posts tagged with 'wildlife'

butterfly garden

Years ago I vowed to do my part to grow milkweed for the monarch butterflies. But we didn't stop there! We also have all kinds of butterfly-friendly flowers for the adults to sip on and water for them to drink. So every year we can count on enjoying having them around the place. But this year is something else! In our backyard and along the driveway they're always there—at any moment you can look out and see one. Or more than one: the other day I think I counted eight just in a little patch of our backyard! I tried to get a picture with all of them but they wouldn't sit still and pose, so this is just a sample of the monarch excitement we've been witnessing.

a monarch butterfly in a butterfly bush

there's actually two in this picture if you look closely

I have no idea what's led to the jump in their numbers. I've been joking that we've singlehandedly reversed their population decline, but that's probably not it. Maybe they're attracted by all the weed flowers we have growing in the lawn, because the lawn mower isn't working? Or maybe we've just reached a critical mass of butterfly bush, tall phlox, and zinnias, and are attracting all the monarchs in Bedford. Sorry to everybody else in that case... but you're welcome to stop by for a viewing!

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in which animals continue to target my gardens

I love lilies, but today all of the beautiful blooms I noticed in people's yards all over town made me feel sad. Why? Because this morning I discovered that, overnight, a deer had eaten off all the buds from the two lily plants in the position of honor in front of the house. We have others—the ones in the backyard along the fence are blooming beautifully—but nobody but us gets to see them! I want to make our house beautiful for passers-by! Seeing everyone else's beauty today—it's a great year for lilies, absent deer predation—made me wonder why the critters are targeting my yard in particular. How does everyone else grow anything?! What am I doing wrong? At least the rabbits took a break from nibbling the petunias for a day or two, so there's a little color out front... Man, who knew gardening was such a stressful hobby!

Labor Day boating

After our vacation we took a day and a half off from adventuring, but today being Labor Day we just had to get out for some summer fun! Harvey and I took a dawn bike ride, but that doesn't count—we do that on regular days too. No, the true Labor Day excitement was found in a canoe trip on the Concord River.

our boat approaching the Old North Bridge

what could be finer?

We could tell it was an appropriate way to observe the day because hundreds of other people had the same idea; it was easily the busiest day I've ever seen on the river. Cars were parked up and down the road by the ramp where we put in, and there were streams of boats coming from the rental place a little further on too. We had debated between putting in there versus the boat launch in Bedford, and I'm really glad we chose the upstream spot: the river in Concord is too shallow for powerboats, and I sure they were swarming downstream in Bedford and Billerica. Even a crowd of canoes and kayaks leaves plenty of space for other river users!

our boat pulled up on shore, three kayaks in the water beyond it

practically a traffic jam!

We were only out for about an hour and a half. We headed downstream first and stopped by at the Old North Bridge, which was crowded with a mix of boaters, cyclists, and people who just had to drive there (poor things). We walked around a bit but were disappointed to find the boathouse dock had been taken up—probably because the water was so low it would have been completely aground. So we reembarked and continued downstream, noting wildlife as we went. We tried to find exemplars of each type of animal, and were successful for most: insects (dragonflies were our favorite), amphibians (a frog), reptiles (many turtles), fish (um... fish), and birds (a great blue heron who was much less shy than we're used to). Unfortunately we didn't spot any muskrats, so our mammals category had to be filled by a gray squirrel.

a great blue heron quite close up

posing for its glamor shot

Then we went back upstream with the intention of visiting our secret harbor at the confluence on the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers. Of course, with the water level so low the cleft in a rock that we had poked the boat into many times before was about three feet above the surface of the water, so that didn't work. Of course, that also meant that anyone who wanted to could just get out and walk, which was kind of fun.

Zion and Elijah wading in the middle of the Concord River

can't do THAT in the spring!

We had thought of going up the Assabet a little ways too, but given that it didn't look to be deeper than 18 inches at any point we gave up that idea. Plus, Lijah was hungry. So we came home. We may not have had a cookout (that's on the schedule for tomorrow) but I think it's safe to say that Labor Day has been properly celebrated.

