Later in the day the light is so beautiful in gardens. It’s not necessarily the best time of day for capturing winged wonders in flight, but the gossamer wings of white and yellow butterflies, the family Pieridae, look especially silky and diaphanous in the oblique light of late afternoon.
Clouded Sulphur and Zinnia elegant
Cabbage Whites are the earliest butterfly to appear in spring and one of the last sighted in fall. They are easy to ID, although some female Clouded Sulphurs and Orange Sulphurs have a white form and the Checkered Whites are very similar, yet less common around these parts.
We see far more Clouded Sulphurs than Orange and Cloudless Sulphurs on Cape Ann. Cloudeds have a lovely pinked border and silver spot on the the ventral side of their hindwings. You can tell the male from the female because when the wings are open, the male has a black border on its wing margins (as you can see in the photo below); the female’s black border is spotted with yellow and not as pronounced.
Clouded Sulphur caterpillars eat clover, alfalfa, and legumes. The photo is possibly a caterpillar of the Pieridae family, or it could be a Skipper caterpillar.
A beautiful female hoverfly (possibly Syrphus ribesii) spent the afternoon drinking nectar from the yellow florets of our Mexican Sunflowers. Also known as the Flower Fly and Syrphid Fly, hoverflies are members of the Syrphidae family of insects. As their name suggest, they hover over pollen- and nectar-rich flowers.
Helicoptering hoverfly coming in for a landing
Hoverflies are a wonderful addition to the organic, pesticide-free garden. Hoverfly larvae are aphid eating machines and they are also the second best pollinator, after bees. Female hoverflies lay their eggs in the midst of aphid colonies. When the eggs emerge, food for the larvae is readily available. A single hoverfly larvae can eat 400 to 500 aphids during the two-week period before pupating into an adult.
When flies look like bees – Hoverflies look similar to bees, with large bulbous eyes and black and yellow striped abdomens. Their color and buzzing sound mimics many species of bees and wasps, which helps ward off predators. Hoverflies are perfectly harmless and neither sting nor bite. You can tell the difference between a male and a female hoverfly by looking at the eyes. The eyes of the male are holoptic, which means they touch, whereas the eyes of the female are separated.
We have a colony of aphids on our Whorled Milkweed. I hope she stopped by to deposit her eggs there!
To attract hoverflies to your garden, plant plenty of nectar-rich flowers. One study showed some species prefer white and yellow flowers. Although the ray flowers of the Tithonia are orange, the disc florets at the center of the flower from where she was drinking nectar are yellow. Native plants that attract hoverflies include Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Common Yarrow, and Purple Coneflower. Hoverflies also love blossoms of herbs such as oregano, dill, parsley, coriander, and fennel.
Located on the southeast side of our home is the primary pathway, which we walk up and down many times in the course of the day. We built the path using bricks from a pile of discarded chimney bricks. Ordinarily I would not recommend chimney bricks, as they are ﬁred differently from paving bricks and are therefore less sturdy. We laid the brick in a herring bone pattern and luckily they have held without cracking and splitting. The warm red tones of the brick complement the creamy yellow clapboards of the house. A tightly woven brick path is a practical choice for a primary path as it helps keep mud out of the home.
Planted alongside the house walls and on the opposing side of the path, in close proximity to our neighbor’s fence, are the larger plantings of Magnolia virginiana, ‘Dragon Lady hollies,’ Syringa, Philadelphus, and semi-dwarf fruiting trees, Prunus and Malus. Weaving through the background tapestry of foliage and ﬂowers are fragrant ﬂowering vines and rambling roses. These include the most richly scented cultivars of honeysuckle and Bourbon roses. Viburnum carlcephalum, butterﬂy bushes, meadowsweet, New Jersey tea, and Paeonia rockii comprise a collection of mid-size shrubs. They, along with perennials, bulbs, and annuals—narcissus, tulips, iris, herbaceous peonies, lavender, Russian sage, lilies, and chrysanthemums —are perfect examples of fragrant plants growing at mid-level. Closer to the ground is a carpet of scented herbs, full and abundant and spilling onto the brick walkway. The length of our pathway is lined with aromatic alpine strawberries, thyme, and sweet alyssum. This most sunny area in our garden permits us to grow a variety of kitchen herbs. The foliage of the herbs releases their scents when brushed against. Including herbs in the ﬂower borders provides an attractive and practical addition to the fragrant garden.
