Thursday, July 27, 2023

A Dance with the Devil

I pause as I cross my bathroom window over the tub and see the devil's walking stick, Auralia spinosa, outside at the edge of the ravine as it dips away into the jungle of summer green.  We have been having some good soaking rains between the hot sunshine and Tabor's Woods are loving it!  The Aralia is now about eighteen feet high as it reaches eagerly toward the sun.  This 'weed' loves disturbed areas and moved in years ago after we had built the house and disturbed the soil for our foundation.  This plant is a younger generation.

I go upstairs and look down from the guest bedroom window.  When my husband's nephew stayed with us last year after a broken bone accident, he would watch from the guest bedroom window the dance of the pollinators on the blooms of the devil's walking stick.  It is a peaceful, healing, and soothing pastime. 

I go outside in the early morning for better photos.  The air is thick but not cloying.  The temperature is warm but not hot.  The cicadas are working hard at their percussion jazz concert and their buzzing fills the air.  The young osprey is celebrating his/her ability to catch fish and fly high overhead and chirps continuously like some very happy teenager at a game win.  A single vulture quietly circles high above in slow circles against a clear blue sky.

I walk around the house camera in hand.

This shrub is a native and perhaps considered a weed, but it IS a native.  (I have written about this before.)  The common name Devil's Walking Stick is due to the nasty thorns on the bark.  If you bump against it or accidentally grab it, you are in for some pain.

This Auralia is just about to bloom.  It starts with a mass of white buds at the very top.  Soon the pollinators will move in and cover each flower with their busy harvesting.  Today the yellow swallowtail butterflies drift gently over the buds waiting for dinnertime.  They resemble a gentle yellow leaf fall and after checking ever so briefly move on to my Physostegia virginiana - obedient plant.

Aralia spinosa
is related to the ginseng family.  "The genus name comes from an old French-Canadian name of “aralie”, applied to a baby girl and means “one who is a born leader.”  In Japan, I have been told, that areas of this plant in the woods are coveted for a harvest of the early leaves that emerge and can be cooked and eaten like spring ferns (fiddleheads).  I have not tried that.

Monday, July 24, 2023

It is Buggy Out There

Those of us who are environmentalists have drifted big time into promoting bugs. Every year I attend a festival about bugs. I work with small children and encourage them to see the world as though it was a tapestry with many threads holding things together and insects being a very important group of knots in that tapestry. I emphasize how 99% of bugs are passive and just want to live like we do. I talk to adults and ask them to reevaluate the damage to their plants before spraying and eradicating unless the insect is non-native and introduced and you use safe methods. Sometimes the damage to the plant is tolerable. I emphasize to all that we will not survive on a planet with fewer and fewer insects.

"The world has lost 5% to 10% of all insect species in the last 150 years — or between 250,000 and 500,000 species, according to a February 2020 study in the journal Biological Conservation." And since we have not really had research on insects comprehensively over time, I think this estimate is conservative.
There is an excellent article here if you want with some beautiful illustrations and interactive graphs. Go on and check it out. What else have you got to do on this hot summer day?

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Sweating Through Summer

Tabor's Yard does not have the awful sweltering heat that other parts of the U.S. seem to be under.  We have our normal hot and humid days.  Most of July was dry with no rain and tulip trees in their trepidation flung brown and yellow leaves to the ground.  Flowering plants bloomed briefly and then wilted feeding our pollinators for just a few days.

Finally, as July moved forward, we got wet weather.  The day started dark and haunting and very warm.  This was the air you could "chew."  This is the air when old people stay indoors.  Then in the distance, the warning thunder began and by nightfall, I could see the lightning strikes across at the end of the bend in the river just glowing quickly.  They competed with the lightning bugs in a fire dance.

The wind shook the drying leaves and then with that familiar pelting sound against the window pane and the skylight, the rains began.  Heavy drops were falling sparsely.  It was as if they did not want to be here, as if Mother Nature had pushed them out the door on their way to school.

By morning the windows were covered in wet humidity and I could not see outside, but I knew we had gotten several inches of rain.  My resident turtle was out and about in the dampness, looking for earthworms, no doubt.

The flowers that had sturdy stems were happy at last.

The Queen Anne's lace blooms prolifically with heavy skirts of white before the wind and rain brought it bending over to the ground.  My phlox keeps most of its petals and then the heavy bees came in and shredded some of those delicate petals in their hunt for sustenance.

