Hiding in Plain Sight

Maybe you remember me talking about how it was a heavy mast year last fall? I had a photo of hundreds of maple seeds on the ground in my grass.

Well, now it’s spring and this is what everything in my landscape looks like:

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Yes, there are dozens of these seedlings in the rock patio–but also notice the dozens more where they have washed into the bed behind the hydrangeas. I am going to have to spend hours just weeding these out.  Apparently maple seeds have little nutrient value to my “critters” like chipmunks and voles.

But can you see the chipmunk sniffing around in the above photo? He’s pretty hidden by all those maple seedlings. Here’s a better photo.

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They are awfully cute–although they have eaten the buds off the peony plants that I have waiting to be planted so I am much less amused by their antics than  I used to be.

And to get back to Friday’s post for a moment, I have had these jumping out of containers and running on my feet too.  They apparently don’t like it when you accidentally water their tiny heads.

You can see by my dry, cakey soil that we need rain. That’s what I am waiting on to weed. But if I wait too much longer, I will be weeding a forest here. It’s a fine balance.

Just A City Slicker at Heart, I Fear

Warning! Although there will be no images with this post, it’s topic is going to be some of the truly grisly bits of nature–so you may not wish to read further. I will try to keep warning along the way.

As gardeners, we get immune to certain things, right? That’s what I thought. Bugs? No problem. I have even mostly overcome my fear of spiders (except for those huge, hopping grass spiders. They’re fine outside. I still freak out if one gets in the house!)

I have never been afraid of snakes. I am even okay with most critters, including rats. (Squeamish alert–stop reading if rats freak you out!) Trust me, I have had a rat run over my foot and I didn’t even flinch. This is why I figured I was pretty good with “critters.”

My backyard pond gives me another chance to interact–and not “in a good way” with the wildlife. Despite my best attempts, things fall in and drown and I need to remove their carcasses. I will spare you the litany of animals I have removed (no household pets, just wild creatures, if that makes it better–I am not sure I am consoled by that).

And then of course, our resident hawks often leave evidence of their hunting prowess around, as do our great horned owls. So I can confidently say that I have handled–and for the squeamish, you may want to not read here–more dead things–than most folks.

And for the squeamish, again, stop right now, because this is even a bit much for me. This is how I know I am just not cut out for life on a farm.

A little over a week ago, a car hit a squirrel. I know this because I see it on our daily walks–3 times daily, in fact–with my dog. Thankfully, she misses everything but live squirrels, chipmunks and birds. She has missed bears running across the road in front of us (thank goodness) and coyotes doing the same. Thank goodness the coyotes were apparently not interested in us either.

Because the squirrel was out of the stream of traffic, it stayed relatively “preserved” for a few days. Flies found it and a few days later, it was covered in “fly larva.” I will leave it to your imagination as to what those are. There were so many that they completely moved off the little carcass and moved down the street. Then they disappeared.

Presumably because of their activity, the body has now compressed, for lack of a better word.  Almost nothing is left of the head but an open jaw. The fur pelt is still there, but it appears almost empty. This is a fascinating (if somewhat stomach clenching) view of nature at work.

So that’s how I know that I am just truly a city slicker at heart. Faced with this tiny example of “wild kingdom” on my street, it’s all I can do to keep my lunch.

Let’s Leave The Ants Be

On Monday I had a photo of muscari, or grape hyacinths. I said that I would talk more about those in a different post. This is that post.

It’s not Pollinator Week yet–that’s June 18-24 this year. But nevertheless, I always try to talk about one of the unheralded pollinators of the garden, the ants, this time of year, because in my part of the world this is when they are making themselves known and so this is when most folks are reaching for sprays, traps–or worse.

Please: if the ants are just harmlessly going about their business somewhere safely away from your home, please just let them be. Ants serve valuable purposes in our ecosystem.

If they are in your house–fine. Do what you must. But before your break out the heavy duty poisons, try discouraging them by washing away their trails with a soapy cloth. It doesn’t always work, but it you get it early enough, it will.