The fragrances are held within by the house and neighboring fence and the living perfumes of ﬂowers and foliage are noticeable throughout the growing season. All the plants are immediately available to see, touch, and smell. The intimate aspects of the garden are revealed by the close proximity of plantings along a much-used garden path.
When selecting plants for a fragrant garden, it is not wise to assume that just because your Mom had sublimely scented peonies growing in her garden, all peonies will be as such. This simply is not the case. Take the time to investigate nurseries and arboretums during plants’ blooming period and read as much literature as possible. There is an abundance of information to be gleaned and sifted through to ﬁnd the most richly scented version of a plant. When seeking a fragrant cultivar, one may ﬁnd that it is usually an older variety, one that has not had scent replaced for an improbable color, convenient size, or double blossoms by a well-meaning hybridizer. And despite our best effort to ﬁnd the most richly scented version, there will be disappointments along the way, as fragrance is highly mutable. Soil conditions and climate play their role, and some plants simply don’t perform as advertised.
A well-thought-out pathway looks inviting when seen from the street and the fragrance beckons the visitor to enter. The interwoven scents emanating from an array of sequentially blooming ﬂowers and aromatic foliage create a welcoming atmosphere. Have you noticed your garden is more fragrant after a warm summer shower or on a day when the morning fog has lifted? Scented ﬂowers are sweetest when the air is temperate and full of moisture. Plant your garden of fragrance to reﬂect the time of year when you will most often be in the garden to enjoy your hard work.
There are few modern gardens planted purely for fragrance. Maybe this is because there is now a tremendous variety of appealing plant material, offered by growers to eager gardeners ready to purchase what is visually enticing, by color and by size. Perhaps it is so because in the past fragrant plantings served the function of disguising unpleasant odors from outhouses and farmyards, and we no longer have to address these concerns. But the pendulum has begun to swing (albeit slowly) toward planting a garden designed for fragrance. Scent, along with rhythm, scale, harmony in color, and form, should ideally be an equal component in garden design. Plant scented ﬂowering shrubs under windows and close to and around the porch. Plant fragrant vines to climb up the walls near window sashes that will be open in the summertime. Plant scented white ﬂowering plants near to where you might brush against them while dining al fresco or to embower a favorite garden spot designed for rest and rejuvenation.
“True vespertine ﬂowers are those that withhold their sweetness from day and give it freely at night. “(Louise Beebe Wilder). Imagine the dreamlike enchantment of the fragrant path through the night garden. The vibrantly colored ﬂowers have vanished. All that you will see are the white and palest shades of pink, yellow, and lavender ﬂowers reﬂecting the moonlight. Perhaps you will have the breathtaking experience of an encounter with a Lunar moth. Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ Madonna lily, Philadelphus, Japanese honeysuckle, Lilium regale, Nicotianna alata, Oriental lily, tuberose, night phlox, peacock orchid, Stephanotis ﬂoribunda, gardenia, Jasminum sambac, Angel’s trumpet, and moonﬂowers are but a few of the white ﬂowers with exotic night-scents for an entrancing sleeping garden.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Milkweeds, as most know, are the host plant for Monarch Butterflies. A host plant is another way of saying caterpillar food plant.
Monarchs deposit eggs on milkweed plants. Some milkweeds are more productive than other species. For the Northeast region, the most productive milkweed is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The second most productive is Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), also known as Swamp Milkweed.
