Monday, June 29, 2015

Caterpillar Season - Update

Less than two weeks ago we had caterpillars.

Now we have ...

... Butterflies!

Black swallowtail butterflies to be precise.

We discovered the first two had emerged from their cocoons one morning when we awoke (you can see the cocoon below the wings above).

While this one is well on its way to flying off, its wings are not fully pumped out, as can be seen by the twisting of the "tails".

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
Here is another one still pumping its wings up ...

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
... and later out in our garden. All six of our caterpillars emerged as butterflies.

I'm continually amazed and astonished at this transformation of caterpillar to butterfly. Fascinating how the parts of the caterpillar are complete disassembled and then reassembled into a butterfly. Utterly astounding. And far beyond our technology. Perhaps setting a goal for the budding scientists and engineers of tomorrow ...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tiny Toad

While working in the garden Patty discovered this little guy.

The red warts on its back, several grouped together in each black spot, give it away as a fowler's toad.

Adult toads can be up to 3.75 inches (~9.5 cm) in length.

The babies are a bit smaller (the coin is 0.705 in/1.79 cm in diameter). Like I said, tiny.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Aurora ...

... or light pollution?

On June 22nd a CME hit Earth's magnetic field and triggered a geomagnetic storm, with auroras seen as far south as New Mexico, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

I set my alarm for midnight and went out to take a look. There was a diffuse glow to the north, with no color to the naked eye. I set my camera on a tripod and took a series of third second exposures of which the above image is representative.

We do have a military base north of us so this could very well be light pollution. But maybe I saw some aurora. And that would be pretty cool.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Caterpillar Season

Hi Caterpillar Fans,

I was busy this morning with my camera.

This first picture is of one of the back swallowtail caterpillars I am rearing in my living room.  : )  It think it is in its 4th and final instar.   It will gorge on plants from the carrot family for 10 - 30 days. Here it is eating the stem of a dill plant.

After gorging itself, it will expel its waste and then go in search of the underside of a suitable branch or twig to affix itself to in order to pupate.  You can see the silk threads that attach it to the twig.  

Also notice the spots or eyes on each of its sections (click any image to bigafy it).

It takes about a day for the caterpillar to go from the above photo to this photo.  Notice the eyes on the now hard pupa.  According to wikipedia, the pupal stage lasts about 18 days….  

You will have to stay tuned to see if the metamorphosis was successful.

There are 5 caterpillars on this dill plant.  You can only see 4 presently.

This is what 6 caterpillars did to another of my dill plants.  A few days ago it looked like the above plant.  You can see there is one caterpillar left on this plant.  i am waiting for it find its pupal branch.  

Look for me and them in 18 days!!!


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

Mini Meadow

It's growing. In more ways than one.

It is much bigger. The original plot as highlighted in this post was 95 square feet. It is now approximately six times that size.

Compare this:

To this:

And note the position of the weeping cherry tree in the front right corner. That was a lot of digging. And a lot of sweating. Done in under two weeks.

And the plants are settling in nicely. Some purchased, some gifts. Some we grew from seed, (again store bought and gifted). Some we transplanted from around our property. And some we are awaiting delivery of.

We can still use more ...

And we've started a Micro-Meadow in our side yard.

An small island anchored by one of our winterberry hollies. Eventually we want to turn most of this side yard into a wildlife garden.  And replace those small windows with great picture windows so we can enjoy the view.

If you have a spot in your yard that you only visit when you mow, why not create a small wildlife friendly garden?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Goldilocks Bird

This past Memorial Day weekend we took a quick trip to find a bird.

It is a rare bird, although not the rarest I've seen (a topic for another day).

The Kirkland's Warbler.

Today, thanks to an active recovery program, there are 2000 breeding pairs.

One of the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, in 1987 there were but 187 breeding pairs.

This species is very particular about it's breeding habit. It needs pine forest. The trees need to be tall but not too tall. The area needs to be large, 160 or more acres. The spacing between the trees just right, dense. Almost the entire breeding area is in north - central Michigan. We saw these in Grayling, MI.

