Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Spring Colors

First beets harvested from the cloche
We spent some time in the garden on Sunday. It was a cool day, and not particularly inviting for standing on the north side of the house working on the shingling project. It was much warmer in our south facing backyard, so we planted the last of the starts that dpr had begun several weeks ago. More kale, broccoli, tomatoes, basil, and onions. Our timing was perfect because a gentle spring rain started to fall in the early evening after we had finished.

While we were out I noticed a very brightly colored moth flitting about near the greenhouse. Fortunately I was finished with what I had to plant, and ran to the house to wash my hands and grab the camera. When I returned the moth was still hanging around. I got a few shots of it, before it disappeared.
I looked at a few of the online databases to ID this moth. I couldn't find a good match. So, I sent an email to Bev at Burning Silo. (If you haven't been to her website you are really missing out. Bev is truly a fantastic photographer, and she writes about her subjects thoughtfully, knowledgeably, and warmly. I highly recommend taking a visit and looking around. You will be glad that you did.) So, I sent her the photo and asked her if she could ID this moth.

I was so surprised when she sent me an email me a few hours later. Surprised that she had come up with an answer, and to learn what that answer is. The moth is a Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae), and it was introduced into the US from France specifically to control Tansy Ragwort.
This photo was taken off a Noxious Weed Website
Every year we receive a flyer in the mail with information about Tansy Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea). It is on our county's Noxious Weed list. All parts of this plant are poisonous. It causes liver damage to cattle and horses. We have found some on our property and always yank it out. The beautiful little Cinnabar moth that we saw feeds on this noxious weed. Their beautiful coloration acts as a warning to other animals that they contain toxic alkaloids. That lovely flash of intense red that caught my eye also sends a message. I find that so satisfying, what a great way to convey information.

The rest of the day we spent watching the birds around the bird feeder. With all the nesting going on there seems to be quite an upsurge in eating. Everyone is hungry, and after they have filled their stomachs, they fill their mouths with as much as they can carry and fly off to feed their little ones. It's been very interesting to watch.
Here are a few American Goldfinches waiting for their turn at the feeder.
After the goldfinches, the female Black-headed Grosbeak waits.

Suddenly as often happens, all the birds flew away. There in one of the mock cherry trees among the flowers was a Cooper's Hawk. For the first time ever, though, we noticed a smaller bird diving at it. Twice the small and fearless Tree Swallow dove at the predator, and twice the predator dodged it. The hawk must have decided it was not going to stay for a third try because it flew off as quickly as it had arrived. What a display by that Tree Swallow. We have no photos, just our admiration for such toughness.

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