Story and Photographs By Joan Herrmann
Whereiwander… I just returned from a quick walk around our three-plus acres of meadow. A quick walk may take an hour or several hours, depending on the time of year and what is blooming. I mentioned in previous columns that the Monarda and Common Milkweed, and Goldenrod consume the greatest amount of the acreage, but there are many more species of wildflowers that also find a haven on this property. Today I found numerous plants of Queen Anne’s Lace, Yarrow, Black-eyed Susan, Clovers, both Red and White and Chicory, plus a plethora of other lovely species. All of these wildflowers attract numerous pollinators. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, bugs, flies, grasshoppers, and an abundance of other insects and spiders all thrive in this meadow. In addition to wildflowers and insects, many species of wild birds depend on the meadow throughout the year. Many of the migratory birds build nests in the different shrubs, and “Blue Bird” houses the five of them, house not only Eastern Blue Birds but also may house nests of House Wrens, Black Capped Chickadee, and Tree Swallows. Additionally, Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, and Common Yellowthroats build nests in the Shrubs. Other species like Gray Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, and Scarlet Tanager have nests close by the meadow and may be seen hunting for food within the meadow. Quite often, I have seen small flocks of Cedar Waxwings gleaning berries or hunting some of the numerous dragonflies that are also hunting insects within the meadow.
The meadow is home to numerous mammals. Several burrows within the acreage are the home for Groundhogs throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In the winter, when the Groundhog hibernates in its burrow in the meadow, that same burrow may also house a Striped Skunk and sometimes an Opossum, each sharing it for the winter. Mice, Voles, and Shrews can be found in the meadow, and so can several of their predators, such as Red Fox and Gray Fox. As I was coming up our driveway one evening, I saw a Bobcat emerging from the meadow, and it quickly ran to the nearby woods. White-tailed Deer sleep in the meadow nearly all year round, especially during hunting season. Occasionally I have seen Cottontail Rabbit and, in winter, a Snowshoe Hare feeding in or near the meadow. Several times over the last twenty-seven years, we have seen evidence of a Black Bear in the meadow. I have found bear scat and tracks and unintentionally frightened a female with cubs that were enjoying the birdseed from a tray feeder, which she pulled down from its hanger near the meadow. She and her cubs ran for the woods I ran to the house.
Because the meadow begins to bloom in early spring, it is my “go-to place” to photograph many of the early pollinators, especially the tiny butterflies seeking nectar. Eastern Tailed- Blue butterflies will begin arriving as early as mid-May and so will the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. I am always joyful when the Monarchs begin to arrive too. And the meadow will provide a resting spot for the migrating Monarchs in the fall when an abundance of Goldenrod, of at least six species, will be blooming. Presently the meadow is providing a food source for numerous diurnal moths and also various nocturnal moths.
Many different species of spiders may also be found in the meadow throughout their entire life span. I have learned that it has been estimated that one million spiders may be found within one acre of land. I have found and photographed numerous species of Orbweaver spiders, Jumping spiders, and Wolf spiders.
Each year about the first week of May, I make a gallon of “sugar water” for the returning male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The females will join them later in the month. By the end of July, the hummingbirds will begin to get some competition for that feeder. Yellowjackets, wasps, and Hornets, each member of the Family Vespidae, are in competition for that nectar. These insects are in the process of constructing the nest for future generations. The paper nest that they are building will house this year’s queen, her eggs, larvae, and pupa that will become the new queens. These social insect colonies are comprised of hundreds of workers (females), each with a specific duty. Some workers help to build the nest, others care for the eggs, larvae, and pupa, while others find and bring food to feed the larvae. The ones trying to get the “sugar water” are taking it back to the nest to feed the larvae. They are feeding the future queens that will begin a new generation the following spring. Once the larvae have become pupa and the new adult queens emerge, the drones (males) will mate with the numerous new queens. Before the first hard frost of autumn, the now fertile queens will find a place to spend the winter in either leaf litter, a rotted log, or beneath the bark of a tree. Only the surviving queens that make it through the winter will be responsible for beginning a new colony. All of the workers and drones will have perished. The paper nest that had been constructed by the workers will only be used by this generation. However, the nest is quite often recycled and used by birds, mice, and other mammals to winterize their habitat.
The “meadow music” of bird sounds, insects humming, and other sweet sounds becomes silent when other visitors begin circling overhead. A Bald Eagle and many different species of hawks will frequently circle for many minutes, hoping to find prey. And other times, it will become extremely noisy when the Crows and Blue Jays spot an Owl, usually a Barred or Horned Owl, sitting in the hedgerow near the meadow. They continue the cacophony until the intruder gives up and leaves.
I hope that you have or will have some of these interesting experiences too… where you wander.
As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, for about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995, she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, she has been educating children and adults for nineteen years.
In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP), and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography, she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.
Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.
Since October 2016, she has been writing a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at email@example.com