What is meant by productive? When given a choice, the females choose these plants over other species of milkweed and the caterpillars have the greatest success rate. In our own butterfly garden and at at my client’s habitat gardens, I grow both Common and Marsh side-by-side. The females flit from one plant to the next, freely depositing eggs on both species.
Monarch caterpillar readying to pupate (become a chrysalis) and hanging in a J-shape
Please consider making a tax deductible donation, or becoming an underwriter, to bring our Monarch Butterfly documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly to American Public Television. To Learn More go here and to DONATE go here. Thank you!
With thanks and gratitude to our growing list of wonderful folks for their kind contributions
Lauren Mercadante, Jonathan and Sally Golding, James Masciarelli, Pete and Bobbi Kovner, Karrie Klaus (Boston), Sally Jackson, Marion Frost (Ipswich), JoeAnn Hart and Gordon Baird, Joy Van Buskirk (Florida), Lillian and Craig Olmstead, Suki and Fil Agusti (Rockport), Janis Bell, Nina Groppo, Nubar Alexanian, Marguerite Matera, Claudia Bermudez, Thomas Hauck, Judith Foley (Woburn), Jane Paznik-Bondarin (New York), Paul Vassallo (Beverly), Stella Martin, Liv Hauck (California), Julia Williams Robinson (Minnesota), Cynthia Dunn, Diane Gustin, Heidi Shiver (Pennsylvania), John Ronan, Karen Maslow,Fernando Arriaga (Mexico City), Holly Nipperus (Arizona), Kristina Gale (California), Maggie Debbie, Kate and Peter Van Demark (Rockport), Mia Nehme (Beverly), Chicki Hollet, Alice Gardner (Beverly), Therese Desmarais (Rockport), Jennie Meyer, Kathy Gerdon Archer (Beverly), Melissa Weigand (Salem), Duncan Todd (Lexington), Catherine Ryan, Linda Bouchard (Danvers), Elaine Mosesian, Paul Wegzyn (Ipswich), Catherine Bayliss, Jan Waldman (Swampscott), Alessandra Borges (Rhode Island), Nancy Mattern (New Mexico), Carolyn Constable (Pennsylvania), and Ian Gardiner.
As has been the case for many summers (ever since we first planted Cardinal Climber), we have had a Mama Ruby-throated Hummingbird nesting nearby. I have looked and looked for the nest, but our garden is a bit of a jungle and I don’t have any real hopes of finding her half-walnut shell sized nest; it’s just fun to look.
This past week her two young fledglings have been joining her at the feeders and special flowers planted just for them. The youngsters are more playful than the Mama and give chase to each other. I wish I could get a snapshot of all three but am happy with what I can get.
One of the three perched in the pear tree several days ago and proceeded to giver herself a thorough grooming from tip to toe.
She first floofed and fluffed.
Then rubbed both sides of her bill, back and forth, against the gnarly rough bark of the pear tree.
Then used her tiny mouse-sized toes to clean her bill from the base to the tip!
Lastly, she used her toes to arrange (or scratch) her neck feathers.
With wonderfully exuberant pollinator friendly flower clusters atop 7 -12 foot tall stalks, what is not to love! Plant Joe-pye in a sunny location at the back of the border and enjoy the array of bees and butterflies that will flock to the nectar-rich blossoms.
More reasons to love Joe-pye is that it is low maintenance, attracts pollinators, is deer resistant, not flattened by rain, not bothered by diseases, blooms when Monarchs are on the wing, and is super easy to grow.
A joyful sight to see so many Monarchs in the dunes and in our gardens over the weekend! A female flew in and left us with another dozen or so eggs, deposited on the Common Milkweed. She briefly inspected the Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), but as usual, opted to only lay a batch on leaves and buds of the Common Milkweed.
Early Sunday morning on PiPl watch, several Monarchs flew in from across the bay and later that day, dozens and dozens were spotted drinking nectar and depositing eggs at the Common Milkweed growing at the Good Harbor Beach dunes. The milkweed has been blooming for over a month now and all this rain has kept the blossoms fresh and inviting.
