Airborne Marvels

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Unfortunately with all our rain, this photo doesn’t do justice to what’s really happening here.

Every year, for about a month or so, the timing of which seems to coordinate with the maturing of the periodic dog day cicadas, of course, eastern cicada killer wasps (sphecius speciosus)make tunnels (hence the large opening and the disturbed soil in the photo).

The cicada killer wasp is the largest wasp in my part of the world and it’s a fearsome looking creature. It looks pretty much like a giant hornet or yellow jacket–and when I say “giant” I am not kidding. They can be up to 2″ long (which doesn’t sound long until you are walking along and all of these wasps are burrowing and flying around at you!)

Despite their size, in general, they are gentle and non-stinging (although as with all stinging insects, if something happens to annoy them, they will defend themselves. The Spoiler once managed to get stung by a bumble bee! I wasn’t sure that was really possible. I now know it is.)

What these wasps are doing is making a tunnel nest for an egg. They then grab a cicada, take it down into the nest for the egg to eat when it hatches, and fly away. Nothing very scary. The whole process takes about a month.

Our cicada killers at this site have returned every year for decades and to the best of my knowledge, despite the building’s public use, no one has ever been stung.

There are lots more fun and interesting facts about our largest wasp (in North America, at least) at this site about Cicadas.

If you encounter them–or their tunnels–don’t be afraid. Just watch and enjoy.

Crop Circle?

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This first appeared in my lawn about a month ago. It was followed by something that looked like this.

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I was really mystified.

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And then I saw this. The rabbit is a little far away to see–she’s underneath the crab apple and quite alert to my presence. That’s why I didn’t want to get too close (although she does hop into my rose garden if I even dare to drive up the driveway)

So yes, by now you’ve guessed it–this isn’t an alien invasion after all–it’s a rabbit’s nest. And what I feared was destruction by a predator in the second photo (and may in fact have been) didn’t mean that the baby bunnies weren’t still alive–you can see the tunnel in the lawn. I presume they were in there. That’s why the “Mama” was so attentive and so reluctant to leave them in my last photo.

This nest has been used twice so far this summer. We’ll see how many more times it gets used before it us ultimately abandoned–or before nature takes its course and predators do get it.

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.