Sunday, May 29, 2011

Again





Once again the mountain laurel fills the woods. They do not grow in my woods or yard, but seem to spread themselves happily across the peninsula on the other side closer to the Bay.  I think they may be like some orchids and need a certain fungus or mineral in the soil to make them happy.  They vary from soft white with red stripes to pink to a deep reddish pink.  Unfortunately the reddish pink ones are across the marsh and I did not get a photo of those.  These usually grow higher in the mountains where the soil is sparse and the climate cool.  But I am lucky to have a  few hundred nearby.

I must have hundreds of photos  as well because it seems that I am compelled to take new ones each and every spring, as if I had never seen this miracle blossom before.




Are they fragrant?...not so much to this old crone's nose.  But that doesn't seem to make any difference in their elegance. They grow as high as eight feet or more and sometimes tower over my head as I stroll down the path.  Like most spring flowers they last a little more than a week, so one must get moving if one wants to see them or you can just look at  the photo above instead.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Busy as a Wasp

The other afternoon after finishing the transplanting of the last of the potted plants, I poured myself a glass of cold white wine, grabbed a novel I was reading, A Gate at the Stairs, and headed out to my little arbor where the red roses were beginning to open over my head.  I felt like the Queen on such an afternoon.  

Before I even opened the book I saw a little bug out of the corner of my eye at the base of the stone edging of the flower bed beneath where I sat.  It was a little black wasp who had just come out of a deep pea sized hole in the ground.   Without sounding too intellectual (clearly a problem I rarely have), I think it was a Sphex pennsylvanica (!).  If you surf the web for digger wasps, you will encounter sites with the words nuisance and control and pest in them.  Don't read those!  These digger wasps live individually, dig a hole to lay their eggs, and then proceed to add some bugs for food and then wall in the nest.  They are beneficial to your garden.  If I had the nature of my son-in-law I would have run screaming back into the house.  Instead Tabor sticks her nose even closer to watch this miracle of life taking place beneath where she sat.  These wasps are not aggressive stingers or defenders of their space and the wasp clearly had no interest in my interest.

It was fascinating to see the industrious dragging and throwing of various sizes of clumps of dirt that were dropped into the hole as the wasp scurried a few inches here and a few inches there busily sorting and accepting or discarding balls of gravel.  The wasp then crawled back into the hole to move the clumps to one side or the other until they were placed perfectly.

We were having the fallen trees removed that day and I got called away to direct traffic on the other side of the lawn.  When I returned, only minutes later, the hole and wasp had disappeared...I had to study the area very closely before I could see the little (very tiny) ridge of wall mud that had been carefully set against the brick on the one side.  The eggs were safely tucked away, and if I am lucky, I may be sitting there on the day they emerge.

There are no photos as I did not have my camera...and yes, I did just see you sigh with relief.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Once You Are Hippy...Always a Hippie

Perhaps you will remember a prior post in which I discussed the interior decoration spasms of a Carolina Wren that lives in my front yard or perhaps I should say rules in my yard.  In that post I commented how surprised I was that she was using the bird house.  But it appears that was all a ruse.  As we cleaned under the deck yesterday and went to roll the kayak out of the way we discovered beneath the bent-over back of the kayak seat a mother wren.  She almost flew into my face in panic and then into the trees.   When we lifted the seat back, below is what we saw. Six speckled eggs...six(!)...boy is she going to be busy in the weeks ahead.  And it looks like all kayak plans are on hold for many weeks.





Then again just a few short weeks later I carefully took this photo while she was off looking for insects.





Even though they are as naked as a ...'bird'  they are still so sweet and lovely.  I fyou can identify them you will see that all six have hatched!  We did not linger long and I only got 3 quick photos to make sure at least one was in focus.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

When I was in my youth a long, long, long time ago...rainy days and Mondays always got me down...to borrow from a song of my generation.  One of the nicest things about getting older is that it takes a very unusual Monday or a very unusual rainy day to get me down.  Most any day is a gem for me.



This is my yard on rain.


Even if the day brings down a 50-year-old tulip poplar and compromises the bat house (which is home to wasps) it still is beautiful in its magnificence.




And just look at all the bronze coins its has unearthed!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Courage


These flowers always remind me of growing up in the Rocky Mountains where in the the spring they would bloom in the most amazingly harsh places and as long as there was moist soil, they prospered. They looked like prairie maidens bobbing in the spring breezes wearing bold colored bonnets.


I planted several Aquilegia (Columbine) from seed last year and while they produced the rare flower and developed a small base of leaves, it was not until this second year that they seemed to come into their own.  The flower with its spurs at the back of the flower head are what make it interesting. Sometimes the spur curls and sometime it thrusts it pointy ends upward like swords.  The leaves are also a beautiful blue gray and carpet the flower bed almost like a maiden hair fern when the flowers are finished blooming.  If various colors are planted near each other they will cross-pollinate and produce some surprises!  They are hardy, reseed, and not difficult to grow and in my yard I just ignore the leaf miners that appear in summer and pretend the mosaic they create on the leaves is art.