Beeline for the Milkweed!
Save the dates to share Monarchs with the youngest members of your family. I have created a short film for Cape Ann young people for the Sawyer Free Library about the Magnificent Monarch – here is the link and more information: August 3rd – August 6th, Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 to 10:30. Children’s Services Summer Reading Program “Tails and Tales” presents Monarch Butterflies with Kim Smith! Kim creates a short film and virtual presentation to share these beautiful creatures with children and families, and see how Gloucester is a part of their amazing migration journey! Register here and we will send you the link to enjoy this presentation throughout the week starting Tuesday August 3rd.
My deepest gratitude and thanks to all who are contributing to the second phase of launching Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly out into the world, the world of Public Television. To date we have raised over $17,500.00 toward our $51,000.00 goal. Thank you so very much to all these kind contributors:
Lauren Mercadante, Jonathan and Sally Golding, James Masciarelli, Pete and Bobbi Kovner, Karrie Klaus (Boston), Sally Jackson, Marion Frost (Ipswich), Joy Van Buskirk (Florida), Lillian and Craig Olmstead, Suki and Fil Agusti (Rockport), Janis Bell, Nina Groppo, Nubar Alexanian, Marguerite Matera, Claudia Bermudez, Thomas Hauck, Judith Foley (Woburn), Jane Paznik-Bondarin (New York), Paul Vassallo (Beverly), Stella Martin, Liv Hauck (California), Julia Williams Robinson (Minnesota), Cynthia Dunn, Diane Gustin, Heidi Shiver (Pennsylvania), John Ronan, Karen Maslow,Fernando Arriaga (Mexico City), Holly Nipperus (Arizona), Kristina Gale (California), Maggie Debbie, Kate and Peter Van Demark (Rockport), Mia Nehme (Beverly), Chicki Hollet, Alice Gardner (Beverly), Therese Desmarais (Rockport), Jennie Meyer, Kathy Gerdon Archer (Beverly), Melissa Weigand (Salem), Duncan Todd (Lexington), Catherine Ryan, Linda Bouchard (Danvers), Elaine Mosesian, Paul Wegzyn (Ipswich)
Sharing this beautiful arrangement sent to us by our daughter Liv. The bouquet looks exquisite no matter which way you turn the vase, and is becoming more beautiful with each passing day. The fabulous combination of scents – of roses, peonies, and Oriental lilies – are wafting through our home. Created by Audrey’s Flower Shop.
Tip Top Tulips promises to be a show stopper this Mother’s Day weekend with fields blooming in prime glorious beauty! My friend Paul has created yet another enchanting and magical flower experience for the community (see School Street Sunflowers). Visiting Tip Top Tulips to celebrate Mother’s Day is a wonderful way to spend time with your Mom, wife, girlfriend, and family. Well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome, too. And on a recent visit, if you can imagine, I ran into half a dozen fairy princesses <3
Only a very few varieties of tulips have gone past and there are loads and loads of fresh flowers to pick (I can attest that Paul’s freshly picked tulips last a good ten days!). The array of colors is beyond exquisite, from brilliant jewel tones to softly-hued pastels, along with every imagined shape and pattern, from dippled and dappled, to striped and ruffled. Deanna Gallagher’s adorable and family friendly Shetland Sheep are visiting Tip Top Tulips as well, along with a beautiful young calf.
Paul and friend Liam
There are plenty of times available on Saturday, May 8th. Sunday, Mother’s Day, times are available between 9 and 10, and after 4:30ish. After this weekend, the fields will still be beautiful so I would check with Paul on how much longer Tip Top Tulips is planning to stay open.
Tip Top Tulips is located at 71 Town Farm Road in Ipswich.
On the afternoon of 25th, we had just refilled our newest hummingbird feeder when while cooking dinner a little whirr appeared at the window. He made several trips around the garden, alternately sipping sweetened sugar water at the feeders and nectar from the Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’ Like clockwork, for the past several years the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have arrived to our garden in April, while the quince is in bloom.
