Isn't she sweet? This little girl lives at the barn across the road from us. I named this tortoiseshell 'Penny-Kitty' because she reminds me of 'Penny,' a cat my friend Mar had for 17 years. The day I took this photo it was relatively cool outside, but our driveway was warm from the sun. Penny-Kitty spent time lounging in our driveway. I imagine the warm asphalt felt kind of like a heating pad. She comes over just about every day to visit us. And she's a talker! We enjoy her visits because she often goes home with a companion. A mouse in Penny-Kitty's mouth is a mouse not building a nest in our garage.
As much as I dislike orange ditch lilies, they exuberantly grow on our land across the road. For some odd reason Ange always mows around them. He thinks they look pretty in the distance. Whatever! We had to laugh when we saw a deer munching away at them recently. I have decided in addition to erosion control, ditch lilies do serve a purpose after all. They are decoys for the hybrid daylilies.
"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you just might find, you get what you need." - Jagger/Richards
Last weekend (February 18-19) was, yet again, unseasonably warm in Wisconsin -- over 60 degrees! This gave me an opportunity to check out all my plants and see how they fared over the winter. As I walked around the yard, I had to tread carefully to avoid deer droppings. Gross!
After some online reading regarding how to collect and dispose of the droppings before mowing season starts, I learned that deer feces can carry dangerous strains of E.coli. So, worse than finding droppings in your yard or flower garden would be finding them in your vegetable garden, or say strawberry patch. Food-related outbreaks of E.coli have definitely been linked to deer droppings. (As if the deer ticks aren't bad enough!)
Deer waste should be handled carefully. Try to remove as many droppings as possible, using a shovel to bury it elsewhere, and be sure to disinfect your shovel before you use it for any other tasks.
It's hard to believe this cute little fawn can cause such dire problems. I'm getting out the deer deterrent, and ALWAYS wearing gloves!
Fawn photo from pixabay.com Creative Commons-public domain photo.
Here's a critter I always prefer to see outside instead of inside! I recently read an article about winter mice that referred to them as "tender perennials." (I had never thought of them in quite that way...) Since mice don't hibernate in the winter, they are very active outside, searching for just about anything they can find to eat. The snow cover helps them stay warm when the temperature drops, so they tunnel under the snow and make nests of leaves, animal fur and shredded foliage. After the snow we had last Tuesday, teeny mice tunnels were clearly visible in our yard.
Predators closely watch those tunnels. While working by the kitchen sink one morning I was witness to a large red-tailed hawk that swooped down and snatched a mouse from underneath the snow. The hawk soared upward with the tiny mouse squirming in its claws. A total National Geographic moment. It happened so fast I could hardly believe it!
To deter mice from making nests around the perimeter of our house we removed all of our evergreen plants. In the fall, we also trim any dead plant foliage down to about an inch or two away from the ground and compost all the remains. This really helps, and it seems to keep the bunny nests away, too.
Inside the house is another story. Ever since our cat of 17 years (Small Fry) passed on we can't help but feel at a disadvantage when it comes to mice. 'The Fry' was our vigilant sentry who would alert us immediately if she sensed any mouse activity. No mice so far; fingers crossed.
Mouse photo from creative commons.org; taken by George Shuklin and posted by Duncan Hull
Mouse tunnel photo was taken in our yard last week
Yesterday, as I plugged my laptop into the outlet by our dining room window, I was startled to see this little stinker foraging for food up close and personal. As you can see, the deer aren't shy around here! But the good news is that although she has been eating foliage around the tomato cage, she hasn't bothered the new daylily planting inside the tomato cage. And that makes me happy, despite the fact that my flower beds look like 'tomato cage-land' during the winter. Ya just do what cha gotta do!
One good thing about this time of year...the ticks are finally gone! Deer and wood ticks are very prevalent in western Wisconsin. If you spend any amount of time outside, chances are you've had them. Gardening as I do, I've had lots of ticks. Even a windy day can be problematic at my house. I envy blondes for the simple reason that ticks must be so much easier to find in light-colored hair -- it's not at all about the fun!
I can usually deal with ticks, but what really threw me into a tailspin last June was when, quite by chance, I found a minuscule deer tick embedded inside of my ear canal. Ick! I could just imagine it burrowing into my brain if I hadn't found it. The trick was successful removal without it falling even further into my ear to who knows where. Anyway, it's gone, and I lived to tell the tale.
I know I could use DEET way more often than I do, but I'm not super fond of spraying chemicals on myself. Usually, I spray it on my clothes only. Over the summer I tested out some of the DEET-free products, essential oils, and lemon eucalyptus organics. The jury is still out, but I will do further testing next year.
So if you ever see someone outside gardening, all wrapped up like a mummy, it just might be me. Take that, ticks!
