February 27, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Daughter Liv is flying home tonight from graduate school vocal auditions. We’ve missed you honey! xox
More hilarity from Liv: When Parents Text
February 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
From the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel (2010, 2008 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Local Reporting:
My note-This same paper endorsed tea party backed candidate Scott Walker.
Madison — Scott Walker took a prank phone call Tuesday (Buffalo Beast), and Wisconsin learned a lot about its new governor.
A recording of the call released Wednesday spelled out Walker’s strategies for dealing with protesting union workers and trying to lure Democrats boycotting the state Senate back to Wisconsin.
Speaking with whom he believed to be billionaire conservative activist David Koch, Walker said he considered – but rejected – planting troublemakers amid protesters who have rocked the Capitol for a week.
He told the caller he feared a “ruckus” would “scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid this problem.”
He also described a plan to get his bill taking away union rights passed without Democrats who have boycotted the Senate. He said he talked to a Democratic senator for 45 minutes who he thought could help even though “he’s not one of us.”
Walker discussed ways Koch – a financer of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity – could help Republican legislators, presumably with TV and radio ads.
…Koch is co-owner of Koch Industries, an energy and consumer products company that owns Georgia-Pacific paper mills in Wisconsin. He is a chief backer of Americans for Prosperity, which helped stage tea party rallies in Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010 and on Wednesday announced it was spending $342,200 on advertising to persuade Wisconsin residents to back Walker’s plan.
February 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
February 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The redpolls return with friends in tow. Two weeks ago we were visited by a half dozen or so Common Redpolls; yesterday and today we have a troupe of thirty. Goldfinch-sized, with crisp white and brown patterned tail feathers and velvety crimson caps, they have the winsome habit of cocking their heads and looking straight at you, as if to say (in the most conversational manner), “I am very photogenic; won’t you concur?”
The female lacks the pink breast and both have the same red poll (cap). The first photo shows the male above and the female below.
Scroll down or click on link to see related post:The Uncommon Common Redpoll
February 21, 2011 § 1 Comment
With husband and son sick in bed with the flu, I thought I would accomplish much work this morning in our oh-so- quiet home, but no, I spent the morning perusing the online and fabulous premier issue of New England Finery. Brimming with articles and photographs, New England Finery celebrates New England design businesses and the work that results from people doing what they love. This first issue features stories about New England-based shoe designers Michael and Allyson Ciccia of Cordani, a husband and wife design team located in Wakefield, couture dress designer Harper Della-Piano (Seams Couture, Wenham), New England Fine Living, New York Gift Show, Power of Pink, design bloggers, and much more, coupled with terrific behind-the-scenes location photos and information.
Live Link to open New England Finery Premier Issue: New England Finery
I met Yvonne Blacker, co-founder and creative director of New England Finery, two years ago at the Wenham Museum Designer showhouse and we became fast friends. Yvonne has a background in graphic and interior design and she has combined both her loves in producing this virtual “glossy,” which is visually appealing and extremely easy to navigate, with live links to websites featured. Yvonne is a creative powerhouse–and one of the most thoughtful and gracious people I have had the pleasure to know. She accomplishes all that she does while simultaneously raising four young sons!
February 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The Pollinator Garden has been rescheduled for Monday morning, Apriil 18th. Updated information to follow.
Dear Gardening Friends,
Come join me Monday morning, February 28th, from 10:00 to 12:00 at the Espousal Center in Waltham, where I will be giving a talk and photo presentation about creating The Pollinator Garden for the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Although this is a state Garden Club Federation event, everyone is welcome. Cost is free for members and $5. for non-members. My extensive pollinator planting list is provided with lecture.
Scroll down to see a short video tour of the Limonaia, along with much good information about growing citrus in colder climes, excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
Keep warm and cozy and–take heart–the vernal equinox and the first day of spring are officially less than one month away!
February 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Tour the Limonaia at Tower Hill Botanic Garden
Register online for my workshop at Tower Hill Botanic Garden: Creating a Butterfly Garden, Sunday, May 1, 1:00 to 3:00. I hope to see you there!