Years ago Native Americans ate the flowers even though the seeds and roots are poisonous.  I will not deadhead this year and see if my flowers spread gently in their space.  There are over 70 species and I should give the names of the ones I planted...but I cannot remember!




My research says the name came from the Latin columba which means dove and it is because they are said to look like a gathering of doves, not a huge stretch of imagination, although the flowers above look like ball gowns. It was also believed that lions ate them and thus resulted the myth(?) that rubbing ones hands with the plant would make one courageous.  I am going to ignore the folklore that it also represents fallen love.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Martha Cleans House

Since we lost two 50-year-old tulip poplars not long ago, I happened to look out my living room window to check the yard just as a major storm was approaching, and I saw something strange on the doorstep of the birdhouse that the chickadees had been visiting.  Did they get a delivery that they had not noticed?  I had not heard the UPS truck.  (This is not a great photo as I was hurrying to miss the rain.)


I remained on the porch and decided to watch just a little longer and what did I see?  


(We had a tornado warning beeping on the radio as a distraction, so you will forgive my blurry shots.)  Here is a wren peaking out of the door and throwing a beak full of the stuff to the ground.  This was a deranged Heloise or perhaps that nasty noisy neighbor in Bewitched.  As I watched she continued to fling more grasses through the hole and threw them high into the air with a twist of her head.  She did not become discouraged that the wind blew them back into her face and over the top of the roof.  Was chickadee interior design so bad?  Was it a feng shui issue?  Did it have bed bugs?  Clearly in a big re-decorating mode, this Martha Stewart wren hopped up and began to clear off the roof as well!  She WAS a bird on a mission!


I am not so amazed that she has thrown out the chickadee nest that I say them create just this spring and which perhaps they had abandoned ( I do not watch my neighbors that closely because I do have a life.), but more amazed that she is ACTUALLY using a bird house.  In the past, as you may recall, my resident wrens behave like hippies and have used nail buckets, canoe bows, the end of the gutters and folded down lawn cushions, but never one of my bird houses!  This should be interesting!


Thursday, May 05, 2011

One Never Knows What Blows in With the Breeze

It was one of those wonderful early spring evenings. The sun had not yet set and the warm afternoon was slipping into cooler air as the winds picked up and made the new growth on the tops of the trees whisper and bow like monks heading off to vespers. Earlier in the day I had opened the windows throughout the house to let in this new fresh air. 

As I grabbed the mail from the table I heard some crows arguing, and then, looking out the window, I thought I saw some large swooping shadows above the tree tops.  When I looked closer it appeared that the male osprey was catching the winds like a kite high over the river in the late golden sunlight, but I did not see any crows.

Within minutes I heard a nasty crow caw and then saw three crows in a combat dive.  At first glance I thought they were chasing the osprey I had just seen.  The crow cries and the osprey whistle were carried high over the air.  I grabbed my camera to see if I could document this battle when I saw the shadow of what looked like a larger osprey swoop in and land on one of the trees down by the river.  As I hurried down the hill the rasping noise became louder, and at first, I thought a large crow nearby was the one screaming just to the right of me at mid-tree level.  Then I realized it was the large bird itself that was cawing as if in anger or pain.  

It was a most unpleasant sound and went on for some time.  As I hurried closer to the dock I looked up to where the trees cleared and snapped this breath-taking shot below.  How cool was that?  He/she opened its beak and cried passionately out across the water several times.  This bald eagle eventually flew away across the river, and had not seemed to notice me,  highly unlikely, and certainly did not seem the worse for wear as it ignored the crow following close behind.



Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Collective Mind


Many, if not most of us, are collectors.  Those of us who are fascinated with the natural world tend to collect in that direction.  When I was younger and not as environmentally wise as I am today (Oh, the wisdom brought with the years!) I used to collect seashells.  I lived in the South Pacific and had a huge garden of calcium carbonate designs to choose from that were a miraculous joy in artistic beauty.  I was wise in that quantity was not my goal, but expanding variety in my collection.  Today I still have a lovely collection of these marine homes, but do feel guilt that in some cases I created homelessness and death. (Perhaps a post on that someday.)


Later I collected turtles.  Not real turtles of course, but chotskies of turtles made from ceramic, wood, coconut shell, etc.  They have become memories of travels and stuff to dust!

Today with my aging eyesight and slow photographic skills I collect bird photos.  Finding a new bird, or seeing a familiar bird in a new and closer light, gives me the same thrill that I had years ago when finding an exotic patterned seashell tucked into a piece of coral rock.  Above and below are terrible photos of a the blue-gray gnatcatcher, but the best I could get.  And I am posting them because this is the very first time I have ever seen this bird!!  It is something new to add to my bird list.  So, if you are not a birder, this post will have little meaning for you.

This bird is not much larger than a hummingbird and maybe only looks a little larger because of that long tail.  The photos are horrible, because this bird sits still for only a mini-second or two before he is off exploring other branches for food.  I am pretty sure about my ID because it did have the unibrow that makes him look a little mad.  Their breeding habitat is the Western US and up to Ontario in Canada, but they have a huge range and they do migrate to and from the Caribbean and are moving into my area.  I could not find much information on this bird but a good link with better pictures is here.