Our resident osprey which had fledged two young ones (one later died in a predatory attack) sat on the nest wet and surprised.  Each morning one parent leaves to get food and brings back breakfast.  When I started writing this post, the youngest was days away from flying out on his/her own and getting food, and now, sometimes, I see no one in the nest.  I can hear their high baby-like chirps as I sit inside and the parents instruct the young one on hunting and flying skills in the clear blue sky.

It appears that summer has settled in like a wet fragrant fart and will remain until the end of August or early September.  

Friday, June 23, 2023

Pattern and Camouflage and Code

There are natural patterns and man-made patterns in our lives.  

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary,   "A pattern is a regularity in the world, in human-made design,[1] or in abstract ideas. As such, the elements of a pattern repeat in a predictable manner. A geometric pattern is a kind of pattern formed of geometric shapes and typically repeated like a wallpaper design. Any of the senses may directly observe patterns. Conversely, abstract patterns in science, mathematics, or language may be observable only by analysis. Direct observation in practice means seeing visual patterns, which are widespread in nature and in art. Visual patterns in nature are often chaotic, rarely exactly repeating, and often involve fractals. Natural patterns include spirals, meanders, waves, foams, tilings, cracks, and those created by symmetries of rotation and reflection."

And patterns are also a part of the rhythm of life. According to William Morrison Patterson (go here for his complete book!)  "The psychologists have long since recognized that rhythm is the result of a complex process, whose operation can never be reduced to any one short formula."  And I would like to add that since we get our inspiration from nature we may try so hard to fit it into mathematical precision and fail.

Well, having gone the long way around with this post, I started thinking about this when I encountered a resident turtle in my garden bed close to my front door.  I saw him/her in spring and for at least three weeks he/she never moved much.  Maybe only a few yards.  Then he/she would return and bury itself just beneath the layer of tree leaves.  I left it to be except for checking every now and again to see if it was still there.  You can become mesmerized by this exotic pattern and color with slightly rhythmic repetition.  This color is marvelous!

We are in a drought and so I dropped some watermelon slices and some strawberries from the garden which got nibbled.  One day after a rain he/she got moving in a larger area.

I thought that he/she would wander out of the yard, but was surprised when the next day I saw it back under the leaves.  I have read they have an area of about a mile that they explore.

So, again I got it more sliced strawberries on one day and a slice of watermelon on another day during this dry spell as I wrote above.  Of course.  Perhaps you can see the little red strawberry slice in the lower right area.

He/she was still there resting under the leaves and only coming out to explore every so often.  That shell pattern reminds me a bit of hieroglyphics.  Then if I let my imagination run wild I think about how we-NASA sent a Vetruvian man into outer space to communicate with aliens, and in return, perhaps, aliens have sent turtles to us to communicate.

What does this say?  Something else lives within a foot or so of this area and I usually disturb it when visiting the turtle.  The leaves will crackle and something will jump just in front of my bare toes and then wait as if I cannot see it.

Look at that amazing pattern.  It obviously is perfect for camouflage among the gray and darker dead leaves. Or maybe it is also a message from another being?


Saturday, June 17, 2023

Fred and Ethel Version 2023

At least one of my faithful readers was holding my promise of a Fred and Ethel post to the deadline. So today I will return to our osprey neighbors.  The very first time I posted on this family was in March of 2009.  You can go HERE in the way back machine to read it if you are even remotely interested.

In May of 2017, I did post on the "first family" that resided on the local osprey nest we had provided.

By 2021 the nest had become so filled with sticks and fish detritus that grasses started to grow on the platform.  That was the year that the geese discovered the possibility of nesting.  Since they arrive approximately two weeks before the osprey returned from down south, the geese were well settled and sitting on eggs and impossible to remove by diving osprey.  That year the osprey built a nest in a nearby tree.

This went on for a few years and then this year we hired a young man to clear off the platform entirely.  That I posted about HERE.  When the geese returned they were shocked to find their home had been burglarized and realized they needed new digs.

Thus the world returned to normal as I watched the osprey begin to build a nest again when they arrived near St. Patricks day right on time.  They did not seem like the Fred and Ethel I knew and I wondered if this was another younger couple.  They were awkward in nest building, awkward in mating and I was worried they might not be successful.

But I was wrong.  After weeks of sitting ever so patiently through hot sun or heavy storms and being reprieved by her mate in the late afternoon when she herself went off to hunt for food, the nest was successful!

Patience and then even more patience.  We can learn from these osprey.