~ Citrus ~
Growing Citrus Indoors excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
We would grow citrus, whether they bore fruit or not, for the lilting sweet scents of the blossoms alone. Whether entering a room in which a citrus is in bloom or approaching the plant on the terrace, one cannot help appreciating their exquisite fragrance.
During the Baroque period, orange and citrus fruits became equated with the golden apples from the mythical Garden of Hesperides. In 1664 Louis XIV of France commissioned the architect LeVall to build the first orangerie at Versailles. It was the Sun King’s love for gardens, and in particular his admiration for the “Seville” orange, which brought both citrus plants and the conservatory into prominence. The orangerie protected exotic and tender plants during the winter, and when the plants were moved out of doors during the warmer months, the orangerie was transformed into a setting for courtly events and celebrations.
The genus Citrus is indigenous to southeast Asia, occurring from northern India to China and south through Malaya, the Philippines, and the East Indies. The earliest records of its cultivation date back to about 500 b.c. The four original wild species from which all domesticated fruits are thought to have been hybridized are Citrus medica, Citrus aurantifolia, Citrus grandis, and Citrus reticulata.
The calamondin orange (Citrus mitis), with heavenly scented, pure white flowers, is among the easiest to grow. Although the fruit is too acidic to eat out of hand, it is fine for cooking, seasoning poultry prior to roasting, or combining with honey to make a piquant glaze. The key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), has an insinuating sweet and fresh fragrance and is used for preserves, garnishes, and juice. Oil of citral is extracted from Citrus aurantifolia for use in perfumes. Highly valued in Japan and China for use in Buddhist ceremonies, the Buddha’s Hand (Citrus medica) is a thorny shrub with fragrant fruits that resemble a human hand. The flowers are comparatively large (3–4 inches across), white shaded purple, and intoxicatingly fragrant.
One of the most beautiful and widely available citrus for pot culture is the Meyer lemon (Citrus limon x Citrus sinensis), also known as the Chinese lemon. It grows to a manageable size, less than two feet, and in a standard shape with a nicely rounded-head form. Not a true lemon, but a hybrid cross of C. sinensis, an orange, and C. limon, its fruit is sweeter than that of a pure lemon cultivar. But it is for the flowers that I grow the Meyer lemon. The blossoms are thick and velvety, creamy white tinted rose. Blooming in notes of honeysuckle and jonquil-like fragrances, the tree flowers prodigally.
Citrus thrive in a well-draining soil similar to what is an ideal medium for cactus. They must be grown in clay pots to insure good air circulation. The surest way to kill a citrus is by overwatering. Wait until the soil is thoroughly dried between watering. Place your finger a full three inches into the soil and water only when it feels dry at your finger tips, and then water deeply until a bit of water comes out the bottom of the drainage hole. With regular feedings of fish fertilizer throughout the summer and an all-purpose fertilizer during the winter months (when we find the odor of fish fertilizer to be repugnant indoors), citrus plants grow strong and healthy and are less likely to succumb to insect infestations.
Citrus plants are fairly indestructible, although they will quickly let you know when they’re unhappy. A few leaves will yellow and fall off, and if the problem is not resolved immediately, the entire plant will defoliate. This is typically due to overwatering and/or a soil mixture that does not allow for excellent drainage. Do not be discouraged, even if the entire plant becomes leafless. Water less frequently and try repotting the plant in a more suitable growing medium. Usually, they can be revived.
When grown indoors, citrus are occasionally bothered by spider mites and scale. Spider mites are easy to detect because they make a visible white web. Scale is a more challenging problem to diagnose as the light brown, pinhead sized and hard-bodied pest is difficult to see. They remain well hidden, where they attach themselves to the stems and along the ribs on the underside of the leaves. Scales produce a sticky substance that coats the leaves. For both pests, spray with a solution of diluted rubbing alcohol (three parts water to one part rubbing alcohol) to keep them in check.
