“I believed then – in a deep, easy way that is impossible for me as an adult – that there was more to this world than meets the eye. Trees had spirits; the wind spoke. If you followed a toad or a raven deep into the heart of the forest, they were sure to lead you to something magical.”
When we had the pond built, almost 20 years ago, we had high hopes that lots of critters would visit or make a home there. And we have seen our fair share of critters come to the pond….frogs, insects, turtles, snakes, birds….and the list goes on. The most consistent visitors making a home, in the pond, has been the frogs laying many eggs every year (see picture above).
But my favorite, yet elusive, visitor to the pond has to be the toads. Although we hear the toads, we only see them from time to time as toads are generally nocturnal. The American toad (Anaxyrus americanus, formerly Bufo americanus) is the species of toad found here. They love areas with moisture and plenty of insects…..which is exactly what you will find in our garden.
We heard the toads again in early April, and they seemed quite close each night calling with that amazing long, trilling sound. So imagine my surprise when we saw them not soon afterward…..
I was so surprised because we had never seen two at once, and certainly not in this amorous embrace. Of course in this position it was quite evident that the large rust colored toad was the female and the smaller the male. The female makes her home just outside the fence in a small garden we have, and we see her burrowing herself in for the winter, or uncovering herself as spring warms the ground.
We see the smaller male toads here and there, in the garden and pond and even some tiny young toads. But we have never seen the making of those little toads. Not wanting to intrude on these two, I took pictures and quickly left them alone.
It is interesting to note how the mating ritual takes place. Males go to shallow ponds, and call to females. When the female arrives, the male actually grabs or hugs her (the lady must be willing if the smaller male can grab the female twice his size) until she discharges her eggs. As the eggs come out, the male fertilizes them by discharging fluid with sperm onto the eggs. I actually witnessed her continuing to push out two long strings of eggs looking like a necklace of black pearls. See them draped all along the vegetation above.
If you look closely, you can see the eggs are covered with a jelly like substance in long tubes. The toads found the perfect spot for the eggs; shallow water with vegetation near the irises that had not bloomed yet.
Like frogs, once the toads lay the eggs they leave them to develop on their own. Eggs begin to hatch in a few days. The process can take up to 10-12 days before the eggs become tadpoles, and then they fully develop into toads in about 2 months time. American toads usually survive only a year or two in the wild although we have seen the large female here for a few years. Most tadpoles don’t survive very long becoming food for snakes, and frogs.
You can see the development of the eggs above over a 10 day period. We have not seen the toads yet, but they should be emerging sometime this month we hope.
Here are some additional facts about the American Toad:
Toads don’t cause warts, but the American toad produces a toxin that can be harmful if swallowed, or if it gets in your eyes. So be careful if you handle toads. We leave them alone.
When the tadpoles are ready to leave the pond they emerge usually in groups.
Tadpoles have several ways to keep predators at bay. They swim close together in schools, and stay in very shallow water that is thick with vegetation. We have lots of that especially around the cattails so perhaps we will have several surviving toads emerging soon.
Special Note: I wrote a poem about our toads and you can find it here….Ode to A Toad. The picture at the end of the post is of our House Wren feeding its babies recently. The wrens have fledged, but we still hear the Wren’s song in the garden.
What wildlife lessons are you learning as summer begins?
With this wildlife story, I am joining in the meme Wildlife Wednesday hosted by Tina@My Gardener Saysthat happens the first Wednesday of every month, and with Saturday’s Critters hosted by Eileen@Viewing nature with Eileenthat happens every Saturday. I am also linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every week. Please check out all these great blogs.
I leave you with another thought about studying nature. Feel free to download the photo and share.
All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-16. Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.
Do you talk to the bees? Well I do. I wish them a good morning, with the sun’s first rays. And as I do, I give a wide berth to these buzzing teenagers, slow to wake. They can be ornery, you see. And if aroused, you might feel the sting of their wrath if they are still trying to sleep on their flowery beds. They require a soft voice, and gentle touch. Needing time to stretch their wings and get their bearings, they drink in the moment. They linger over their first sip of nectar or sniff of silky pollen passion. But once tasted, they move from plant to plant leaving their mark. Letting all know, “I have been here”.
