Saturday, January 27, 2018

Run for your life little squirrel

There was a bit of a thaw today so I went out for a walk along the berm to enjoy the warmth. The warmth had also got some squirrels in the mood for a game of tag. Perhaps just a warm-up game before the serious business gets underway later in the winter. They better watch out though. as almost every winter I come across the remains of a critter (see below) that didn't make it when attempting to cross this open ground between the fence line and the berm.

Friday, December 29, 2017

December Crows 2017

The crows are back this December. I counted hundreds flying overhead each evening before the snow got thick on the ground. Now that the snow is thicker I see small groups hanging around looking for food but I don't notice the long streams of them flying east each evening. It could be that I'm just not spending as much time out in the bitterly cold weather.

We had a beautiful fluffy snow fall over Christmas and now we are enduring a proper cold spell of -25oC nights and -15oC days. The above picture is a meadow vole's breathing hole. You can see the ice crystals that have formed at the edge of the hole where the warmer air from their nest hits the colder air above the snow. The snow is very fluffy, and it is evident from the lack of tracks that they have just poked their head above the snow to keep the hole clear but haven't left the safety of their tunnel. According to this paper I read, 2 to 3 meadow voles huddle together in a nest for warmth with several nests forming a cluster. I noticed several holes in the vicinity of this hole; I wander if each of these holes is associated with a single nest chamber.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Last Leaves

Red Oaks seem to be the last trees to let go of their leaves. This oak tree is getting to be a really handsome tree.

We got our first snow and first proper freeze-up last week. I put the seven bitternut hickory nuts I found along the beaver trail in the ground just in time. I hope I have better success with these nuts than I did with acorns last year. I suspect the acorns I planted might have been eaten by squirrels so I hope planting these hickory nuts just before the ground froze gives them a chance.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Comings and goings

I went for a walk on the berm last Thursday and found a new tree seedling I hadn't noticed before. It superficially looks like a small sumac but I believe, after consulting my tree ID book, that this is actually a Black Walnut sapling. Where the nut came from is a bit of a mystery as the closest walnut tree I know of is at the corner of Cox and Majestic. I did recently find a new walnut nut in the long grass of the 2009 planting area so they get there one way or another. Perhaps a squirrel relay team was involved. I acted the squirrel and properly buried the nut I found.

The heart shape leaf scar and fuzzy bud in the above picture along with the long pinnately compound leaves lead me to identify this as a black walnut however when I compared the leaflet to a leaflet from the black walnut on Majestic the sapling's leaflet is significantly larger.

Coming back along the berm I noticed one of the large cottonwood poplars planted on the top of the berm in 1995 has recently fallen down. It is quite an impressively large tree for just 22 years of growth. It was 85 feet high. Its trunk lies completely across the width of the 1995 planting area with the canopy lying in the 2009 planting area. Its fall took out a couple of understory trees in the 1995 area but most of the damage in the 2009 area is on the sumac which will recover.

Milkweed Tussock Moths

Milkweed Tussock Moth

This story begins by my house earlier this summer when I noticed a bunch of tiny fuzy caterpillars munching away on the leaves of a milkweed growing under the lilac. Every once in a while I checked how they were doing and eventually they completely consumed the first plant and started on its neighbour. By then they were big enough to be identifiable as Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars and I started worrying that they were going to consume the entire milkweed patch. One day in late August I noticed there were only three left on the last leaf of the milkweed patch. I decided to make an intervention and took the three out to the roadside berm area where I new there was another milkweed patch. The next day I noticed a couple more caterpillars wandering around looking for food so I decided to take them over to their brothers on the berm. To my horror when I got to the milkweed patch one of their brothers that I had left there the day before was being consumed by three shield bugs and more shield bugs were on the prowl around the milkweed. I couldn't leave my new charges there so I was the new not-so-willing owner of two Milkweed Tussock caterpillars. I stuffed fresh milkweed leaves in the box and in a few hours the pair had consumed half a leaf. Over the next few days I stuffed fresh leaves in to be turned into caterpillar poop but eventually noticed the new leaves weren't being touched so I checked for my charges and found one had already formed a fuzy little cocoon. I took the contents of the box and left it where the milkweed patch was under the lilac in hopes that maybe a moth or two will emerge next spring.

I had never noticed these caterpillars before and had previously always assumed that only Monarch caterpillars ate milkweed leaves. I don't think I've ever spotted a Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed but I keep on looking in hopes of spotting one one day. This was a relatively good year for monarch butterflies I think. I saw way more this year than I had in the previous two years. This might have been a good year for Milkweed Tussock Moths as well, as I've spotted a couple more caterpillars on different milkweed patches along the berm.

Last Thursday I visited the berm and noticed that the milkweed pods were opened and spreading their seeds in the wind. I never noticed before what time of year the pods opened.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bumble Bees and Lady Bugs

Back in mid-September I passed by the Japanese Knotweed as it was in flower and noticed an incredible number of bees attracted to the flowers. The bush was just covered in a swarm of insects. I never knew it was so incredibly popular.

There is just one bunch of invasive Japanese Knotweed in the area; it is along the fence line and the mower that comes by each fall keeps it in check. In terms of invasives, it isn't the worst out there as it rarely produces viable seeds and the most common way for a knew bush to get started is through a piece of root being moved either by humans or by some other natural agency. Dog Strangling Vine is the worst, I had just as much of it to clear this year from the patch at the end of Newhaven as I had in the previous two years, and noticed another patch about 20 meters further along the forest border.

The bird house I put up last fall wasn't a great success this year. I saw a woodpecker check it out and she increased the size of the hole, but she didn't stick around. This fall I made a couple of modifications in hopes that it is more successful next year. I gave the inside of the house a flatter floor, previously I thought it was a good idea to have a sloping floor so that there would be good drainage but perhaps birds want a flat floor for their nests. I also put a new piece of wood over the hole to reestablish the old smaller hole size and added a perch in front. Birds might not need a perch but I figure it might give the house a bit of "curb appeal".

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More from the test plots

Cross Orb-weaver on lamb's quarters

This cross orb-weaver hanging out in the test plots is a pretty guy. Let nature take over a small plot for a year and that is where you will find all sorts of fantastic beasts like this.

A katydid on ragweed

Lamb's Quarters and Ragweed are two more really common roadside weeds that I haven't mentioned in this blog before because they just don't show up much unless you have a disturbed site like the test plots where the ground is bare. One interesting fact I learned about lamb's quarters is that it was one of the foundations of eastern north america's prehistoric agricultural revolution and is still commonly cultivated in some areas of India.