Toad Love on Earth Day!

April 22nd, 2008

Its been a busy few days and the pace of spring just amazes me.  We finally had time to get most of the garden planted, even earlier than last year.  Hooray! Not being satisfied with last year’s cucumbers, I planted four different kinds this year.  Now if I can only remember which ones I planted where… doh!

We’ve been planting many small trees around the property, and transplanting a few others.  Isn’t it wonderful to dig in the earth once in a while?  My hands are sore but somehow after packing a tree in it’s new home in the ground it actually feels like you’re doing something.  This year we need to put up some deer fencing, or the trees won’t make it to next spring. 

Ah, but I just remembered it’s Earth Day today!  I hope everyone has a chance to get outside and enjoy the wonders of spring. 

The American Toads (Bufo americanus) have been trilling in and out of the pond, and their chorus is amazing at the height of mating season.  We had a picnic down by the pond and watched them calling and laying gelatinous masses of eggs.   

The toads can be found all around the ridgelines and around the house during the year, so it’s interesting to see them in the water during breeding season.  My picture of Toad Love last year was about 20 feet from the water’s edge. The males grab tightly to the back of the females and they find a weedy place near the shoreline to lay the eggs.   It was funny watching them swim tandem under the water for 4-5 feet at a time, and then come popping up!

Male and female American Toads

We must have seen about 30 toads along 50 feet of the pond shoreline.  Here’s a lone male trying to lure a female to the sound of his voice.   From what we saw, most of the female toads were already spoken for.  Keep tryin’ fella! 

A lonely male American Toad

 They didn’t seem to mind our presence… they had a job to do.  These masses of eggs will become thousands of tadpoles in a few weeks.

American Toads with egg masses in a pond

We appreciate the toads because they eat a lot of insects as well.  In mid-summer, they can be found near the house under the porch lights having bugs for dinner.

For those not inclined to appreciate the merits of toads, here’s a bloom of Wood Sorrel.  But it’s funny, my toad post from last year also had a picture of Wood Sorrel. 

My new late-April spring saying:  The Toads are in love when the Wood Sorrel blooms. 

Wood Sorrel blooming

And the Baltimore Orioles have returned, although they only stay for a few weeks it seems.  This one’s plumage is a little dull compared to those I saw last year, but it’s also about two weeks early.  Maybe a female? Or will the coloration become brighter orange with time?  I may try to set out some orange slices and a feeder to see what happens.

Baltimore Oriole

And I did see the first Hummingbird today already.  I put up the feeders yesterday in case, but didn’t know they were really back yet.  Our Barn Swallows are busy working on their nest, and it seems we’ll have two mating pairs this year.  So lots of Barn Swallows to take care of the bugs too.  I was hoping for some Purple Martins, and one actually landed on the Martin house this week- but was promptly chased away by a House Sparrow of all things.  I’ve got to remove that sparrow’s nest…  For now it’s back to planting trees.   Enjoy the day!

Planting Days and Wild Flowers

April 18th, 2008

A beautiful day for planting yesterday, but awoke this morning to clouds and a chance of thunderstorms.    I’m usually an early riser, but just after 4:30 this morning my eyes opened wide with the house rattling and the bed shaking for a few seconds.  Sure enough it was a 5.2 quake on the Illinois/Indiana border.  Not often that we feel earthquakes in the midwest. Did you feel it?  The U.S. Geological Survey has an excellent site where you can explore recent earthquakes and report how it felt to you as part of the Community Internet Intensity Map.

We had a lonesome visitor near the pond yesterday morning.  A hen turkey came wandering by for a few minutes before disappearing back into the woods.

Wild turkey hen

We spent the afternoon digging holes and planting apple and pear trees.  If I can keep the deer from eating them, we might have some fruit in a few years.  My right-hand man liked taking his break in the hole he just dug.  Of course the yellow lab wants to come play too!

 Having fun while planting fruit trees

Near the woodpile from last year’s firewood, I noticed many insect borer holes appearing on a few logs. Looking more closely revealed that many Banded Ashborers had emerged.  They feed on dead or dying trees as well as cut logs.  Later a nuthatch came by and had a nice little bug dinner.