I love to go into my garden and start the day by watching the bees sleeping on flowers. And I talk with them as they are just beginning to wake. Thanking them for being part of my garden sanctuary, and pollinating the flowers bringing us abundance. They remind me to savor the beginning of the day, and live in the moment.
The pictures here are of those spring bees that wake early in the garden season, and do their spring dance bringing me indescribable joy. This haibun poem is in honor of these precious bees, who are under assault from chemical warfare.
I am joining in with Poets Unitedfor their weekly poetry link up for poets who blog.
“One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us.”
As spring warms up, the birds come flocking to our garden. Many have visited before, and return to find feeders, nesting areas or boxes, and a habitat in which to raise their young. Chemical free with lots of plant debris. And water….a nice pond to drink from or bathe in. More on the pond in another Wildlife post in the months ahead.
And each critter who wakes or visits, teaches us lessons in how they live, cohabitate and survive. So here are some of the mid to late spring visitors to our garden.
Squirrels naturally assume that wherever they are, is the place to be. We have found many black walnuts in and around the garden; some eaten, some forgotten. The squirrels love to play around and explore every nook and cranny of the garden, high and low. I can tell you this favorite perch on the wren house had to be vacated once the wrens were back.
And what a surprise to see this baby bunny just out of the nest. In March, we saw a pregnant female near the big ash trees in the center of the garden. I could not find the nest, but eventually, once they left, I saw the small opening. It is not uncommon to have a nest in our garden each year, but this year they nested early because of the very warm March weather.
This little babe was hiding in the middle of a bunch of daffs absolutely still (see last photo at end of post). I almost didn’t see it. It eventually moved more to the edge of the daffs the next day, and then it was gone. We see a small bunny around our neighbor’s shed so perhaps we will see her in our garden eating the clover that is flowering.
Pollinators were cautious of the warm March weather, and were slow to emerge in April. But once they did, they were busy making nests in the bee house we have. I am not good at identifying bees, but these are small solitary bees.
The pond also awoke cautiously in later April. Frogs…..
and toads. This is a female toad laying eggs for the first time in the pond. I’ll have their story for you this summer. And I’ll show you the pond project that has been a roaring success for the critters.
Pileated woodpeckers live here year round, or so it seems. They have been busy in the garden since February, digging holes and getting the insects that have been living in trees and stumps.. This female visits often. I plan to have a post about these majestic creatures this fall.
Finches live here all year round too. They eat the dandelion seeds, in spring, that are all over the back lawn…which is mostly dandelions and clover. The Goldfinch looks very happy, and the House Finch looks like he got caught in the act.
Red-wing blackbirds came early with the robins this year. They returned to their territory and nesting areas, and many visited the suet feeders, especially this March and April as the cool weather kept their insect diet at bay.
Other familiar year round faces are the Cardinals, here, and the Song Sparrow in the picture at the top of the post. Cardinals sing all year round too. It is a beautiful song.
….and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds. We put up feeders, for both birds, but more birds prefer the Oriole feeder, even the hummer above. Both birds arrived a day apart in the evening, and were exhausted taking long drinks and resting on the feeder.
Our oriole feeder holds sweetened water, and cups for grape jelly. And as we were refilling the jelly, the Orioles couldn’t wait to partake…..you can see we didn’t even have to hang the feeder.
And Orioles (left and top right) are not the only ones who love the sweetened water and jelly. Downy Woodpeckers (center right) visit frequently, along with Catbirds (lower right), Sparrows and a newcomer to the garden…..
…Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. A stunning bird isn’t it.
I am struck by the spring lessons of caution and focus as I observed, looking back at our visiting and year round critters. Pollinators and pond critters took their time not being lured out of hibernation too soon. And I was cautious too as I observed an early spring that turned back to winter. And those critters that came too early, weathered the storm and showed me such resilience.
Once the critters arrived for spring, they were focused on their chores of finding food, and procreating. I too was very focused with garden chores this spring. And we will see the fruit of their labors soon enough with baby frogs and baby birds being added to the garden habitat. I hope to see the fruits of my labors as well as the garden season progresses.
I am sharing these lessons with Beth@PlantPostingsfor her wonderful Garden Lessons Learned meme. I hope you will join her.
So there you have some of our mid to late spring visitors. I have at least two more spring stories coming in the next two months….both about the pond. What critters are showing up in your garden this spring?
As spring (March 21st) dawned in the purply-pink sky, there was a perceptible shift in the air, urged on by the warmer spring weather. As we walked around the area and observed our surrounds, we were greeted by crowds in the trees, in the sky and on the ground; crowds of migratory birds who had returned here early to nest and raise their young.
Of course it was different when the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) came around in mid-February. The birds scattered to find warmth as it fell on the coldest weekend of the year with -20F temps and -40F wind chills. It was lonely and the trees were pretty bare. Now weeks later, the birds are showing up to usher in spring right on schedule….March 21st.
When we returned in early March from our trip out west, the weather had warmed a bit and the peepers were singing us to sleep. And when I walked around our pond, the first week of spring, I saw tadpoles swimming. The frogs are usually not long off. The first are usually the Northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens).
Prior to the new birds arriving, I noticed the Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) were pairing off and looking around for nesting sites.
And American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), along with various hawks, were seen gathering nesting materials. This crow was ripping bark from an old vine growing in the meadow.
Canada geese (Branta canadensis) were also returning, in droves, in mid-March, littering the skies on their way to the lake across the street.
And many blackbirds descended upon us as spring started….Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater), andCommon Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula). A few Red-winged Blackbirds were back in February, but the raucous noise of the males returning to their nesting sites was a glad spring chorus in late March.
But I knew spring was here, when we heard the familiar banging on our front windows. Our female ‘crazy-toes’ American robin (Turdus migratorius) was back to claim her nesting site, our garden, for her third year. The banging meant she was back to fight the imaginary robins in our windows. You can read more about our journey with her here.
As I report on the events of the start of spring in March, April receded to winter with snow and cold. The robins were especially struggling, and you can read about their struggle here. They seem to have made it through and are now building their nest next door at the abandoned house.
So there you have some of our first spring visitors. I will update you on more spring critters next month….April warmed, and the critter activity has been busy! What signs of spring are you seeing in your area?
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
~Frances Hodgson Burnett,The Secret Garden
For me, I would say the world IS a garden. A big, beautiful garden full of plants and wildlife, so much more fascinating than I could ever dream them to be. And the intricate webs of life, that are woven in this garden, are so important for us….for you and for me, and for the plants and wildlife we live amongst.
With Earth Day being celebrated tomorrow…or is it anymore….I am reminded of the call, in 1970, to change how we treat the world, the environment we live in. It meant something important and special to me, that first Earth Day. Finally a way to recognize what we must do to change how we are treating our planet.
And the rallying cry, ‘Earth Day Everyday’ was a perfect mantra for me. A young 13-year-old wanting to make a difference. I knew so little then…and now some 46 years later after all I have learned, and all I try to do, I wonder do I make a difference at all. Will my one garden, grown organically, using less water…will it matter in the grand scheme? Will it matter to the wildlife in my one plot?
And realistically in the grand scheme of things maybe not. But for me it does matter. I was taught respect. Something I find sorely lacking these days. And the respect that we may give others who have earned it, also translates to a respect for the earth that supports us. Indeed it is essential that we respect the earth. That we do our best to do no harm.
I know I am not perfect, nor can I be. But my efforts do help the microcosm of life, here in my one plot. The rabbits nest here, the animals find food here to support themselves and their young. Unlike those around me, who spray every bug until it dies, I cultivate the insects. I welcome them home. And my garden is abuzz with their sounds throughout the season. These insects are the reason my flowers grow, my fruits and vegetables produce, and birds and babes flock here to nest and raise their young.
From my perspective, it is really rather simple…..do no harm. Stop spraying your weeds and the insects. The chemicals not only are killing the wildlife around us, but they are killing us. More and more research is showing that our exposure to chemicals is causing diseases in us and our pets. And the chemicals found in our food, is where we get the bulk of these chemicals that are deadly to us.
I am not going to regale you with research article after research article. They are there if you chose to read them, or even believe them. But if we use common sense, why would we want to poison our bodies. Once I started eating only organic foods, I found many of the health issues I had subsided, and the inflammation in my body was drastically reduced. Not scientific research…no. But good common sense….do no harm.
If chemicals kill weeds and insects, then it follows they poison us too on some level. Have you ever used some of these chemicals. I did a long time ago, and even poisoned myself….I was deathly ill after prolonged use….several days of spraying to rid myself of lawn and weeds. I was lucky to escape with my life in tact. But then I was only focused on getting rid of the weeds…can’t have weeds you know! Now I live with the weeds. The weeds that support wildlife. I’d rather have weeds, and wildlife and my life, than a chemically sprayed world devoid of life.
Can you tell I am impassioned about this topic? Am I preaching to the choir? Yes, and I am up on my soapbox too. And maybe my voice will reach very few, but that is not going to stop me from doing what I know in my heart is the right thing….do no harm. This is my perspective, and only you can reach your own conclusions based on how you see the world.
I ask that you take a moment this Earth Day, and consider my words. Look at the world from a different vantage point. Shift your view, to see the world through the eyes of others that we share this planet with. Look at the future for yourself and your children, your family. Bury your face in the grass and see the teeming life there that we depend on, and that depends on us to first do no harm.
How are you celebrating Earth Day? What is your perspective?
Special Note:The pictures here are of Iris reticulata that grow in early spring. I took pictures of the same clump of iris from different perspectives.
“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”
~Yann Martel, Life of Pi
I had a different story for you today. One that started out with beautiful spring skies, and warm breezes, birds chirping and arriving to their summer homes a bit early. And then the bottom dropped out, and we had this….this frigid cold, and snow….days of snow. Snow that froze my daffodils and hyacinths to the ground and kept them there for 4 days.
Snow in April is common here. We get dustings, and even up to 3, 4 or 5 inches. But it melts fast. In all my days here, I have never seen so much snow in April, 8 or more inches for 2 days, and no melting even when it stopped. Cold January and February temps, in the 20s and teens, instead of normal early April temps in the 40s and 50s.
And as I tell this story, our snow is still here. And my flowers are still suffering. But the more poignant part of the story was not about me, and my whining about my poor flowers. It was about the birds, and especially the American Robins. They came back in March. The last to arrive were here on the first full day of spring…our lovely warm spring that has disappeared.
We have loads of robins who visit us. They pair off, and make their home claiming the land between every 2-3 houses. Staking their territory to start their home and raise their young. And our pair has been coming here now for 3 years running. We know because the female greets us every morning by banging on the window. She is the only one to ever do this, and she has been doing it now for three years. But that is another story you can read here.
The robins are used to a bit of snow, and cold. But this snow swallowed the ground, and not a bit of it was left uncovered. Why is this significant? Because robins eat worms and insects in spring, which were nowhere to be found in the snow. See my poor daffodil buds languishing in the snow.
And it didn’t dawn on me that they would be suffering until I saw this. Our female struggling in the Barberry branches. At first I thought, why would she choose to perch in this thorny bush, where the branches are vertical and packed tight with barely any breathing space. And then I saw it….
She was eating the berries formed last fall. We have never seen any birds eating these berries. Which is a good thing, as the seeds then are scattered (if the birds eat the berries), and this invasive bush colonizes in forests pushing out the native understory plants. But this day I was glad for the barberry berries as were the robins.
I do have lots of berry producing bushes that are native and preferred by the birds, but those were picked clean in late summer and fall.
Another sign they were eating these berries, was the tell-tale red droppings in the snow, and on my front porch bench.
They found evergreens or trees with dense branches for some shelter, but their isn’t much here as the trees are not leafing out for another month. For birds to survive the cold, it is essential they have food, stay still, especially if they can’t find much food, and use their metabolism to generate heat. And they puff up their feathers to keep the cold air away from their skin, and trap body heat.
Of course they need water to drink, but all puddles and ponds were frozen. So at first, I saw them eating snow often to stay hydrated. As the snow on the driveway and roads melted and formed tiny puddles, they drank from those.
Seeing their little foot prints in the deep snow, broke my heart. They seemed to prefer staying on the ground, even sitting on top of the snow in sheltered areas.
