If you plant it, they will come…

Who knew a third floor balcony porch could be a wildlife refuge?

This spring, after the frosts stopped chilling the mornings, we decided to put some greenery on our little third floor balcony porch. It started with two trays of herbs (for culinary and medicinal uses),one tomato plant, and a Columbine to help attract hummingbirds to our feeder. Since then we expanded our container garden to include more herbs, some pitcher plants, and some wildflower seeds (just to see if we could get them to germinate).

Since then, we have noticed a remarkable diversity of critters visiting our porch.

House finch with a mouth full of suet

Of course, there were the birds at our bird feeders – chipping sparrows, Carolina wrens, Tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Cardinals, Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped warblers, and some migrants like the striking Rose-breasted grosbeak. Then we started noticing all the insects that were taking up residence – pollinators, consumers, and predators.

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Ladybugs, ants, assassin bug nymphs and adults, leaf hoppers, stink bugs, daddy long legs – as a small tyke hiding in the top of the basil, then growing in to a giant, long-legged adult, katydids, moths of all kinds, and a staghorn beetle.

Assassin or Leaf-footed bug nymph
Staghorn beetle (male)
Daddy long legs – all grown up
Nymphal leaf hopper
Leaf-footed bug

Some of our favorites have been the spiders we’ve watched spinning webs, attaching fine-spun silk to the tomato cage, ballooning about searching for the perfect place to construct their bug-catchers, and growing up fast. One day I watched this little spider (but got no photos) drop six feet in a second on her thin line of spun silk, then crawl back up the silk strand, balling up the silk as she went. When she arrived at the top, where she was either building or dismantling her web, it looked as if she swallowed the ball of silk. Then she would repeat the action. Orb-weaving spiders will often eat their own webs to recycle the proteins/amino acids in their silk. It was so cool to watch.

One night, we looked out on our bird feeder and found a flying squirrel! They are one of the most common species in the woods, but are so rarely seen by humans. What a treat that was!

Flying squirrel on feeder

Of course, not all of these animals are attracted to our plants, but the plants surely create food and shelter for many of them. Small as it is, this little porch has become a mini-refuge of sorts, and we are enjoying the wild things that have come to visit, lay eggs, grow up and eat (or get eaten).

Just today we had three new visitors show up! This fabulous orchard orb-weaver has fashioned a web strung between our tiny little dill plants and our tomato cage. She’s enjoying the flies that get caught in her web. (more on her later)

Orchard orb-weaver hanging from her web

A really cool horsefly also showed up this morning, flying about two centimeters from my eyes, as if trying to warn me that a terrifying thing was about to happen. Later, this really pretty black and red bug flew in and crawled all over the floor and then the peppermint plants. If you know what it is, let me know!

So, as summer brings long, Hotter-than-Hades days, we venture onto the porch to watch our micro-refuge in action rather than hiking long treks in the heat of the day. It brings smiles to our faces and gratitude to our hearts.

What made you smile today? Are you seeing summer critters near your house? What are they?

4 comments

  1. Looks like it might be in the same family as the boxelder bug, but I haven’t found a match.

    I see you have a new Galaxy S9 phone. Incredible closeups!

    • Yeah, I got as far as the boxelder group, too… I do love my S9, but some of these closeups were taken with my Nikon camera. It helps to have both available!

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