These two photos illustrate why I place protective tomato cages in my flower garden over the winter. On this occasion there happened to be only one deer foraging for food, but it's not unusual to have a herd of them roaming around. This whitetail scrounged up some dried up marigolds, but thankfully the tomato cages kept my precious daylilies safe.
As you can see, this kitten found a new vantage point to look for Santa. What is it about cats and Christmas trees? I'm sure to 'Thunder' this tree looks like a tall cat toy challenge, put there purely for his enjoyment alone. Anyone who has lived with cats knows how much they like climbing as high as they possibly can to observe their surroundings.
Thunder is a shelter rescue who found his forever home last August with two of the most amazing children ever. And he just so happens to be my grand-kitty. This little guy has a big personality. He is outgoing, cuddly, and very gentle. Whatever is happening around his house, he likes to be right in the middle of the action. Thunder has proven to be a perfect fit for his new family...other than the Christmas tree thing.
Thanks to Tara Elizabeth for the photo of this irrepressible adventurer.
These little creatures visited my garden for quite a while before I found out they were not a type of hummingbird – they were actually a moth! The hummingbird moth in the photo is a 'Hemaris Clearwing' (the most common kind). Your chances of seeing them are better if you grow Phlox, Bee Balm, Butterfly Bush, Honeysuckle and/or Verbena in your yard.
Hummingbird moths are more plump than hummingbirds, and grow approximately two inches long. The Clearwings are usually a reddish brown/olive color. Like hummingbirds, these moths make humming sounds when they hover around flowers. What makes them unusual is that they have a very long tongue that they keep rolled up under their chin; when they unroll their tongue they can reach nectar inside flowers that many other insects can't.
The females lay their eggs on plants, usually on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars are green, so they blend in with the foliage. When they are fully-grown they drop to the ground and spin a loose cocoon. The pupa spends the winter well hidden and the adult emerges the following spring. In northern climates there is only one generation per year.
The white garden phlox pictured is 'David.'
Credit for the photography goes to my husband Ange
Credit for the hummingbird moth information: butterflywebsite.com
In spring, a kitty we had never seen before started patrolling our little piece of paradise. It was hard to miss him with his snowy white fur and ginger spots. Talk about skills; this stinker scaled the trees like a squirrel! He also liked to check out the inside perimeter of our garage for mice. Some days, he followed me around the garden, curious about what I was doing.
Here's the funny part...there are actually THREE of these guys, and they all look quite similar. I did a triple take the first time I saw all three of them together. After I paid attention to the details I could easily tell them apart--love those raccoon-striped tails. Sometimes their mom comes along on patrol, too. There are, after all, lessons to be learned.
Cats that patrol our yard live in the barn across the road. The triplets' mom is Penny-Kitty, who I did an earlier blog about.
American Green Tree Frogs and daylilies go together like toast and jam. The frogs arrive in late July and early August. Gotta love these little guys; they just sit and patiently wait for their meal to arrive. They often stay on the same plant for days at a time and just move to a new bloom each day. When I deadhead my daylilies it's important that I pay attention and be very careful so that I don't accidentally fling a tiny frog into outer space.
A few of the daylilies pictured include: Sabine Baur, Spanish Glow, She's Got Legs, Techny Peace, and Webster's Pink Wonder.
I came to the conclusion that I run a round-the-clock resort and spa for rabbits. And it must be five-star, because my yard is infested -- moms, dads, babies, the entire extended family -- they are all here. Accommodations are luxurious: a thicket to hide in, expansive play areas with dirt to roll and dig in, warm rocks to lounge on, water to primp and wash, and a decadent buffet of fresh perennials and weeds that are always available. No room service needed here.
A monumental negative; my resort is not gated. I have seen foxes abduct guests on numerous occasions. Coyotes lurk as well, not to mention the hawks and eagles that soar overhead, looking for a quick meal. And then there's the road...
Should I post a warning?
I have never seen this many gulls all in one place before! Driving past the local landfill reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds.' Being underneath that cloud of birds would not be a good thing.
Landfills close to bodies of water tend to have more gull problems. This particular landfill is near the Mississippi, Black, and La Crosse Rivers, in addition to Lake Onalaska and Lake Neshonoc. Lack of natural food during the cold weather/winter months brings birds to the landfill. My curiosity was piqued after seeing this phenomena. I did some reading on gulls and landfills. A Duke University Study (by R. Scott Winton) finds that gulls' nutrient-rich droppings may cause major water-quality problems in nearby lakes and reservoirs. It's quite a dilemma that affects our environment. Who knew?
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-trash-picking-seagulls-poop-tons-nutrients.html#jCp
October 27th was National Black Cat Day. What a perfect opportunity for me to reminisce about my first black cat, 'Uncanny / Canny' (I liked both words / Couldn't make up my mind). I got eight-week-old Canny when I was in college. We shared an upstairs apartment in an old house with roommates Sandy, Gail, and Gail's small dog (pictured). Ange was around in those days, too. We stayed in that apartment for a year or so, but did what most college students frequently do; we moved and (of course) did not get back our security deposit back. Gail's dog had chewed a good portion of the bedroom carpet and I melted a huge candle onto the orange shag carpet in the living room. Long story; not important. Sandy, you must have done *something* to that apartment -- it wasn't all Gail and me, right?
We loved our larger place, but apparently Canny didn't. We kept him inside so he would acclimate to the new surroundings, but he would sneak out if someone opened the door. He kept trekking back to the old apartment, which was about six blocks down and two blocks over. When I'd walk to school in the morning, there he'd be, sitting on the porch of the old house. He would never fail to come down and greet me. On my way home, if I'd see him, I'd pick him up and carry him back to the new place. Canny would stay for a day or three, but eventually disappear again. Over the course of many weeks, this happened numerous times. Canny's territory seemed to be more important to him than anything else. So I finally talked to the girls who had moved into our old apartment about the 'Canny situation.' They loved having Canny around. He was, after all, a most awesome cat! So I reluctantly passed the torch to them knowing that he would be well taken care of.
So there you have it, my very first black cat, Uncanny/Canny, left home and never said goodbye. Could this be Ange's fault for relentlessly teasing him with a water spray bottle? Probably.
There are mixed opinions as to the exact date of National Black Cat Day. I went with October 27; being close to Halloween just seemed right. #loveblackcats
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.
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