Overly Ambitious?

During the winter, we keep our bird feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds. The birds, of course, are not particularly neat at mealtime, scattering seeds off the platform feeder and out of the other feeders, for which service the ground feeding birds really ought to show some gratitude. And while the ground feeders are very busy, very hungry, and seem to be very thorough, there are always seeds uneaten. In the spring and summer sunflower seedlings appear among the sedges and around the Buddha.

We nearly always use the same brand of black oil sunflower seeds, so one might assume that the plants that sprout would be pretty much identical every year. But they’re not. Some years we get huge sunflower plants, as tall as the feeder standards and nearly as dense as grass, adorned with giant flowers. Other years the plants might be shorter, or the flowers might be smaller.

This year the plants are oddly short, stunted, some of them puny. And the flowers are generally sparse and small. A few have been somewhat lemon colored rather than the usual bright yellow of the sun.

And then, there’s this one.

Overly Ambitious Sunflower

Overly Ambitious Sunflower

This plant is short, but it’s clearly trying to get as much bloom into the world as possible. Right now the flower head at the top of the plant is actually made up of three individual flowers. And around the stalk are four more individual flowers. And lower on the stalk are more buds.

Overly Ambitious Sunflower

Overly Ambitious Sunflower

Well, there’s not really anything significant here. I just thought I should commemorate this sunflower’s extraordinary efforts. I’m sure the birds will be pleased when the seeds start forming.


Wildlife in the Yard

I discovered a yellow slug yesterday (16 July 2017) while poking about in some rotting leaves and sticks in the back yard.

Yellow slug

Yellow slug on a stick

The only yellow slugs I had ever seen previously were banana slugs in Muir Woods in California. Those slugs were huge and beyond surprising. This slug is much, much smaller, but also surprising, mostly because of its color.

Yellow slug

Yellow slug on leaf and stick rubble

Being totally ignorant on the subject of mollusks, I tried looking this one up with Google. After some searching I decided that it’s probably a Dusky Arion (Arion subfuscus). This species was introduced from northwestern Europe long enough ago to have become completely naturalized throughout much of the eastern part of the United States. One source I looked at notes that they “have become more common than native species in many areas, and are one of the most abundant slugs found in gardens, fields, and forests.” They have also been introduced into California.

The nature guides I looked at say that Dusky Arions measure 50 to 70 mm. I think “my” slug is a bit on the small side (I didn’t measure it, because, well, it just didn’t occur to me to do that). But the guides also describe a yellow mucus trail, and “my” slug did leave such a trail. It’s visible on the stick behind the slug in the second picture above.

Click on these links for more information about the Dusky Arion:

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Mountain Lake Biological Station, University of Virginia
The Terrestrial Mollusc Tool

Visitors to the Yard

Today’s visitor: Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) feeding on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in the back yard. Or should I say “visitors”? I only saw one, but there must be more.

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) on common milkweed flower

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) on common milkweed leaf