Hummingbird feeder recipe: To one cup warm water add 1/4 cup pure cane sugar (4 parts to1 part). Dissolve thoroughly. Please don’t put up feeders if you don’t have the time to change the water frequently, and even more frequently in warmer weather.
Over the past few days there has been a burst of Hummingbird sightings coming from around the state. Hang your feeders if you haven’t already done so and remember to change the sugar water often, every few days. Hummingbird feeders are a terrible idea if you are not willing to provide fresh water frequently. Hummingbirds get a fatal fungal infection on their tongue, called hummers candidiasis when folks don’t change the water, or when honey, or any sweetener other than pure white cane sugar is used. And never add red food coloring. The bird’s tongue becomes terribly swollen, they can’t retract it, and without medical attention will starve to death.
Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’
I love this newest feeder and purchased it with Charlotte in mind. It’s positioned at her eye level and suction cupped to the window she likes to stand at to look into the garden. The small feeder was modestly priced and bought at Smiths Hardware in Rockport.
Hummingbird feeders serve the purpose of providing sustenance especially during the time of year when there is a lull in blooms however, the very best gift you can give hummers is to provide their favorite plants, and there are many, including trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals.
I hope you are doing well on this blustery morning, with temperatures hovering around 32 degrees and wind chill at 19. I imagined these temperatures were behind us and am worried about that one little PiPl egg. Will it be viable after this cold snap??
This morning in my inbox there was yet another awesome email from Greenbelt, this time featuring Greenbelt’s commitment to conserving farmland, with a short video of the Grant Family Farm at Brown Spring.
Chris Grant was able to purchase the farm at Brown Springs because of Greenbelt’s Land Trust program and great use of West Newbury’s Community Preservation Act funds (CPA). The land can never be developed and will stay a working farm forever through Chris and Greenbelt’s diligent work to put it under an Agricultural Preservation Restriction.
I am so looking forward to visiting the farm stand when open in June! For the latest updates from the Grant Family Farm, visit their Facebook page here and website here.
I can’t mention Greenbelt without giving thanks to Gloucester’s Piping Plover advisor-in-chief Dave Rimmer, director of land stewardship at Greenbelt. Greenbelt does not, nor has ever, requested a fee from the City for their Piping Plover assistance. As you may recall, Dave is also Greenbelt’s Osprey program director – so there you have it, a multitude of reasons for supporting Greenbelt!!
EBSCO and the Law Office of Donald M. Greenough have generously offered to match, dollar for dollar, the first $5,000 raised in celebration of Earth Day.
A flock of what has to be one of North America’s most enchanting birds, the Cedar Waxwing, has magically, albeit temporarily, taken residence in our garden and neighbor’s gardens. Their lovely chattering arrival has become an annual event my family looks forward to, especially Charlotte and me.
What have they found to eat that makes them so delighted? Primarily, tiny black insects living on the twigs, stems, and buds of our neighbor’s maple trees. I believe they are Black Bean Aphids, or some type of scale. If you look closely at the photos, in some you can see the bugs. The Waxwings hang every which way pecking and plucking at the insects and have a technique, too, of rubbing their beaks sideways across the bark, which usually results in a tremendous mouthful.
I am overjoyed that our neighbors do not spray their trees with pesticides. By not killing insect pests, a natural balance is restored to the garden. Your gardening pest is a songbird’s dietary mainstay!
About fifteen years ago, the keeper of the historic Gardens at Versailles, Alain Baraton, was beyond dismayed that few if any birds resided in the garden. He ditched pesticides and began promoting native plants. Now nicely plump bugs infest nearly all of the trees, and the songbird’s have returned! Additionally, “Baraton also changed the practice of planting row after row of the same tree. Now Versailles varies the trees — beech, hawthorn, poplar, chestnut — to minimize losses from disease. This is important when your garden has 200,000 trees.”
