Friday, September 30, 2011

A short tailed shrew

This past week I have been spending about an hour a day getting the trees planted this spring ready for winter. That involves pulling back the grass, removing the mulch circles and fixing the planing job if they were planted in appropriately. I received a hundred white spiral tree protectors from the city forester last monday to put around the tree trunks. I have gone through about half of them cutting them in two to protect twice as many trees.

Today as I was attempting to fix a particularly bad planting job where a maple tree had been planted several inches too deep, I heard a squeek and the soil I had been carefully digging started moving. I thought I must have disturbed a meadow vole but then a pink snout pushed out of the ground. What ever it was, it was apparently digging its way out. I quickly got my camera out, to at least get a shot of the little guy's snout. As soon as he spied me he ducked back under again. But with a little coaxing and patience I eventually got the above picture of him just before he scooted away intoo the long grass.

I believe he (or she) is a short tailed shrew. The pink rather pointed snout, the pale grey sleak fur, the size and shape, the small ears and eyes all lead me to believe this was actually a short tailed shrew.

The northern short tailed shrew is a small carnivore that eats insects, worms, mice and voles. They have a reputation as voracious eaters and are also noted as one of the few venomous mammals. Their venomous bite allows them to incapacitate larger prey such as voles. Since they are active throughout the year and are just about an ideal size to be able to use the meadow vole's runways under the snow, I imagine voles make up a significant portion of their winter diet.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spined Assassin Bugs

Two spined assassin bugs fighting over a meal. Not the best picture but I think Spined assassin bugs are pretty cool. They are a beneficial predator that can take down quite large insect prey.

Asters and bumble bees

You know it is fall when the asters are in bloom. Here is a lovely bunch of asters with some brilliant red sumac behind them. The bumble bees were busy feeding on the asters; a couple of them are visible in the picture if you zoom in on the flowers on the right.

woolly alder aphids

A couple of weeks ago I took a picture of a bald faced hornet feeding on some sort of white fungus. It turns out I was entirely wrong and it wasn't a fungus at all. It was a colony of the woolly alder aphids (Prociphilus tessellatus ) feeding on a speckled alder. Above is another picture of them. The colony is almost entirely gone now but I inspected the remaining pieces to see the actual aphids. The white fluff is a waxy material that protects the aphids from predators. What was attracting all the attention from the wasps and the hornets was probably honeydew.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 Growing Season Recap

This year the naturalization area was extended to the area south of Kirkstall that was accessed from the end of Newhaven. The above picture is looking east from the west end of the new planting. The trees were planted on a warm dry day in a couple of hours and for the first two months there were very good prospects that most of the tree would survive. May was wet but not cold and June also had consistent rain. By mid June the grasses were tall and it was necessary to pull back the grass from the new trees.

July was hot and dry with some days in the high 30s. The only trees in the new area that didn't seem to suffer from the heat were the invading suckers from the adjacent poplars. The newly planted trees suffered under these conditions and by the end of July some of the new trees were losing their leaves. The burr oaks and the speckled alders in particular seem to not survive the dry conditions well. Some oaks survived better than others, about a third look like they are dead and the rest only look mostly dead.

The dry spell didn't end until halfway through August, but with the rain the temperature cooled and few of the new trees attempted to recover from the heat wave. The more established trees from the 2009 and 2010 plantings did not suffer very much from the heat wave at all. Even those newly planted trees that had a bit of shade did ok, but the Newhaven Extension area that had the south east facing hillside exposure, with poorly developed soil were hit hard.

Now in September I am spending some time preparing the new trees for winter. In order to minimize the loses due to field mice I am removing the mulch circles and pulling the grasses back from the base of the trees. The mulch circles hid a lot of problems. Quite a few trees are poorly planted, and the field mice are making themselves at home under the circles. Hopefully removing their cover will convince the field mice to not make their home under the new trees this winter.

Meadow vole damage

The above is a picture of some Meadow vole damage in the 2011 planting area. The trees in this area had a manufactured circle of mulch placed around the base of the tree. This helped with preserving soil moisture around the newly planted root balls. However they produce a convenient location for field mice to hide. As the night time temperature goes down they will extend their burrows underground around the tree roots. Once their food runs low they will start eating the roots killing the tree. They like the taste of some trees better than others. The above sugar maple would probably be killed this winter if no action is taken.

I attempted to collapse the burrow entrances by punching down the soil around the roots. I then added soil to bring the soil back up to the original level. There was a tag left on the tree that might have damaged the tree in a few years as it grew. I removed this tag and added a tree protector to keep the meadow voles from girdling the tree at the base of the trunk. Hopefully these steps help the tree to survive the coming winter.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More Orb Web Spiders

Here is a Banded Garden Spider (Argiope Trifasciata) and a Cross Orbweaver (Araneus Diadematus) The picture of the Cross Orbweaver was taken in low light conditions so you can't see the white cross she has on her back (I thought it looked a bit like a bumble bee) but you can see here lovely web. I hope she didn't mind the flash too much. The Banded Garden Spider is a cousin to the Black and Yellow Garden Spider which is much more common around here (see earlier entry).