Thursday, October 6, 2016

Diamond in the Rough

The bog project is moving along nicely. Here is the finished hole.

With the liner installed.

Ten bags of this stuff ...

... isn't quite enough.

But it is getting there. As is the garden in the background, with the addition of a layer of compost and the first plants.

We've also installed a rain barrel to help insure the bog stays wet throughout the year.

Net steps are to finish filling the bog with sphagnum peat moss, trim and bury the liner, install a pipe underground from the rain barrel to the bog, and of course add the first plants.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Happy New Year!

Today I didn't have to go to school because it is Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year. (I am off tomorrow too!)

And what a fabulous start to the New Year it was!  At just past 8am, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a finch eating  sunflower seeds.  I thought 'hmmm that finch has a white eye brow.  It's not like the other House Finches.'

No indeed - it was a Purple Finch

I got myself organized and spent the morning doing yard work.  After lunch I planned to continue in the yard, but the sun had come out.  Along with the heat, things were hopping in the garden.

The first thing I saw was this butterfly either a Comma or a Question Mark - the shape of the wings are distinctive, but you need a shot of the underwing to get the identifying 'comma' or 'question mark' mark on the wing.  I quick got the camera, and it was downhill from there.

This was my best photo - no shot of the underwing.

Once I had the camera in hand, the yard work was a thing of the past.  I saw over 10 different butterflies in my garden today.  Here are some....


Red-banded Hair Streak

Pearl Crescent


Red Admiral

Painted Lady

Silver-spotted Skipper

Cabbage White

 Eastern Tailed-blue

Same Butterfly as above with wings open

A very worn and faded Black Swallowtail butterfly

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar - several are still eating my parsley.

I believe this is the last of the Monarch Caterpillars on the swamp milkweed.  It is in the 'J Shape' - tomorrow it will be a chrysalis.  In 9-14 days this will be a Monarch Butterfly and off to Mexico.

Butterflies and caterpillars were not the only things flying and crawling around today.

Many bees were around.  I recently read in Barb Elliot's post on Backyards for Nature, that Bumble Bees can buzz pollinate- "Bumble bees vibrate their wings at specific frequencies to get some species of flowers to release their pollen."  Very cool!

This fly better take care of how close it gets to the Pitcher Plant.

A walk around to the pond and I found other predators.

 a young Bull Frog

a male Meadow Hawk Dragonfly (the females are yellow)

Our resident Northern Water Snake - thanks to my friend Barb for spotting him.

Before Barb came over I was kept company by 
a flock of turkeys that passed through the yard.

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird that is still hanging around

 and this Common Yellow-throated Warbler that dropped in to see what I was doing.

All-in-all it was a tremendous day.  I hope your New Year's Day was a happy one too!

Thanks to Patty Rehn for guest blogging. All words and images copyright Patty Rehn.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Another Fish

This one slightly larger then that in my last fish post.

Image Courtesy Andy Murch/Big Fish Expeditions

Well, actually quite a bit larger, dwarfing Patty as she swims alongside.

I too got up close and personal with a few of these magnificent creatures.

We were twenty-five or so miles off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, in a little boat. Our captain would maneuver the boat so that when we jumped off we were in the path of the Whale Shark.

In this case quite close to the shark when I splashed in.

This one passing directly below me as it swam by.

Did I mention it was quite close?

I had to a bit of maneuvering on my own to avoid a collision.

Not as graceful as the shark, I was forced to grab its tail as it swam by, to avoid a nice smack.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bog Beginnings

Remember this post? Well it is time. So I did. Dig that is.

Step one, remove the turf. I wanted a trapezoid. Close enough. Note all the lawn in this image.

Step two, dig.

The dirt went here, to create a raised garden bed, next to Magnus's enclosure.

Note that this garden bed and Magnus's enclosure both continue the theme started with the Mini-Meadow, eliminating lawn and creating habitat.

Step three, four, five, six ... lots of digging.

Deeper and deeper.