Considered a harbinger of prosperity and good fortune, citrus have been grown in Chinese gardens and courtyards for thousands of years. We can take a lesson from how seasonal changes are reflected in a Chinese garden. Different areas of the garden are used in rotation for social events, depending on the prominence of a particular tree or shrub in flower, and flowering plants growing in pots are brought into the current living areas. After blooming, they are moved to a less visible location, and the focus shifts to flowers that are coming into florescence.
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher)
February 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Arriving at Tower Hill Botanic Garden late Saturday afternoon, I soon realized that it was the perfect time of day for enjoying and photographing the camellia and citrus collection housed in the new Limonaia. The crowds had thinned and the late day sun lent a warm glow to the conservatory collections and the surrounding hillsides.
The hallway leading from the Limonaia to the Orangerie was lined with luscious displays of camellia blossoms, which were part of the special camellia exhibit taking place at the botanic garden, and were provided by members of The Massachusetts Camellia Society.
Originally from the Isabella Stewart Gardner collection, Camellia japonica in the Limonaia are part of the permanent collection at Tower Hill. The Limonaia is a joy to wander through–not in the least over crowded–allowing the visitor to see the bones, or structure, of the plant, which is especially appreciated with larger specimens of citrus and camellia. Myriad and beautiful examples of Camellia japonica abound, including well-labeled known cultivars, as well as those of unknown lineage. With plumpest buds of promised beauty held tightly along stems, and the high-gloss evergreen foliage offsetting opened blossoms, I would be hard pressed to name a favorite. Look for the vivid red striations bespattering the Persian pink petals of C. japonica ‘Haru-no-utena’ and the sunlight-white splodges in the carmine pink blossoms of C. japonica ‘Masayoshii.’
Camellia japonica is related to Camellia sinensis from which beverage tea is cultivated, and many of the flowering Japanese camellias on display have the similarly nodding habit, where you gaze up into the blossom. In its wild habitat Camellia japonica grows 20 to 30 feet; many of the oldest camellia plants in the Tower Hill collection stand a good eight feet, which is the perfect height for admiring the bowing blossoms. I recommend a visit to the Limonaia now, or in the very near future, if you wish to see the garden’s stunning collection of C. japonica in bloom.
Members of the Rutaceae, commonly called rue or citrus family, are well represented with great specimens of kumquats, Ponderosa lemon, calamondin orange, Persian lime, and more. The larger trees are potted in sturdy and attractive “Versailles Boxes,” which are custom made replicas of those built for Louis the XIV’s Orangerie du château de Versailles.
Shoo away those winter blues and head to the Limonaia and Orangerie at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. You will be delighted with the fresh scents, brilliant plant arrangements, color green in all its infinite many hues, and every other delicious color of the rainbow—a welcome respite from our monochromatic winterscape. The walkways from the parking lot to the visitor center are well maintained, with no treacherous ice!
The following text is provided from the sign near the pavilion pictured above: Wachusett Resevoir and Wachusett Mountain ~ Tower hill summit, at 641.5 feet above sea level, is one of the highest points in the area. It takes its name from a tower erected atop the hill used as a survey site for the construction of the Wachusetts Reservoir to the west. Completed in 1905, the reservoir provides drinking water for Boston and 64 surrounding cities and towns. Water originates mid-state at the Quabbin Reservoir and travels through a 24.6 mile tunnel to join the runoff from the Wachusett watershed. Tower Hill Botanic Garden lies within the Wachusett watershed. Every effort is being made during the development and daily maintenance of the garden to protect this valuable resource.
The Wachusett Reservoir covers 6.5 square miles within a 37 mile shoreline. Gravity powers the flow of water through the reservoir system east to Boston. The name “Wachusett” is Algonquin for “by the Great Hill.” Just beyond the reservoir looms Wachusett Mountain. At elevation 2006 feet above sea level, it is a popular destination.
Limonaia is the name given to an architectural feature or room originally designed to shelter lemon trees.
February 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
February 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
Not to be missed is the Camellia Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, today and tomorrow, February 12th and 13th. I am heading out to Bolyston today to see the exhibit, which will be held in their brand new Limonaia, and in the upcoming weeks will bring you photos and updates about the stunning and distinctive gardens at Tower Hill. On Sunday May 1st I am giving a workshop at Tower Hill on Creating a Butterfly Garden, with more information on registering for the class in a future post.
