Saturday, September 22, 2018


We've not seen the Baby Bandidos in the past few days, although that doesn't mean they haven't been by. We do sleep while they are out and about. But we have seen Northern Raccoons. Including this one, which has visited our yard on multiple occasions.

We are maybe three meters or so about from each other, and it is interesting how the critters look but don't seem to see us. Maybe the window acts as a mirror? But that doesn't explain the screens, nor the sounds through said screens.

Somehow they just know that as long as we are inside we post no threat. But as soon as we open the doors they scamper away.

And how, I'm sure you're wondering, do we know that this one has visited before. Well, the picture above gives it away. This particular raccoon has no tail.

I wonder as to the story of how it was lost.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Closer to Home

The hurricane that clobbered the Carolinas decided to stay down south. So no, this post was not a harbinger of Florence.

That doesn't mean we escaped unscathed.

We have a compost pile just over this little bridge. And as I was taking some kitchen waste to add to the pile I was greeted with these views.

And no, we didn't hear it.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Unwanted Visitor

So after the raccoons came and left we put our some more food, this time cat food.

And we attracted a cat. Not what we were going for.


It seems there is a feral cat colony a couple hundred yards down the road from us, in an abandoned house. We've trapped several and taken them to the county animal shelter (we adopted one of our three cats from this same shelter).

Cats are a non-native species and are best kept, as with our three, indoors.* And while this one looks healthy, in general they have ticks, fleas, can spread diseases, and are somewhat malnourished.

Not a happy life.

* Our cats do get outdoor time, albeit in a controlled fashion. One of our cats did get outside recently and went missing for four days. We thought he as gone. But he was found and returned, after a trip to the vet to get many ticks removed, by a neighbor, who knew it must be someone's pet. This woman went door to door on our street to find us.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Baby Bandidos

Thursday evening, as we sat in the living room watching football, with for some reason commentary in Spanish, a family of Northern Raccoons stopped by.

I got the camera, Patty the spot light, and after turning the game, and any other lights, off I took some pictures.

Mama raccoon headed into the shadows. But these three stayed and gobbled down the peanut butter.

We put the peanut butter out for the flying squirrels. But opossums and raccoons enjoy it as well.

Raccoons are regular visitors. But this is the first time we've seen a mom bring her kids around. We'll be watching to see if she brings them back.


The came back the very next night. But there were only two Baby Bandidos. That is not good.

And yes, we had put out more food. They seemed to enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week

Yellow Garden Spider.

These large spiders are rather obvious in garden areas in late summer and early fall, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. In reality they've been there all along, just smaller. And the large ones, like the one pictured here, are females. The males are not as bright and only a quarter to a third of the size of the ladies.

Like the Praying (or is it "Preying"?) Mantis featured few weeks ago, these spiders will eat anything caught in their webs, including the aforementioned mantis. You want these in your garden for 'pest' control (in scare quotes as they'll eat both desirable and undesirable insects).

The prominent zigzag webbing is called a "stabilimenta" as it was originally thought to help stabilize the web. But the true use is not yet known. My favorite explanation is that it is a sign to ward off birds. The idea being the birds, which would have otherwise not seen the web, will see this and avoid flying through, and thus destroying, the web.

As we plant to attract pollinating insects, our gardens are teeming with bugs. And these spiders set up shop throughout to take advantage of the bounty. A sign methinks that we have a healthy yard.


You can find all of the Yard Critter of the Week posts listed here.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Friday, September 14, 2018

Uh Oh

I hope this is not a harbinger of Florence ...

It Seems I'm Not The Only One ...

... to notice the frogs.

Great Blue Heron

Tuesday I was working from our home office when a slight motion caught the corner of my eye. Looking up and out the window, maybe ten feet away, was a Great Blue Heron. Standing at the gate to our fish pond. It appeared to have ambled over from the frog pond garden.

Fish Pond

It noticed me just as I noticed it. And before I could bring up my phone to take a photo (it was that close) it turned back toward the frog pond and flew off. I was on a conference call and thus could not pursue. Once the call ended I grabbed the camera and went looking. As I stepped out onto the deck it flew off toward the state forest behind our place.