Mummy clipart from Creative Commons focaclipart.wordpress.com
It seems like there has been some kind of weird turkey population explosion and they've all ended up in our yard. They lounge on our driveway, in my daylily gardens, on our back steps, and in general, pretty much wherever they want to! They are huge, noisy, and have a whole bunch of babies. After their visit, we (more often than not) have to hose off the driveway for obvious reasons. Yuck!
I figured there had to be some sure-fire way to deter these birds from hanging in our yard. From the websites I visited, the most popular deterrent seems to be simply spraying them with a garden hose or purchasing a motion sensor water sprayer. Can their brain even remember this? The automatic hydro-sprayer costs about $60. One site suggested chasing the turkeys with a broom and "encouraging" them to go away. You can even purchase a propane cannon for over $200 - I'm getting visions of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.
Funny part is, it seems that holding a camera must be just as good a deterrent as a garden hose, because whenever I try to take a photo of said turkeys (and I have tried on numerous occasions), they scatter or fly away quicker than I can blink. Yes, these huge things actually fly too! And it's not pretty.
So here is a photo of the remaining wet turkey tracks on our driveway. The turkeys have vanished...for now anyway.
We have a new inhabitant in our backyard that lives on the daylily Butter Pecan. She is an "Argiope Aurantia" (pronounced ahr-JY-oh-pee aw-RAN-shee-uh) or as she is more commonly known -- black and yellow garden spider. She measures about 1 inch and seems to be growing larger as each day passes. This is probably due to the fact that Ange has been feeding her daily with grasshoppers and Japanese beetles that he catches and places in her web. Her bite paralyzes the prey when they are caught in her web. The venom also digests the prey's body contents in order for the spider to ingest. Once the insects are in her web she usually has them wrapped up in a cocoon within minutes! It has been fascinating to watch her in action.
This type of spider is commonly found in gardens, orchards, forest edges, old fields, and farms. An annual species, males die not too long after mating and females usually die off towards the end of the fall, or early winter. Females typically lay 3 or 4 egg sacs, roughly 7-15 days apart. Each sac can contain 400 to 1,200 yellowish eggs, sometimes even more. Spiderlings hatch within the egg sac in late autumn and overwinter inside the protective, insulated sac, emerging the following spring.
These spiders are beneficial to our environment because they eat so many insects. They are generally harmless to humans, but will bite if provoked. Supposedly their bite is much like a bee sting. But...after learning that *one* of spidey's egg sacs may contain up to 1,200 baby spider eggs, I'm not too keen on that thought! We may need to explore relocation.
This photo was taken only minutes after Ange placed a grasshopper in the spider's web.
Spider into from: http://www.spiders.us/species/filter/wisconsin/
Earlier last week, Ange and I ended up driving very slowly down a dead-end country road because we were engulfed in a dragonfly swarm! Hundreds of them were in the swarm, and there were numerous swarms. They were flying up-close, right alongside us, next to the car windshield and windows! We have never experienced anything quite like that before and it was amazing.
A few days later, look what landed on our driveway! This got me thinking about dragonflies.
Here's what I learned:
Facts about dragonflies from smithsonianmag.com and Scientific American
This little guy hangs out with me while I garden. He relaxes in the bark mulch while I work, watches me, talks to me, and stalks grasshoppers. I don't even know his name, but I call him "Canny-Kitty" because he reminds me of a black cat I had when I was in college that I named "Canny." He lives at the farm across the road, but I like it very much when he visits and patrols our perimeters. There are a ton of field mice around here and when the mice are not inhabiting our garage, I'm happy.
When Canny-Kitty is not in my garden, I have seen him sitting/climbing up in trees and and on top of dirt piles. He also has a favorite tree stump to sit on and watch everything go on around him. He's a definite free spirit, and I'm glad he chooses to spend some of his time with me.
Look closely at what I found while weeding last Sunday -- bunny babies in their nest, crammed into a hole under my balloon flowers. I try to avoid having bunny holes in my garden, but apparently I missed this one! I'll try to rehab my balloon flower after the babies move out. In reality, I'm just waiting until the bunnies are old enough to eat my plants, but awwww...they're so cute right now. Although they hardly move, their tiny noses wiggle non-stop.
Here's what I learned: Eastern cottontails are preyed on by more species than almost any other animal. Their prolific fertility ensures their survival as a species. The mom digs a nest three or four inches deep and about eight inches across in the dirt. It is lined with mouthfuls of soft, dead grass mixed with hair from the mother's breast. A covering of grass and hair is used to hide the nest and keep the young warm and dry. Gestation is 28 to 30 days, with 4-6 young born per litter. Rabbits often have three litters per year.