If the gardener-in-chief of the world’s grandest garden does not use pesticides, I think we need never either.
Trees at Versailles, image courtesy Google image search
You may recall that I have written a number of times about my friend Paul Wegzyn and his stunning and enchanting School Street Sunflowers. Paul has created another magically enchanted flower experience for the community! This past autumn, Paul, and his Dad Paul, planted several hundred thousand tulips at two different fields.
Early red tulips in bloom today!
The smaller field at 22 School Street, Ipswich, is opening on Sunday, April 18th. This field is planted for pick-your-own tulips. Charming wicker baskets are provided and the cost is $1.00 per stem.
The second field, named Tip Top Tulips (located at 71 Town Farm Road, Ipswich ), is going to be the show stopper. Rows and rows of beautiful multi-colored tulips, from early flowering varieties to late flowering cultivars will be blooming over the next two months. Tip Top Tulips is scheduled to tentatively open the following week, approximately April 24th, depending on the weather.
The theme this first year for Tip Top Tulips is Love, in honor of Paul’s Mom, and as with School Street Sunflowers, there will be beautiful photo vignettes positioned around the field.
Deanna Gallagher will have her adorable and friendly Shetland Sheep and cows at Tip Top field, providing even more fun and wonderful photo moments for the family. Charlotte had the best time with Deanna and her goats at School Street Sunflowers last summer and I cannot wait to take her to Tip Top Tulips this spring!
If you are looking to be inspired by creatures and colors of the upcoming season, and what to plant to make your garden a welcoming haven for wildlife, please join me tonight at 7pm. I am super excited to be presenting “The Pollinator Garden” for the Mass Pollinator Network. Because it is a Keynote presentation, I was able to add and collage many more photos. The presentation looks great and is chock full of ideas for your pollinator paradise. I hope to see you there!
Please join me Wednesday evening, March 17th, at 7pm for “The Pollinator Garden” presentation, via Zoom, for the Massachusetts Pollinator Network.
From early spring through winter, I will take you on a journey of understanding the beautiful creatures found in your gardens and how you can create a welcoming haven by planting trees, shrubs, vines, native wildflowers, and non-invasive ornamentals. Some of the wild creatures covered include Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, moths and butterflies, bees, Baltimore Orioles, and much, much more.
Opening for the season: April 14th, 2021! Starting April 14th, we will be open for you to come shop the nursery for all the early spring – cold weather seedlings.
We have posted all the Flower, Herb and Vegetable varieties we are growing this year on our website for you to check out and get excited for!
We will be opening this season for you to come shop the nursery in person. We will be adhering to Covid safe policies with social distancing requirements while shopping. Please wear a mask while shopping with us at this time.
We will not be doing online orders the same way this season. We are however offering a few “Garden Kits” of pre-selected plant varieties that you can pre-order for pick up when we open. These kits are a basic collection of easy to grow varieties that are great for the early season garden and are also great for a beginner garden. These kits are not customizable – if you would like to pick your own plants or have certain varieties in mind please come shop with us during business hours.
If you can not shop in person due to health concerns please call or email and we will happily facilitate you. We will not be accepting pre orders, all orders must be for plants that are currently available.
-Thank you for understanding
Beautiful Robins in the garden this afternoon, filling their bellies with Winterberry, holly berries, and blueberries. I often get the sense that birds know when the weather is going to take a turn for the worse.
Posting a bunch of photos for my friend Paul’s Mom, Debbie Wegzyn. Paul, and his Dad Paul, own and operate School Street Sunflowers. I love photographing at their fields, not only because the fields and all the wildlife attracted to the fields are beautiful but because Paul and his Dad love sharing the beauty of the fields with their community.
The photos were taken in September and October. The hay was being harvested and the winter cover crop planted. Most of the sunflowers had been cut down to plant rye, but Paul left several rows standing. The sunflower seed heads were Mecca for every songbird in the neighborhood, including a beautiful flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, Goldfinches, Song Sparrows, Bobolinks, and Blue Jays.