I have plans to take out the barberry bush in the next year or so, but I will make sure we replace it with a nice berry producing bush, and maybe add a couple more along the side of the house just in case. After all, we have lots of bird friends who like berries, so the more the better.
I guess I should have realized the burden this unexpected weather would put on these birds, but we are so used to seeing birds here all winter. Of course our full-timers, as I call them, are acclimated to our climate and know how to survive. Unfortunately for the visitors, they are not used to this, but boy they are wired to survive, and find what they need.
I was buoyed by their feistiness, and their determination. It pulled me out of my snowy weather doldrums, and made me see the bigger picture beyond my flowers….which I bet may survive after all. I won’t count them out yet either!
Note: I’ll tell you the nice spring critter story next month, and give you any updates on the robins. Also please excuse some of the pictures…between the weather, dirty windows and screens they made for some dark and out of focus shots.
I leave you with another thought about nature andsurviving. Feel free to download the photo and share.
All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-16. Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.
I wrote this poem in early spring as I was anticipating the toads returning to the pond. Each stanza talks about the life of the toad, from where they live, laying their glistening bead-like eggs and hibernating again below the soil when fall returns. I have not seen or heard them yet as it has turned cold. But once their song starts, it sings us to sleep every night from spring through summer.
The toads pictured here are found in my garden and pond from spring to fall.
I am joining in with Poets Unitedfor their weekly poetry link up for poets who blog, and Sanaa@A Dash of Sunny for her Prompt Nights every Friday. I am not sure if this poem fits with the ‘Surely You Jest’ theme, but I think some people think it amusing that I have written a poem to a toad!
“The bird is powered by its own life and by its motivation.”
~A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
You can tell by looking at this picture, these are not the mice you were probably thinking of when you read the title of this post. Those mice are free to roam the garden and wild areas. We rarely see them, except when they come in the house in winter. We did find their access and have so far put a stop to that. Sorry, those mice have to stay outside.
But this little mouse, pictured here, is a Tufted Titmouse or Baeolophus bicolor. These birds are common to the eastern US, and can be seen acrobatically flitting around gardens and feeders all year. They are considered a small bird, 5 inches, but seem larger than other small birds like finches.
Since they tend to hang with chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, I was not surprised to see them in the garden in early December when these other birds were hanging from the suet feeder.
They heralded their appearance by noisily chasing off a Downy Woodpecker who was happily feeding on suet. The Titmice had been at my neighbor’s feeders two doors down. But their curiosity got to them, and they had to see what was all the rage at our house….that rage would be suet as it keeps the woodpeckers and chickadees happy all day.
I usually see these cute birds in spring just before the songbirds make a reappearance from their warmer winter homes. They come to the feeders, like in winter, and leave the feeders behind once the insects are out and plentiful. They especially like caterpillars, beetles, ants, spiders and wasps. Of course they won’t turn down seeds, berries and nuts.
The one other encounter I have had with Tufted Titmice was a few springs ago when one ran right into our glass French Door….which had grids in the glass. I had heard the ruckus of two Titmice squabbling and flying around fighting. Then suddenly that loud bang on glass….you know when you hear it, it’s a bird strike. It was apparent this bird had not been watching where he was going as he was fighting.
I jumped up and looked for the bird. I saw it laying upright on the patio. But as you can see from the picture, its neck was bent. I was sure it had broken its neck as it was dazed…unmoving. I was reluctant to go out and see if it was alive. I didn’t want to scare it any further. I tend to give birds some time to recover if they strike the house, and if they don’t I know the inevitable conclusion.
He took a long time to straighten, probably a good 15- 20 minutes. And then more time to get over the concussion he probably had. After all he was flying full force in that bird fight. His mate was calling to him for most of the time. She did move on eventually as it may have appeared he was dead to her. When he finally flew off, I wished him well and silently told him to please be more careful.
We don’t see a Titmouse nest as they use tree cavities, especially old woodpecker holes or nests (we don’t have any in our trees yet)….which explains why they hang around woodpeckers. They can pick up a good, used home quickly.
I expect to see these cute birds out and about soon as spring starts to show itself soon. After all we are supposed to get an early spring, aren’t we?
Here are some interesting facts and folklore about the Tufted Titmouse:
The common name Titmouse comes from the Old Icelandic word ‘titr’, meaning something small, and from the Old English ‘mase’ meaning small bird.
Tufted Titmice seem to always choose the largest seeds they can when foraging. In fall and winter they often hoard these seeds in bark crevices.
Tufted Titmouse pairs do not gather into larger flocks once breeding is done like many other birds. Sometimes a juvenile will remain with the parents for a time even to help them raise young fledglings.
Tufted Titmice often line their inner nest with hair, sometimes taken right from living animals. They have found hair from raccoons, opossums, mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, livestock, pets, and even humans in their nests.
In Cherokee Indian legend, the Titmouse is regarded as a messenger; and has the reputation of a liar.
What wonderful critter surprises are you seeing these days?
“Your deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.”
After our very wet spring, many of our critters seemed to disappear. We had about a dozen deer living in the woods around us. And momma deer and her twinswere spotted in early spring. But during summer and fall, all but one deer was occasionally spotted. It seems that the harsh winter took its toll, and many deer died. Even hunters noted reduced numbers.
And our precious fox, Hunter, also seemed to have moved on after his den was flooded so often. We missed them terribly. So on Christmas, we were so surprised to see the flash of red run onto the meadow. A ‘Christmas miracle’ my husband proclaimed. At first, we thought it was Hunter….
But upon closer examination, the tale had a pure white tip, and was much darker….not Hunter. And I think this may be a female. So we named her, Noel, at first. Then I remembered that a female fox is called a vixen. So what better name for our Christmas fox than, Vixen (one of Santa’s reindeer).
She scoped out the area quickly and then we saw her white-tipped tail bid us goodbye (in the last picture below). We also noticed her winter coat was not as thick as Hunter’s last year when it was -20 degrees.
It was rainy leading up to Christmas and one of our squirrels was out and about. I love his umbrella tail!
And the green frogs were still not hibernating. We saw them on Christmas, and just before New Year. See how dark in color they are now. They match the dark pond water.
December saw a busy time at the suet feeders….and some fighting. It is fun to watch the pecking order as they all vie for the feeder. This is a female Downy Woodpecker.
And other Christmas visitors included the Hairy Woodpecker (left), Goldfinch in its brownish-olive color now. And Chickadees have been frequent visitors, along with that female Downy Woodpecker (lower right).
Our greatest surprise was seeing a deer again on Christmas Eve just before the moon rose. We think it is one of the twins from last winter. A small doe. The last time we saw any deer was late spring, and I had virtually no garden damage except for lilies. Now I see a bit of daylily foliage nibbled so this deer is about, but mostly at night. And her winter coat is not thick, and looks pretty ratty.
So there you have some Christmas/seasonal miracle visitors….and surprises! We feel blessed!
In the first few days of the New Year, Vixen has appeared and was ably hunting voles through the snow. She (and it is definitely a female) is as good a hunter as our male foxes, if not better. Perhaps we will see babies or kits one of these springs.
And the deer have returned. At the first snowfall, we saw many deer tracks, and then three appeared in the meadow. Maybe momma and her 2 children, now over a year old. I am hopeful, in this new year, that our critters will continue to share the same habitat with us….and that we will see fawns and lots of other baby critters once again.
“These are brand-new birds of twelve-months’ growing, Which a year ago, or less than twain, No finches were, nor nightingales, Nor thrushes, But only particles of grain, And earth and air, and rain.”
In spring, I wait patiently for life to stir in my garden. For the first native bees to wake and buzz happily finding new nectar and pollen. To see the first butterflies stretch their wings, and the first frogs and toads hop into the pond.
And of course I await the return of the song birds who migrate here to find a spot to make a nest and raise a family….the robins, red-winged blackbirds, hummingbirds and orioles….to name a few.
And once these birds begin to leave, in late August for their winter homes, I am saddened by the silence in the garden. The butterflies flying south keep me company, but I miss the birds’ gladful chorus.
This autumn, I was reminded that there is still much to be grateful for as critters find their way to our oasis, and share a few moments. With the warmer weather lingering longer, we were able to welcome many wonderful creatures.
The first new visitors were the White-crowned Sparrows you see above and here. This one is an immature bird, probably born just this year. The mature bird is at the top of the post. I love their black and white striped heads.