The young are born blind and without fur, but within a week their eyes are open and by the second week their fur has grown in. If you find a rabbit nest do not disturb the young or the nest. The female only visits the nest early in the morning and then again in the evening, which gives the impression that the babies have been abandoned. Rabbit mothers nurse their babies for approximately 5 minutes a day. Young rabbits develop rapidly and leave the nest when they are about three weeks old.
To encourage rabbits to leave your yard you can use habitat modification - remove brush piles, weed patches, stone piles, and other debris and keep the grass cut short. (Note to self)
Eastern cottontail info is from the WI DNR website and the Illinois DNR website
Update: Sometime in the last few days the babies left their nest. I'll no doubt see them around.
I was cleaning out an old box of photos and came upon this one and countless others from a part of my life that is long gone. Horses. They were my very first passion in life. For as long as I can remember, I had to be on a horse. My first ride was at age 3 and I have a photo to document the event. After relentless begging, when I turned 8 years old my parents finally allowed me to start taking weekly riding lessons. I learned to ride 'hunt seat' on retired polo ponies - every week on a different horse to build up a skill set. Horses, if you are unfamiliar, are just like people; they have unique quirks and varied personalities. Each ride is a completely different experience. Some horses are agreeable and pleasant, while others are ornery and stubborn. Your job, as the rider, is to to elicit the behavior you want. And horses are smart...they don't hesitate to take advantage of their riders if they can.
Most of all, I loved jumping over fences. What an adrenaline rush when you are on a big horse riding over a course of fences! And yes, it's dangerous. Helmet = Important. I've heard it said that if you spend a considerable time around horses it's not IF you get injured, but WHEN. And, I'm certain proof of that. I lost count of the times I've fallen off. I've been bruised, bitten, stepped on, kicked, had stitches, broken bones, and surgery. But damn, I loved those horses!
As time went by there was college graduation...job...marriage...children...more school. There was no time (or money) for horses. I reminisce about this part of my life with much fondness and think about all the good friends, the fun times, a few trophies and ribbons, but most of all, the majestic, wonderful horses.
Pictured is me, at about age 16 in mid-winter, old riding "King Nakoma,." The name 'Nakoma' is of Native American origin and it means "great warrior or great spirit" which suited this gentle giant perfectly.
Time warp......It is still a mystery to me what failed when I baked those brownies. They came out of the oven like a big slab of rock-hard brown concrete. Some how, some way Ange managed to get them out of the pan for me. I'm pretty sure a hammer and chisel were involved. Instead of throwing them out in the garbage, our boys suggested that the birds might peck at and eat the 'brownies.' So out to the bird feeder the brownie hunks went. We didn't see any birds, but come early evening we saw a chubby opossum perched inside the bird feeder. The opossum was in the process of furiously stuffing the brownies in his mouth. His cheeks were puffed out! We were all laughing, but still kind of worried that he would get really sick from eating an entire 9 x 13" pan of brownies. At any rate, the opossum *completely* cleaned out the feeder, shimmied back down the pole to the ground, and slowly waddled off.
When it comes to my brownie-baking skills, this story has become legend in our family. Ange and the boys refuse to let it go, even to this day. But there's one thing we know for sure; opossums love brownies!
The opossum received its name in the early 1600s from Captain John Smith of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. The name is derived from aposoum, a Virginia Algonquian word meaning “white beast.” Did you know the opossum is North America’s only known marsupial? It carries its young in a pouch much like the Australian kangaroo. The opossum is a nocturnal scavenger, often visiting dumpsters and garbage cans. Their diet includes roadkill, insects, frogs, birds, snakes and fruits. When hunted the opossum possesses an instinct to play dead, or “play possum” when threatened.
Facts from nationalgeographic.com
This September, I have seen more Monarchs than I have for a very, very long time. The butterflies spend a lot of time on my tall Zinnia Swirls. It's been amazing to see 2 or 3 Monarchs on one zinnia plant. Once they got used to me being around, they allowed me to take quite a few photos.
I was curious about Monarchs and here's what I found out:
Facts from: http://www.monarch-butterfly.com
And to note - Monarchs are being considered for placement on the endangered species list.
As I've been outside working in the garden for the last few weeks, one thing that hasn't concerned me was the thought that there were snakes lurking around. And anyway--if there were snakes they would be small babies yet, right? WRONG!
The. Snakes. Are. Back! I know this because last week Ange accidentally ran over a 3 foot long milk snake with the riding lawnmower. Although this periodically happens over the course of a summer, it never fails to make us feel bad. The snake was in some tall grass and Ange never saw it until it was too late.
He carried what was left of the snake and put it by the side of the road for the crows. The crows showed up almost immediately. They pecked hesitantly at the snake and then skittishly jumped up in the air, like they weren't really sure it was actually dead. They were obviously familiar with the nature of snakes.
The two photos shown were taken 24 hours apart...before and after the crows.
