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Winter Giving Way to Spring

February 16th, 2009

As winter’s cold has crept back in we’re still feeding the birds and carrying firewood to the stove.  But a few days ago I heard the first Spring Peepers… and they’ve been calling everyday since.   It’s amazing that a tiny frog can make such a loud bird-like call, and they’re the best harbingers of spring that I know.  They usually start calling around mid-to-late February in our area as the sun brings warmer daytime temperatures to shallow water.

After school one day we took a walk in our small patch of forest to see what might be emerging.  I’ve heard that Witch-Hazel is blooming around the area, but we don’t have any that I know of.  They’re neat small trees or shrubs with beautiful yellow fingery flowers.  I think I ordered some from the conservation department, so with any luck after planting this year, we could have a tree or two of our own in a couple years.  I hope to continue to plant many diverse native species, but also to emphasize the one’s that flower at different months so the honey bees will benefit.  Which means we would benefit from the honey too!

On our little hike we discovered some beautiful patches of moss among the leaf litter.  It’s so green and lush and reminds me of stories of fairies, leprechauns and other forest enchantments when I find places like this.  Not to mention how soft it is… usually I try not to walk on the moss and lichens knowing how long it takes for most of them to grow.  But it looks so inviting… on a warm day I could just lay down and take a nap.

Winter moss in the forest

We also saw the bluebirds checking out the nest boxes, and defending them from the sparrows.  I’ll probably try to help the bluebirds by shooing the sparrows away…   I also saw an enormous flock of White-fronted Geese flying high above heading northward.  The Canada Geese are looking for nesting places too.  That afternoon a flock of geese landed on the pond.  I walk toward the pond and most of them fly off… which is okay with me given the amount of you-know-what they leave behind.  Two remained behind to check out the pond… and eventually they flew off too.  I do enjoy it when they visit.

 Canada Geese in February

It’s really fascinating to watch the seasons unfold- literally in the spring of course.  Most of the changes are very subtle, such as flowers that emerge and disappear in a matter of days.   Many changes are more apparent… the pond’s ice is now gone for the year.  It’s nice to see the open water again, and the shadows and reflections. 

Sunset in February at Fox Haven

After a warm day exploring, we finally watch the sun disappear behind the trees. It all looks so peaceful… and then we see something moving on that little stump by the water’s edge.  It’s one of the cats, prowling along the shoreline.

Leaves of Green

May 8th, 2008

Watching spring unfold is engaging in a subtle yet exciting way. Each day there are new plants, colors and scents that we forgot about from the year before, or stare in wonder at how fast they are growing. I was amazed to see how fast the oak tree leaves grew last week, and really appreciate the bright green colors. A couple of weeks ago there was so much sky and sun reaching the ground, and now we have shade everywhere.

New Red Oak tree leaves in spring

Here’s another plant with new grown leaves. The leaves are are pretty and the plant will soon have little white berries. But it’s not my favorite by a long shot. Can you guess what this is?

Poison Ivy leaves in spring

It’s still raining out after two days, but my little boulders of rocks everywhere seem to be working well. Instead of flowing muddy water, the runoff from the rain cascades gently over the rocks almost like a stream, pooling at the bottom and draining steadily out.

Gambion rocks used to design pond drainage

It’s not finished yet, but is slowly taking shape.  I’ll be so glad not to worry about the heavy rain as much as before.  The pond has quite a bit of accumulated mud and silt, and maybe I can shovel some of that out this summer.  But the fish and other critters seem to like it just fine the way it is…

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!

Before the Leaves

April 20th, 2008

I walk sleepily around early in the morning thinking of the many things I would like to get accomplished.  Knowing full well I’ll come up a little short on my mental list at the end of the day.  There’s something strange about appreciating nature… it tends to foster daydreaming and staring into the forest, the trees, the sky, the water. 

April morning before the leaves come out

Maybe that’s as it should be, or maybe it’s my addiction. In some ways I’m appreciating the last of the open sky through the trees, the sounds of birds, and the changes sure to come.  Next week and through late October, the leaves will once again wrap the landscape in a blanket of green. It’s a hopeful time, beckoning of warmth and summer. I’m ready for that too.

Ghostly Sentinels and Daffadown Dillies

March 30th, 2008

It would be nice if the rain would pace itself over the next six months.   If you’re from the midwest you know we’re in that cycle of rain every few days that results in very saturated ground.  Which is good for the plants and water table… but not so good for the soil that erodes off the slopes.  What was protected by grass in some areas has now washed away this year, and the challenge will be to grow grass again before the summer heat (and lack of rain) begins again.  But the spring has a wonderful start!

There is beauty in all the rain and moisture.  After a night of rain, the gray morning reveals the trees standing as ghostly sentinels in the fog.

 Trees in the fog at Fox Haven

And a garden angel sleeps peacefully near some new blooming jonquils. I enjoy these smaller cousins of the larger daffodils.  What’s the difference?  Perhaps the old explanation that all jonquils are daffodils, but not all daffodils are jonquils.  If that makes any sense… meaning that they are both of the genus Narcissus, but the jonquils are a separate species of smaller flowers, usually very fragrant.  And of course daffodils are the many larger varities of yellow and white Narcissus that announce spring with fervor! 

Angel sleeping with jonquils

Do you have a different name for daffodils?  Whatever they are called, it’s interesting to read some possible history about the origination of the names:

“The name Daffodil is derived from an earlier “Affodell”, a variant of Asphodel (flowers). The reason for the introduction of the initial “d” is not known, although a probable source is an etymological merging from the Dutch article “de,” as in “De affodil.” From at least the sixteenth century “Daffadown Dilly” or “daffadown dilly” has appeared as a playful synonym of the name.”

