Category Archives: Gardens

Attracting Hummingbirds

I am fortunate to have hummingbirds return every year to my backyard. They usually arrive mid to late spring for those of us in Northern New England. In anticipation and readiness for their arrival, one can follow the migration maps. If you don’t have hummingbirds and would like to attract them, there are things you can do to increase your success.

Female Hummingbird

Ruby-throat Hummingbird – female

Spider Webs:

Many of us who clean up our yards sweep away old spider webs. Leave them up. Insects often get caught in spider webs; if there is anything hummers love to do, it is to snatch bugs from the webs. Insects provide a good source of protein for them. Spider webs have a dual purpose for hummers: Not only do they provide an easy meal, but the material is important for the construction of their nests.

Hummingbird nests are made from a variety of materials such as lichen, moss, lint, leaf hairs, soft plant pieces, etc., but the glue that holds the nest together is spider webs. They have a certain amount of stretch ability that allows for expansion when the babies grow. Who would ever think of a spider web as being this strong? On the other hand, the babies are as light as a feather.

Ribbons: 

Go to your local hardware store and buy bright red or orange surveyor’s tape. Tie foot-long pieces of tape to bushes, trees, deck railings, plants, or feeders. Hummingbirds have incredible long-distance vision and find their food by sight. Bright colors oftentimes will lure migrant hummingbirds down from the sky for a closer look.

They look for reddish flowers because these have a higher content of nectar. Hummingbirds can tell while in mid-flight if there’s a bright red plant down there, and if it’s the right one for them. Knowing which flowers to plant in your garden saves the hummingbird a great deal of energy in searching for a food source. Bees are a great competitor of hummingbirds, but they are unable to see the red end of the spectrum, unlike the hummingbirds.

Replace Old Feeders:

Spruce up or replace old feeders. If your feeders are a bit faded, you can paint them with red nail polish. The shiny finish will catch the eye of a hungry hummer. Remember, he/she can see this from afar. In anticipation of their arrival, have your feeders ready. If you plan to buy new feeders, pick one that can be cleaned and refilled with ease. Many diseases can be spread through dirty bird feeders. It’s a good practice to clean them every three days.

Perched on a snag

Ruby-throat hummingbird -male  sitting on a perch

Snags:

A snag is a branch that is dead on the end, or really, any dead branch is a snag. I put snags up on the deck. Simply tie the branch to the rail or anywhere in your yard and sink it in the ground fairly close to your bird feeder. Many birds like to perch on a branch. It gives them an opportunity to rest, preen, and most of all, hunt.

Hummingbirds are no different. One thing that may happen is that a territorial male might become a bully, making it his watch tower and defending the feeder solely for himself. In this case, you can counteract by adding two or more feeders in the vicinity, attracting many other hummers and leaving him no choice but to give up his dominance.

Plants:

There are many plants that attract and keep hummingbirds in your yard. If you are thinking of adding to your gardens with the idea of keeping hummingbirds, choose plants with different blooming periods.

Ask your local gardening center for advice. I plant many annuals alongside my perennials because, usually, they bloom all summer, and it’s a good reason for birds and bees to stay around. Another way to have more blooms in the yard is to deadhead flowers after they have wilted. This tricks the plant into thinking their work is not done yet, and they will start reproducing again.

Late in the season, flower production is down, but hummer numbers are up with all the recently fledged youngsters. One plant that I’ve found to be great at this time is the giant Zinnia. It is well established by then and blooms right through October, or until a killing frost.

Final advice on attracting hummingbirds

Pollinating a flowering Maple Tree

Pollinating a flowering Maple Tree

Once you are successful in attracting hummingbirds to your yard, they will usually return every year. “Hummingbirds are ranked as one of the highest bird pollinators in North America.”  All birds, not just hummingbirds, are a major component in your backyard habitat. They play a crucial role in the natural management of the larger environment and your own yard. They do this by pollinating flowering trees and plants, eating insects, eating seeds, which contributes to the natural checks and balances built into our environment. Last but not least, they give a great deal of pleasure to us, the facilitator or observer.

Scenic Wonders of Western Maine

From Fields to Moutains

Mountain vista approaching the Western Maine Mountains.

Scenic Wonders of Western Maine

Having spent so much of my time photographing Reid State Park in Maine, and farms and barns in Vermont, I decided it was time to start photographing areas of Maine that I had never explored. So on one beautiful day last summer I programmed Eustis, Maine, into my GPS and set out for the mountains at 5:00 am. Leaving the flatlands of the midcoast area behind, I was soon on Route 4 to Auburn, through Mechanic Falls and on to Rumford.

Lake in Norway, Maine

Beautiful scene near Norway, Maine.

I had decided  I would take a side trip to Grafton Notch State Park and maybe even a ride into New Hampshire if time permitted. I was completely taken aback by all the beautiful vistas and photographic possibilities I encountered along the way.

Eustis is a small town that is tucked out of the way and is the last town of any size before the border town of Coburn-Gore. It’s surrounded on one side by water, and the other by mountains. The views here were varied and breathtaking. On one side of the road you look upon a vast marsh that seems to go for miles before it rises up into the mountains. On the other side is a lake with a tall mountain in the distance.

