Monthly Archives: April 2011

Alex to the Culinary Institute and Liv to NYU Steinhardt!!!!!!!

My husband and I are so very blessed…

I count my blessings everyday, but nothing, absolutely nothing could possibly have given me more joy than to see both our children heading this fall to their dream schools–Alex to the Culinary Institute of America and Liv to NYU Steinhardt graduate program. I am going to miss my darlings every single day although, knowing they have created these wonderful opportunities for themselves and are both pursuing their dream educations, proud beyond measure.

Liv, Alex, and Hannah at Grandparents 60thLiv, Alex, and cousin Hannah at Grandparents 60th Wedding Anniversary

Alex is graduating from high school in only a month. He has spent the last four years, now in his fifth, earnestly and indefatigably learning the business at local restaurants, from dishwasher to cook. Liv, with her usual initiative, began studying with a wonderful voice teacher at NYU last fall. It is not an easy trek to the Big Apple, via the insane Fung Wah bus, and all in a day’s time in order  to make it back the following day for work–especially in the blizzardiest of winters!

As an added plus, the CIA is located in Hyde Park, New York, and Steinhardt in Manhattan, a mere one hour and fifty two minutes apart–again, we are so very blessed!

Alex did not receive an acceptance by email, just the usual snail mail package, but here’s Liv’s email from NYU:

Dear Olivia,

I am delighted to inform you that you have been accepted into our MM degree in Vocal Performance concentration in Classical Voice for the Fall 2011 semester!  Official notification is in the mail and should arrive to you shortly.  Congratulations!

Where to Place Your Hummingbird Feeders

Another great hummingbird question from my friend Kate:

Where do you place the feeders? Are they okay out in the open and, if so, do the hummingbirds become too nervous to feed if they can be seen by birds of prey?

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer feeding at a station where they perch and observe the landscape, and then zoom in. Typically, I recommend hanging the feeders on the lower limbs of trees and on shepherd’s hooks close to shrubs and above perennial wildflowers, about four to five feet off the ground.  I haven’t read or heard too much about birds of prey in regard to hummingbirds; they move too fast, however, bluejays are said to attack nestlings. House cats and praying mantis pose a more serious threat to hummingbirds.
Native Honeysuckle Lonicera 'Dromore Scarlet'Native Honeysuckle Lonicera ‘Dropmore Scarlet’
The greatest threat to hummingbirds is development resulting in loss of habitat and nectar-rich wetland plants. By placing hummingbird feeders in the garden during the months when little nectar is available (April, May, and October), creating habitats in our backyards, and planting their preferred nectar-rich wildflowers help mitigate the loss of hummingbird habitat, and greatly increases their chance of survival.

My Workshop at Tower Hill Botanic Garden this Sunday, May Day

Come join me this Sunday at 1:00 at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Worcester for the perfect May Day event–How to Create a Butterfly Garden. Pre-registration is required:

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at Smooth AstersMonarch Butterflies Nectaring at Smooth Aster

I will be presenting the necessary elements to help you create a beautiful and welcoming haven for butterflies. Once you begin to think about your garden as food source and shelter, it will influence all your horticultural decisions. Native and well-behaved non-native plants, along with examples of architectural features, will be discussed based on their value to attracting specific butterflies. This lecture and slide presentation will help you gain a deeper understanding of the interconnected world that we human beings share with plants and butterflies and how to translate that information to your own garden. Butterfly gardening plant list included with workshop.

From wiki: The Floralia, also known as the Florifertum, was an ancient Roman Festival dedicated to Flora the goddess of flowers and vegetation. It was held on the IV Calends of May, April 27 to May 3, and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers. While flowers decked the temples, Roman citizens wore colorful clothing instead of the usual white, and offerings were made of milk and honey to Flora.

Maurice Prendergast May Day Central Park 1901Maurice Prendergast May Day Celebration Central Park 1901


May Day is synonymous with International Worker’s Day and Labour Day. Read Howard Fast’s May Day – 1947, well-worth revisiting with the continued and increasing efforts to destroy organized labor.

Howard Fast May Day 1947 Rockwell KentRockwell Kent

Recommended Hummingbird Feeders

From my friend Kate in Tiverton, Rhode Island–I cant bear plastic but this seem to do the trick. Ive seen hummingbirds hover angrily here and gesture “Where’s the Feeder!!!!!!??????” I’ll have to get one this year! What do you recommend? XO

Hi Kate, My two favorite hummingbird feeders, both purchased from the Duncraft website, are the Four Flower Frolic Feeder (see previous post) and the Humm Zinger. My sister-in-law, whose old farmhouse property is approximately the same size and shares many similar characteristics to yours (including an inviting front porch), also has both these feeders. Hers are placed about twenty feet apart, adjacent to the porch. When sitting on the porch at nearly anytime throughout the day, whether having morning coffee or dinner and drinks in the evening, the “hummingbird alley” provides enchanting entertainment. And both feeders are super easy to clean.