It seems that there are two little ones that have hatched and are awkwardly moving in the center of the nest while Ethel stands to the side and watches for danger or Fred returning with food!  You may have to click on the photo to see the two little heads so well camouflaged by the nesting materials.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Going Back to April 10

I was hoping to post this earlier, but life moves too fast for me. Back in April, I glanced out my dining room window and saw a rather large, shadowy figure in the trees. I wondered if the osprey had moved into my backyard to explore a place to finish a recently caught fish. As I leaned in and looked closer I saw that there were two of them. The morning was still a bit shadowy, so I took my binoculars out to get a better look. They were ducks...ducks in the trees!? 

I could not see really well, but they looked like ducks I had not seen in my backyard before. Below you can see how I enhanced the exposure and made a better ID. WOOD DUCKS! Looking for a nesting site? Photos are somewhat muddled as it was shot through a window, but you can see they must have seen my shadow as they were watching me as I was watching them. What a marvelous bird, being able to climb along trees like that.

We, hubby and I, were involved in setting up and monitoring wood-duck boxes for nesting over the past years.  We no longer do that as it has been passed on to a younger group, but it looks like it may have paid off.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

The Saga of Fred and Ethel Part II 2023

The time has passed...almost two months, since my last post. The couple has been rather pornographic over the weeks and with each day the male had brought more and more sticks for their abode. It seemed to me they were not the original Fred and Ethel that I knew, and I admit I have not taken the time to see if they are banded. But they seemed both awkward and shy in their mating and nest building. The residential Canadian geese would swim by and call and cry a short distance from the nest as they swam by. The female Osprey ignored them as she stood in the nest or at the edge, knowing they were no danger to her safety.

Weeks went by and they would add a stick or two a day.  I was wondering if they would ever start their family.

Both Fred and Ethel are very patient.

Then one day there was some commotion on the river.  I have to admit that I missed it and hubby while gardening went down to see a Bald Eagle attacking the female osprey as she finally started to sit on the nest.  Remember the fight over toilet paper curing COVID?  This is something like that, only a fear of diminishing fish resources.

The female osprey survived but you can see she has damaged some feathers and is hunkered down over her precious egg(s).  It takes thirty to forty days for eggs to hatch and she has been sitting for close to 25 days.  During the mornings I see the male fly in to relieve her while she goes out hunting for breakfast.  She also does some lovely morning acrobatics to stretch and strengthen before her return to the nest.

Such restorative activities watching our prey birds.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Are You Listening?

"At the moment of giving birth, each reef sings its own lullaby to its young.   Each night, the reef sings into the sea, guiding its young back home."  

Spring reflection on the water.  The red circle is jellyfish as is the white blob.

This text above sounds like a poem.  It sounds like the lyrics to a song.  It is an actual fact from studying the bioacoustics of the Australian Great Barrier Reef.  Tim Gordon's Doctoral research using underwater speakers and collecting samples in both coral reef areas and open areas discovered that the tiny coral larvae after weeks afloat in the ocean are able to find their way back to their coral reef.

I am in the process of reading The Sounds of Life by Karen Bakker.  It is a book about the unsuspected depth and breadth of nature's sounds.  Thus far I have read about the whales in a study that has verified they carry information from many generations in their songs.  The Innuit knew this, but the white man didn't believe them until extensive studies on whale sounds verified it.  Whale sounds that cannot be heard by the human ear can travel across the ocean.

The book also describes studies done on freshwater turtles in the Amazon that prove they make sounds that cannot be heard by the human ear These sounds are made even before the hatching that helps siblings survive by making noises so that they all hatch close to each other.

Most of these studies were done by scientists with determination (many women of course) but also men who searched hard and long for funding and support.

I may continue to enlighten those of you who would not be interested in reading such a long book in future posts, perhaps.

Such information makes me realize the interconnectedness of this planet and sad that I will not be around to find out more about how we all came to be.  We are an amazing complicated biome that came from an explosion billions of years ago. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Spring is Still a Tease

