Russia!! More specifically, St. Petersburg, what a gorgeous and hospitable city. A two-day, whirlwind tour of palaces, gardens, city sights, museums, etc., but no biology, unfortunately. What contrasts from new, modern skyscrapers and malls to old Soviet style offices and huge apartment complexes to 18th century or earlier palace constructions. It’s definitely spring here, and we hit two of the 9 sunny days they average here each summer.
“Raindrops keep falling on my head…” all week, as I eagerly await the next field trip outdoors to see what spring weather has brought us in Minnesota. Meantime, trees and bushes are putting forth a variety of gorgeous blossoms.
Needing some color to brighten up the dull winter shades of gray here, I stopped by the Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul. Now if only this amazing collection of orchids and other blooms was attached to my house…
Some orchids flower only once or twice a year, so they must make the most of the time the flowers are viable to insure that they get pollinated. They entice their pollinators to visit with a variety of traps and lures: some plants use fragrances or nectar to attract insects; others use color and nectar to attract birds; still others mimic female insects that males seek to mate with. Some species coat the landing pad with wax that causes insect visitors to fall into a watery pool formed by one petal; the only way out of the pool is, of course, to squeeze through an opening at one end of the pool where the pollinia (pollen sacs) are then deposited on the insect’s back. Such clever strategies!
The end result is a huge variety of shapes, colors, and colorful designs that delight the human eye as well as the potential pollinators.
What do you see when you look at a patch of flowers?
Maybe not — let’s take a closer look.
Sunflowers, coneflowers and other members of the Compositae (or Asteraceae) plant family actually have two types of flowers on their floral structure. The colorful petals are sterile ray flowers (produce no sexual structures) designed to attract insect pollinators, while the tiny yellow projections from the central cone are the disk flowers that project first male (pollen), and then female (ovary) sexual structures. When fertilized, each ovary houses developing seeds, which cause the central cone to swell in size and in height.
Leaving a tightly packed seed head, ready to be harvested by hungry seed-eaters.
The northwest coast of Wales has miles of coastal marsh and extensive tidal flats that provide us with viewing spots of the diverse bird life here. Even on rainy mornings, we can photograph the wildlife in protected blinds (or “hides”, as they are called here.
A quick journey over the bridge to Anglesey Island brought us to the quaint town of Beaumaris, which as a coastal city had to have a castle. A busy morning of birding meant that we had to stop here for lunch.
The highlight for today was stumbling across the nest of a Moorhen, tucked into the reeds about 20 feet from the walking path. The hen (we think) sat patiently on her eggs placed on a raised platform above the water, while her mate (we think) swam nonchalantly by, feeding on some slimy looking algae.
We had a lovely day of sun, rain, sleet, mini-hail pellets, strong wind, and more sun as we walked about 9 miles around and through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London. Spring is well on its way here, with an assortment of wildflowers blooming and a flush of new green leaves on the trees.
The Brits have great affection for their swans. Killing or eating one is punishable by death (a law still on the books, but it hasn’t been enforced lately), and injuring a bird or collecting its eggs is liable to get you a £5000 fine and some jail time.
some other notable images from today…
Another first for the backyard the other day…a pair of Purple Finches visited the sunflower feeder. They typically breed north of me in the cool, coniferous Canadian forests, and most of the U.S. population winters south of me in the eastern U.S. in mixed woods, hedgerows, and open fields, so I rarely see them.
Male purple finches might be confused with male House Finches, but their color is much pinker (than the red of a House Finch male), and extends much further down their body.