Banded Ash Borer

And the wildflowers are really coming along. We discovered a little blooming Dogtooth Violet yesterday.  Which really isn’t in the violet family, but in the lily family.  I learned it first by the name of Trout Lily.  Does anyone know why it’s called that? I don’t, but it’s a pretty little flower.

Trout Lily or Dogtooth Violet

A Bloodroot flower is almost open.


The Mayapples are almost up and in flower too.  I didn’t find any morels yet, but I’m still looking!  “Dad, why are they called May apples?  Can we eat them?”  “Uh, no, well a little white flower blooms under the umbrella of the leaves, and then it becomes a little fruit, but uh- I don’t know if we can eat it…maybe?  Let’s try and find out later…”  I’m all tired out from planting apple and pear trees and answering questions.  It was a nice day.

Mayapple plants

Forests in Spring and a Daffydown Basset Hound

April 15th, 2008

There’s almost too many changes to keep up with as spring unfolds. The mornings have almost been in frost, and today is about the latest frost-free date in our area. It’s interesting to see all the trees and flowers blooming and preparing for the same. Last year all the plants were two weeks ahead of this year because of a very warm March, and then we had an early April freeze that wilted all the leaves and flowers, and set everything back almost a month. But it looks like the fruit and flower crops should be fine this year.

You know it’s spring in Missouri when the Serviceberry, Redbud and Dogwood trees bloom. In our area the Servicberry comes first, followed by the Redbuds and then Dogwood trees. The Oaks, Hickories, Ash and other trees are also in various stages of bloom, but they don’t provide the same show of color.

I love how the Serviceberry trees bloom throughout the forest, with dappled white flowers in the understory.

Serviceberry tree blooming in Oak-Hickory forest

Here’s a closeup of the Serviceberry tree flowers. The berries are also an important food for wildlife.

Flowers of Serviceberry tree

But we love our trees and woodlands in Missouri, and appreciate the values that forests provide within the ecosystem.

It’s amazing that over 85% of Missouri’s forests are held in private land ownership. I wonder what the number is nationally? That’s one of many reasons why we appreciate how the Missouri Conservation Department works effectively with landowners to support their needs, as well as the sound management of plant and animal resources. Government mandates for managing a forest or taking care of the land can only go so far. With the support of conservation agencies and forest professionals, landowners are more willing to embrace the responsibility of caring for the future of our forests.

Do you know what tree this is? The flowers are almost ready to bloom. We have them scattered through the landscape, and they too look wonderful in the understory of the forest.

Early flowers of an Eastern Redbud tree

The wildflowers are showing their colors too. Here a Rue Anemone blooms near the base of the trees.

Rue Anemone flower in spring


The reflections of the trees in the pond make the landscape seem bigger somehow. In a few weeks green leaves will cover the landscape, and the reflections of the sky will be replaced by shade.

Trees reflecting in pond in spring

And among the daffodils, the elderly Basset Hound sleeps through the afternoon.

Basset Hound sleeping in the Daffodils

Fairy Rings and Fungi

April 3rd, 2008

The oddities of nature amaze me.  Or maybe they’re not oddities, but I am amazed anyway.  I’ve been watching a fairy ring in a field for a year or two.  I didn’t recognize the green dark ring at first, but then found the strange, dark fungi hidden beneath the grass.  Since I first noticed it, it hasn’t become much larger.  Which makes me think it grows very slowly. 

 Fairy ring in pasture

It was interesting to read Fun Facts about Fungi and how fairy rings grow.   They also describe one in France that is over a half mile in diameter and maybe 700 years old!    Our little fairy ring is about 20 feet in diameter, and probably at least that old in years.

 Unknown Fungi in pasture

What kind of fungi is this?  I’m not really sure.  I thought maybe a puffball, but it’s flat along the top.  We’ll keep checking on it through the years.  

It’s colder and rainy again today, and the spring season is beginning slowly.  But when we get a day or two of warming weather it’s time to think about Morels…  we haven’t found any on our property, but maybe some day.  Folks guard their secret morel sites carefully.  They are really delicious!

