Sunday, May 22, 2011

A fawn vs. Deer overpopulation

We had some excitement last night.

I glanced over and saw a doe and her fawn in a neighboring yard. (The neighbors were out of town.) I tried to signal the woman walking down the street with two VERY LARGE dogs that they were there. She stopped, but one of the dogs got away from her and went bounding toward the deer. The doe quickly ran away, and the fawn instantly dropped to the ground in this very awkward-looking posture. Meanwhile the dog dashed to the fawn. I was sure it was going to rip it apart, but the dog just sniffed it curiously. I grabbed the dog's leash and returned it to its owner.

So now we had this tiny fawn all alone. The mother was nowhere to be found. I fervently hoped that she would come back to get it during the night. And the next morning--not knowing what I would do if it were still there--I went to check. Phew! It was gone, and I was off the hook.

But it brings out a lot of issues. For one, who could not love this cute little fawn? It was definitely one of the cutest animal babies, and so vulnerable, too. I worried about it all night.

At the same time, though, I don't want deer in my yard, and I don't want so many deer destroying our natural areas, either. We have a serious problem with deer overpopulation. It's not good for our home landscapes, it's not good for our natural areas, it's not good for people who may collide with them while driving...and it's not good for the deer, either.

I feel very conflicted about this dilemma. I want the best for this little baby, but it also represents the huge problem of an ever-increasing deer population--a population which is beyond the carrying capacity of our region. I know it's a disaster to have so many deer. I also know that the solution cannot be a happy one, but one that must take into account a larger view of what is healthiest for the earth.

I ended the evening feeling very sad about the problems we face--and very uncertain whether humans are up to the challenges facing us.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

UPDATE: Our overwintering swallowtails emerge!

Just emerged. Its wings are still crumpled.
I was about to give up hope. After all, the idea of these little black swallowtail pupae overwintering on a freezing cold screen porch all winter, nine months after they became a pupa is itself preposterous. And the time we had this situation before, they had already emerged by this point in May.

But today, when I happened to glance at the aquarium that has housed these pupae all winter, I saw a swallowtail, with its wings still crumpled, having very recently emerged. It's currently still just hanging from the stick, waiting for its wings to become strong enough to fly away. I'm happy that this morning is one of the few days that there's some sun. I'd hate to release him into a rainy outdoors.

It's amazing to think that this is the first time it has seen the light of day since last July or so! 

UPDATE:  After hanging around a few hours, its wings were fully expanded and flight-worthy. He was ready to go out into the world for his first venture post-caterpillar.

Here he is sitting on some beautiful shooting stars.

I'm glad we have lots of zizia, dill, and parsley growing so if it manages to find a mate, there are places they can lay eggs for the next generation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Our former tadpoles growing up

One of our former tadpoles, growing up
Over the past few years, toads have laid tens of thousands of eggs in our ponds. By the time they're ready to leave our ponds, there are somewhat fewer, and I imagine that after a few weeks out of the ponds, their numbers are considerably diminished. On days when many are leaving the pond, I've seen birds with little legs sticking out of their beaks.  But after all, how many toads could our yard support anyway? Natural attrition is built into the system.

Still, toads are so beneficial that we're hoping a good many survive. It's hard to know how many do survive since mating season in the ponds is the only time we see toads routinely. (Frogs hang around the pond all the time--one reason we really miss them.)

It's always fun to discover some of our own toadlets growing up. Yesterday, I moved a stone and discovered two adolescent toads! We don't know if they were last year's toads or toads from the previous year. (I put a dime near him to show his relative size.) We relocated them to an area with lots of cover, and we're sure they'll be helping us as they grow by eating increasing numbers of slugs and other pests.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unusual visitors to our pond

A few years ago a pair of mallards visited our pond briefly, but we hadn't seen any since then ... until tonight. Our pond is just barely ten feet across, so I don't believe it's adequate to support a pair of ducks, but it's interesting to have them as visitors.

Our biggest concern about having these otherwise welcome guests is that they'll eat our toad tadpoles. We've had batches of toad eggs in both our upper pond (the one shown here) and in our lower pond, which is next to the house. The toads laid many thousands of eggs, so as long as they don't go into our bottom wildlife pond, then we'll probably have as many tadpoles as our yard can support anyway.

It was interesting watching the two enjoying the pond and stream. As I kept crawling closer, they seemed to become quite comfortable with my presence, but seldom took their eyes off me just in case.

They finally left the pond and stream and wandered into my meadow garden for a little while before taking off.

Friday, May 06, 2011

American lady butterfly laying eggs

American Lady butterfly laying eggs on pussytoes
I'm not sure when we've first seen American Lady butterflies in the past, but it seemed early. Maybe that's just because it has been so rainy and cold following such a long, snowy winter that it's hard to believe it's actually May. At any rate, it was certainly encouraging to see life beginning anew!

It always amazes me to see butterflies finding their host plants. I have a few good patches of pussytoes (Antennaria), but even so, they're dwarfed by all the other plants in the yard. Still, the ladies find them, as they must.

We're still waiting for the dill to grow so the black swallowtail butterflies will have something to lay their eggs on. Of course, they could also lay their eggs on parsley, but they always seemed to prefer the dill. We also have some zizia, their native host plant, which is starting to grow.

Monday, May 02, 2011

If you think YOUR life is boring...

Three toads spending the day in the pond skimmer
These three toads spent the entire day in the pond skimmer without moving a muscle. That might have been fine for the toad on the top, but I wouldn't have wanted to be the toad on the bottom!

I assume this is their sleeping time, resting up for the nighttime frolics in the pond. We've had at least four batches of eggs laid so far.

I've had to remove two mating pairs from the skimmer and put them in the bottom pond, but they seemed to disappear after a while. Maybe they gave up and went away.

I don't like to disturb them, but any eggs they laid in the skimmer would be going up through the return pipe, through the biofalls lava rocks and into the stream. I don't think they'd survive, so moving them is the best I can do. At any rate, we have so many thousands of eggs now developing that I don't think more eggs would necessarily mean more toads.

The saddest thing is to hear all the toads singing throughout the neighborhood, knowing that the majority of them are laying their eggs in swimming pools, which will soon be chlorinated.

More info on my frogs and toads is on my website at