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oh the disappointment

It's a good thing we picked up some farm produce the other day, since our own harvests have been a little problematic. The most stressful thing has been the the competition from animals—specifically squirrels. We've never had a problem with them before, but this year they're going crazy on our fruit especially. They ate all the strawberries, then almost all the blueberries, then all the pears, and now they're working on finishing up the unripe apples. It's especially disappointing because all those crops were looking great... but the squirrels keep getting the jump on us. The honeycrisp tree is breaking our heart: we must have had forty or fifty good-looking apples on there a week or two ago, less than a month from ripening, and then they started disappearing at a rate of about five a day. Now there's one left. Lijah is holding out hope that they'll leave it alone, but I don't think the odds are good. And now we got home today from a trip to the ocean to find that something has started in on the roma tomatoes. I don't know if I can cope with it all.

the return of the king

We spotted a monarch butterfly in our yard earlier this week: the first of the year. We're always happy to see them, and we do what we can to invite them in and make them feel welcome. There are butterfly-friendly flowers all over the yard, and they're especially concentrated in the side yard, where a discerning lepidopteran can find butterfly bush, tall phlox, beebalm, and, especially for those monarchs, plenty of milkweed. I took a look and I think I spotted a few eggs on the milkweed, so we'll have a hunt for caterpillars in a little while.

While I was sick the other day I read Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior, which I enjoyed even if a few things about it troubled me. Mainly how strongly its main themes were presented as moral lessons: that monarch butterflies are tremendously valuable both for their beauty and for their role as a proxy for wider environmental issues, which I agree with, and that you should leave your spouse if you're not totally in love with them, on which I have more nuanced opinions. Although maybe you shouldn't trust my review of the book since I was pretty loopy with fever when I pushed through the whole thing in basically one sitting (one "lying-in-bedding?"). But yes, monarchs. Yay monarchs!

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a bird yesterday

Yesterday morning we noticed a striking bird on the top of the apple tree in our front yard. It was smooth and sleek and light brown, with a little crest on its head and black markings around its eyes that looked like super cool 80s wrap-around shades. It was the shades that made me want to look it up, and without a go-to birding resource we looked on the internet and found the All About Birds guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It took just a very few questions before our bird's identity was revealed: cedar waxwing. I still don't know very much about birds despite them begin all around us, so I was glad to find a resource for telling them apart. Of course then I wanted to go back and ID some other birds I've noticed over the last couple months, but I guess I didn't remember enough details because I wasn't able to pin them down. Also I had to register in order to do more searches, and then once I did the tool would load so I had to do the other searches in a private browsing window. I'll keep trying, but we could also always go back to the methods we've used in the past: texting our friends who own birding books.

don't you have your own food?!

The most frustrating thing about gardening is having animals eat the plants. A woodchuck has found a way inside the fence; those kale plants he ate half of? They'd been growing for close to two months, and he ruined them in one snack (he didn't eat half of the plants; he ate half of each plant). The lettuces have also suffered. Maybe most disappointing is the disappearance of so many of the strawberries. We have netting, but constant assalts by squirrels, chipmunks, and gray catbirds have revealed some weaknesses. Zion and I did what we could to secure it this morning, but I don't know how much difference it'll make. In that case, if they eat the strawberries all we can do is wait til next year! It's hard.

I don't begrudge the animals what they need to stay alive. And I recognize that my house and yard are taking up space that their ancestors may have occupied for tens of thousands of years before me. But I can't help but think they're getting a little spoiled, taking only the ripest strawberries or the most tender greens. Aren't there acorns or something for them to eat?!

natural enemies?

This morning a fox got into the yard and attacked the hens. It wasn't even that early—just around breakfast time. I heard the commotion and ran outside; before I even yelled the fox saw me and took off, dropping the hen he was trying to carry away (Springdot the Speckled Sussex). My first instinct was to call for the dogs, who were upstairs with Leah settling in for a morning of office work. They didn't respond instantly, which is probably just as well: unlike Rascal in his prime, Scout and Blue aren't trained to chase away foxes and ignore chickens. The hens were already panicking, and adding two excitable puppies to the scene would probably have made things worse rather than better. Oh well, we're working on it. And they did get come out a little later, once all the hens were safely locked up, to check out the scene of the crime and get their first scent of fox. Next time, they'll be ready!

eggs and chickens

I've written about our hens' winter cessation of egg production before, more than once, and I almost did again about a month ago. But this year the drought didn't last long, and it's even better to write about the return of home-grown eggs. We've had six already, all from the young hens—which I know because they never managed to secure a place in the henhouse for themselves and so laid them on the ground in what was meant to be the chick house annex, where they're still sleeping. Or were, until I closed it off: I can't be crawling in there every day looking for eggs. We have nesting boxes for that! We'll see if being denied any other option will get them sorted out.

Sadly, we now have only three young hens: one of them disappeared just before the new year. There's been a very bold coyote around, one that we're calling a wolf, because it's so big. I noticed the hen was gone when I went to let them out in the morning—they had been putting themselves to bed—and though I looked all around I couldn't find any trace of her. I can't imagine anything could take a hen on snowy ground without leaving remains, but a 50-plus pound wolf (if I were to take a guess!) would probably have as good a shot as anything. We're sad—the missing hen even had a name, thanks to Harvey's friend Jack. Penguin, you'll be missed—and so will your eggs.

Surprise update, January 10: Penguin has been found! A neighbor from the next street over came to tell us that she had a hen that had been living in her side yard—she'd been feeding it for the past week or so. So we went and got her... not without a struggle, since she clearly thought she'd found a new home. Now she's back where she belongs, and we're going to keep her—and all the hens—locked up for a couple days until she gets settled in again.

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wasp season

Today was the beginning of fall, and more importantly it was my dad's birthday! We celebrated together at my parents' house with a cookout—but we didn't get to eat outside. The weather was perfect, but as soon as we put the first bit of food out it was discovered by wasps. Not a ton of wasps, but enough to make some of us nervous. So we went inside. And now that I think about it, the nervousness might have been a little bit justified, because we've had some intense wasp experiences over the past few weeks!

Most notable was our last outing of summer camp back at the end of August. With a good group of kids we rode to Fawn Lake and set out to walk around it. Less then halfway into the walk the leading kids moved off the main trail to explore a peninsula. I was near the back of the group, and as I neared the spot where the path reached the water I heard Sam say, "I think something is stinging me..." Next came the screams.

Sam had stepped on a wasps nest, and the wasps were streaming out and stinging everyone in sight. So we ran! (actually, the kids didn't run until I yelled at them to). Unfortunately, the peninsula we were on is kind of swampy and the path is vague, so in our hurry to get away we went the wrong way, which I realized when we came to a stream that the littler kids couldn't get over. I picking them up to basically throw them across I dropped my backpack and Zion's shoes. Then we ran some more. After a few hundred yards we stopped to catch our breath, and immediately noticed that the wasps were still with us: a few in the air around us and lots more on—or in a few cases under—our clothes. So we ran some more, with a few breaks to kill the wasps clinging to the kids. Half way around the pond from the nest we finally felt safe to stop.

With all that, we weren't absolutely destroyed. Nathan, who hates bugs the most, got the most stings—maybe six. Nobody else got more than two or three, and a few of us—me included—escaped without a single one. But everyone was a little shaken up. Needless to say, we didn't linger long at the pond; and one of the five-year-olds was heard to announce that he's never going hiking again (don't worry, he already has). To recover we all went out for ice cream.

It seems like there are more wasps around this year than usual. Lots of them are interested in our compost, which means they're also interested in our food when we eat on the back porch. Even with the stings they got at the pond the kids aren't particularly worried about wasps attacking them, but it's still disconcerting to have five or six of them buzzing around your head when you're trying to eat and, often, landing on your food. They might not want to sting us, but I bet they would if we bit one by accident. So we haven't been eating outside as much here, either.

But now that it's fall we'll be free of them soon. I'm ready!

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