February 11, 2011 § 3 Comments
Our gorgeous orchid cactus (Epiphyllum) has thrown us a bloom, just in time for Valentines Day! Last year, this newly propagated treasure gave us one dinner plate-sized blossom. This year, she possesses eleven ruby red buds from which are opening the most gorgeously hued and fabulously fragrant flowers. Blue-violet tinged electric orange-magenta outer petals surround Schiaparelli shocking pink inner petals, shading to a lime green throat, and highlighted by creamy yellow anthers and starry stigma. The flowers stay open for several days, unlike her relative the Night-blooming Cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum, whose blossoms last only a single night before wilting by dawn), and one in bloom scents an entire room, or several rooms.
A garden club plant sale special, I know not the name of this brilliant beauty. Her description does not wholly match the orchid cactus cultivars found on the internet and not a one mentions her fabulous fragrance. I purchased this very young plant several years ago at the Community Center in Rockport, at what I believe was the Rockport Garden Club’s annual plant sale. If any of my Rockport readers recognize the plant from the photo and know the name of this cultivar, or who has the parent plant, please email me.
* Shocking pink was fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s (1890- 19730) signature color and she described it as “life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West.”
February 10, 2011 § 2 Comments
Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
How lovely to receive a visit from this charming flock of redpolls. I knew it to be a new-to-our garden species, but did not realize visits were much more uncommon than common. Oh how I wish I had taken more snapshots! Common Redpolls are another “irruptive species” from the boreal forests of North American (see Pine Siskins, below), and there have been numerous sightings reported throughout New England. To learn whether we had Hoary Redpolls or Common Redpolls I emailed Chris Leahy, Mass Audubon’s Chair of Field Ornithology:
Hi Chris, Last week I found this inexpensive Nyjer seed bird feeder at Whole Foods, hung it in the garden next to the finch feeder, and was immediately visited by what I think are redpolls. They stayed for a few days and have not been seen again. It was dreary and rainy, so my photos are gray, not crispy. Do you think they are Common Redpolls or Hoary Redpolls or are the photos not clear enough?
Keep your eyes on your fruiting shrubs for Bohemian Waxwings. We had a flock of 5 (with Cedars) at Halibut Point during the Birding Weekend on Saturday. And Mary in East Gloucester found a dead one on her deck. I’ve had Cedars in my privet hedge during the last 10 days but no Bohemians (yet!?).
February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
Photos Courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr
Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum ~ Last night I had the pleasure of attending Robert Robichaux’s splendid lecture Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution, presented at the Hunnewell Building of the Arnold Arboretum. Especially fascinating are examples of adaptive radiation, in which a singular North American mainland plant arrived on the islands and evolved into an array of different species, exhibiting fantastic variation in form and habitat.
See related post What is Adaptive Radiation?
Mr. Robchauxi gave detailed information on the restoration efforts of the Haleakalā Silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum), perhaps Hawaii’s most famous native flowering plant, along with providng examples of other silversword species and lobeliads.
A relative of the sunflower, Haleakalā Silversword may live for several decades, however it is monocarpic, meaning once-flowering, after which it dies. Flowering usually occurs from June through October and the single stalk may contain as many as 600 heads with up to 40 ray flowers surrounding approximately 600 disk florets. Haleakalā Silversword is found only on the island of Maui. The plant’s common name is derived from the genera’s numerous sword-like succulent leaves, which are covered with silver hairs. Since May of 1992, the Haleakalā Silversword has been considered a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The silversword alliance refers to an adaptive radiation of over 5o Hawaiian species in the composite or sunflower family, Asteraceae, Tribe: Madieae (genera Dubautia, Wilkesia, and Agyroxiphium), and also to the Hawaiian Silversword Alliance Project (HSA), an adaptive evolution study project that is a collaborative effort among scientists at multiple public, private, and government institutions.