Our Nature with Trees as Inspiration

April 1st, 2008

It seems to me that among the many things we have in common as humans on this great planet earth, is a desire to share our interests and creativity with each other, even when we do so somewhat anonymously :)   Technology has leveraged this ability for so many of us, and allowed amateur journalists and photographers to start their own published works.  Why do we write or take pictures, and share our thoughts with other people we may never meet as more than mere pseudonyms? 

Perhaps it is more than that… we are sharing our nature with each other, and our love for the larger Nature of the world around us.  Inspiration comes in many forms, but today it comes from Trees.  

Festival of the Trees

When I submitted a post on The Tuning Fork Tree for the wonderful Festival of the Trees this month, I didn’t have any idea that it would be hosted half a world away in Sao Paulo, Brazil! 

But it’s true- this month the Festival of the Trees is hosted by Alive Trees in Our Lives … soon to include an english translation if it’s not there quite yet.  Being ever curious however, I found a little help from Alta Vista Babel Fish, pasted the link to the site, selected Portuguese to English, and then translate!  Isn’t technology wonderful?  Then I was able to read not only the wonderful festival post, but also to discover more about Alive Trees in Our Lives and their mission:

“To promote and to develop action and projects that value the trees, creating a culture of encantamento, recognition and preservation, always with much joy, creativity and integration.”

 Would encantamento be charm or enchantment?  It missed that word, but when you visit the Alive Trees site you get the idea, and then understand that the Trees and forests are the inspiration and mission.  What a joy to find themes of Nature shared here and there.  But then again, we really are on the same journey, aren’t we?

Too Much Rain

April 1st, 2008

An incredible day of rain yesterday. We’ve never seen the pond as high as it was, or the amount of runoff coming from the upper pastures.  There’s little anyone can do when you receive 2-3 inches of rain in as many hours.   The pond is now totally brown colored due to the runoff.  It filled up at least 2 feet higher, over the banks.

On a whim, I took the young boy out for a walk in the downpour to show him all the water.  Of course my amazement was not the same as his… he was amazed at the miniature rivers of water everwhere, and the large puddles to splash in.  He smiled and shouted with delight at the water, and said he had never been so wet before.  Fortunately it was 65 degrees, and warm enough to enjoy.   He stood by the spillway, with water flowing through pipes, and gently over the top of the grass.

The Pond is full!

The spillway let the water flow down through the woods.  All the creeks were filled and roaring with water. 

Water flowing down the spillway

The news tonight stated that this is the most rainfall we have had during March and the first three months of the year since 1897.   Will the summer still be too dry and near drought like the past two years?  The contrasts are amazing.  I’m ready for a little warmer (and less wet!) weather.  It’s time to get ready for planting, and a little more work outdoors.   But the weather patterns go all across the nation- the Cardinals, Yankees and Toronto BlueJays openers have been rained out.  It’s time for a change.

… Smile when you’re spinning round and round
Sigh as you think about tomorrow
Make a vow that your gonna be happy again

It’s all right in your life, no more rain…

                                                      Paul McCartney, Too Much Rain

At the end of the day the sun glowed brightly under the clouds, still with storms all around.  The landscape was cast in a beautiful yellow glow.

Sunset after rainstorm

Rainbow Trout in Missouri

February 27th, 2008

In late winter I start dreaming of warm weather and cool summer streams. I think of places like this… isn’t it beautiful?

Maramec Spring Park

If you look very carefully you can see the dark shapes in the water. Those are Rainbow trout. I took this picture during the summer at Maramec Spring Park here in Missouri. It’s operated by a private foundation and serves as one of five statewide trout hatcheries. From the Missouri Department of Conservation’s site:

“Maramec Spring Hatchery produces about 100,000 trout a year and all are stocked in Maramec Spring Park. Trout are received as 3 inch fingerlings from Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery. The trout are fed three times a day and will grow 3/4 to 1 inch a month. The fish are reared in a raceway fed by the water from Maramec Spring. “

Trout were not native to Missouri as best as anyone can tell, but in the 1800’s were stocked in various streams. Since then Rainbow and Brown trout have done very well and produce natural populations throughout the springfed streams of the Ozarks. Today trout continue to be stocked in many Ozark streams, and the fishing in summer can be fantastic.