It had been roosting out over our back pond.

Back Pond
It seems nowhere is safe.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

They Grow Up So Fast ...

August 20th

September 12th

I hope they don't stop visiting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Frog Pond

Loyal readers know of our "War on Lawn", in which we are replacing a well manicured lawn with native gardens and wildlife habitat. (Not so loyal readers can click the link and easily catch up by reading the older posts. As we moved here in summer 2014 you've only four years of posts to read. Enjoy!)

To get gardening ideas and learn from a master, last September Patty and I visited the wildlife garden of Pat Sutton, has been tending her wildlife garden for 41 years!

Among the things we learned was the usefulness of small water features. Tucked in amongst the plants were several small pools like this one. As can be seen in the linked image, one way to create a small pond is to use a plastic tub sunk into the ground. 

And they are popular with the frogs. 

Earlier this spring we added a small pond in our Bird Feeder Garden. Rather than use a tub, I dug out a small hole, approximately two feet long by two feet wide by one foot deep and used some of the remaining lining from the Bog. It looked like this when done:

The plant is Pickerel-Weed, a native aquatic plant with nice violet-blue flowers. the branches in the water are provided so that should small critters fall in they have an exit ramp, something we learned on the aforementioned garden tour. Frogs also enjoy perching on them.

As I was home bound for the greater part of the summer, I noticed when things changed out in the garden. And one day I noticed a 'lump' on the gray log at the back of the pond. Sure enough, a binocular view proved it to be a small frog. So I took a picture (it's what I do).

You can see the frog center top of the above image (click the images to bigafy them). And if you look closely, you'll see two other frogs, one with its back to us on the black liner, center right; and the other facing us, perched on the diagonal sticks to the left of the greenish-white rock in the center of the image. 

Cool I thought. But as I watched, I noticed additional frogs were coming into view.

Look closely at the image above and you can find five frogs. The one on the gray log has moved, but the other two from the prior image are still there. There is another in profile to the left of the 'left' frog from the first image. And another, also in profile below the first image 'right' frog. The fifth is poking its head out far right and center. 

Scanning around I found a sixth frog, almost exactly centered in the image below. In profile, facing to the right, sitting on the gray rock. Despite the variations in color, upon closer inspection I determined that they are all Green Frogs.

Patty was out in the garden the next day and spotted seven of these hoppers. Very cool that our little pond is already a home for wildlife. 


Loyal readers, and non-loyal readers that have caught up by now, may recall that we have had seven species of frogs and toads visit our yard. So it is no surprise that we had frogs in the garden. What does surprise me is how quickly the pond was discovered and that such a small water feature supports so many. Although not quite as many as in Pat Sutton's garden pond (but her's has a 40 year head start!). 


You don't have to visit Pat Sutton's garden to benefit from her gardening knowledge (but you can, she has them annually and raises money for good causes). You can visit her website, Pat Sutton's Wildlife Garden, join her "Gardening Gang",  or attend one of her talks. All worthy of your time. Have fun!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week

Northern Waterthrush.

Patty spotted tail-bobbing in the crabapple tree. "We have a waterthrush", she called.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn

I came to see but it had moved.

We scanned the yard with our bins. "In the garden, under the fence", she had re-spotted it. I watched as she got the camera. "Where'd it go?" she asked.

"It's coming from behind the triple stump, on the path. You'll have a better view from the living room", I replied.  She quickly went to setup and started shooting as soon as it came into view.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn

We both remarked about how yellow it was, making identification easy. The similar Louisiana Waterthrush has a white breast, along with a few other differences.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn

The new lens was on the camera, and the bird got too close! Patty had to move back to continue shooting.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn

We watched as it picked up bug after bug, gobbling them down. Fueling up for the long fight south. Eventually it wandered off into the woods.

But not before giving us some great looks. Another good bird to add to the sofa list.


You can find all of the Yard Critter of the Week posts listed here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

My Work Has Been Published ...

... in a scientific journal.

The Journal of Experimental Biology to be specific.

Ok, so I wasn't one of the authors.

But check this out:

Image C is my mosquito biting snake image.

