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After the Rain

June 1st, 2008

It was a bright and wet morning after heavy rain yesterday.  The dew was everwhere over the grass and shrubs, and the morning sun glowed off a spider web among the shadows of the flowers.  I don’t know much about spiders, but their handiwork is beautiful.

Spider web glowing with dew in the morning

The rain of the night before was some of the strongest we have had in spring.  It washed out the driveway where the gravel was not thick enough, and even washed log debris across the rural road as the creeks rose too fast to handle the water.   Some time on the tractor helped to repair the damage and the driveway is as good as, well, as a gravel driveway should be I guess.

Gravel driveway washed out by rain

But this morning the pond was quiet and you might never know how much rain we received the night before.  I really appreciate being outdoors as the sun rises, and watching the light slowly change among the landscape.  It’s so peaceful before the noise of the world around us begins to stir.  How do you explain it?  All I know is that it’s nearly like meditation, or a sense of time stopping for a while.  I find myself standing there sometimes, staring out among the trees.  Then I sort of remember where I am and feel silly, but smile and take a deep breath of appreciation for the sounds and smells of the morning, and embrace the coming day.

Early morning over the pond

Bugs and Roses

May 30th, 2008

This week has been a mix of work and play, especially with family visiting from out of town.  The young boy is excited almost all day long and knows he’s the center of attention this week.  It’s time for baseball to begin this weekend also, and he’s excited about playing again.  Of course in about a month he’ll be standing under the hot sun wondering how long the game will take.  That’s okay, it’s all part of the mix of summer fun.  And school is finally out for the year!  He’s finished first grade now, and I can hardly believe it.  Here’s a nice picture from a recent field trip… I have no idea what kind of butterfly this is, but it was amazing to see so many different species.

An unknown butterfly

I’ve seen a few of our own butterflies lately too.  Monarchs and Swallowtails mostly, but they dart around too fast for me to get a good picture most of the time.  Oh,we might have seen the first fireflies of the year last night!  I always enjoy it when the fireflies come out in June.  Like old friends returning for a visit.

Since I’m posting pictures of unknown insects, here’s another one that the boy found the other day.  He really liked it and was fascinated that when he went to touch it, it made a hissing sound.  I didn’t know beetles could make defensive sounds, so that was interesting.  We’re not sure what it was, but let it go to find some other bug to eat probably. 

Unknown beetle

The insects are really coming out now in the warmer weather.  And the bees are so active now!  The hive is just buzzing with a flurry of activity and the coming and going of the little guys.  “Make honey!” I tell them, and hope they store a bunch for next winter.

But it’s not all bugs around here, although you might think so when working outside, or in the garden (something is eating our green bean leaves, and we haven’t found out what it is yet!).   But there’s also a lot of nice flowers blooming too, and the roses look wonderful.  Isn’t this one beautiful?  Bugs and roses… sounds like a rock music band!

Apricot colored rose blooming in spring

Country Mornings

May 29th, 2008

 It’s so nice to see the flowers on a cool spring morning.  As the sun comes up it highlights all the plants, and the light dew just makes everything glisten.  The birds are singing, the air is fresh and it gives one a sense of being alive.  It’s a great time to stay busy as well, and we’ve been mulching the flower beds to keep the moisture in as we head to summer.  This area serves another purpose of giving a little privacy to our house and patio area.  The fields beyond are the neighbors property, and there’s a lot of activity over there.  But it’s nice to have a stretch of flowers that sort of invite you to come closer and stay a while.

Flower border along driveway  So this is the weather we’ve been waiting for…  cool mornings and the day warms up comfortably to 75-85 degrees (22-25 C).  It sure makes working outside a pleasant experience doesn’t it?  I’m sort of a cool weather person anyway, and really enjoy spring and fall temperatures.  By the time July or August rolls around, the hot and humid days are just so oppressive, and everything slows down.

We have many newer plants to get in the ground still, and there’s always lots of grass to cut.  In a couple weeks it will be time to cut hay and the tractors will be heading up and down the fields.  We only have a few acres of hayfields ourselves, and a local dairy farm cuts and bales it.  We’re happy to let him have it, and it keeps the field cut for us. But for the smaller fields I just cut the grass once a week or so myself.  Some folks in our area try to keep the country fields looking like a suburban lawn, close cropped and manicured.  More and more I think that’s a waste of money, fuel and time.  The grass looks just fine when cut once a week or so, and kept trimmed, and with the price of fuel these days there are better places to put the money.  But I guess if that’s what’s important to someone, then fine.  We all have areas that are important to us.