The scenery really started to change as I  approached Rumford. The low hills gave way to flat, miles long, open areas, leading to views of the distant Western Mountains. But before I got to Rumford I came to Norway and was fascinated by a long causeway surrounded on both sides by a lake. There were loons splashing in the water and making a huge ruckus. Two of them were dancing wildly on top of the water. I watched this dance for a while and marveled at the way the loons ‘walked’ on the water, and beat the surface of the lake with their wings. I’m told they do this ‘dance’ (called the penguin dance) to distract predators. After browsing the scenery in Norway, I headed for Rangely then over to Eustis.
Rest area overlooking Rangely Lake.

Rest area overlooking Rangely Lake.

After exploring the Eustis area I turned back toward Rangely and then took a back road towards Errol, which would eventually hook me up with Route 16 and Grafton Notch State Park.

This park is small and beautiful, and well worth a visit. There are a couple of must see attractions: Screw Auger Falls, and Moose Cave.

Moose Cave is located within a 45-foot-deep canyon of bedrock where water skirts boulders and temporarily disappears into a cave beneath a granite slab. The trail follows a 600-foot long gorge carved through granite by glacial meltwater.

Loon 'dance'

Loon dancing and creating a ruckus.

Hikers are urged to show caution on the slippery rocks so that one will not fall in the gorge like the unlucky moose for whom Moose Cove was named. The trail also loops through a moss garden located on the ledges of the mixed growth forest. Several species of lichen inhabit this garden including “Reindeer Moss” which is native to the Arctic Tundra. There is also an excellent view of Table Rock from Route 26 at this point.

After leaving Grafton Notch, it was a short ride into New Hampshire and Vermont, with many more beautiful wonders. But that is a subject for another day and another blog.

To sum it up, I would say that this oft overlooked area of Maine is worth a visit anytime of year.  My next trip here will be to photograph the fall foliage. I’m told it is among the best in New England.

Old barn on Route 16 near Errol.

Old barn on Route 16 near Errol.

 

Reid Albee

Reid Albee Photography

Butterfly Gardens: Havens for Pollinators

Butterfly gardens offer habitat for a variety of pollinator species.

How does a hands-on photo op that requires no gas, beautifies your residence, and helps an important and potentially threatened group of wildlife sound? These are some of the perks that butterfly and wildlife gardens offer. In addition to their scenic qualities, gardens and meadows are crucial oases for native pollinators such as butterflies, moths, wasps, bees, ants, and hummingbirds. These species serve an essential purpose, as they are responsible for the propagation of many important plants. Pollinator populations are an issue of concern worldwide, as a number of species have declined.

 

A day lily offers a perch for a hungry tiger swallowtail.

Planning a wildlife garden involves a bit of research, and often a bit of trial and error each season. One key is to include a mix of plants to maintain blooms throughout the growing season, which will encourage the pollinators to stay around and return in successive years. Another important consideration is to use plants that are good sources of pollen, nectar, and food for larvae. There are a number of books and magazines devoted to wildlife gardens; if you consult one, be sure that it is regionally keyed to New England and the Northeast.

Bee balm and phlox at Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester.

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An excellent way to scout out potential plants is to visit your local wildlife sanctuary or landscape nursery to see the species firsthand and get recommendations from experts. Recently I visited the Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, a Massachusetts Audubon property in Worcester known for its variety of butterflies.

The distinctive globe thistle is especially popular with bees.

The sanctuary butterfly garden, which was recently filmed for a television show, includes coneflower, bee balm, phlox, milkweed, butterfly weed, day lilies, bellflowers, coreopsis, sunflowers, oxeye daisy, yarrow, catmint, bronze fennel, butterfly weed, meadow sage, sweet pepperbush, and bluebeard spirea.

Mating monarch butterflies on milkweed, a native New England field wildflower.

Some of our native plants that are popular with pollinators include red columbine, milkweed, joe pye weed, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susan, and New England aster. If you have containers or beds available, recommended annuals include petunias, zinnias, seed geraniums, and scarlet sage (salvia).

An American Lady butterfly and a bumble bee share a coneflower.
The species you can expect to see vary by the season and the surrounding habitats. Some of the familiar butterflies I’ve been seeing in gardens recently include tiger swallowtails, American ladies, monarchs (especially where milkweed is present), silver and great spangled fritillaries, buckeyes, pearl crescents, silver spotted skippers and other skippers and dashes,and occasional black and spicebush swallowtails. Another neat insect to watch for are hummingbird moths, named for their similarity to hummingbirds in flight.

A hummingbird moth hovers next to bee balm.

 
Some of the other ways you can make your property more attractive to pollinators and other wildlife include reducing open lawn space, planting shrubs and trees of different heights, and maintaining water sources such as bird baths. 
 

With a successful garden, you'll enjoy scenes like these dueling hummingbirds!

While seed feeders can be risky because of bears and other animals during the warm months, hummingbird and oriole feeders will further enhance the visibility of those species.

  
Another link that will help you identify what butterfly you have found in your garden is to visit the Mass Audubon butterfly page.
 
 
 
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