Saturday, September 13, 2014


About those caterpillars ...

Five have disappeared. Two have formed chrysalises.  And in ten or so days we'll have ...

Sunday, September 7, 2014


The monarch butterfly is an amazing creature. This insect migrates from Canada and the United States to Mexico, overwinters, and then migrates back again. But the insects that migrate to Mexico have never been there. In fact, it is the great-great-great grandchildren that somehow know the way to the specific groves in the mountain forests of Mexico.

But the Monarch, like many creatures on earth these days, is in serious decline. Over the past twenty years monarch populations have fallen by 90% (source). There are three main threats to the survival of the butterfly. Habitat loss, which is a problem for many species in distress. Herbicides, such as the popular Roundup, which kills the milkweed plants on which the monarch depends, and recently severe winters, which would not have been such a problem had the population been healthy.

That's why we were so happy to find these in the garden this morning.

Monarch caterpillars.

On our butterfly weed.

We found seven fairly large caterpillars on the plant (you can see three in the image above).

Here's a better look at the one on the left in the three-for image above.

We have only two butterfly weed plants and only one has caterpillars. And the plant does not appear to have been badly eaten, which one would expect with this many large munchers on it.

And we have no other milkweed on our property (it was already on the list for next year, as we plan our butterfly garden). A friend who volunteers at a local nature center is bringing us some, so these guys won't go hungry.

It is a mystery as to where these guys came from and what they have been eating to grow this large. Monarchs are very particular as to food plants. And as I noted, we have no other suitable plants for them.

Regardless of where they came from we are happy they are here. We'll do our best to see that they leave our property as butterflies, on their way to Mexico.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

Life Too ...

It's not all death out there in our yard.

Sometimes it is life. New life.

When we were first touring the property the previous owners pointed out an eastern phoebe nest, ...

... above the light fixture on our shed.

After we bought the place I climbed up a ladder and took four shots. I didn't want to spend too much time up there, as mom (seen just below and right of center in the image below, click to bigafy) was none too happy about me being there.

As far was we know all four chicks fledged. We went away for a few weeks and when we got back the nest was empty. For awhile we saw young phoebes about the yard, but they've all gone now. Hopefully they'll return next year, and we can watch the young from hatchling to fledgeling.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

More Death in the Pines

Not long after we witnessed the end of the cicada I noticed the snake that lives in our pond filter was on the prowl.

(The mosquitos seem always to be on the prowl ...)

Since I already had the camera out I turned and started shooting. But I missed the strike!

But the snake didn't.

And off he went with his prize.

The pond has a variety of fish of differing sizes and we were surprised the snake took one this large. We though that swallowing it would be a challenge. We were wrong.

It did take awhile for him to wrestle the fish out of the water and drag it up on to the rocks.

The fish was surprisingly docile. it seemed resigned to its fate, and struggled barely at all.

Once out of the water the snake repositioned the fish so as to swallow it head first.

This was the time for the fish to flop around and perhaps flip back into the pond and make its escape.

But it was not to be. The snake opened its jaws and gulped it down.

All that remained were a few scales on the rock.

And the snake. And the ever present mosquitos.

It is a dangerous place we've moved to ...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Death in the Pines

Sunday Patty and I were enjoying our morning coffee on our new deck when Patty noticed a commotion in the reeds on the side of our pond. "What's that?" she asked.

Looking through the binoculars she saw this:

The cicada was still struggling, but the fight was already over.

The mantis was busy munching away on the cicada's face. Despite the occasional wing flutter and shaking it was clear who the winner was here.

As we worked in the yard throughout the morning we checked in on the mantis from time to time. It spent several hours on its meal, hanging in the same spot. Eventually we headed out, errands to run, things to buy. They were gone when we got back, with no sign of the struggle that had occurred that morning.

We've not seen a mantis since. The din of the cicadas is our soundtrack every night.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer Challenge

I first mentioned Rachel and her Summer Challenge at the end of this post about quail hunting. This year's Challenge is to hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite.

From Rachel's announcement email:

This year, I will be climbing Half Dome ( in Yosemite National Park in California with wonderful people in my life including my dear cousin Jaclyn, neighbor Susan, and adventurous Philly friends Patty and Marie. 

This challenge takes me back to a magical place I first visited with my family as a kid and have returned to repeatedly with friends. If you have been to Yosemite, you know. If you haven’t, go soon! It is incredibly gorgeous and powerful.

It was Patty that suggested the Half Dome hike for the Challenge. It is an "incredibly gorgeous and powerful" place. And like Rachel one I've visited multiple times. My most recent visit was Patty's first and it was a scouting trip for the Half Dome hike.

On our second day there we did a easy two mile hike to the top of Sentinel Dome, which is on the road to Glacier Point.

Here is Patty on Sentinel Dome.

Here's what she is pointing to.

It doesn't look too bad does it?

Her's Patty pointing to Half Dome from down in Yosemite Valley. Which is where the hike starts from.

That's a long way up!


To learn more about the Challenge 
and how you can help raise money to combat 
Parkinson's Disease please visit Rachel's Challenge site.