I enjoy cutting the grass for the most part, and spend about 7-10 hours on various grass cutting machines each week during the growing season.  Lots of trimming with the weed eater too.  Sometimes it’s a slow process especially when using an older tractor to cut the fields.  But it has nice big tires that don’t cut into the grass when the soil is soft, especially on slopes.  With the price of diesel fuel though, maybe a little more speed would help!  Those little zero turn mowers look pretty quick.  Maybe I’ll have to check one out and see if it does okay?

Cutting grass

 

Fox squirrel in the rain The other day it was pouring down rain but this little Fox squirrel didn’t seem to mind.  I thought it was just passing by, but yesterday it was foraging near the base of a tree when two little young Fox squirrels ran up beside another one.  They were pretty cute, chasing each other around the tree and staring at me.   When I was younger I used to go squirrel hunting in the forests of Missouri and Arkansas.  Ewww!  I know that may sound strange to some people, but for many people in the midwest and east it’s the same as fishing or even gardening. 

 Most folks don’t hunt the Fox squirrels as much; these prefer open tree areas and farm lands and are, well- a little tough to eat.  But the Gray squirrel lives in the Oak-Hickory forests and is a prize even today for many people.  They are quite wary in the forests, it’s not like hunting squirrels in the park.  I remember going with a friend to his grandmother’s house, and she cooked up a delicious batch of fried squirrel with biscuits and gravy and all kinds of other stuff.  It was amazing.  

Yellow Lab Finds a Surprise

May 7th, 2008

Lots of rain coming today while I’m working on moving rocks.  And it’s a great time to move a few plants around with the softer soil. In a couple of months the ground will be dry as a bone.    I’ve been taking so many pictures along the way it’s hard to keep up. 

Yesterday while working behind the barn the yellow lab found a surprise that turned out to be a Black Rat Snake.  A very common snake in the area, although we don’t see them very much.  The lab wanted to see what this new thing was, but was obviously wary.

Yellow lab finds a Black Rat Snake

I was amazed after we left it alone, to see it literally climbing up an oak tree!  I have seen them climb around branches and cavities, but never straight up the side of a tree.  The birds must think this their greatest nemesis in spring. 

Black Rat snake climbing oak tree

After it perched on a branch it reminded me of being in a jungle somewhere.  Gee, I hope I’m not losing readers with my snake pictures! :)

Black Rat snake perched in oak tree

Actually, these snakes are good to have around. They’re harmless to people really, and catch smaller rodents such as mice to keep populations in check.   But this one was about 5-6 feet long and would give you quite a surprise!

But the May Apples and Dogwoods are blooming!  The leaves are almost fully out and everything looks so lush.  Now it’s really hard to keep up with the grass and weeds, but somehow I don’t think it really matters… it’s just nice to enjoy the spring season.

May Apple in flower

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Dogwood flowering in May

Alas our geese family didn’t seem to make it this year.  On Saturday I saw two adult geese honking and swimming around by themselves.  Then the same again yesterday, and I haven’t seen the little ones since last week.  All I can think of is that a predator must have got to them.  The cycle of life perhaps, but after seeing the little guys we were hoping to watch them grow.  There’s always next year perhaps.

Gandering at Geese

May 2nd, 2008

Sometimes I think I should call this blog The Pond Watcher based on how often I find myself looking wistfully at the water.   Mostly I simply enjoy watching all the critters that live in, on or around it.  Many animals just visit briefly, which keeps it interesting.  But lately we’ve had a family of Canada Geese visiting with their youngsters. 

So I guess I’m gandering at the gander, the goose and the goslings :)  There are a few ponds in the area, and the geese actually walk for hundreds of yards through the fields to different ponds with the goslings in tow.  They have also nested here in the past, but I discourage that due to all the, well… you know what.  We live right here at the pond, and with too much of the ah, you know what laying around, it becomes quite messy.   But the geese have prevailed this year, and I’ll enjoy watching them swim around the pond.

Of course the little goslings are very cute to watch, but the harsh realities of nature takes its toll as there were seven little guys following the parents around last week, and now there are only four left.  We have a lot of hawks, coyotes, foxes, fish and turtles around…  But maybe these four will make it to adulthood?  There is no shortage of Canada Geese in the midwest, but it’s neat to watch them grow and learn to fly.

Family of Canada Geese in May

Backyard Beasts Indeed

April 23rd, 2008

Warm today!  I’ve been keeping occupied with vegetative matters… and not the reclining type.  Lots of grass cutting, tree planting and general soil manipulation.   But there’s always time to enjoy the warmth of the day.  This week that warmth has meant all the insect critters are out in abundance. 

