Monday, April 25, 2011

Toads mating!

The black and white string in the top left quadrant is the string of eggs
The toads started singing a little late this year, but we finally have success!

The past few days we've had a group of toads hanging out in the pond skimmer--apparently their favorite place. We've heard a lot of singing the last two nights, and they've still been singing in the morning when I get up.

One pair finally got together to lay eggs. Note how much larger the female is than the male. There are still five males hanging out in the skimmer, so we hope some more females come around tonight.

We especially would like them to find our pond. If they don't, they usually end up in someone's swimming pool, which means all the little tadpoles die when the owners add chlorine.

More on amphibians on Our Habitat Garden website.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A towhee visits our yard

We were happy to see a towhee in the yard. At first glance, we thought it was a robin since it has the same coloring. But a towhee has much more vivid coloring and much more clearly-defined borders of white and black. Unfortunately, he wouldn't turn around for a good photo of this, but these birds are striking.

We especially like to watch him scratching about in the leaves under the clethra shrubs, apparently his favorite place. He does the little insect scratching motion just like song sparrows and other true sparrows do, but in a much more vigorous way.

I'm glad we've left this leaf litter, which can be a rich source of little insects for birds. So many people seem to think any natural materials under shrubs have to be raked up and discarded like trash. What a shame!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

First butterfly of the season!

When I stepped outside today, a butterfly flew over my head. Although I didn't see it clearly, I believe it was a mourning cloak. The photo (taken a few years ago, not today) shows a mourning cloak, somewhat battered. I'm not surprised that it should be a mourning cloak since they overwinter as adults, in contrast to other butterflies that overwinter in other various stages.

For example, we're still waiting for my black swallowtail pupae to emerge. They've been sitting in their pupal form in the aquarium since mid-summer last year! When the temperatures reach 60, I expect they'll start thinking about emerging.

I also saw a number of bees today, though I saw my first bee a few days ago. But I wonder what they're eating? There are very few things blooming--not even the pussy willows, which are still gray catkins.

Maybe the early bees just take the chance that they'll be able to survive and thus get a head start. If so, then these lost the bet...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Chipmunks return!

I saw my first chipmunk yesterday (April 2). This was the first winter I can recall when I didn't see a chipmunk during a January thaw. Why? Because there never was a thaw. There was a constant, usually very thick, layer of snow the whole season. It's really a wonder how chipmunks can survive in their burrows for so long without seeing the light of day or getting fresh air.

I know many people regard chipmunks as vermin, but I don't have a problem with them. I haven't noticed any great damage--I even have tulips come up year after year, and I haven't planted any in ten years.

And what if they did a little damage? I get more enjoyment watching them than I would having another tulip. Humans can't just keep the whole world to ourselves.

Shrubs took a hit this winter

Our chokeberry shrub
The snow was unrelenting this winter. Snowstorm after snowstorm--and sometimes ice storms--piled mountains of snow on mountains of snow. This constant layer of snow probably helped our herbaceous plants, but it was hard on our shrubs.

As you can see in the photo, many of the branches were snapped off. I'm cutting these broken branches off cleanly, but some shrubs will have to be cut back almost to the ground. I'm sure they'll regrow, and it may even allow some to grow into better shapes than they were in before.

The shrub I worry about the most, though, is my buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). It was flattened this winter, and its branches were still trapped under the last bit of snow until yesterday. I hope it is able to straighten up some. It's still a young shrub, but it had three or four flowers last year.