On December 21st, School Street Sunflowers is planning to share wonderfully exciting news that I think all of Essex County and the North Shore will be overjoyed to learn. Please stay tuned <3
Today, October 19th, our website will be open for ordering farm fresh produce and some sweet treats from Mayflour Confections. Orders must be in by Tuesday, October 20th @ 10 pm.
We’ll be assembling everyone’s order during the day Wednesday, then opening pick-ups on Thursday between 2 PM and 6 PM
We will be adding more produce and variety as it becomes available each week.
We are open for produce orders to be placed online and picked up curbside (Farm side). We have some wonderful items from Iron Ox Farm listed also and a wonderful sweet treat from Mayflour Confections. Check out our produce page here https://cedarrockgardens.com/fresh-produce
Please be wearing a mask when you arrive to pick up your order. Come to the farm, park in the designated parking area and walk to the big red barn to pick up your order. We will be opening our website for produce orders throughout the season and will alert you to such in these emails. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Life at the Edge of the Sea – Cedar Waxwing Baby Masked Bandits
For over a month I have been filming a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Exquisitely beautiful creatures, with their combination of soft buffy and brilliantly punctuated wing patterning, along with graceful agility, it’s been easy to fall in love with these birds and they have become a bit of an obsession.
I filmed some wonderful scenes and will share the photos and story as soon as there is time but in the meantime I wanted to share these photos of a juvenile Cedar Waxwing so you know what to look for. Waxwings are often found high up in the treetops. They are most easily seen on limbs bare of leaves. Their repetitious soft trilling song gives them away and if you learn the sound you will begin to see Cedar Waxwings everywhere. They have an extended breeding period in our region and because it is so late in the season, this juvenile may be one of a second brood.
While I was shooting for my short short story, the Waxwing flock was mostly on the ground in a wildflower patch devouring insects. Cedar Waxwings are more typically berry-eating frugivores. During the spring and summer they add insects to their diet and I think it may have to do with keeping the hatchling’s bellies filled. It wasn’t until they moved back up into the treetops that this little guy began appearing amongst the flock. He has the same masked face, but the breast is softly streaked. You can see the yellow feathers tips beginning to grow in.
So often I hear folks blaming goldenrod as the source of their allergy suffering, when they really mean to say ragweed. The three species of goldenrod that we most often see in our coastal north of Boston fields, meadows, woodland edges, and dunes are Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima), and Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). All three have beautiful yellow flowers, Seaside blooming a bit after Canada and Tall, and all are fabulous pollinator plants, providing nectar for bees, butterflies, and migrating Monarchs.
In our region, we most often encounter Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), with Plain Jane tiny green flowers and raggedy looking foliage. Goldenrods and ragweeds both bloom at roughly the same time of year, in mid- to late-summer, but why is ragweed the culprit and goldenrods are not? The colorful showy flowers of goldenrods are attractive to pollinators and they are both insect and wind pollinated. The drops of goldenrod pollen are too large to fall far from the plant. Ragweed’s tiny flowers are not of interest to most pollinators and the plant has evolved to rely on the wind to disperse its pollen from plant to plant. Ragweed produces massive amounts of teeny, breathable pollen to travel widely on the wind.
Cedar Waxwing foraging in weed patch with Common Ragweed
Although many of us are fortunate not to be bothered by ragweed, I completely empathize with friends who are. If it is any consolation, I recently learned two good uses for Common Ragweed. Shetland sheep love to eat it and it is good for their wool. And I have been following a flock of Cedar Waxwings for over a month. I often see in the morning the Waxwings descend on patches of mixed weeds, mostly Common Ragweed. Waxwings change their diet in summer to include insects and I think the birds are attracted to the plant for the host of insects it supports. So next time you are ragging on ragweed remember, it is a native plant and it does support a community of insects and birds.