Look carefully at the center of the picture, and you’ll see an almost-sharp picture of a female goldfinch feeding on Rudbeckia seeds in my perennial border. This time of year, we can’t open our back door without disturbing a flock of these noisy little guys–sometimes more than a dozen at a time shoot out of the border and take flight across the backyard. They’re hard to photograph because they move so fast. But yesterday I finally captured this one.
Each year, from the time the first seeds ripen on plants in the Asteraceae–the enormous aster family, which includes all the Rudbeckias and sunflowers, in addition to the asters–we see and hear goldfinches all day, every day. Goldfinches are exclusively seed eaters, and they nest late so there will be lots of seeds available to feed their young. And this particular perennial border, full of sunflowers and Rudbeckia, is a cafeteria for goldfinches. We see and hear them from the beginning of August through early fall each year. When I planted the perennials, I expected to get pretty flowers, but I didn’t know I would get entertainment as well.
In the twenty years since I started gardening seriously, I don’t ever remember such a summer for wild fruits–such abundance. The birds can’t manage to eat them all. The branches of the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa–above) are bent down from the weight of the fruits. Elderberries and grey dogwood berries (next two pictures) actually remain ripe on the bushes instead of being snatched by catbirds and robins and jays at every opportunity. There’s a continual screech of catbirds as they dive-bomb into the elderberry and raspberry bushes.
And the plums! In the past, each tree has ripened maybe a dozen plums, which were devoured unseen during the night. But this year there are untold numbers of fruits, slowly, teasingly, turning from green to yellow to gold and soon to red and then purple. We may actually get some this year. I’m told they’re very good. (If there are any other devotees of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books out there, you surely remember a scene in which Laura and her Ma pick and preserve wild plums. It’s probably this species she’s describing.)
Each year, goldfinches arrive in my garden in late summer. These tiny beams of light rear their nestlings late in the season and depend on the seeds of wild flowers to feed them (and, I suspect, on the multitude of pollinating insects that still swarm over the perennial beds), so we always see them just as the perennial sunflowers begin to open and the Rudbeckias begin to ripen seeds. Right now I can’t walk out the back door without disturbing at least a dozen of them feeding in the perennial garden. They squawk loud in irritation and take off, like flashes of sunlight, for the shelter of the hemlocks across the yard. Look closely among the Rudbeckias: