Monday, May 27, 2013

Nature Notes: Beauty and a Beast

For Nature Notes this week, I went looking for a beauty. What I found was a beast.

I planted a waterlily about three weeks ago. It seemed like something should be showing by now, so I took a walk down to the pond to see.


The bramble berries and fragrant honeysuckle were in bloom, and the light on the water made me feel as if I were stepping into an impressionist painting. But there was no sign of the waterlily.  It should have been right here:


Nada. I suspect I would have done just as well had I tied a rock to my ten-dollar bill and sunk that in there instead.

The lizard tails look happy, though, and there's no sign of dodder. (Remember that? The Attack of the Vampires?) The Hubby is waging a valiant and fairly successful war against the dodder, armed with only a weed torch and a lot of determination.

I had been putting off visiting the pond. I knew a neighbor's exterminator had rinsed equipment in it, and I feared the worst for the wildlife within. There are far fewer frogs than usual, but the water is still teeming with life. In fact I saw two things I'd never seen before:

One, this little beetle. It is about an inch long, and I'd swear it had a tiny boat motor attached to its back end. It was going at least a foot per second, and it caused an amazing amount of turbulence in all directions:


 Looking more closely into the water, I was at first thrilled to see what seemed to be very large tadpoles...but...with...fins?? Frilly legs?? OMG! Mutant frogs! WTF!


So I hustled back to the house for a zoom lens and a polarizing filter and came back for a closer look:


It took most of the afternoon on Google to figure it out, but these are definitely larval salamanders. Those frills are external gills. Count the toes...


Larval salamanders are difficult to identify, but two kinds have only four toes on the rear feet, the common mudpuppy and the rarely seen four-toed salamander. Mudpuppies live their whole lives in the water, never lose those gills, and get very big and slimy. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure from this guide that we're looking at the cute little four-toed ones that eventually leave the pond. We have seen spotted salamander adults around the place, though, so if these babies grow a fifth rear toe they're probably those.

And there's more good news. Salamanders are extremely sensitive to pollution and pesticide. So if they're still alive in there, the pond must be at least relatively OK. The missing frogs remain a mystery.


Click here to visit Michelle's site, Rambling Woods, and see more Nature Notes

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nature Notes: The Birds

Have you ever seen Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"?

I think I know where his inspiration came from. All of a sudden, all my little winged buddies want to come inside for ... what? To visit? To complain about the food? To tease the cat? To rent a friggin' room?

Goldfinches are monopolizing the hummingbird feeder, pecking on my kitchen window as if they expect me to let them in. And when that doesn't work ...


They try the living room windows ...


Where Gatsby waits patiently for a chance to pounce against the glass and leave nose prints all over.


Whenever we open the garage doors, barn swallows come swooping in and out. I made a brief effort to photograph them, but I didn't want to leave the door open and risk having a hummingbird fly in. They are the very devil to catch when they do that.

Last time I went into the potting shed, there was a sparrow in there, fluttering against the window. How it got in, or why, I haven't a clue. It flew out when I opened both doors. Lucky for her I needed a garden tool that day.

The birds here have never done this before. Well, except for the brainless little hummers who get stuck in the garage. So what's up? Should I be concerned?

P.S. Thanks for all your kind comments, suggestions and sympathy about my other, less welcome invader. We do plan to sit down and try to come to an arrangement with him about the mowing. I'll let you know how it goes.

Target practice is the main reason he's moving out here, so the firing range is not going to be negotiable. As far as I know, there's no law against it, and he certainly won't be the only one shooting up the place. We've always had to put up with the sound of gunfire. He'll just be really close, and shooting every day, and part of the woods will get cut down. ::Sigh::

Click here to visit Michelle's site, Rambling Woods, and see more Nature Notes

Friday, May 17, 2013

Paradise Lost

Invaded. Violated. Assaulted. Under attack. Spoiled. Ruined.

We have a new neighbor. He bought the thirty acres next to us, which apparently includes a large strip of what I thought was ours. He hasn't  even built on it yet, and already he has completely changed the west side of our property, mowed down all the milkweed, and poisoned the pond. He intends to cut down a whole swath of the woods to put in a firing range. Yes, a firing range. To practice competitive shooting. A lot. He also says he is "a big hunter" -  meaning he likes to kill pretty much anything that moves.

Worst of all, he has robbed me of my sense of sanctuary. This was my haven from the world. Coming home from work, as soon as I reached the driveway all the tension drained away. I made a ritual of turning off the yammering voices on the radio, smiled to myself, and sped up to reach the house sooner. Glimpses of the windows glowing through the trees were like a beacon in the storm. My safe hiding place in the woods, where cares could not follow.

It was so private back in here that I felt perfectly comfortable sipping coffee on the deck in my jammies, or lying down on it at night to watch the stars move across the sky. We needed no curtains on our windows. The only other humans we saw were the farm crew who came a few times a year to tend the field next door.

Now there is this guy, or people doing work for him, popping up right in my yard. Or what used to be "my" yard. Entire sections have been mowed that I didn't want mowed, some of which I am almost sure are ours.

Strangers come and go at the edge of the pond, about a third of which is apparently on his side of the line. An exterminator who treated the neighbor's barn for powder post beetles rinsed out his equipment in the water. I haven't seen a frog since.

I haven't written about my fears and anxieties over this because I was hoping they would be unfounded. I was hoping whoever bought there would build down by the road, like everyone else, and continue to rent out the field, and have no interest in our side of the tree line. But the new guy plans to build right next to us. Once that happens, it will be just like living in the suburbs again.

Neither side has had a formal survey done because it costs thousands and only marks the corners of the properties, which are about a quarter mile apart. As you can't see one corner from the other, and the line between them would run through the woods and the pond, getting it right would be guesswork. Still, we may have to try, as the fellow seems to be claiming turf on our side of the tree line that I believe to be well into our yard.

The guy has been friendly enough, but there's just something about him that feels off. The smile doesn't reach the eyes; there is an appraising, calculating quality behind his gaze during conversation. There is the aggressive marking of territory with all the unnecessary mowing and the disregard for wild life.

Things have been quite amicable up until now, and the last thing I need is to make him an enemy. I smile and offer cookies when he stops by. And maybe we can persuade him that he doesn't need to mow on our side.

I'm trying so hard not to give in to despair. We'll see.


(This is the new neighbor's barn. Our house is on the other side of that tree line to the right, almost even with the barn. He plans to build a house next to that barn, which will give him a nice view of our house, deck, back yard, pool ... in other words, privacy is a thing of the past.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Nature Notes: Spun Sugar

Sugar Maple Flowers

I just love the way this meme inspires me to go outside and really look around. It's hard to imagine, given the dramatic nature of the flowers on this sugar maple, but I never really noticed them before. Aren't they something?

Sugar Maple Seeds

Seeds are already growing, complete with tiny wings that will become the familiar "helicopters" we used to play with as children.

Of course, when you look closely you sometimes see things you'd rather not. Like these spindle galls beginning to form on some of the leaves. They are caused by a mite,  but they do not damage the tree. They're just kinda yucky.

Spindle Galls

Click here to visit Michelle's site, Rambling Woods, and see more Nature Notes

Monday, May 6, 2013

Diagnosis: Glaucoma

It's taken me a week to process the shock of this news and to write this post. I went in to the eye doctor last week for a minor eyelid infection. Two hours and several tests later, I walked out with a diagnosis of glaucoma. And I am already partially, permanently blind in the left eye.

I worried about the cataracts I already have, and about diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. The good news is, I still don't have those and the cataracts are still small.

But I do have glaucoma, which was not even on my radar of things to worry about. The right eye compensated so well I was unaware of it.

The bad news is it is progressive and incurable. But there's good news too: The blind section is not yet in my field of straight-ahead vision, the right eye seems OK so far, and it can probably be slowed down with a simple eye drop. They say most people don't go totally blind if they stick to a care regimen.

It's funny. Now that I know about it, I keep closing my right eye, looking at things through the left and watching sections of them disappear into blank darkness. The blind section is about a fifth of my field of vision, directly above my line of sight. How could I not have noticed that? How could those puff tests every year at the optometrists have not picked up on the increased pressure?

Better yet, how can I get past this. Blindness is the one thing I don't think I could endure.

(Cross posted with Maraca.)