Archive for March, 2012

Hang Out To Dry

From a distance this Blanchard's cricket frog looked like it was hung out to dry.

Buffy and I started on the trail around Jones Lake (Saline County Conservation Area). The sky was vivid blue with an occasional puffy cloud. A pair of wood ducks swam out in the middle of the lake, and a pair of geese stayed close to us, honking as they swam.

A small frog jumped into an area of sticks and honeysuckle. “Hang out to dry,” immediately came to mind because of how the frog’s postition looked from my angle. I knew if I moved closer, it would jump. Frogs usually aren’t cooperative. I know from past experience to take pictures, then ease a little closer, then take more pictures, etc. (Later when I had the picture in computer I saw that the frog’s hind legs were supported.) It’s position sure looked funny from my perspective.

Buffy and I walked on. Occasionally a larger frog jumped from the bank into the water. A snake slipped into the water. Its head poked up by a plant. It saw me and slipped back in. Minnows caused little ripples near the shore. None of the 3 butterflies I saw ever landed. Another small frog jumped (picture below). This one was smaller and quite difficult to see, much less locate with my camera. There’s no finding these little ones unless they jump.

Unidentified frog

New crawdad mound

Crawdads had been busy after last night’s storm. This and another mound I found  earlier were shiny-wet looking. This is the first I’ve seen that showed how the mound was made with balls of mud. The closed top will keep out any more rain.

One time I was in the backyard after a strong storm had passed. Water filled a crawdad hole to within a couple inches of the top. A small piece of bark floated in it. The crawdid (which I couldn’t see) used one of its antennae to slowly push the bark back and forth, playing with it.

Seed capsules of seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia)

These seedbox capsules (left) have probably been used in designs for trinket boxes. Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia) grows in wet areas and has yellow flowers that bloom June through August.

Canada geese

The Canada geese decided not to follow us any more. Buffy and I headed back to truck. We still had more things to find. An outing isn’t over until we’re home.

Bang’s Bloodroot

Bloodroot flowers last one day.

Only 5 bloodroots bloomed on March 13 when I started my blog on Yard Bloomers. Today, March 17, I counted 49 plants! A few were young ones that weren’t going to bloom, and many had already bloomed. The flowers only last one day.

False rue anenome also bloomed then. Now spring beauties, false rue anenome, cut-leaved toothworts and 1 purple trillium bloom.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) blooms March into April in rich moist woods. The flower opens before the rolled-up leaf uncurls. The leaves will continue growing up to 8 inches across and then wilt in mid summer.

I have a sentimental attachment to the wildflowers in this garden. The garden is a wedge shape with the narrow end being rounded. A big hackberry tree grows on the west side of the garden and a pine on the east. A sweet gum grows to the south 15 feet or so from the garden. The sweet gum and the hackberry affected the pine’s growth to where it looks like had about half of it was cut off. Only 4 spindly limbs grow on the “bare” side over the garden.

At least 25 years ago, Bang, my high school girl scout leader, wanted me to come and dig all the wildflowers I wanted from beside her house. I have no idea how long she’d had that garden. Her health was fading. She wanted someone who would appreciate the wildflowers to have them, rather than another landowner later on.

One story Bang used to tell was how she and her husband (they didn’t have any kids) would take their camper every year and camp from the day after Christmas until New Years. One time they opened the camper door to find it had snowed. They suited up, stepped out of the camper and  hiked most of the day. I always thought that sounded like such a special tradition.

I was Bang’s entertainment when she was housebound with emphysema. I’d go by and tell her about my outings. Near the end, she wanted an outing down to my rural property. My husband went along “just in case.”  She sat in the front seat of my Blazer. She was on the edge of her seat when we topped the hill that gave a view across a short wooded hill and then up a steep one. We had to keep telling Ron to slow down to a crawl. She didn’t want to miss a thing. He parked in camp where she had a good view of the grassy barrens, and then he walked away. I opened the door and Bang turned in the seat. I brought several flowers for her to see. I then walked on down the trail for a short time so she could be alone. We probably stayed 15 minutes at the most. She was so excited and getting overly tired.

For so many years I thought how sad that had to have been for her to know it would be her last nature outing. I also remembered the look of peace and of excitement on her face. I finally realized that it wasn’t sad, because she was able to experience nature one last time in a special place and on such a beautiful day.  She could also walk through those memories anytime she wanted. I feel honored and so grateful to have given her such a gift … and for my being a part of it too.