Humm Zinger Feeder

Stay tuned for more about what to plant to attract and sustain the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. This snapshot of our patio garden was taken in late summer and all in bloom pictured are wonderful hummingbird attractants. It is a delight to see the hummers make their thrice daily rounds from one flowering plant to the next, hovering and nectaring simultaneously.

Flowers for Ruby-throated HummingbirdsDipladenia, Bougainvillea, Fuschia Gartenmeister Bonstedt, Hibiscus moschetos, and Phlox ‘David’

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Dear Gardening Friends, Happy Easter! In a future post I plan to bring you more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, today however I will be brief as I have more holiday preparations to tend. This is a reminder to set your hummingbird feeders out as soon as possible. This past week, sightings of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird have been reported as far north as Maine–the northward hummingbird migration is full underway!

A hummingbird’s diet is comprised of nectar and insects. We can lure them to our gardens by providing nectar-rich tubular-shaped flora in shades of red and orange, along with flowers comprised of small florets that attract small insects. At this time of year there isn’t much to offer in the way of flowering sustenance for the hummingbirds. Several weeks ago I took our feeders out of storage, gave them a good wash with vinegar, soap, and water, filled them with a sugar and water mixture, and hung them throughout the garden.

Red Riding Hood Tulip gregiiRed Riding Hood (Tulip gregii)

The eye-cathing Red Riding Hood tulips (although not a particularly good source of nectar, will attract by the sheer brilliance of their color) are a wonderful species tulip that reliably returns year after year, and multiplies. The tulips are planted beneath the boughs of flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs, in hopes, that they too will lure the hummingbirds to our garden during their northward migration. And then, again with high hopes, that the hummingbirds will nest in our garden. For the past five years or so, it has been our great good fortune to host throughout the nesting season female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and offspring.

Four Flower Frolic Feeder

Hummingbirds, along with bats and certain species of moths, have an unusual method of drinking nectar called swing-hovering, which allows them to nectar while in mid-air. Ruby-throated hummingbirds expend vast amounts of energy during their migration–averaging approximately 52 wingbeats per minute. For this reason, I find the best hummingbird feeders are those that also offer a a place to perch while feeding (see photo and videoclip).

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Sugar water recipe: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Stir to dissolve thoroughly. Never add red dye or replace the sugar with honey. Provide fresh sugar/water every 4 – 5 days.

Warmest wishes, for spring and for chocolate in your Easter basket!

Stranded Marine Animals

Mendy Garron and her team from NOAA handle the Maine to Virginia corridor for stranded marine animals She recommends contacting the first responders for our region at the Whale Center hotline, 978.281.6351.

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin Lagenorhyncus acutus

Migration of the Atlantic White-sided Dolphin from the Convention on Migratory Species website: “There may be inshore-offshore movements with the seasons in some areas (Carwardine, 1995). Selzer and Payne (1988) suggested that L. acutus moves south along the continental shelf edge in winter and spring, in association with the relatively cold, less saline Gulf of Maine water flowing southwards through Northeast Channel during these seasons. Seasonal variation in sea-surface temperature and salinity and local nutrient upwelling in areas of high sea floor relief may affect preferred prey abundances, which in turn may affect dolphin distribution. The occurrence of Atlantic white-sided dolphins off Newfoundland seems also to be seasonal, mainly from July to October (Reeves et al. 1999). Data from one satellite-monitored dolphin indicated an ability to travel long distances at a speed of at least 14 km/hr (Mate et al. 1994).”

Distribution Map of the Atlantic White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhyncus acutus)Distribution Map of the Atlantic White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhyncus acutus)

Map courtesy of the Convention on Migratory Species

Dead Dolphin Washed Ashore on Niles Beach

I beleive this is a juvenile Atlantic White-sided Dolphin, found washed ashore on Niles beach at 8:00 this morning. I am not sure who to call. If any of my readers know please email and in the meantime I will try to get ahold of someone at the New England Aquarium and check in with Good Morning Gloucester blog; perhaps they know.

Dead Atlantic White-sided Dolphin Lagenorhyncus acutus

Gloucester Garden Club

Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly

In preparing for my upcoming presentation to the Gloucester Garden Club, Wednesday, April 13th, I am discovering new images shot last summer. The photo shows a freshly emerged Monarch clinging to its chrysalis, with crumpled wet wings yet to fully expand. Butterflies Days can’t get here soon enough! Later in the afternoon we will be attending Ellen Lefavour’s art opening and book signing for Did you Know at Alchemy of Art Gallery. I hope to see you there.