They were not hard to find. We met at Hartwick Pines State Park, where our guide Kara, after a short video about the bird and its habitat needs, led us on a car pool to an area in the Grayling State Forest, where habitat is maintained for the birds. Before I could get my camera on my tripod we had the bird. We heard it singing as soon as we got out of the car.

When we got to the visitors center at the state park we found two fellow members of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Society, Phil and Bonnie Witmer, already there. This happens to Patty all the time. We went to Hawaii and meet a friend of Patty's. We go to Honduras and meet someone who lives down the street from Patty. We go to Utah and meet someone who works with Patty's sister. We go to Vermont and meet someone we met in Trinidad ... the list goes on ...

Like the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, our neck of the woods, the Jack Pine forests of Michigan were shaped by fire. And the habitat needed by these warblers was created anew every 20 years or so. But humans don't like large wildfires. And that fire suppression had the unintended consequence of limiting breeding habitat.

Despite the success so far of bringing this bird back from the brink of extinction, there are no guarantees of continued success. The corporate shills in the US Congress continue to introduce legislation that would gut the Endangered Species Act. Selling out our future for short term gains. If you can please help support local, national, and international conservation organizations.

A good start would be Michigan Audubon, which is leading the fight to save this bird.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Feathers ...

.. are all that is left.

Seeds are not the only food available at our feeders.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Look, Up In The Sky ...

While sitting on the deck enjoying an adult beverage and watching the birds flying hither and yon about the yard, I saw a plane flying by. Not an unusual occurrence, as we do live by an naval air station and an air force base. And we are under the east coast flyway.

And when I raised my binoculars to view it, I saw contrail iridescence. And I quick dashed off to get my camera. Alas, when I got back it was too late. The contrail was pure white.

Bummed that I had missed it I  returned to my drink. And I waited. And I watched, hoping for another chance.

And I got it. As the image above of the colorful contrail attests.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bad Cat

The other morning I was going to get the mail when I spotted this fellow lying on the driveway.

It is a northern short tailed shrew. And clearly, it is not doing well. In fact it is dead.

And apparently not by natural causes.

Bridge Kitty
This is the prime suspect, Bridge Kitty, so named because she likes to sit on our bridge.

As you can see above.

We are not sure if this is a stray cat or someone's pet that is allowed to roam outdoors. Sadly for the shrew, and other neighborhood wildlife, it doesn't matter. Cats are predators. And by instinct they will attack and kill small mammals and birds. 

Cats belong indoors. If you have cats please keep your cat and the local wildlife safe by keeping them indoors. Thank you.


Our cat, Kitty, passed away not long after we moved here, from mouth cancer. Kitty was an indoor cat all her life and really seemed to like it here, away from all the noise in the city.

We miss her greatly.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Wait, They Can Jump!?!

This past Friday when I went out in the morning to feed the pond fish I came upon this scene on the deck.

An eastern tent caterpillar had met its demise at the fangs of a bold jumping spider.

Yep, they can jump. Be afraid. Very afraid ...


Thanks to the volunteers at BugGuide for ID'ing these two.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I mentioned our three-toed box turtle Magnus in a recent post.

This is her (or him?) in the small pond in our turtle enclosure. Three-toed box turtles like humid conditions, which is what we have here for sure, and to spend time in water.

Patty has had Magnus since August of 2003. For all but one of those years living in her garden in center city Philadelphia. Last June she, along with Patty and I, moved here. We think she likes it here.

In 2003 Patty was renting an apartment in the city to a fellow named Reese. And Reese rescued turtles. Patty found this out when she visited the property and found a room full of aquaria. With turtles. Lots of turtles. Turtles that were no doubt unwanted pets that had been released into an environment that most were not suited for.

Three-toed box turtles are not native to our area. They occur in the southeastern United States. But they can survive our central Atlantic winters. Magnus disappears underground each fall and reappears each spring, albeit a little earlier and later respectively than if she was on her home turf.