That you may recall from this blog post, More Death in the Pines. Which maybe where Ms. Wolfe, one of the authors, found it, and subsequently connected me to ask if she could use it.

I said yes. And now my work has been published ...

Lens Envy

All wildlife photographers are stricken with it one time or another. The need, the want, the desire for a longer focal length. Something to turn those spec birds into usable images.

I succumbed to it recently.

And took this shot.

A small mushroom of an un-identified species (mushroom ID is hard!).

If you look closely (go ahead and bigafy it!) you'll see a second mushroom above the first and inside the stump.

A pedestrian image for sure. But taken at a focal length of 600mm! I'm playing with the big boys now!

πŸ“·πŸ“· πŸŽ‚ πŸ“·πŸ“·

As a customer of B&H Photo I receive marketing emails, including the daily specials. And one such special caught my eye, a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens. The special part was that it was $250+ off the regular price, with extras. Making it less than 1/10th the cost of a Canon 600mm lens. And it was recently my birthday so ...

... Happy Birthday to Me!

While the mushroom was the first thing I shot, it's not the first image with the new lens to appear on the blog. The previous three posts were all shot with this lens. I think I'm gonna like it.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week

Broad-winged Hawk.

I've mentioned before the benefits of working form home, none the least of which is that I can work form home. And only recently have I been able to sit again.*

And as I was sitting at the desk in my home office I glanced out the window. And saw a this perched on the bat house.

Clearly not a bat.

Rather, a very wet hawk. But it was not obvious what species it was.

Possibilities included Red-tailed Hawk, the most common buteo in our area; Red-shouldered Hawk, which breeds in the woods around here; Broad-winged Hawk, which migrates through; and (what Patty was wishing for) Swainson's Hawk, a bird of the western US which occasionally wanders east.

Red-Tailed was ruled out based on the the dark band on the breast being too high, and the lack of a red tail. Swainson's was as well because as much as we wanted it to be a rare visitor, the bird just didn't match our field guides or online images.

So that left Red-shouldered and Broad-winged. We were leaning toward the former as we knew we had those hawks in our woods.

Confounding the issue was that field guides don't show wet birds. And that my images were shot through screens, which blur the details a bit. I tried to get screen-free images, but as soon as I stepped outside the bird flew (which is how I confirmed that lack of a red tail).

Fortunately, the bird returned later in the day.

A bit dryer this time. And perched where I could get a good shot of the tail, albeit still through a screen (and it again flew when I stepped outside; I even tried going out the front door and walking slowly around to the back to no avail).

And it is the tail that clinched the ID. A Broad-winged Hawk has broad black and white tail bands, while the Red-Shouldered Hawk has thin bands.

A very cool yard bird!


You can find all of the Yard Critter of the Week posts listed here.

Thanks to Patty  Rehn, Sandra Keller, and Martin Dellwo for help with ID'ing this bird. Any errors are mine alone.


* I injured my back in mid July, and common things we take for granted, like walking and sitting, have been problematic for a while now. As I like to say, I'm on the road to recovery. Alas it is a dirt road with plenty of potholes.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Snake on the Rocks

Sitting at my desk I spied a black line crossing the stones around our fish pond. It took a moment until I sorted out what I was seeing. At first I thought it was a hose, but we don't have any black hoses. Then it clicked.

A snake!

A Black Rat Snake. And for those keeping score at home this is the fourth species I've seen in the yard in at the past week.

By the time I grabbed my camera it had crossed the stones and was up against the wall. I fired off a few shots and waited.

It did not want to stay on the stones, but it was also wary of me. So I moved off and waited. Eventually it started across the yard.

The proverbial snake in the grass.

It slithered on by and off into woods. (And I headed back into the air-conditioned house.)

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Yard Critter of the Week

Northern Black Racer.

My sister and her family, along with my parents, visited us for dinner last week. And as I was tidying up the next morning, putting lawn chairs away, I heard a rustling in the leaves under a tree by Magnus's enclosure.

So I investigated.

It took me awhile, but I eventually spotted a snake. A Northern Black Racer snake.

This one.