Monarch Emerging from ChrysalisMonarch Butterfly Newly Emerged from Chrysalis

Butterflies of Massachusetts

Dear Gardening Friends,  I wanted to share with you a fabulous new resource, the Butterflies of Massachusetts website. Created by Sharon Stichter, Butterflies of Massachusetts “offers a comprehensive review of the current status of butterflies in the state. It is designed as a resource for all those interested in these charismatic insects, including butterfly enthusiasts, conservationists, biologists, land managers, and wildlife professionals.”  I find the Species List particularly useful for learning more about the earliest recorded sightings of Massachusetts’s butterflies, frequency and distribution, and caterpillar hostplants. My readers residing outside of Massachusetts but along the East Coast will find the information on the Butterflies of Massachusetts website nearly equally as valuable. Ecologically speaking, the Appalachian Mountains and Atlantic coastal plain are largely self-contained, allowing unrestricted north-south movement of individual butterflies and migratory populations. The information found on the new Butterflies of Massachusetts website represents many years of data compiled by Sharon Stichter and the Massachusetts Butterfly Club.

Joe-pye Weed and Eastern Tiger SwallowtailJoe-pye weed and Tiger Swallowtail

Sharon graciously agreed to speak with me about creating Butterflies of Massachusetts and how her passion for butterflies, particularly the butterflies and skippers of Massachusetts, has evolved. She was first drawn to butterflies through gardening at her summer home in Newbury, Massachusetts. Her husband is a landscape architect and together they developed and continue to cultivate their expansive garden abutting the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. After retiring from her teaching position of thirty-five years as Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Sharon joined the Massachusetts Butterfly Club. She very much enjoys hiking in nature with fellow club members and finding beautiful living creatures.

The following are just some of Sharon’s favorite flowers for attracting butterflies (listed in no particular order): spicebush (Lindera benzoin), pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), gayfeather (Liatris spicata), dill (Anethum graveolens), flat-leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum), cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifida), Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata), and many daisy-like members of the Asteraceae, including purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), and zinnias (Zinnia elegans).

Pussytoes for American Lady Caterpillars

The Massachusetts Butterfly Club was founded in 1992, following the completion of the highly successful Massachusetts Audubon’s sponsored Massachusetts Butterfly Atlas. A butterfly atlas is a project where, with the help of volunteers, the presence of as many species of butterflies at a given time and geographic location is recorded. The Massachusetts Butterfly Atlas (1986-1990) was the first statewide butterfly atlas ever undertaken in North America. At the end of the atlas period a core group of the volunteers, led by Brian Cassie, formed the Massachusetts Butterfly Club (MBC) to promote the continued appreciation and documentation of the state’s butterflies. Sharon is currently the editor of the semiannual publication of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club.

I am looking forward to the completion of Sharon’s BOM website, particularly the “Pioneer Lepidopterist” page where Sharon will examine the earliest Massachusetts lepidopterists, Thaddeus W. Harris (1795-1856) and Samuel H. Scudder (1837-1911), who “were describing a butterfly fauna already heavily impacted by early agricultural development. The works of Harris, Scudder and Thoreau are used to show what butterflies were known and what can be said about their abundance at the end the 19th century.” The first North American entomologists were from Harvard and many North American Lepidoptera species names were penned by these earliest zoologists. The books of Samuel Hubbard Scudder are available for anyone to read online at the Open Library.

Sharon explains that today the majority of lepidopterists are working in the tropics, looking for “new” discoveries. New England butterflies have become largely overlooked because they are “old” news, unfortunately so because there is still much to be gleaned, and because we have a vast store of comparative historical and current data.

Sharon is currently working at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, helping to photograph specimens of Harvard’s Lepidoptera collection, which will be made available to everyone to view online.  Sharon feels more strongly than ever after doing this work “that there is hardly any need for anyone to actually collect butterfly specimens anymore. The Massachusetts Butterfly Club quite rightly promotes observing only, no nets or collecting.”

End Note: As mentioned above, the books of Samuel Hubbard Scudder are available for anyone to read at the Open Library. I am currently reading Scudder’s Frail Children of the Air, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1895, which is a compendium divested of the more technical details of his extensive three volume set Butterflies of the Eastern United States and Canada (1889) that after published Scudder wrote “…is a work so costly as to reach relatively few, and one which was mainly addressed to the specialist.” Wonderfully ironic, won’t you agree, that thanks to resources like Open Library, books that were rare and precious even at the time of their publication are today freely available for everyone to read!

