Friday, November 15, 2013

Dancing Crane Flies, High Herons, Giant Zinnias

Dancing Crane Flies over Arbor Vitae.

Dancing Crane Flies over Arbor Vitae.

Each fall and winter, as far as I can tell after the first hard frost, a huge number of insects dance about in the air above a 6' Arbor Vitae that we bought years ago. They've always puzzled us so finally last year I got out my butterfly net and caught some: Crane Flies. What a surprise! Additionally I've found that there are numerous ones in Pennsylvania and obviously even more throughout the US and the world.

They are so busy bouncing up and down, almost like dowitchers of  the air, stitching air rather than mud, that it's almost impossible to see one individual. Today however I decided to spend 15 minutes trying to get decent photos of them. Two of the best are above. I think they give some idea of what it's like to see them in the yard. The oddest thing, still, is why they don't seem to come alive until cold weather. And why do they always choose this arbor vitae, one of the lesser shrubs of our garden, one that we bought when we were raw beginners as gardeners and just never replaced?

In any case it's always a pleasure to see them.
Two Great Blue Herons at Manayunk Canal. Field Sketch by Ken Januski

At this time of year it's always tempting to take a birding walk to see what is still about. There will be a few new arrivals, like mergansers and grebes, but mainly it's a matter of seeing what is still here.

Today found no real surprises at the Manayunk Canal. But I was puzzled about the herons. I'd hoped to see a Green Heron but knew that would be unlikely. But where were the Great Blues? They should surely be there. Has all the development there driven them out?* I fear that it eventually will. It's been two years since I've seen a night heron there. But when I started my return walk I found two, both high in trees. I always forget to look up! I've done a lot of Great Blue Heron sketches so today I concentrated on sketches that placed them in their environment.
Benary's Giant Zinnias after first hard frost.

Benary's Giant Zinnias after first hard frost.

Ever since our first hard frost a few nights ago our Benary's Giant Zinnias have looked the worse for wear. And yet they may still be the most beautiful things in the garden. But anyone who has seen Mondrian's Chrysantemum drawings will know that the structure of this type of flower is in and of itself a thing of beauty, regardless of whether the color is still there or the plant is still alive. Each fall I look at out spent zinnias and think of Mondrian.

I'm not really sure when he did them. I assume before the paintings that he's famous for. If so you can tell just by looking at them that this will be an artist to reckon with. By the way seeds for these wonderful zinnias are currently on sale for half price at Seed Savers Exchange. I'm pretty sure that's where ours are from.

I know this is a bit of a hodgepodge. But I did want to post something about each of these so into the HodgePodge Post they went.

*After I wrote this I realized that I should add that it is not all bad news at the Manayunk Canal, though I think it is far more bad than good. About a month ago Fairmount Park planted 100s of native trees and shrubs along the canal. As I recall there were a few oaks, though not many, birches, magnolias and numerous shrubs. Invasives have been removed to a certain extent to make way for the native plantings.

Eventually that should help the wildlife of the Manayunk Canal. On the downside I also learned that they're planning to dredge the canal to make it passable again, hopefully for nothing larger than a canoe or kayak. I'm sure that will have negative effects on the wildlife that are there. A Spotted Sandpiper hung out in that area this summer and I wouldn't be surprised if it's the hidden deeper area that is going to be dredged that also protects the herons. I fear it will become just another city park.

Some monstrously large, and ugly, buildings have been going up for months on the eastern side of the path. They nearly abut the path and much vegetation has been cut as they've been developed. I can only guess the negative effect of all the people moving into this grouping of monolithic housing will do. But as I said at least there is a small bit of good news in all of the native plantings.

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