As you can see, it is behind leaves and twigs, making it hard to see, to say nothing of photographing. And it was content to move about under the tree vanishing from sight only to appear again in the same spot. I don't know if it was wary of me or just hunting.

As I watched as it started digging about in the leaves. And then it moved off further under the tree.

It had found something.

A large caterpillar which would later be identified as a Pandorus Sphinx Moth caterpillar. I watched the snake maneuver and swallow its prey.

After which it decided it had enough of me, so it seemed, and decided to head for the gardens.

Doing so meant crossing in front of the garage. First behind some lumber. And then out in the open.

After which it disappeared into the foliage of the back garden.


I had actually seen the snake the day before, in that same garden area, startling it while it was sunning itself on the garden walk. And it quickly slithered away. That was the first snake of a three snake morning. I also saw our resident Northern Water Snake out by the back pond. And an small Eastern Garter Snake in our side garden rounded out the trio. A very cool way to start the day.

You can find all of the Yard Critter of the Week posts listed here.


Thanks to John Becker & Alex Bernzweig for confirming my snake ID. 
And to John Maxwell for ID'ing the caterpillar.

Friday, August 31, 2018


All we are saying, is give Bees a chance!
- with apologies to John Lennon

Pretty much anyone with an interest in the natural world is aware that bees, both native and honey, are in decline.* Unlike many of our current environmental problems, this is one for which just about everyone can easily do something meaningful toward a solution. At a minimum, just plant some native flowers. And who doesn't like flowers?

Creating a garden of native plants will add beauty to a yard while supporting many species of pollinators, bees included. Followers of this blog know of our "War on Lawn", a multi-year effort to replace grass with gardens, providing habit for many species of wildlife, a key part of which is not using chemicals, especially pesticides.

Last year we decided to try our hand at beekeeping. Sadly, like many first time bee keepers, we were not successful. Honey Bees, while very important agricultural pollinators, have also been found to compete with native bees (although it is far from clear as to the impact of such competition). Thus, after some serious deliberation, we decided not to try again this year (but see below for a surprise ending).

Another way to support native bees is to install bee houses about one's yard. You may recall the one above from this Yard Critter of the Week post. Below is another store bought bee house.

You can easily create your own bee houses. Here are some Patty made this summer.

When were first moved here we had a number of trees removed, and for some we asked that the stumps be left standing. If you look closely at this stump, or at the close up image below, you'll notice holes. Lots of holes. Patty drilled these, using several different sized bits, creating an "apartment tower" for bees, wasps, and other insects.

Another option, should you not have any stumps available, is to drill holes in logs, as shown below.

Of course, you don't need a stump to hold them, a wooden frame or even just a simple log pile work just as well. As we live in a wooded area we have plenty of small logs, but if you don't you can use hollow plant stems, as Patty did to fill the bottom of the "V" in the stump, as you can see below.

Hollow stems can also be used to make a bee house similar to the teardrop shaped one in the second image in this post. Our stems are from the plants in our garden. Just leaving the dead stems up through the fall and winter into spring, instead of removing them at the end of the growing season, will provide greatly needed breeding spaces.

As noted above, almost anyone can add plants and bee houses, even if it is just some potted plants on a deck or balcony and a small bee house mounted on a fence post or tree (there are even table top models).


Above I mentioned a surprise ending to our Honey Bee endeavors. A couple of years ago, when we discovered that we had Flying Squirrels in our woods, we built and installed a Flying Squirrel house.

While doing some recent tree trimming, Patty noticed bees buzzing about her. And she followed them back to the Flying Squirrel house.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
It seems that the Honey Bees had taken up residence. At first, I thought they were just using the box as a temporary way station as the swarm searched for a new permanent home. It seems I was incorrect in that assumption ...

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
... if you look closely you can see honey comb inside the box. It seems these bees are here to stay.

And it seems the workers are busy in the garden.


* If you're not aware or want to read more you can look here, here, and here.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Rainy Day Racoon

We've had a lot of rain of late.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
And this Northern Raccoon has had enough already!

Image courtesy Patty Rehn
You can almost hear it crying, "What's with all this rain!"


The raccoon is noshing on some old bird food we had dumped in the yard. Turkeys enjoyed it too.