Species: A. sandwicense
Subspecies: A. s. subs. macrocephalum
February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
One of the most striking evolutionary patterns observed is called adaptive radiation. To radiate means to spread outward; not in the sense of speading out physically, but referring to a species that diversifies (“spreads out”) and generates multiple daughter species.
From Biology Online: When Charles Darwin was in the Galapagos islands, one of the first things he noticed is the variety of finches that existed on each of the islands. All in all, there were many different species of finch that differed in beak shape and overall size. This is adaptive radiation and natural selection at work.
These finches, better known as ‘Darwin’s Finches’ illustrated adaptive radiation. This is where species all deriving from a common ancestor have over time successfully adapted to their environment via natural selection.
Previously, the finches occupied the South American mainland, but somehow managed to occupy the Galapagos islands, over 600 miles away. They occupied an ecological niche with little competition.
As the population began to flourish in these advantageous conditions, intraspecific competition became a factor, and resources on the islands were squeezed and could not sustain the population of the finches for long.
Due to the mechanisms of natural selection, and changes in the gene pool, the finches became more adapted to the environment, illustrated by the diagram below.
As competition grew, the finches managed to find new ecological niches, that would present less competition and allow them, and their genome to be continued.
As indicated by the diagram above, the finches adapted to take advantage of the various food sources available on the island, which were being used by other species. Over the long term, the original finch species may have disappeared, but by diversifying, would stand a better chance of survival.
All in all, the finches had adapted to their environment via natural selection, which in turn, has allowed the species to survive in the longer term, the prime directive of any species.
See related post Silversword Alliance.
Follow this link to read more about rapid adaptive radiation in the species rich Heliconius butterflies (longwings or passion-flower butterflies).
February 7, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In anticipation of spring and your spring planting plans (and as I am sorting through mountains of photos, film footage, and text for the butterfly gardening show), I am planning a little series here on the blog. The focus is all about sharing information and photos about individual plant species that provide sustenance and shelter for the pollinators that grace our gardens.
Two of our very favorite native plant species for attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the blossoms of the northern catalpa tree (Catalpa speciosa) and trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), both of which belong to the Bignonia family. Catalpa trees bear white flowers with violet nectar guides and, despite their color differences, Catalpa blossoms and the red-orange flowers of trumpet creeper reveal several similarities, The reproductive structures are positioned inside at the top lip of the opening, surrounded by five asymmetrically shaped petals fused together. As the hummingbird pokes its head deep inside the trumpet-shaped blossom to extract nectar, the pollen-bearing sticky stamens and pistils attach to its forehead and transfer pollen from one blossom to the next.
Nectar volume influences the blossoms’ attractiveness to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The small florets of plants such as those of butterfly bushes and zinnias offer nectar, though they require many visits to make it worthwhile. Our native Campsis radicans produces one of the highest known volumes of floral nectar per flower. Hummingbird fledglings quickly learn from their mothers the blossoms that contain the most nectar.
Campsis radicans is found growing throughout much of the eastern half of the country. Unable to support itself vertically, it trails along the ground until it reaches a tree. Tiny aerial rootlets are formed to adhere itself to the surface of the tree to then allow it to climb skyward towards the sunlight. Unlike vines such as Chinese wisteria and bittersweet, which gird and then strangle a tree, trumpet creeper clings tightly. Campsis radicans is a very fast growing and top-heavy vine. It is unsuitable for anything but the strongest structure. As it blooms on the current year’s growth, it can be grown along a solid fence and cut back very vigorously in early spring.
For the intimate garden or garden room, where a less rampant (but no less hardy) grower is a more suitable choice, there are several hybrids of C. radicans with flowers that are as equally attractive to the hummingbirds. ‘Madame Galen’ (Campsis radicans x tagliabuana) flowers in lovely shades of apricot-orange. The newer cultivar ‘Indian Summer’ is described with the less persistent and dense growth characteristics similar to that of ‘Madame Galen’ and beautiful blossoms of apricot-orange with a deeper red eye.