As noted in the "Larger Turtle" post, box turtles eat snails and slugs. And Patty wanted a way to control slugs in her city garden. So when Reece came upon the baby Magnus, a mere three and a bit inches long, he asked Patty if she would be willing to give Magnus a good home. And she has, for going on twelve years now. And there is no reason she won't be with us for many more.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Look, Up In the Sky

And you might see sundogs!

Take water vapor, freeze it, add sunlight and voila! But you have to look to see it.

It's anecdotal, but most times when I point them out people say they've never seen them before. Which is curious as they are fairly common.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Mini-Meadow Project

When we bought our home last summer, one of the nice things about it was the yard. Upon which the previous owners had maintained a very nice lawn. While pleasing to look at lawns do have some drawbacks. One was the maintenance regimen, including $200 a year in fertilizer, applied several times throughout the year. Other drawbacks include the need to water all that grass; mowing it, which not only requires time and effort, but also adds to global warning when using the lawn mower; and that is is basically a sterile environment, providing little benefit to the native wildlife.

From day one we knew we wanted to do something with the lawn, to turn it into a more wildlife friendly space with mostly native plants. Using native plants has a number of benefits. Not the least of which is that they have evolved in sync with the local environment. Thus they can survive with only the water provided by rain, and can weather (pun!) the normal variations in rainfall. Anyone following the news knows of the severe water problems in the American west. Saving water anywhere is a good idea.

Thus we have started the Mini-Meadow Project.

The goal is to replace the lawn along our driveway with a mostly native wildflower garden. The image above shows the state of the project after day one. I removed the turf from the area shown and have started to spread replacement top soil. Most of the day was spent chopping the turf into squares and then digging them up.

Here's a view up the driveway. This perspective sure makes it seem that there's a lot more work to be done then the prior image did! But just imagine wildflowers and the attendant butterflies and humming birds lining this corridor. Much more appealing than a boring old lawn.

An added visual benefit will be to help obscure our septic mound.

As part of the pre-sale inspection, the septic system was found to be defective, and a new drain field, in the form of a mound, was installed. Not the best look for a front yard. The height of the meadow plants will help the mound to "blend in". At least that's our hope.

But beyond the visual benefits are a variety of ecological ones.

I've already mentioned that native plants will need less water, as they are acclimated to the rainfall amounts of our area.

The area of lawn replaced by meadow will need not be mowed on a regular basis. It may need to be mowed annually to keep it from becoming a forest as part of regular succession. This will save on gas, wear and tear on both the lawnmower and yours truly, and cut down on our carbon emissions.

And it will provide food and shelter to a variety of wildlife. If you have any interest in wildlife you know doubt are aware of the immense loss of habitat as the human population grows. One problem is our preference for lawns. Lawns provide very little value to the local fauna. Rabbits and deer may enjoy munching on grass. But most pollinators find very little of use in a lawn. And thus pollinators are in crises.

Monarch butterflies have seen populations crash as milkweed patches become lawns and parking lots. One way to help is to create a Monarch Waystation. By planting milkweeds, which are needed as they are the only food for monarch caterpillars, and a variety of nectar plants as food for the adult monarchs, you can help offset the habitat loss. A 10' x 10' (3 x 3 meter) space is all that is needed to create an effective way station. And it need not be contiguous. We plan to have plenty of milkweed in our meadow (and elsewhere on our property) and have plenty of space to do so.

Bees are another pollinator in crises. Honeybees, which are not native, are used to pollinate many of the plant foods we eat. As honeybee colonies collapse native pollinators can help but only if they are available. Providing pollinator friendly gardens helps to ensure that they are.

For us, adding a mini-meadow only adds to the appeal of our home. We see plenty of benefits and no downsides. Most people could find the space to have their own mini-meadow as well. Give it a try. If nothing else you'll cut down on you water bill, have less lawn to mow (and seed and fertilize ...), and plenty of pretty flowers and butterflies throughout the summer.


Any of our plant geek friends reading this are welcome to stop by and check out our progress. Especially if you bring some plants along to add to the mix!