Thursday, May 27, 2010

Of Butterflies and Weeds

The bright orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of the most beautiful plants flowering in my garden. As I backed out of the driveway yesterday, I spotted an orange butterfly, perfectly mimicking the orange of the flowers, sipping nectar. It flew off when I got out of the pickup in an attempt to identify it (monarch and viceroy butterflies are the two most likely candidates). Later, I saw a spicebush swallowtail feeding on the butterfly weed.
It pleases me to think that the many types of native perennials and shrubs I've planted (including spicebush) are providing food for caterpillars and nectar for butterflies. Monarch butterflies, for example, breed exclusively on milkweeds, of which butterfly weed is one.

Butterfly weed has another appealing attribute - it likes poor soil with no mulch, fertilizer, or need for supplemental water.  I planted mine three years ago, never watered it after the first year, and it blooms beautifully.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Veto on Wrens

Sigh. I notice today that the umbrella has disappeared from the corner of the back porch, and the Carolina wrens' nest with it. The culprit, my husband, explained, "They were making a mess, those wrens." Neatness prevails over nature.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Carolina Wrens' Umbrella Nest

Today's dilemma: Do I let the Carolina wrens continue building a nest on top of the table umbrella? We hadn't used the umbrella since Friday, and by Sunday, I noticed that wrens carrying twigs and leaves were busy flying into the ficus tree on the back porch, then hopping upwards into the corner of the eaves.

A peek outside the door revealed a nest under construction. I give the wrens high marks for energy (as always) but rather a low grade for nest design. It looks like a small, sloppy leaf pile. Perhaps wrens prefer comfort to style. A quick look in Charlotte Hilton Green's "Birds of the South" confirms the impression - the author notes that "wren families have been raised in the pockets of old coats, in old cups, broken gourds, discarded basins."
As I write this, I realize I already am attached to the idea of the wrens nesting there. I adore Carolina wrens.  Fearless and curious, they investigate everything new in the yard. They seem to have an affinity for anything man-made - shoes, buckets, garden tools, rain barrels. An open shed door is an invitation to enter.

An attractive brown with yellow breast, the Carolina wren usually has an upturned tail as it perches or hops around investigating. I often identify its singing simply by sheer volume - as the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology says, it has "one of the loudest songs per volume of bird." It seems to have dozens of different songs, which it sings like a stage pro, with head thrown back and beak opened wide.

So I'll make the trade - lunches on the back porch in the shade of the umbrella for the pleasure of watching these little birds raise a family. Not too difficult a decision, as rains of the last week produced a side effect - mosquitoes.