Indispensable Guide to Good Butterfly Sites

The Massachusetts Butterfly Club Guide to Good Butterfly Sites
From the Berkshires to the Cape and Islands, this guide will lead you through twenty six of the best butterfly locations in the state. Massachusetts Butterfly club field experts describe each site in detail, with original trail maps, sightings lists, directions, and hot tips. Edited by Sharon Stichter, with maps by Richard Hildreth.
Excerpt from Gloucester’s own Doug Savich, writing about Waring Field and the Cranberry Marsh ~ “Waring Field is a five acre meadow surrounded by trees and shrubs. It is owned  by the town of Rockport and is cut for hay once or twice a year. A small stream runs across the meadow. Waring field is home to a number of meadow species. Be sure to check the flowering shrubs and wildflowers that grow along the edges of the field.”
Pearly Crescentspot (left) and Silver-bordered Fritillary
At Waring Field and the Cranberry Marsh, I often find assemblages of Pearly Crescentspots and Silver-bordered Fritillaries on the wing and nectaring at goldenrod.

Silver-bordered Fritillary
The Massachusetts Butterfly Guide to Good Butterfly Sites is available to purchase from the MBC website.

Dolphin or Porpoise?

Over at the very excellent Good Morning Gloucester blog, much has been written recently on the topic of Harbor Porpoise and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin sightings in Gloucester Harbor. And coverage of the seven harbor porpoises washed ashore on Massachusetts beaches, six dead and one rescued (recovering), have been well-covered in the print media. Purportedly, mortality amongst juvenile Harbor Porpoises is not atypical at this time of year, however the high number in one week is exceptional. These sightings reminded me of an adventure experienced while visiting my grandmother on Cape Cod and I thought what better time to share my favorite story, told so often to our children that they can surely recite it word for word.

Common Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatusCommon Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin Lagenorhyncus acutusAtlantic White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhyncus acutus)

Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena

While living in Boston and attending art school, I would often visit my grandmother Mimi at her summer home in Dennis—a lovely cottage it was, perched high on a bluff overlooking Cape Cod Bay, shingled and shuttered, with a picket fence garden—and built my grandfather. Many of my fondest memories are of those spent with my grandmother and I loved her dearly. She was a paragon of creativity, wonderful teacher, and gave of herself fully to her family.

By late October, she (my grandfather had passed away many years earlier) would be there alone and readying the cottage for winter. Porch furniture needed painting, gardens laid to rest, and furnishings tucked away and draped in old sheets. And, gratefully so, long walks on windswept deserted beaches, a welcome respite from a hectic work and school schedule. As I was walking along the shore on an overcast afternoon I distinctly heard what sounded like a baby crying. A friend working on one of the cottages above saw me and dropped down to say hello before leaving for the day. While talking I asked him several times if he, too heard a baby crying.” He just shrugged and, and I think, thought I was a little crazy. We said good day and I continued on my walk, which very quickly turned into a sprint as the sound of the crying baby became more clearly audible, apparently coming from the tangled lump ahead. I raced towards the shape and discovered a very large and beautiful Bottlenose Dolphin washed upon the shoreline, and it was crying. He had, what appeared to be only a small cut, and after stroking and fruitlessly trying to console, I tore back to my grandmother’s and called the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, which I knew to have an aquarium. Fortunately, my grandmother’s phone had not yet been turned off for the season in this pre-cell phone era. I told the gentleman on the other end of the line that there was a porpoise washed ashore and where we were located. He said he would be there shortly with a rescue truck and in the mean time, to keep the porpoise wet with towels soaked in seawater.

I ran back and did as instructed. It was getting late and dark and I was soaked through and very cold and the truck seemed to take forever. When finally help arrived I was dismayed to see just one driver and he was doubly dismayed to see a Bottlenose Dolphin, because I, in my ignorance, had told him it was a porpoise. He took one look at my then 110 pound frame and said what the &*^%, and that everyone else had left the aquarium for the day, and how were the two of us going to lift a dolphin onto the stretcher and into his truck?

Little did I know then that the male Bottlenose Dolphin (typically larger than the female) weighs between 330 and 1,400 pounds as opposed to the Harbor Porpoise, whose maximum weight is 168 pounds! After much struggling (and more of his cursing) the two of us did manage to roll the dolphin onto a stretcher and then lift onto the truck bed. His parting comment to me, “Well you’re skinny but you sure are mighty strong!”

I later learned that my dolphin was a juvenile male weighing only approximately 750 pounds instead of his potential 1400 pounds. The folks at the aquarium named him Smitty. His cut healed and he survived the winter beautifully. He was released the following spring, coinciding with the time of year when he would most likely find a pod to join.

After reading about the sightings of the Harbor Porpoise and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin I am struck again how essential it is for we who live at the edge of the sea to learn all we can about the creatures that dwell along the shoreline and ocean deep. When learning about and identifying plants and animals and trying to distinguish between species, I find it helpful to compare side-by-side pictures. The illustrations posted above don’t however portray accurately the difference in scale. I find graphics, like these found on wiki, come in handy and provide yet another clue in discerning differences.

Harbor Porpoise Phocoena phocoena

Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

Atlantic White-side Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)Atlantic White-side Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)

Common Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatusCommon Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)