The extended period of florescence of C. radicans corresponds to the span of time in which ruby-throated hummingbirds are living in their northern range. Like Chinese wisteria, trumpet creeper can take six years or more to flower from seed. Plant the largest specimen one’s budget will allow.
|Kingdom||Plantae – Plants|
|Subkingdom||Tracheobionta – Vascular plants|
|Superdivision||Spermatophyta – Seed plants|
|Division||Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants|
|Class||Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons|
|Family||Bignoniaceae – Trumpet-creeper family|
|Genus||Campsis Lour. – campsis|
February 4, 2011 § 1 Comment
See more vintage chandeliers at our daughter Liv’s blog: Dessert or Disaster
Gloucester Sculptor Elizabeth Alexander Awarded Prestigious Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship
February 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The gorgeous work of Elizabeth Alexander has been recognized by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, with their highest fellowship award in the amount of $7,500, in the category of Sculpture/Installation. Congratulations Elizabeth! View photos of Alexander’s “reinterpretation of space and material, a blurring of memory and imagination” at her website elizabethalexander.com
Artist’s Statement: “I am motivated by discovery, both in my studio as well as a means to captivate a viewer. As a child I searched for magic everywhere, believing that soon I too would be living the life of a fairy princess, finding enchantment at every turn. I have since realized that I am not destined for royalty but I still feel the need to create enchanted interventions with the everyday. The familiar standards of objects and space are represented but manipulated in a way that changes one’s perception from normalcy to fancy.
I use embellishment as a transformative tool, in the same way that adornment and artificiality is issued for all tales of “rags to riches.” If the shoe fits, does it really matter that the toe was severed to make it so? Beauty acts as a veil of stability and calm over the distress I allude to; pattern, color, materiality, and texture are used to seduce the viewer to appreciate something as unappealing as a flood or destroyed car. I employ decorative arts and formal aesthetics as vehicles to evoke desire, prosperity, and escapism in places typically lacking those characteristics. The final result is a reinterpretation of space and material, a blurring of reality, memory, and imagination.”
Studio:129 Prospect Street Gloucester, MA 01930
February 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
From Jan in Palm City, Florida: You may know all about this site. I am going to a banding in Florida on Friday morning. Someone near here has a yard full and I have been invited to the banding. I haven’t seen a hummer for at least two months. Vagrant and Winter Hummingbird Banding Love your Emails. Thank you.
Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Follow your heart.
From Jan in Dunedin, Florida: Love your site. Normally tucked into Rockport but we escaped to Florida for a few months this year – Dunedin – north of Clearwater, West coast. Rather than beautiful land birds we are surrounded with osprey, eagles, wading birds. You probably are aware of this little factoid, but just in case… Juncos do a better job of predicting a snow fall than the weather forecasters. The more of them hopping about under/in/around bushes and eating seed, the worse the snowfall. Check it out.
From Judith in Gloucester: Thanks Kim, for keeping me on the circut. These early mornings I am in my studio working on a commission and so enjoy watching Smith Cove come alive with birds of many feathers . Your words today warm the heart! You are truly tuned in . With gratitude, Judith or ‘ Snowed In ‘
From Sue in Newton: Thanks for sending your last about pine siskins – I did see one at my feeder in the last few weeks and tried to identify it, and now I know what it is thanks to you! Happily at home today – back to work tomorrow, then Florida next week to visit the “snowbirds”, I mean “in-laws.” David is away in Costa Rica this week – good timing! Hope all is well with you and family –
From Sally in Hamilton: Lots of junkos in Hamilton too this weekend. Such fun to watch the birds this time of the year, when everything else is so still and quiet. Still looking for a mini Slinky to hang on my feeder this June on Cape Cod!
February 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
Dear Gardening Friends,
As we are nestling in and readying ourselves for yet another snowstorm I am writing to you about the winsome Dark-eyed Junco that has become increasingly more prevalent in our winter garden. Dark-eyed Juncos are commonly referred to in the East as “snowbirds,’ not only because they arrive to their winter feeding grounds oftentimes at the first snow fall, but because of their distinctive coloring—gray skies above (top feathers) and snow below (breast and belly feathers). In a typical winter we see singular juncos at the Nyjer feeders and on the ground below, at the most, two to four. During this snowiest of winters, we have a larger than usual mixed-flock of small seed-eating songbirds, with many more juncos feeding alongside the finches, sparrows, nuthatches, and chickadees. Quite timorous of people and sudden noise, they dart in and out of the dense shrubbery surrounding our little garden, and seem to find the greatest security in the low-lying branches of the ‘Blue Prince’ holly bushes.