The trout park at Maramec Spring receives an incredible number of visitors each year, as do the other Missouri trout parks. Many of us look forward to the annual “trout opener” coming up on the first of March each year. And this year it falls on a weekend of course… so as beautiful as that picture above is, in a few days there may be hundreds of fishermen side-by-side on the banks of the stream!

Rainbow trout in summer

Have you ever fished shoulder-to-shoulder with someone else? It’s quite an experience. It reminds me of those old Yogi Bear cartoons in Yellowstone Park where they would fish for trout with dozens of fishermen, lines getting crossed, etc. It’s actually very fun, but this time I’ll probably avoid the “opener” on the weekend and try to find a weekday for a quieter time. Certainly this is not like fly-fishing for wild trout among remote streams in the highlands of the west. I’ve “been there, done that” too and it’s pretty cool. But I must say that it’s a lot of fun to catch Rainbow trout here in Missouri. You can catch several pounds of fish in a day and they make a wonderful dinner!

Look at the Moon!

February 21st, 2008

    It’s freezing rain and sleet today, with most of the area schools closed.  But before the clouds rolled in last night we were lucky to see the Lunar eclipse.  It was really neat, and the 7-year old had a chance to see one for the first time.   Probably doesn’t seem like much at that age, and it’s hard to appreciate the measure of time when you’re young.  But the only full lunar eclipse I’ve ever seen was over 30 years ago.  I remember camping out on that summer night with a good friend and fishing together on a lake during the eclipse.  We spent the late night in a rowboat under the moonlight, amazed to watch the full eclipse take place over several hours.  So last night brought back many memories, and provided a wonderful opportunity for new ones with the family.  Perhaps years from now our son will remember it too.  Good night Moon!

Lunar eclipse February 20th 2008

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Ponds and Rivers

February 9th, 2008

The rain has certainly filled the pond.  Here’s the stump I like to watch during the year- it’s about 3-4 feet tall and was standing on a dry shelf of grass over summer and fall.   I don’t know how long it will last, but it helps me estimate the depth of the water.  And there’s a few nice Bass that like to hide around it in spring!

Pond stump almost submerged after rain

On the subject of water, we live within a half hour of the Missouri River.  Interesting to consider that Lewis and Clarke paddled and pushed their way up this river with a team of men over 200 years ago.  I’ve been camping and boating on the river… it swirls and rushes along, filled with fallen trees and other wood debris in many places.  When it’s really cold in winter you start to see chunks of ice floating down the river.  I’m not sure if that’s just ice coming from farther north, or if it accumulates because it’s so cold?  I have never seen it totally frozen because the river moves so fast.  But chunks of ice do accumulate on the banks of the river.  The Mississippi River can freeze in places where locks and dams make larger pools and lakes.  But it too generally stays open, which brings many Bald Eagles down from the north to winter here.

Missouri River in winter

Penguins and Bluestem

January 20th, 2008

   Awoke to a 3 degree F morning… Brrrrr!  We were looking at weather around the world yesterday, and it was warmer in Antarctica than it was here.  Probably only in the sun or something :)  Always wanted to visit that part of the world.  Well, perhaps more like New Zealand, but if you’re that close anyway- why not see a few Penguins in the wild too!  Some of those critters might like the pond at Fox Haven now- it’s frozen solid and cold enough for ’em!  A good day for catching up indoors.

During the warm season last year I tried not to cut too many grasses near the border of the pond.  As winter approached, I left the tall stalks of Little Bluestem alone as they grew.  It provides a beautiful tawny brown color to the landscape, and stays upright all through the cold season.  Little Bluestem is a native prairie grass in Missouri, for which I share Pablo’s appreciation where he has written of it before.  I like his description of it being a bunchgrass, “which means a bunch of it grows from a single root system.”  I like to think it helps prevent erosion along the pond’s edge, and provides a different type of food and cover for birds and such.  I too just enjoy having it grow here.

Little Bluestem along the frozen pond

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