September Ends

I got out yesterday for a nice hike, nature walk, some naturalizing. I’m still not sure what to call these walks. With the weather changing somewhat precipitously I wanted to grab the opportunity to spend what the forecast indicated would be the last sunny day of my long weekend. As luck would have it, the clouds moved in before I got out. Consequently it was difficult to get decent photos, especially in the woods. Still, it was a nice, rejuvenating outing.

Despite there still being flowers in bloom there wasn’t a pollinator to be seen. The temperature was around 50°F/10°C. In the prairie there was a lot of bird activity but that and the occasional pile of coyote scat were the only signs of animal life. Seems I nearly always see something new and interesting on my walks and this time was no exception. It was very quiet out so a rhythmic tapping sound in the prairie caught my ear. A little searching revealed a downy woodpecker hunting on a tall forb’s woody stem. Makes sense but I haven’t seen that before.

September was kind of a disappointing month here for me. There was so much rain and then when we went north to do some camping there wasn’t much to see. Still, even though we came back a day early because of the cold and boredom, I did get some last-of-the-season observations of pollinators, a good, long look at an accommodating ovenbird, and an encounter with a wonderfully-disguised hemlock looper moth caterpillar. I also made some fungus and moss observations I’ll work through trying to identify before I post them to iNaturalist this winter to combat cabin fever. I’ve also got dozens of bumble bee observations there I want to add to Bumble Bee Watch, but their system isn’t as streamlined as iNaturalist’s, in my opinion.

As autumn turns into winter my walks are going to be more for exercise than nature observations so I’ll resume listening to podcasts while I’m out. My search for good natural history content hasn’t yielded much so I’m open to suggestions.

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Pollinator Tour

I was vacillating about going on a pollinator tour yesterday at a local land conservancy. We had been to an opening/tour of a distillery on Friday and then Saturday we braved the heat again for the urban horticulture field day at the agricultural research station.  In the end I decided I’d probably regret it if I skipped it. I’m so glad I went!

Susan

While the tour started with a general introduction to pollinators and their importance, the main focus of the event was bumble bees. We learned about their life cycle and got some helpful tips on how to photograph and identify them. The presenter encouraged us to submit our sightings to Bumble Bee Watch, a citizen science project I started looking at earlier this summer but hadn’t gotten around to submitting anything to. If you’re in North America I suggest you check it out and consider getting involved.

Bumble Bee on Echinacea

The weather has been on the dry side lately so there hasn’t been as much nectar available for bees. The purple coneflowers were popular. That’s where we saw this Brown-belted Bumble Bee, or at least that’s what I think it is. I’m not too sure of my identification skills at this point but hope with time and seeing more bees it will become easier. Bumble bees can be tricky to identify because the queens, males and worker females can all look different within a species and there are variations even within a sex.

Bees Gathering Pollen

The coneflowers also attracted these solitary bees who were busy collecting pollen for their brood.

Yellow Bumble Bee

In all we saw five species of bumble bees in the three hours we were there. This one in the jar is a Yellow Bumble Bee. Our guide was catching bees for us to see up close, first with a net, but then just by walking up to them and placing the jar over them. They were all released unharmed when we were done looking at them.

Monarch Caterpillar

Along with the bees we saw a few Monarch Butterfly caterpillars like this one. It seemed to be lost exploring a nodding onion stem rather than its usual milkweed host plants.

Solitary Bee on Mustard

It was cool to see so many people turn out for an event like this. There were even a couple of young boys in attendance who were really into it, asking good questions and having a great time finding bees. We all came away with information and suggestions of resources to help us continue our studies of bumble bees. Now I need to get out and see more bees before it’s too late. The flowers I associate with autumn, goldenrod and asters are starting to bloom and before we know it the bees will have tucked themselves away for winter.

Fun February Find

There was an exciting discovery in the back yard today.

Birdhouse

A couple of weeks ago I noticed something hanging on the back fence. It turned out to be a broken birdhouse packed full of mouse nest stuff. It’s not our birdhouse so I presume the previous neighbors found it and just hung it there.  I retrieved it intending to clean it out, put a new roof on it and hang it up somewhere this spring. Just now, as I started pulling out the nest I noticed what I thought were some discarded nut shells.

Coccoons

A closer look revealed something much more exciting. The birdhouse had become a beehouse. Those are old bumblebee cocoons!

Last year I put out an actual bumblebee house  hoping to attract a queen but didn’t have any luck. Now I’m wondering if this could be salvaged as a home attractive to bumblebees once again.

Nest Closeup

I’m going to consult with a couple of sources much more knowledgeable about such things on how to proceed. Having a  living bumblebee nest to observe in the yard would be the coolest.