Lovely California Natives for the Pollinators

Aren't these Ella Nelson buckwheat Eriogonum nudum 'Ella Nelson's Yellow' blossoms lovely? This particular strain of California nude buckwheat was collected along the Eel River in Mendocino County by Eric Nelson, who named it for his grandmother. The blossoms stand on several feet tall stems that spring from spoon shaped leaf rosette bases. We planted the seedlings in the native buckwheat area of the native garden, which has rocky, clay soil. The blooms will last through the Fall, turning to a pinkish brown. I just planted two of these Blue-Eyed Grass Sisyrinchium bellum seedlings in one of the patio plant beds. They are perennials that grow to a foot tall and bloom from January through Ju

Here come the bees

Oh, how I love this time of year when many native and other bees arrive and find nectar sources in the garden! Now that the blackberry blossoms are opening up, it's easy to observe bees all day long on the patio. Above a Van Dyke's Bumble Bee Bombus vandykei buries its face in a blackberry blossom as it collects pollen and nectar. A Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee Bombus vosnesenskii lands on a Coastal Tidy Tips Layia platyglossa blossom. Look at those orange pollen baskets! I couldn't figure out what this Wool Carder Bee Anthidium manicatum was doing. It rested for about five minutes on the Lambs Ear as its mandibles constantly moved. It certainly wasn't collecting fibers from the leaf. Looks like

California Towhee and the India Walking Stick

The other evening I happened to glance out the kitchen window, noticing some movement on our walkway. A California Towhee was hard at work pecking hard at what I first thought was a thick blade of grass. But that blade of grass had thin long legs, and soon hung limp in the towhee's beak. Alas, it was the demise of an India Walking Stick Carausius morosus. These walking stick insects were originally imported to the United States as ideal pets for children to care for. They are now considered invasive, at least here in California. The towhee looked very pleased with its treat. A few minutes after I took this photo the towhee flew away to eat the walking stick in peace, maybe bringing it to a n

First Echo Blue Butterfly Sighting

ever! I had never seen an Echo Blue butterfly before, but look who visited our garden yesterday afternoon and lingered for about half an hour! It rested in the sun on an evergreen hedge after visiting our native plant garden. The Echo Blue Celastrina ladon echo, also known as the Spring Azure, is said to be common in the Bay Area. They visit many kinds of flowers, and some of their host plants are in the Ceanothus species. I wonder if there are Echo Blue larvae developing on our Ray Hartman Ceanothus shrub, which is thriving in the native garden. Front view of the Echo Blue

Clouds and more clouds

It's been a very cloudy day, and very gray. Only at sunset, when the sun could be seen below the clouds, was it actually sunny. A few days ago, between the rainstorms the cloud formations were so lovely. The formation on the left looks like a young elephant raising its trunk in a curve. But now as that cloud stretches out it's starting to look like a dinosaur. These clouds have a lot of action going on, with many layers.

Lovely Painted Ladies

Painted ladies Vanessa cardui spend a lot of time in our native garden. This one is sipping nectar from Siskiyou Wooly Sunflowers Eriophyllum lanatum 'Siskiyou' . Look at that long proboscis! Interesting that it is sipping nectar from the petals. This painted lady is enjoying the warmth of the sun on its wings as it rests on a wood chip path in the garden. We always notice the lovely patterns and colors of their wings, but I only realized now what lovely faces these butterflies have. Note the dark vertical stripes on its face. Pumping its wings to distribute the sun's warmth throughout its body.

House finches at the bird bath

Here is another one of those lucky shots of birds in action in the back yard. The female house finch, on the right, was drinking water from the birdbath. Then a male house finch, on the left, landed on the bath platform and stood very erect, watching the other finch. It's not a great image, quality-wise, but I love the moment caught here. The male finch seems to be checking to see just how much water the female finch is going to drink, and whether there will be enough left for him.

Bird Action in the Backyard

Sometimes you can get lucky and capture and an interesting image just by chance. I was photographing the bird on the left, which I believe is a young California Towhee. It was late afternoon, and the bird rested for about ten minutes on a branch of a crabapple tree. While I took pictures of it, two Anna's Hummingbirds suddenly flew past the towhee. The towhee is ducking down on the branch. It looked like the hummingbirds were chasing each other and weren't interested in the towhee. And here the two hummingbirds fly around the towhee, who is sitting upright on the branch.

Monarch chrysalides after the rain

As you may remember from posts last month, fourteen monarch caterpillars grew big and plump after devouring leaves on our narrow milkweed plants. Gradually they disappeared, looking for places to pupate. I first discovered four who were in "j" stage, then chrysalides the next day. The other three I found in the same area of the backyard, near the milkweed pots, already as chrysalides. They attached themselves, through their resilient silk pads, onto the side of one our garden sheds, from under the roof overhang, and from under the rims of flowerpots. Two of the chrysalides don't look good because they each have a considerable crack in them. One has the crack right in front, lengthwise. The o

After the rains

Plants look refreshed after the steady rains that lasted for a day and a half. The reflections in the raindrops caught in the plants are very interesting. For example the drop caught between two bee plant blossoms Scrophularia californica. The raindrop on this spent bee plant blossom acts as a lens. I wonder how many raindrops formed this large bead of water on a nasturtium leaf. Lovely sweet peas Lathyrus odoratus 'Enchante' glistening like jewels.