For some reason, we seem to be infested with paper wasps this week.  I don’t generally mind the little black colored guys, but we have some big red ones around that I’ve not seen much before.  And contrary to Valerie’s view of these Backyard Beasts, the ones here are aggressive (Don’t they look mean too!).  I know they are good for the environment, and eat catepillars and such, but when the wasps start chasing me that’s where I draw the line.

I’ve gone through a few cans of wasp spray, doing battle with them as they fly at me.  Not in any particular area either- I’ll be walking peacefully along behind or in front of the house, planting a tree or minding my own business, and this red devil will start buzzing and chasing me.  I don’t know, there must be a big nest somewhere that I just can’t find.  It sounds funny- but really, one of these dudes chased me for almost 100 feet today.  I threw my gloves at it, waved a hat at it, and kept running while it flew after me.  Wish I had a video of my wasp dance– that would look pretty funny.  The black paper wasps tend to avoid us, but these red ones are all around the outside of the house and garden, and just fly right at you when you walk by them.  I’ll try to get a picture this week if they’ll hold still long enough!  So these dudes now rank as the #1 bug I can’t stand, beating out the bug I appreciate the least from last year.

While there’s too many wasps, I have not succeeded in finding any morels this year, and the season is probably nearing its end.  We did find this large fungi anonymous however.   Is this a puffball?  I don’t really know, but it was floating in the pond and the young one thought it looked like a bell.  Kind of neat whatever it is.

Fungi anonymous a puffball?

Time to work with gravel and bark tomorrow… with a can of wasp spray in my back pocket.

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!

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

Country Critters and Friends

April 8th, 2008

A few days of beautiful weather really brought out the spring. We’ve been busy moving plants, and generally tidying up the place. And there’s always something happening to get your attention. Usually I wander from one project to the other, often pulled by the “Daddy come here!” calls of the nearly wild youngster. Later he led the family on a hike through the woods to his secret spot and he was so excited to show us the big spot of pretty little flowers in the grass. He asked me to put this up here to show everyone.

Flowers in the grass

We didn’t find any morels, but saw lots of lush green moss.

Moss in the forest

Of course later I remembered that I left Sparky the cat in the barn. The cats will follow us everywhere and they have no idea about predators really. So I locked him inside while we went hiking around. We came back and found the cat nosing around a workbench. I didn’t think we had mice in the barn this winter, but apparently Sparky begged to differ.

Sure enough upon looking between some boxes on a shelf, two little beady eyes peered out at me. Cornered by the cat in back and me staring at him in front, the mouse didn’t want move from his hideaway. In a moment of unusual inspiration, I grabbed a large bucket and scooted the mouse from behind. The little guy thought he could outsmart me and leapt off the shelf making a perfect plunk! noise in the bucket, after which time he hunkered down realizing he was caught.

Naturally the young boy admired this mousy cuteness and wanted to keep him for a pet… not! And of course Sparky the cat glared at me after taking his prize away. So after much deliberation, and with the boy’s earnest concern, we took our friend for a walk across the pond and let him go.

A lucky country mouse

Be free little mouse! He was lucky I was delinquent on setting the mousetraps this winter. But the experience of helping the little critter and letting him go was important to the boy. I remember years ago when I was about his age, and catching my first trout with my Dad and brothers in a lake in Oregon. We fished all day to catch just a few for dinner, and then I pleaded to let my fish go back in the water. He helped me do that.

The weather warmed up enough to bring the turtles out. I think that’s why I like a few stumps and logs in the pond, as it makes for perches and hideaways for the critters.

Pond turtles in Missouri

Late in the afternoon yesterday I found two friends walking home together. Justin the Basset Hound and Sparky the cat.  Justin likes to follow the cats around, and they seem to enjoy his gentle disposition. He’s over 10 years old now.

Two friends walking home, Basset Hound and Cat

Surprise on the Porch

March 25th, 2008

There are always surprises in spring.  You wouldn’t expect one of them to be a snake in the house!  It seems one of the plant containers kept outside in the summer served as a nice little home for a Ring-necked Snake.  We noticed something near the carpet and thought it was a toy left out… but then it started moving!  These are harmless little guys, and quite docile- probably a Prairie Ring-necked Snake.  Of course it doesn’t generate near the excitement of the six foot Black snake I saw last year!  This week we’ll release it outside to find a new home.

Ring-necked Snake in the house

Someone enjoys giving the cats a lot of attention, and that’s okay with Princess.

Princess the cat

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