The rest of the dirt went here:

This is the view out of the new sliding glass doors that have replaced a wall in our living room.  The dirt covers cardboard. The cardboard covers the turf. This blocks the light and kills the vegetation, while at the same time adding nutrients to the soil. The next step is to add a layer of compost. This layering technique is referred to as "lasagna gardening". This fall we'll transplant many of the native plants from around our yard, along with a few donations from friends and purchases from local native nurseries, and the lawn I noted in the first image above will become gardens. Another variation on the  habitat theme.

But there was still a bit more digging ...

Image Courtesy Patty Rehn
The hole is complete.  Two plus feet, plenty of space for roots and deep enough to keep from freezing. Next step is to fill it up.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Snake

Once upon a time I was the president of the Burlington County Natural Sciences Club. While I no longer hold that august office I still regularly attend meetings. Our September 2016 program was on the reptiles and amphibians of the NJ Pine Barrens, delivered by Robert Zappalorti of Herpetological Associates.

In the question and answer period I asked how to make our yard more snake friendly. Snakes are in decline due to habitat loss, the increase in roads and traffic (they like to warm up on the black top) and because too many people fear and kill snakes. But we have plenty of mice living in our garage and our out buildings. I even found one living in our grill when I opened it this spring. And while I don't begrudge mice a living, they, like deer, can be a problem if left unchecked.

And snakes find mice rather yummy.

So this past Sunday morning I spent some time doing what I could to make the yard snake friendly. Basically it was to provide hiding places about the yard.

It seems to have worked.

I spotted this Black Rat Snake as I was rolling the wheel barrow back to the quonset hut.

It was sunning on a mound in a copse of trees behind our back garden. I called to Patty and she brought out the camera. By then it had made its way to the back of the mound.

It was Patty who re-spotted it, slithering through the vegetation.

I was able to position the camera and capture these shots as it emerged into the open.

It was a big snake, perhaps four or even five feet long.

My lens was not wide enough to fit it all in one shot.

And I would not get the chance to move back. As it found this hole, perhaps a chipmunk burrow, and headed on in.


Monday, September 12, 2016

The Fish

I first saw it, at least I thought I did, a couple of months ago. Briefly, just the flash of a tail. And it was gone. Into the the lily pad thicket.

Or was it just hind foot of a bullfrog at an odd angle?

Either way, my curiosity was peaked. And I was on the lookout.

It was a fish. I saw it again last weekend.

It likes to sit still, out in the open, on the western side of the pond.

See it? Me neither. And bigafying doesn't help. But it is there.

Until, of course, a camera finds it. Then it's gone. Back under the lily pads.

This is the only shot I was able to get of it.

Some type of sunfish? Patty remembers Dennis, the prior owner of our home, saying he threw a couple of sunnies in the pond, but I do not recall this (perhaps I was not part of that conversation).

If you know what it species it is please leave a note in the comments. And I'll keep trying to get a better picture.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

While some caterpillars like to eat apples, plums or watermelons, the monarch caterpillars in our yard like to eat the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) we planted in the mini-meadow.

You can see they have stripped these milkweeds bare. The caterpillars eat almost non-stop for 10-14 days.  Just a week ago I counted 10 caterpillars munching away.

But not to worry, these milkweeds are hardy.

They are already growing new leaves.

After the very hungry caterpillars have eaten their fill, they must find a sheltered place to make their chrysalises.  Never fear, these little eating machines know where to go.

They move from the swamp milkweed at one end of the meadow ...

... to the goldenrod (solidago sp.) at the other end of the meadow about 10 yards away.  For us that may not be far, but for those who inch their way along it is about ~ 360 inches.

But down the garden they march to make their temporary jeweled home.

Can you find the 2 chrysalises in the photo above?   (click the image to bigafy)

Here is one of them.  

What smart creatures, Goldenrod (solidago) is an important food source for monarch butterflies, and this Goldenrod is just starting to bloom. During the pupal stage the transformation from larva to butterfly is completed in about 14 days.

Once these butterflies emerge, they will begin an epic 4830 mile migration to the Oyamel fir tree forests in Michoacan, Mexico.

Fueled by goldenrod and other fall wildflowers. 


Thanks to Patty Rehn for guest blogging. All words and images copyright Patty Rehn.