Milk snakes are common in our area. I see them quite often. They grow from 24-36 inches long in Wisconsin and live in forests, prairies, and old woodlots and pastures. They are also often found around farm buildings and older homes with stone foundations, as well as in vacant lots. They are harmless to humans. Adult milk snakes feed mostly on rodents but will also eat insects, small frogs, and other small snakes.
I'm on high snake alert now. If I'm by any bushy plants I'm pounding the dirt and making lots of noise!
Earlier this week I walked by my friend Sally's garden on my lunch hour to see what was sprouting. Sally showed me a Mourning Dove nesting in her Weeping Mulberry tree. If you look very closely, in the lower center of the photo you can see the bird. I took this photo with my iPhone from as close as I dared to go. Nest abandonment is common with these birds. If they feel threatened from predators whether human or animal, they will abandon both eggs and nestlings. When frightened they may accidentally knock an egg out of the nest.
Nests are often found in the crotch of a tree. They usually lay 2 white eggs (single eggs are rare) that are incubated for 14-15 days. The young will leave the nest in 12-14 days. Mourning Doves often use the same nest for up to five sets of eggs in a single season, starting as early as March. They incubate their eggs continually. Since the male and female look alike, it looks like the same bird is on the nest the whole time. The male does a daytime shift and the female does the night shift. If you are not around during the changing of the guard, it appears that the same bird has been on the nest the whole time.
The average lifespan of first year birds is 1 to 1.5 years. First year birds have a mortality rate of 60-75% and adults have a mortality rate of 50-60%. For any songbird the first year of survival is the most difficult. If these birds survive their first year they can live on the average 4-5 years. Predators are hawks, snakes, squirrels, cats, and hunters.
What fascinates me most about doves is the sound their wings make when they take off and land. The whistling sound occurs because of their wing anatomy. The flight feathers at the rear of the mourning dove’s wing are contoured. This shape creates an audible, high-pitched vibration when the wings flutter rapidly, which sounds like the bird is whistling. In flight their wings are inaudible.
Although Mourning Doves mate for live, if one partner dies, eventually, the surviving bird will find a new mate.
Statistics and info from: www.wild-bird-watching.com
I'm off topic today, but these two cats are so darn cute I had to share their stories. They have used up a more than a few of their nine lives!
Being an adult black cat and ending up in a shelter is not a good thing. According to a UC Berkeley study, black cats are unfairly stereotyped and far less likely to be adopted at animal shelters. Shelters have known this for years. When you add 'special needs' to the mix, finding a forever home becomes tenuous at best.
Middie and Dani are all of these things: adult, black, and special needs -- but unlike other black cats, they beat the odds. These beautiful cats were adopted by Tara and Ryan almost ten years ago in the Chicago area. Dani was adopted first and Middie arrived within the year (from a different shelter). The weird coincidence is that each cat had their left rear leg amputated prior to adoption. From what Tara and Ryan learned, Dani was likely hit by a car, and Middie was attacked by a coyote.
The good part is that Middie and Dani don't know they have special needs. Yes, they limp noticeably while walking, but in a full run they can go just as fast as any cat with four legs! The little princesses enjoy an indoor life of leisure, spending their days watching squirrels and birds from a sunny patio door. Often you can find them napping together as one big black fur ball. I love happy endings!
I was jarred awake last week, during the night, by a pack of coyotes. They sounded like they were having an epic feeding frenzy -- barking, yelping, screeching and howling! I immediately thought of our neighbor's dogs and cats and seriously hoped they were all safe inside. If you have pets, it's not safe to let them outside for any length of time in our neck of the woods...they may never come back. The frequent "LOST" posters on the nearby electrical poles attest to this.
Coyotes can be quite brazen. I was gardening one spring morning and a skinny, mangy-looking coyote nonchalantly trotted right by me (only about 20 feet away) and barely gave me a look sideways. That started my heart beating! Coyotes are quite adaptable, even in the city. They hunt rabbits, rodents, fish, frogs, and even deer. They also eat garbage, insects, snakes, and road kill. They can run up to 40 miles an hour, which doesn't give the rabbits much hope for escape. In the fall and winter, they form packs for more effective hunting.
I don't see coyotes often, but I sure do hear them!
(Photo courtesy of David Kingham, Flickr Creative Commons)
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought this would be a perfect week to post about the wild turkeys that roam around our home and surrounding area on a regular basis. This photo was taken in our backyard over the summer. Wild turkeys are a noisy bunch, so you can't miss them when they are in the vicinity. I also try to miss them with my car! I'm always on the lookout for deer while driving, so it really throws me off guard when I have to dodge one of these guys.
Twelve wild turkey facts courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation:
Thankfully, the wild turkeys have no interest in my daylilies.
Have an enjoyable holiday whether you eat turkey, Tofurkey, or something else entirely.
if it's about
my backyard and garden, I LOVE to talk about it!