The former common name of the Dark-eyed Junco that populates the East was Slate-colored Junco, which is an apt description of the rich, dark grey-colored hoods and dorsal feathers of the male. The female’s feathers are a lighter grey. I have read that the majority of juncos that winter in our region are male, but I wonder if that is still true today, with the ever-increasing popularity of backyard bird feeding. We typically have equal numbers of males and females at our feeders.
Dark-eyed Juncos are members of the Emberizidae, a large family of passerines that share the characteristic of distinctive conically shaped bills evolved for seed eating. Family Emberizidae includes North American species of sparrows, buntings, and towhees and the group is often referred to as “LBJS” – Little Brown Jobs. The Dark-eyed Juncos bill is an easily recognized light pink.
Kingdom: Animalia (Animal)
Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrates)
Class: Aves (Birds)
Order: Passeriformes (Perching birds)
Family: Emberizidae (Seed-eating birds with conical bill)
Species: J. hyemalis
The range of the Snowbird is one of the most widespread of songbirds in North America and they can be found throughout the United States and Canada. Juncos at their northern range (the boreal forests of Canada and coniferous forests of the northern US) migrate further south, arriving in their winter feeding grounds between mid-September and November; leaving to breed by the end of April. In cold years, juncos may stay in their winter range to breed and a number of populations are permanent residents.
Juncos found throughout the US were formerly classified as different species of juncos because in various geographic regions they had quite different coloration. Their common names reflected these differences—the Gray-headed Junco of the Rocky Mountains, the black-headed and pink-sided Oregon Junco of the far western states, the White-winged Junco of the Black Hills, and the Slated-colored Junco of the East. Ornithologists discovered that where their populations overlap all birds with dark irises interbreed, which in biological terms means they are the same species. Despite the dramatic differences in their plumage, all share a similar song and diet. The juncos principle song is a dulcet trilling that lasts for several seconds and their diet consists of seeds, insects, grains, and berries. To hear a sample of the Snowbird’s melodious song: Junco typical voice.
February 1, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors
Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Ned Friedman, the new Director at the Arnold Arboretum, speak about the early history of evolutuonary thought. Well-spoken, passionate, and comprehensive in his presentaion, Friedman answers the question “Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history?” Although approximately fifty naturalists, horticulturalists, arborists, theologians, philosophers, poets, and medical practitoners had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life, it was Darwin who wrote about and developed the concept most exhaustively and comprehensively (most notably, On the Origins of Species, 1859) and conclusively, and it was Darwin who convinced the rest of the scientific world. Interestingly, we learn that Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the physician and naturalist Erasmus Darwin (a great friend of our forefather Benjamin Franklin– are you listening tea party creationists?) most certainly planted the seed and devolped the foundation for his grandson’s theories on evolution, through his own writing Zoonomia (or the Laws of Organic Life, 1794).
Erasmus Darwin writes “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”
It is not easy leaving my cozy home on a frigid New England evenning. I usually have to depart a full two to two and half hours prior to any event in the city when it is scheduled anywhere near rush hour. This makes for a very long evening, however, I find all the progams that the Arnold Arboretum has to offer entirely worth my while and last night’s presentaion was no exception. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming lecture topic Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution, presented by Robert Robichaux, scheduled for Monday, February 7 at 6:30.
All programs in the Directors Lecture series are free but you must register ahead of time online or call 617.384.5277.
Tulip tree (Lirodendron tulipfera). Lirodendron is a genus of only two species of trees in the Magnoliaceae; both are known under the common name tulip tree. Lirodendron tulipfera is native to eastern North America, while Lirodendron chinese is native to China and Vietnam.