Ants are actually good for your ecosystem. If you have heavy soil, they will help break that up.

But more important, they pollinate. They pollinate lots of early spring wildflowers. Here in the northeast, many of our spring ephemerals like bloodroot, trillium, and others with a special sort of structure called an eliaosome are pollinated this way.

I also find that my muscari are, if not specifically “pollinated” by ants, certainly propagated by them. I have never planted any in my lawn–and yet, my lawn is full of them. At first, I thought chipmunks or squirrels must have done it–and then I realized that it was the ants.

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It’s not a question of the muscari naturalizing–these plants are too far apart and much too widely spaced to have done that. And they are far too random for the seed to have just scattered (although I suppose anything is possible). Rather they appear in small clumps as if they were brought there somehow–which is why I originally blamed the chipmunks.

It’s a nice effect–and since I am the only one in my neighborhood to have it (and the only gardener crazy enough to let the ants be, no doubt), I suspect this is what’s happened.

So with our bees, butterflies, bats and other pollinators in such trouble, why not give your ants a chance? You might be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

The Dawn Chorus

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No matter where you live, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, this is happening right about now.  I am not referring to sunrise–that happens worldwide of course.  I am referring to the dawn chorus.

You may not know the name for what I am referring to. It’s the cacophony of bird song at or even slightly before dawn this time of year.

Very few birds sing in winter, at least in my climate. I will hear what I call “the first bird of the day” ( who coincidentally also sings last at night all winter — that’s the cardinal). And there are assorted woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, titmice, finches and sparrows. That’s about it.

Once spring arrives the robins, always a vocal bird anyway, become the first and last bird of the day. They are often joined by other mimic thrush type birds–mockingbirds, catbirds–and then there are blue jays, crows, starlings , grackles–the bird loud mouths.

At times it’s so loud it will even wake me, even with windows closed. And I am a very sound sleeper.

Why does this happen? Well, the birds aren’t saying precisely. The theories are that the birds are defending territory,  looking for mates, or both.

The next time you wake up early,  listen for the bird song. It’s a great way to start the day.

Don’t Be Too Quick To Clean Up In Spring

It’s mid-March. Next week is astronomical spring, otherwise known as the vernal equinox. If you’re lucky, you have some signs of spring coming up in your yard or somewhere nearby.

I must encourage you, though, please don’t be too quick to tidy up in the yard. We gardeners are a manic bunch, aren’t we, hating to see even a leaf out of place? What is it we think might happen?

Please leave some of the leaf litter in place until some real warmth takes place and holds awhile.

This would be the same for some plant stems–if you left any in the garden in the fall.

Why am I asking you to leave your garden messy? Simple. There are “things” living in the leaves and the plant stems that need time to emerge and find new homes. If you clean up leaf litter too early,  you might be destroying overwintering butterfly larva, or worse yet, the lovely mourning cloak butterflies that are sunning themselves there.

If you cut down and discard hollow plant stems, you might be discarding all sorts of beneficial bugs, including valuable native bees.

When we talk about all the “good bugs” in the garden, these are the ones that you want. If you’re not seeing them, ask yourself if your clean-up practices might be accidentally contributing to their demise. You surely wouldn’t want that.

On a warm spring day, go outside and take a walk instead. That will help you get over the urge to tidy too soon–and you won’t feel too lazy!

 

Unwelcome Guests

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This photo–which appears to show just a jumble of plants–actually shows an invasive brown marmorated stink bug on the orchid spike in the photo.  Since the new year, I have been having a mini invasion of sorts. They have never been a problem before for me,  either in the house or the garden.

I know enough not to kill them. If they are somewhere where I can catch them and toss them outside,  that’s what I do. Otherwise,  they seem to die rather quickly on their own. Problem solved.

On the same day that I took this photo,  I heard the unmistakable calls of grackles. Sure enough,  the next morning,  I saw one strutting around on my neighbor’s lawn.

That may not seem strange where you live,  but they’re a full 3 weeks earlier than usual here. Is spring really on its way?