I used to be sitting in a garden chair in my yard the opposite day, soaking within the spring sunshine whereas studying a e-book. It sounds glamorous, so I suppose I ought to full the image. I used to be in a 10-by-10-foot canine kennel with my pet, Juno, and he or she was vigorously digging a gap below my chair. Chilly clumps of grime, grubs and earthworms had been spraying into my boots. And each on occasion, Juno would place a slobbery toy on my lap.
My husband, Derek, got here outdoors to hitch us, and he rapidly remarked on the scale of Juno’s rising excavation web site. Since our garden is actually extra of a rock-filled forest clearing, full with ferns and mossy hillocks, we aren’t notably involved with our new canine’s instinctive behavior to create cool beds of grime to lie in. It’s extra amusing than anything.
So there we had been, caged in our yard, when the flutter of darkish wings on a close-by sugar maple tree caught my consideration. “Oh wow, do you see the butterflies?” I stated earlier than bolting indoors.
By now, Derek has come to grasp that if I see one thing attention-grabbing outside and run inside, I’m simply fetching my digicam. I guess he may anticipate the unsolicited nature lesson that was coming, too.
Again within the yard with digicam in hand — full with a hefty, steel 400mm lens connected — I slowly approached the 2 massive butterflies, snapping pictures alongside the best way.
Then it dawned on me.
“ what they’re doing,” I stated to Derek in an excited tone. “They’re consuming sap from the holes the sapsuckers simply left!”
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are one of many 9 species of woodpeckers present in Maine, and so they’re among the many commonest. With lovely black-and-white plumage, a purple cap and a yellow-tinged stomach, they’re flashy and fluffy-looking. To eat, they drill into tree trunks, creating rows of small, evenly spaced holes. Utilizing a protracted, brush-tipped tongue, they then lap up the leaking sap and any bugs that include it.
I had learn that sure butterflies in Maine go to these freshly drilled holes to feed on sap, particularly in early spring when there are few different meals sources on the panorama. However I’d by no means witnessed this pure phenomenon in motion. Only a day prior, I’d watched and photographed a sapsucker drilling holes in that very tree.
The butterflies had been mourning cloaks, that are among the many first butterfly species to emerge every spring in Maine. Their massive, velvety brown wings are edged with a band of yellow, adopted by a row of vivid blue spots. They’re such early risers that folks will usually see them on heat days in March, whereas snow nonetheless covers the bottom.
I’d seen mourning cloaks loads of occasions earlier than, however that specific sighting was particular as a result of it revealed a bit of the complicated meals chain that exists proper in my yard. By drilling holes, the woodpecker left behind meals for butterflies, that are on the menu for a lot of wild animals — together with the pair of jap phoebes that arrived earlier this spring to construct a nest below my home’s second-story deck.
As I write this column, I’m sitting outdoors in Juno’s kennel once more — you already know, to embrace the scene. One of many phoebes is perching close by, bobbing its lengthy tail up and down. This yr’s pair has claimed a nest that was used final yr, maybe by the identical couple. The feminine has constructed onto the cup-shaped dwelling with a layer of recent inexperienced moss (as a result of solely feminine jap phoebes construct nests), and hopefully, she’ll lay some eggs quickly.
A loon on the close by lake simply issued a brief, haunting name. Juno cocked her head to the aspect as she listened, one thing she usually does when sounds are novel to her. As songbirds proceed to return from the south this spring, there shall be loads of new sounds for her to surprise at.
One other supply of leisure? Black flies.
They’ve simply emerged, and Juno appears to take pleasure in biting at them as they float round her head. However these black flies aren’t biting again — not but, at the least. They’re simply pinging off my brow. Perhaps the black fly species that’s out proper now isn’t serious about feeding on people. There are between 40 and 50 again fly species in Maine, and plenty of of these species feed completely on solely sure kinds of animals, resembling birds.
Or possibly it has to do with the life cycle of the fly. Solely feminine blackflies feed on blood, and so they do it to allow them to develop egg lots. So possibly these flies simply aren’t there in that a part of the cycle but.
These are the issues I take into consideration once I’m sitting outdoors with Juno.
A turkey vulture simply circled overhead. One of many largest birds we have now right here within the state (just a bit smaller than a bald eagle), it’s laborious to overlook because it rides thermals excessive overhead. A minimum of one turkey vulture has been feasting on a useless porcupine close by — one thing Juno and I avoid on our day by day walks. I’ve spooked the chicken off its spiky meal a few occasions. In the event you’ve by no means seen a turkey vulture up shut, Google it. They’re so ugly that they’re cute.
Spending a lot time in my yard, I’ve been capable of watch the world slowly rework this spring. Previously, the change from winter to summer season has appeared so abrupt. Sooner or later the timber are skeletal, the subsequent, they’re lined in vibrant inexperienced foliage. However not anymore. Since I’m on the market day-after-day, a number of occasions, I’ve seen how some timber begin blooming lengthy earlier than others. At present, the large sugar maple in my yard — the one which feeds woodpeckers and butterflies — is roofed with trailing yellow-green flowers, and its leaves are simply beginning to unfurl.
Earlier than penning this column, I knew the tree was a maple due to its distinctive leaves, however I didn’t know what type. To establish it, I browsed the useful booklet “Forest Bushes of Maine” and searched on-line for pictures of catkins, that are tree flowers. I additionally walked over to the tree and picked up some useless leaves at its base to look extra carefully on the leaves’ form.
I’m telling you this as a result of I need to categorical that you just don’t must know the title of each tree, flower, chicken or bee that passes your technique to be a yard naturalist. Simply observe and see the place your curiosity leads you. In the event you’re something like me, you’ll be Googling issues like “black fly life cycle” and “jap phoebe food plan” very quickly. You’ll witness pure phenomena like butterflies feeding from tiny holes in a tree trunk and surprise why that’s taking place.
That wonderment will lead you to discoveries that may change the best way you see — and worth — the character that surrounds your house.