  shrubs and willow trees grow throughout North America.

The pussy willow ‘flowers’, really a form of catkins, provide a much needed source of pollen for bees in the spring. Pollen is what bees use to make beebread and feed their new brood. We have photos of willow catkins with pollen…somewhere! We can’t lay our paws on them now, but here’s one before the flowering parts burst from their protective coating of fur–that is actually a fuzzy bud covering that protects the early catkins form freezing!

Willows will tolerate sunny to shady locations and prefer wet soils, but will grow in average, not dry soil. They bloom in early spring. You will need to check the individual species for heights!

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

V is for Viburnum

Viburnum flowers look like you’d be putting out plates of food for the bees. However, we are finding only a few references that bees use the early-spring blooming varieties when there is little else blooming and the fall-blooming varieties for the same reason. Some reports say that the bees are gathering pollen. We squirrels are by no means experts on bee foraging, so perhaps inspect the viburnum flowers when you pass by them?

Viburnum is a shrub that flowers at the tips of the branches. The flower heads are large and flat with many small flowers inside the petalled edges. Below is Doublefile Viburnum, Viburnum plicatum.

And this viburnum with the leaf that looks like a maple is American Cranberry Viburnum, Viburnum trilobum.

The Honeybee Conservancy likes one of what Ms. Flora calls the ‘fancier’ versions of Viburnum, so check that out here.

There are enough varieties of viburnum that you should check the specific sun and soil requirements of each, but in general, the more sun they have, the better they will bloom, but partial shade is usually tolerated. They can reach up to 8 feet high and be even wider, to 10 feet.

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

U is for U can help!

Well, kind readers, Ms. Flora let us off the hook for ‘U’ day–she couldn’t find any woody plants that started with U either. So here’s the kind of woody help for bees we decided to talk about:

Mason bee houses! You can definitely make a difference in your native bee populations when you make or buy one of these little structures. Osmia, the genus name of these mason bees, has about 150 different species in North American–27 of those are east of the Mississippi River. Naturally, they nest in hollow stems or crevices between stones. You humans are building more stone walls these days, but you tend to clean up your yards too much, or the plants that are popular aren’t hollow.

If you have hollow-stemmed plants, leave the stalks in a corner of your garden.

If not, construct something like any of these. You humans are good with searching for directions. We squirrels were a bit appalled to discover the simple house of bamboo tubes had been placed on one of our favorite fences. It gets the morning sun that we like to bask in. That began to attract bees right away.

Our fears were short-lived. The bees come to the tubes, duck in, do their business and fly off again. They aren’t interested in squirrels or people. Each tube is an egg-laying site. The different bees like different sizes, but we can’t seem to tell them apart. In their strong jaws, they collect mud or wet soil to pack between the eggs they lay to divide up the tube. First they go head in.

Then they come out and turn around and back into the tube.

Hickory figured out that’s when the egg-laying is taking place. It’s not on every trip, because the pieces mud that they can carry are small. See, there are a couple they dropped on the flat lip of the wood.

Needless to say, it’s been entertaining having them as neighbors. Invite the mason bees to your yard!

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing