Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Buffet at the Milkweed: Milkweed Tiger or Tussock Moth

After a deluge yesterday, the day started with deep fog and a cool humid 69 degrees. After the fog lifted, I headed to the side and upper meadows, ducking many new spider webs,



sighting a gold finch flitting by and counted 5 monarchs sailing through. The monarchs are headed south, focusing on golden rod and any other rich nectar providing plants, where they can get a quick fix.

As I walked along the path, I spotted several shaggy gold, black and white caterpillars, busy eating and eating away at the milkweed and leaving huge holes in the leaves.


Many of them were positioned under the leaves, too, either hiding from predators or preparing for the next stage and hanging out in groups of two. I bumped into the plant and the caterpillars quickly balled up and just tumbled to the ground, another mechanism to ensure their survival.



They are the Milkweed tussock moth (Euchaetes egle) and they use the chemicals, i.e. cardiac gycosides, from the milkweed to deter bats and other night predators. Their prickly hairs are covered in poisons to insure they are unpalatable to any birds or other curious creatures.

Look at their tiny sucker feet or prolegs, which they use to hang on to the leaves:


Before long, they will pupate into small grey cocoons, overwinter and then emerge in the spring as this beautiful hairy grey moth:

(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons)

For further details and information, visit: http://bugguide.net/node/view/433

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Designed for Nature

In mid-June, we took part in a garden tour, Designed for Nature, held by the Woman's Farm and Garden Association in partnership with Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve and Audubon, PA. The focus was on showing gardens transitioning to use of native plants and showing creative water management.


Many weeks were spent preparing the gardens, weeding, replacing and filling in plants and adding more natives in corners that were dull.


To explain the history of our journey, I wrote the following:

Die Vogelweide story
Over 10 years ago, after surveying our new home, we decided to increase the habitat for the various animals, birds and insects, with whom we share the land. Already established, the lower meadow and wetlands, abutting a small stream, were filled with goldenrod, sensitive fern, pin oaks, jack in the pulpit, reeds, red maples, willows, and sweet gums. It’s home to a pair of red tailed hawks, crows, raccoons, turtles and even a mink. We’ve added an orchard area with blueberries, pears, plums, peaches and elderberry and we are hoping this year, that the paw paws will take hold. We also planted sycamore, white oak, black gum and red bud trees.
The upper meadow was created by simply staking out an area and stopping the mowing. Within a year, there were junipers, sensitive ferns and hard wood seedlings pushing up. Over the years, and with mowing every 2-3 years, it has evolved with now milkweed, dogbane and goldenrod present, attracting numerous native bees, butterflies, bluebirds, gold finch and fox.  We’ve added a nut corner with pecans and hazelnuts.
For privacy and creating a natural animal pathway, we’ve planted over 50 white pines and other evergreens, enjoyed by rabbits, birds, owls, turkey and fox.
A large fenced vegetable garden was added on the side and also a side garden filled with pollinator plans such as cardinal flower, witch hazel, nodding onion and iris.
In the more manicured areas around our home, we’ve tucked in lovely natives, such as beauty bush, turtle head, iris cristata, clethra, itea, blue false indigo along with winter berry bushes and red twig dogwoods, a black gum, a sweetbay magnolia and a service berry tree.

A vernal pond, up by the ridge, is home to huge old snapping turtles, who migrate each season over the road to a large pond, as well as opossum and raccoon. Ragwort, blue flag iris, golden rod and bayberry have been added to the other natives such as pin oak and walnut and old maple trees and swamp cabbage. Don’t be surprised to see a cooper hawk bathing here on your way out.

A list was compiled of the native plants in various parts of the yard. This is not a complete or comprehensive list, but just a start, that will be continued to be added to as new natives are discovered, especially in the meadow and naturalized areas.

Native Plant List for Designed for Nature Tour 
Vernal pond
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Pin oak tree (Quercus palustris)
Black walnut tree (Juglans nigra)
Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum)
Golden ragwort (Packera aurea)*
Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor)*
Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica)*
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)*

Upper meadow
Hazelnut or filbert  (Corylus Americana)*
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum)
Golden rod (Solidago)
Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)*
Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus)*
Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
Riverbirch (Betula nigra)*
Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)*

Lower meadow
Sycamore – (Plantanus occidentalis eastern)*
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)*
High bush blueberry*
Golden rod (Solidago)
Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium)
Sedges
Red bud tree (Cercis canadensis)*
Willow (Salix alba)*
Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
Black Cherry Tree (Prunus serotina)
Maples (Acer Rubrum)

Side garden
Nodding onion (Allium cernuum)*
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)*
Dogwood (Cornus)*
Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
White oak (Quercus alba)*
Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
Red bud tree (Cercis canadensis)*
Hackberry tree (Celtis occidentalis)*
Itea  (Itea virginica)*

Manicured areas
Turtle head- hot lips (Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’)*
Itea  (Itea virginica)*
Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)*
Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)*
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)*
Forthergilla (Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Blue Shadow’)*
Helianthus
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Seward’)*
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)*
Iris (Iris cristata)*
Winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata)*
Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)*
Black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica)*
Pin oak tree (Quercus palustris)
Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis)*
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)*
Serviceberry Tree (Amelanchier)*
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum x hidcoteense ‘Hidcote’)*

Blue Star (Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’)*

* Planted natives or from seed


Finally, the garden tour date arrived and despite pouring rain for hours, we had an big crowd come through, had a lot of fun, met many wonderful people, received lots of kind comments and encouragement, learned about more wonderful native plants and even bought a bunch more natives at the end.




Thursday, July 20, 2017

Robin's Second Brood

It was late May, when I first noticed the robin darting back and forth by the window to the holly tree. After watching more closely, I noticed a nest. 

It was a bit high to reach easily and I just made note of it.



Some weeks have passed and I see again, that the robin is still hanging around, 
now at the viburnum bush, just 20 feet from the first nest over the fence.


I peek through it's branches and discover, that indeed, there is another robin's nest.
I grab a ladder to get a better look, as it's only 5 feet off the ground this time. 


I catch the mother straining her neck to see what I'm doing, as she digs around for worms in the mulch nearby. 


 I pull the branch towards me and 
there, there is the baby. 
Just one, flattened deep into the nest, 
with just one tiny eye watching me. 


I wait a long while for the mother to return, 


and there she is, with a big wormy meal for the baby. She wrinkles up her head feathers, 
not pleased to see me still watching.  


I retreat, satisfied with some good shots to share.




Sunday, June 11, 2017

Toad Spring

This spring, numerous toads have been seen by the pool, on the driveway, in the gardens and meadows. They have all been the Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus), as pictured here, with bulging eyes, a dry, ruddy complexion and covered in brown and golden bumps and warts. 

This toad is larger and lighter in color and likely a female. She found a crevice in our walkway, where she dug a hole and hides among tiny plants and seedlings, waiting for some food to fly by.




Another toad hides out during the day on the back patio near the pool. This one is much darker in complexion, smaller and probably a male. 


Unlike frogs, toads can spend more time on land, although, during mating season, they can be found by water sources. This is when they get into trouble and can find their way into a pool and drown. 

I'm reading a new book by Nancy Lawson, called The Humane Gardener, 


where she suggests using a Frog Log: A Critter Saving Escape Ramp, which provides an angled, easily used escape route. It can be bought online, it's easy to set up and can be used not only by frogs and toads, but also by baby birds, spiders, beetles, bees, snakes, etc. 


I bought 2 Frog logs and placed them next to the skimmers, upstream from the water flow. I haven't found any animals in the skimmers since. 



Here is a clear explanation about the differences between frogs and toads: http://allaboutfrogs.org/weird/general/frogtoad.html

This site identifies the different frogs and toads of PA: http://www.paherps.com/herps/frogs-toads/

Nancy Lawson has a lovely and informative website: http://www.humanegardener.com/

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Deer Paparazzi

We have many deer on our property every day, sometimes as many as 25. 

Using my new trail camera, of course, most of the photos are of deer, but this series is my favorite, shot by the creek in the lower meadow during sunset.

This female is so curious and stops to check it out. 




 I love how she circles back around to investigate further. 






 Maybe if she sniffs it, she can figure out what it is.



and that night, look who goes whizzing by:



Monday, May 29, 2017

Winter Fox

For Valentine's Day, a long time wish was realized: 
a Browning Trail Camera 
with night video and photo capability. 

I was surprised to see all the fox action at all hours this past winter. 

I positioned the camera on a cherry tree, located at the lower meadow on March 5th.
It's around midnight and only 5 degrees. 



I repositioned the camera on the opposite side of the same tree, to see if I could capture the fox coming towards the camera and I did. The camera must make a noise or project a light to startle the animals each time.

Here is the fox around 7 p.m and 20 degrees out. He comes shooting by again at 10 p.m. and now 11 degrees out.


I was curious if there were fox hunting in the upper meadow, too. I caught a glimpse of this one during the day, headed up the middle path on a cold, sunny day on March 11.


A couple of weeks later, a fox trotted by near the upper meadow during a snow storm at 3 a.m. and 22 degrees out. 



With all this fox action, I was curious if it was a female and with a den near by. 

I never did find one. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Birdhouses Closed for Business

Before the birds begin making their selection for new birdhouses for the season, we chose this grey, cold, wet day to get the houses cleaned out.


Some interesting finds and observations included:

> One nest had a prominent blue jay feather featured, although it hadn't been used by one:


> Three plumb mice promptly jumped out as we removed the thick nesting material, jumping wildly into the air, practically onto us, but landed in the snow below and scurried away:


Another house, at the top of the property and usually used by bluebirds, had a small, very messy, loosely built nest made of small twigs and moss. It looked like it must have been very uncomfortable for baby birds:



We have never seen this type of nesting materials in this birdhouse before. Perhaps, it was a Carolina Wren's, Northern Mockingbird's, or Great Crested Flycatcher's nest? 

Northern mockingbird nests are composed of a lot of twigs, and seem to resemble the nest we found the best.

(Photo: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/)

As we made our way back to the meadows, we flushed out a very wet Coppers Hawk, who routinely can be seen here, by the vernal pond:


The newest birdhouse hasn't been used recently and was completely free of bird nesting material:


The birdhouses will all be left wide open this year to hopefully break the cycle of house sparrows using them.



Every bird is on their own for the nesting season this year!