I still miss her … and do so enjoy watching her flowers bloom through the season.

Early Yard Bloomers

Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

There was something wrong with this picture … I was picking up sticks in the yard so we can mow … in the middle of March. The weatherman said this morning that our high on this day last year was 40, and the expected high for today to reach 80. Eighty would break the record. The clear sky started slowly clouding after noon. A light breeze gradually increased to make the sunny day more comfortable. It didn’t take long for me to switch from picking up sticks to taking pictures of all the flowers blooming in the yard. Most would be what most considered “weeds.” I, on the other hand, enjoy them because they’re blooming and show a changing in the seasons.

My list didn’t include the elm and box elder trees in bloom.  It didn’t include the spring beauties, cut-leaved toothwort, bloodroot or false rue anemone in my spring wildflower garden. Yellow butterflies flew around the backyard and birds sang. The warm weather is forecast on into next week. Wonder what else I’ll find or see during our early spring?

Purple dead nettle (Lamium amplexicaule

Johnny-jump-up (Viola rafinesquii)

Least bluets (Houstonia minima)

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

Small-flowered crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus)

Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris)

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

Indian strawberry (Duchesnia indica)

Slender Speedwell (Duchesnia indica)

Spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa)

Common chickweed (Stellaria media)

Cut-leaved Toothwort

One of our early wildflowers

Take a short hike this afternoon … or work in the yard? No hard decision there. Hikes usually win and did today. I can always work in the yard tomorrow. The afternoon temperature was at 74, with strong south winds and a cloudless sky. Buffy and I went back to the small creek we’ve visited often lately.

A profusion of white (which will continue to increase) showed from a distance as I parked the truck. Rain from last night had the creek flowing at a pleasing rate. Flowers “danced” in the wind, reminding me of a children’s picture book titled Dancing the Breeze. In it the father and his daughter imitate flowers blowing in the wind. It won’t be long before there will be a lot of “dancing” going on with such an early spring.

All the white was a combination of spring beauties and cut-leaved toothworts. (See earlier blog about spring beauties) Cut-leaved toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) is one of our earliest wildflowers. The plants grow 8 to 15 inches tall in moist rich woods. They have 3 leaves, each divided into 3 narrow, sharply-toothed segments. The leaf in the upper left of the picture clearly shows one leaf.

Cut-leaved toothwort is also the host plant for falcate orangetip butterflies. It is a common woodland butterfly in the spring throughout the eastern U.S. Both the male and female are white above; the male has an orange tip on the top of its forewing. Both have greenish-brown mottling underneath on the hindwing. They have a 1 3/8 – 1 1/2 inch wingspan. In our area (southern Illinois) they lay their eggs on cresses and the toothwort.

I wonder what might live in these trees.

Every time I pass these trees, I think how much fun they would be to have in my yard, and how much fun kids could have playing there. It’s difficult to tell if they’re one or two trees. The roots seem to combine between them, and there’s a cavity runs the whole length underneath. There are even more cavities tucked in several places. I’d have stayed and played, but someone had to cook supper.

… and then a male falcate orangetip flew around in the woods, looking for a female. Males emerge before females do. This was my first of the year. He never landed for pictures. Soon they will be common too.

Nesting Bald Eagles

Male perched close, protecting its nest.

Buffy and I took a morning drive to check on a pair of nesting bald eagles. The morning was sunny, with light wind and temperature in low 50’s. I saw the male eagle perched in a tree before I even turned off the highway. It was perched in a row of trees along a fence line perpendicular to the highway. The nest was across a blacktop road further back from where male was perched. The female’s white head was just above the top of the nest.

I only go there about every 2 weeks or so because I don’t want to stress the eagles. I know there must be many others interested in them too.

A strong storm last year took down the right trunk of the cottonwood tree and the nest with it (see picture below). The young didn’t survive. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the pair had built a nest in the remaining trunk.

Female incubating

I vividly remember the first eagle I ever saw. It was near its nest too. My youngest daughter and I were on a Christmas bird count in the closed area of a refuge. We even got to eat lunch there and watch the eagles across the inlet. Eagles numbers were low back then.