Spring has arrived in the Mid-Atlantic. All the news can talk about is our non-native cherry trees in full bloom and soon-to-be pink confetti all along the roadways and lawns. It does look like the osprey 'may' nest on the newly cleaned platform.  I would track my binoculars to the nest that has been built and used for a few years as it sits in a high tree across the water and I saw no activity. I kept my fingers crossed. On March 9, weeks before the osprey was due to arrive a lonely female mallard spent a day on the platform, perhaps waiting for her mate.
A week later, while walking down our road, I found she was part of the two mallards that swim in our slightly hidden vernal pond each spring and probably nest somewhere nearby. I hope it is a safer site than our daylilies. She nested deep in their leaves and a fox or raccoon came in during the night and ate her eggs a few years ago.  I am amazed that there are any mallards at all!
Then on St. Patrick's Day, exactly on time, the osprey arrived. Studies have shown that they travel 95-380 kilometers (59-236mi) per day, so when they arrive they are exhausted. I could not tell whether it was a male or female because the size was not large or small but seemed medium to me, but the females are supposed to be the ones that arrive early. She was just sitting and waiting, but not sitting on the platform all the time. Sometimes she was off fishing and others resting on a nearby tree branch. Then a few days later the male arrived bearing gifts. Sticks.
She did not seem too excited.
Later in the day, or perhaps it was the next day, I noticed another osprey sitting in a tree close to the platform. I am guessing it might be a juvenile from last year or a male looking for a mate. It caught a fish and had a nice meal while observing the river and the platform below.
When that osprey had finished eating it flew down to the nest platform but the female chased it away immediately. Now things seem back to normal although moving slowly. They have mated although he almost knocked her off the nest in the process! Birds are such clumsy lovers! The nest is growing ever so slowly, so I still am cautious. They are behind many other ospreys that have arrived. The sticks are a bit more than in the photo below, but still quite sparse.
Our deck sits high enough that we can look down on the platform instead of trying to look from below and that makes it much easier to see when they have eggs or little ones. They are amazing creatures. They mate for life, travel both down and back separately and yet still manage to meet within days after flying thousands of miles, have sex for a second or two, and then begin a hardworking summer of nest building, nest repair, and feeding and training the young.  You may remember that I call them Fred and Ethel.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Spring Has Arrived But Late Due to a Nasty Wind

These last few days were cold and very windy.  Everything that was not attached flew across the yard as it was chased or thrown by the howl of the wind.  The windy front behaved like an angry teenager that had been grounded for the week.  I have lots of small branches to start my fires and create coals to burn the large logs. I walk around and fill my arms.  I never have to search far for kindling in this urban woodland.  Spring is here, so our nighttime fires are becoming fewer and fewer, yet a broken heater motor made the use of fires our salvation last week.  The motor on the new HVAC system, which was less than a year old, was replaced without cost to us.

The same wind that pummeled our naked trees dropped so many feet of snow to the north of us, that I felt guilty feeling sad for having to stay inside in our milder winter weeks.

But today it left us and pushed the clouds north leaving behind our first sunny and almost warm day.  

I realized that 50 mile-per-hour winds would delay the flying of our osprey.  They are amazing and return within three days of St. Patrick's Day here in the USA.  Today is St. Patrick's Day.  Pinch me...I am married to an Irishman.  They should return any day now.  First the one and then the other.

Each morning and at lunch and in the evening, I pass the kitchen window and look out carefully across the river to see if they have arrived.  I see that their well-engineered nest which they built in the trees across the river a few years ago has survived the winds.  They could not move the geese off the platform we built.  

The osprey that built a nest on the utility pole at the art museum a few miles away has returned. I heard their call while weeding our children's garden there and my heart jumped a beat.  

Our osprey must be on its way.  I will have to wait and see if they put sticks on the platform or move back into that awkward collection of sticks in the trees.

It will all depend on how much they want to redecorate, I guess.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

It Is not a Drum Circle

As many years as I have been on this blue jewel of a planet, each season fills me with increased awe.  After the quiet of winter, spring starts with its percussion section.

As I sip my coffee in the early morning, I can hear the sound of a deep African drum out in the woods.  At least its hollow and penetrating beating sounds like an African drum and carries far from the tree into my living room.  

The pileated woodpecker's territorial call is loud and hollow and sounds like a war drum somewhere in the jungles of Africa.  It is actually called "drumming" by ornithologists. The bird is native to North America and can weigh almost one pound on the large end of their size.  They chip out rather large rectangular holes in search of insects or colonies of ants.  The male's drumming is to declare territory and/or call to a mate.  Since it is now spring, I hear his drumming every morning.  It is a simple rhythm and is very short.

Their excavation can actually destroy a healthy branch of a healthy tree.  This is what is happening to a huge oak near my neighbor's house.

The healthy branch in the photo above will fall in the coming months or next year if we get a big storm.  One year I actually had a pileated come to my house and look into my patio door as the snow covered the patio.  I couldn't find any bugs to offer and I do not know how to speak pileated.  Some days I wish I was a witch.  I have searched for that photo but it is on some other stored drive.  I think I only have 10,000 photos of birds!  I do have them organized by season and type, but still, it is a challenge.