As I was writing this the young boy awoke and sat with me looking at the flower pictures.  He remembered picking one of the first daffodils the other day, and told me what I should write… years from now, I hope the strength of his imagination will carry him well, and like the daffodils, to bloom every year and see life anew.

 “The first flowers of the spring ever to be picked in full bloom.”

Daffodils in spring

 

A Good Friday and Welcome Spring!

March 21st, 2008

Spring is finally here as we eagerly await the warmer days.  Yet so much rain has fallen in the region this week that many areas are still expecting flooding today and tomorrow.  By next week all is forecast to return to normal, but it’s always amazing how fast nature can change our lives.  The animals and birds just “are” and each day is one of gathering, building… living.   We are not so different.

Today this Tufted Titmouse has been working at the last of the suet I put out for the woodpeckers.

Tufted-titmouse eating suet

Rufous-sided Towhee stopped by for a visit the other morning.  They must head south in the fall because this is the first one I’ve seen or heard in quite a while.

Rufous-sided Towhee

We enjoyed the first sunset of spring yesterday.  I never tire of watching the sun fade behind the trees, or over the horizon at sea.

First spring sunset at Fox Haven

Almost Time for the Garden!

March 18th, 2008

Okay, raise your hand if you’re starting to get the gardening itch!?  I’ve been looking longingly at seed packs, and we’re trying to decide exactly where to plant everything this year.  Frankly I’m a little distrurbed that it seems so exciting to me!

But it’s all part of the season, and knowing that if you grow plants and take care of them that you’ll put fresh, healthy food on your table… well, how could that not be exciting!?  Maybe it taps into some aspect of our long-ago agrarian forebears.  In an age in which we have and use every conceivable technological invention, it’s nice to simply “play in the dirt” once in a while.

Of course I like shovels and hoes just fine, but when I really want to play in the dirt, nothing beats a 23hp tractor.  Except maybe a bigger tractor.  :) 

John Deere 2320 tractor 

I’m thinking of planting a few rows of something special this year though.  I’ve always wanted to grow giant pumpkins!  Don’t ask me why… I don’t really know.  And what will I do with a few giant pumpkins after they’re grown?  They’d make a nice display for a while, then you better have someplace to let them, well… decompose I suppose.

Maybe a nice big row of sweet corn?  With the price of fuel and ethanol production these days, it may get harder to find good eating corn at a reasonable price.  I remember 10-15 ears for a dollar years ago, but last year it was a quarter each.

Have you ever been to the Garden Web forums?  It’s a wonderful place to read and learn about so many things involving gardening, plants and landscaping.  I’ve always ended up there while looking for answers, so now I just go there first.  They even have a section on tractors :)

For now I look around at all that is still so brown. But not for long!  Soon we’ll be covered in greenery, and chasing ourselves around trying to get things done.  The change of the seasons… before we know it we’ll be muttering about the bugs, but that’s okay, I’m ready!

Fox Haven Pond

Things Undone

March 1st, 2008

It was warm today!  The ice on the pond slowly melted, giving way to dappled sunlight.  All of a sudden I felt an urgency to do so many things that I’ve not yet finished.  Spring is coming… more to do!

Pond ice fades under warming sun

Our Burt Dow Boat

April 30th, 2007

It was hot today with the temperature exceeding 91 degrees F with blue skies.  It really felt like summer already, but I know that’s part of seasons of change.  The trees are leafing out vigorously, and the insects have arrived with abandon.  It was a day for planting container flowers around the house as well. 

I found a use for an old dingy our family has had for many years.  I think my father obtained the little boat from a neighboring family in the early 1970’s.  We never really used it for much, but I remember one time in the late 1970’s when a friend and I carried the boat several blocks to a local pond.  We floated around very proud of ourselves, and then carried it back.  It was fairly heavy for two teenagers, and we never did that again.  The dingy saw a little use on the pond here as well, but for many years has stood leaning in and out of the barn.  The wood has rotted and the little boat is falling apart. 

The little dingy filled with flowers sparse yet, but by summer there will be many blooms!

But the other day I remembered one of my favorite stories of my youth… “Burt Dow, Deepwater Man”.  The story was written by award-winning children’s author Robert McCloskey in 1963.  I loved the book so much that I even found an original copy on eBay a few years ago.  Burt Dow is a retired fisherman who lives with his sister.  The story is a charming narrative of going fishing and encountering whales at sea.  But outside their home, there is an old boat filled with flowers.  I always remembered that boat… so today we filled our own “Burt Dow Boat” with colorful petunias… they are small yet, but in a few months I imagine many colorful blooms cascading down the sides of the good old dingy.

The young one was excited to find new tadpoles that have emerged in the pond.  We set up a small tank in his room with a few tadpoles to watch them grow.  I don’t know the species of frog they will become, but we’ll watch them.  Many of them will become food for the fish and other creatures in the pond, but enough will survive to grow into adult frogs.

Tadpoles emerging in Spring

 

I couldn’t resist a picture of this beautiful Iris… they just bloomed today.

Iris blooming in Spring

New Spring Leaves

April 29th, 2007

The leaves are finally here!  Okay, I’m excited… it’s been a long winter and spring waiting for the new leaf growth.  When fall comes I’ll be muttering about how many leaves there are to clean up.  But for now we can enjoy the trees as they develop the thick green cover that provides our summer shade. 

These Oak tree leaves are red as they emerge- I think they are from a Red Oak variety even though the lobes look rounded at this point.  I’ll need to look at them again over the next couple months.

 Red Oak tree leaves growing in early Spring

These leaves are green however, and are probably of the White Oak variety.  The rounded tips and lobes of the leaf is a characteristic of the White Oaks.  Red Oaks have a pointed tip on the ends of the leaf lobes after they mature.

White Oak tree leaves in Spring

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