Bald eagles get their white head and tail when they’re 3-4 years old. They mate for life and can live to 30 years in the wild. Their diet consists of fish, small mammals, especially rabbits, waterfowl, and carrion. They build their nest 30-60 feet high in the fork of a tree. She lays 1-3 bluish-white eggs (usually 2). The eggs are incubated for 34-36 days. Eagles are semi-altricial. Altricial means the eaglet is incapable of moving on its own after hatching. The young take their first flight when they’e between 10-13 weeks old.

The right trunk, with nest, went down in storm last year

I found out in my research that eagles have hatching asynchrony, meaning they begin incubating when the first egg is laid. This results in a size difference between the first and last to hatch. I found a barred owl nest years ago in the cavity of a dead tree. I watched the 4 owlets taking turns perching on a horizontal ledge of the nesting cavity. There was considerable size difference between the youngest and oldest. The youngest lacked the balance of the older ones, and had to keep grabbing the side of the opening, with its beak to stabilize itself.

Norfolk Botanical Gardens in Norfolk, VA has a website — www.wvec.com/eagle/cam.  They have 3 video cams set up close to monitor to nesting activities. You can watch the eagles in real time. You can ask questions on their open chat, and view slide shows of previous days and last year.

And if all goes well with the nesting this season, I’ll be following this pair in my blogs.

Stone People

What a character! 1 1/2 inches wide.

Besides having tree friends, I also have stone people. I keep these 3 on the window sill over the kitchen sink. It’s hard not to smile or give a little giggle at the sight of them. I might even carry on a short conversation with them if I don’t have an audience.

I do like rocks and have them scattered around inside the house. They are scattered about in the yard, and used for paths and edgings for my gardens. Cairns made from them add a zen-like quality, especiallythe 3 near the water garden. Other rocks wait to be arranged in their place of prominence. I even have almost 40 of what I call my “prehistorics.” They look like what the heads of prehistoric animals could actually have looked like.

My husband says “You’re going to change the rotation of the earth with all these rocks.” I respond with, “That might not be a bad thing.”

This one measures 3/4" wide.

"Say cheese." (This one measures 5 inches wide.)

The Grandmother Tree

My best tree friend

I’d like to introduce you to the Grandmother Tree, my first and best tree friend. The sugar maple is close to the creek and to the trail that crosses the ravine here at my property. Through the years, I’ve sat leaning against it and journaled. I’ve seen it in fog, rain, mounded with snow and coated with ice. I’ve seen it budding in the spring and later wearing the varied colors of fall. One fall it even snowed when the colors had just reached their peak!

I’ve seen it silhouetted by the full moon and watched the moon climb among its branches. I’ve drawn it countless times by moonlight (with no flashlight). One winter night with a full moon, my youngest son and I laid at the base with our heads near the trunk. The Grandmother tree looked like a giant spider standing over us. We laid there and made up stories.

The bluff is behind me from where I sit by the tree. It runs north and south on the west side of the ravine. There’s a perfect depression for sitting where the south end of the bluff disappears into the hill. I call it “my rock.” It offers me a higher vantage point for viewing the Grandmother Tree and the ravine. I’ve always wondered what might den in the cavity at the top of it, or if it’s too open to be used for a den. One time a sleeping raccoon had its tail hanging out the hole on the side just down from the top cavity. It didn’t look hidden to me.

I end my memory walk.

All this changed last summer in a strong storm when lightning struck and downed the Grandmother Tree. It had been leaning a little more than usual. I was aware of the inevitable; I just didn’t expect it end this way, or so soon. It’s been quite a loss, since I have 30 or so years of memories with the tree.

I sit on the trunk now. The sky’s cloudy. The ravine blocks most of the west wind, and the healthy flow in the creek overpowers most other sounds. The Grandmother tree took another tree down with it, and they both lay across the creek. The creek banks are high enough that neither tree lays in the creek bed.

I now realize that I have years to watch the next stage in the tree’s existence. Mosses grow in crevices in the bark of the limbs.Tiny lichens grow on the bark. Irregular shapes of a flat black fungus are scattered on the sides and top of the whole trunk. I will now watch for signs of wildlife seeking shelter, places to nest and maybe caching food. Two small cavities where limbs fell long ago, now hold water. A squirrel left acorn pieces in a small depression between them. There will probably be mushrooms, more kinds of lichens, and who knows what.

Now I’ll have the thrill of discovery and more memories.