Backyard Observations

A tree fern's frond slowly unfurling its leaves Meanwhile, nearby, a monarch caterpillar decided to weave its silk pad to attach itself to a side of the garden shed. Here it is in "j" position.

Anna's Hummingbird bathing in raindrops

We've had quite a lot of unseasonable rain for the past two days, and when the showers are light the Anna's hummingbirds don't seem to mind at all. Sitting on a branch, they sometimes flap and fluff their wings, bathing. Here is an Anna's hummingbird rolling around on wet leaves of a blackberry vine. It sometimes flapped its wings in the drops of rain, and seemed to really enjoy this bath. They do this sometimes for several minutes before flying away.

Blooming natives

For some reason many people think that California native plants are dull and without lovely blossoms. Here are several natives blooming in our garden right now. Above is a spike of blossoms on one of our Lupinus arboreus "Yellow Coastal Bush Lupine" plants. I have learned to give these plants very little water so that they don't develop mildew. We planted these lupines in the late winter so that their roots would benefit from the winter and early spring rains. The lupines we planted last year lasted for the season and then developed a lot of mildew after the constant onslaught of fat green aphids. I had to eventually dig the lupines out and toss them in the green bin. Lupines attract butter

Lovely Umber Skipper on a Buddleia flower head

The umber skippers are back! And they are so cute with their large brown eyes and feathery antennae. They are fairly easy to photograph because they sit still for longer periods of time, and don't seem easily startled. Welcome back, umber skippers!

Monarch Caterpillars munching and growing

We are no longer raising monarch caterpillars indoors, just letting things happen naturally. Currently there are more than eleven pots of native milkweed growing in the backyard. Some have been growing for two years, going dormant in the late fall, when I cut them down to the level of the soil. Other milkweed plants are from last year, also growing back after the dormant winter season, when they were cut down to soil level. The monarch butterflies seem to favor the narrow leafed milkweed Asclepias fascicularis as the host plant to lay their eggs. The leaves are definitely softer and tenderer than the Davis milkweed Asclepias speciosa 'Davis'. We have both kinds growing in pots. And here are

Honeybees in the blooms

Oh, if I were a honey bee, I probably would be so happy at this time of year when plants are producing the first blooms of the season, loaded with nectar and pollen. This honey bee is visiting one of our salvia plants... And going in for the nectar. Meanwhile, another honey bee is busy collecting pollen in a California Thai Silk blossom.

Mining Bee and the Tricolored Gilia

Just as I hoped, the Tricolored, or Birds Eye Gilia reseeded throughout our native plant patch, and now there is a lovely mini-meadow. The blossoms of this California native are such a lovely sight to see, with their lavender and white petals and yellow throat. But the best part of them, I think, is the beautiful blue pollen they produce, and the bees attracted to that pollen. This is the first mining bee I observed in the garden, and it was very determined to collect as much of that pollen as possible to take back to its brood. Here it is backing out of the blossom. Here is the same mining bee when it entered the blossom... ... diving in. These are some of the Tricolored Gilia in our mini-m

In the garden now

The garden is full of surprises and plants grow lusher, attracting all kinds of insects and birds. The lambs' ears Stachys byzantina plants are growing taller, gradually spreading out more and more every year. I just prune down the tall flower spikes that shoot up in the summer months, after they have dried up. Bees, especially honey bees and wool carder bees, visit the flower spikes throughout the season for nectar. I haven't seen wool carder bees yet, but the females scrape the hairs off the leaves of these plants to use in constructing their nests. The little lavender colored flowers in the background are Birds Eye or Tri-colored Gilia, which are native to California. Here are from left t

The monarch caterpillars are here

...and my have they grown within a couple of weeks! As you may recall from a post last month, I noticed a monarch butterfly circling our backyard, landing on our potted native milkweed plants that started to shoot up from their nubs after winter dormancy. And now we have fifteen monarch caterpillars, most of them in their fourth or fifth instar, happily munching their way through the milkweed. Of course there are the ubiquitous orange aphids, as you can see to the right of the caterpillar above, to the right. I keep picking off the aphids because they multiply quickly, infesting the plants. The leaves then become sticky and don't look healthy. This is why I either squish the hordes of aphids

Welcome Fiery Skipper

My first sighting this year of a Fiery Skipper butterfly Hylephila phyleus in the garden this year. This is a female. Earlier in the season, which would be now, these butterflies have more spots on them than the ones born later in the season, around September. And they are rarely common before July, which is why I'm surprised to see this one now. Females are mostly brown above with a buff pattern, while the males are a bright golden yellow.

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