An Amazing Moth

These crazy photos–taken from inside, because there was no was to get up close from outside because of the blue spruce you can see through the window– are of an interesting moth known as the Beautiful Wood Nymph.

The moth is even more eye-catching than the camera shows, although if you read a bit about it, some of the descriptions talk a little too much about the moth’s ability to hide itself by looking like bird excrement.

Up close, it’s actually nothing like that at all. The colors in its wings are maroon with a lime green edge–I am not sure what a bird would be eating….

What caught my eye were its fuzzy antennae.

Its larva feed on Virginia Creeper, which I have plenty of. I hope to see more of these beauties around.

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.

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!

 

The Unofficial Winter Forecast

According to the “mets” in the know (and “mets” is a familiar term not for a New York baseball team, but for meteorologists) just about this time, give or take a few days, we are in for a winter weather pattern shift over the northeastern two thirds of the United States.

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO for short) is about to go “negative” on us and that can lead to a much colder pattern of air taking hold, particularly in a La Nina year. So hello and welcome Polar Vortex! Brrr!

A few other things are leading the mets to this conclusion that winter weather will be arriving–and possibly a snowy pattern, or at least a stormy patterns–along with it. I will spare you the technical details.

So of course what did I do around the end of November when I started hearing all this talk of negative NAOs?  I consulted my squirrels!

For those of you not familiar with the long accustomed practice of consulting squirrels’ nests as a way of predicting winter weather, it goes like this: the higher up in a tree the squirrel’s nest is, the colder (and presumably snowier, but I am not sure they actually predict precipitation–just cold!) the winter will be.

I usually try to find a squirrel’s nest right on my own property. I knew that I must have one in an oak off the edge of my property because every morning and evening my dog loses her mind  barking when she sees the squirrels running up and down the tree trunk. So I started looking up into the tree.

Oaks are funny because they hold a lot of their leaves, even into the winter, so it’s sometimes tough to see into the canopy.

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Finally I spotted the nest, almost at the top of the tree. (But you can tell just from this photo how difficult that was. It’s about mid-photo, way up high, right where there’s an awkward looking crooked branch. )

So I guess the mets are right. It’s Polar Vortex time. Better break out the woolies. I’m already wearing the long underwear. Not sure how much more I can pile on!