These beauties come north to breed every year in summer. And while they are nearby, I don’t see them until they are migrating back south for the winter. They stop by for a snack of seeds, which is why I try to leave my seed heads in the garden well into late fall.
With the warm weather, we saw many robins come down from the north. They hung around for quite a few weeks, finding berries and fruit to eat. Our usual robins, who return each spring, left us in August.
And with the exodus of the summer songbirds, comes the reemergence of resident birds in to the garden. They now take their rightful spot here all fall and winter to enjoy the suet we provide. The Red-bellied Woodpecker (top left), the Pileated Woodpecker (center), and White-breasted Nuthatch (bottom left) also look for any insects they can find in the trees. The Black-capped Chickadees (right) will forage for seeds.
The Cardinal (top left) and his mate love to hang about in our front trees once the throngs of other birds have left. And we are thrilled to see the Red-winged Blackbirds (right) come by for a bite on their way south. Although this year, there were many more throngs of them for many more weeks than in years past. Some mature males seemed to be checking out the area for possible nesting sites too. Perhaps we’ll see more of them in spring.
And with the cooler air brings the raptors back from Canada. This Red-tailed Hawk (bottom picture-he was far away) is making our garden and wild area his winter home. We watch him hunt almost daily.
The last groups of birds to go, and the first to come in spring, are the European Starlings. I have never seen so many large groups visiting for days on end. I adore watching their murmurations around the trees and fields. Maybe next year I can catch them on video.
Of course, in our garden, the toads bury themselves in fall, but the frogs (these are Green Frogs) were lingering in the pond well into early November. They will bury themselves at the bottom of the pond to overwinter once the mercury dips to freezing, and stays there. Here is our romantic couple still together.
We spotted many frogs still in the pond at the end of November.
One of the biggest surprise visitors was this Northern Leopard Frog. I have never seen them around the pond in fall, and especially not in late November. But they will find permanent water, like our pond, and also bury themselves in the mud at the bottom. This frog will emerge before the others and breed in the pond in early spring. Then they move to the grassy areas of the garden in summer while the other frogs and toads come to the pond to breed. I just love the cycle of life, through the seasons, in our pond and garden.
If I hadn’t been clearing the pond garden later than I usually do, I would have missed this frog….of course the warmer November weather kept it in the garden longer as the pond never froze until the end of November.
Our last surprise visitor in late fall was this insect. No it’s not a strange looking giant ladybug. It is a Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle, Labidomera clivicollis. How cool is that! I will be looking for these beetles next year on my Swamp Milkweed plants, and seeing if they also hang around on the other milkweed I have growing in the garden. Then I can study them a bit more.
It is amazing what wildlife still lingers in the garden from September to November, when we think all have left for warmer climates or hibernation. We just have to pay attention. And I find it easier to spot the wildlife in the declining garden and leafless trees of fall. I wonder who will come visiting this winter. You know I’ll keep you posted.
And I am sharing this lesson with Beth@PlantPostingsfor her wonderful Garden Lessons Learned meme. I hope you will join her. Please check out all these great blogs.
Also as the solstice approaches, please join me at my garden blog, Gardens Eye View, for my quarterly meme, Seasonal Celebrations. There you can find all the details for linking up to this celebration of the coming of the new seasons around the world. I hope you can join me with a post.
I leave you with another thought about the lessons I am learning from nature. Feel free to download the photo and share.
All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-15. Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.
“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.” ~James Bryant Conant
On a warm, late summer day, as the pond was fading to fall, I spied some movement that did not look like a frog….I thought what I saw in a flash just couldn’t be. But then when I checked later, I saw this little head peeking out of the water….it is a turtle, I yelled as I ran into the house to tell my husband!
Oh my, what a wonderful new visitor to our pond. But who was this handsome fella? As I searched the Internet for eastern US turtles, there was no doubt this was a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). A very shy painted turtle I named Tommy.
These turtles are the most widespread native turtle in North America. They love slow-moving fresh waters with dense vegetation, so our pond was perfect for Tommy. He was looking for a new home, and he seemed to find one here in our garden.
There are 4 different painted turtles, and I learned ours is most probably a midland painted turtle. Midland painted turtles can be found from southern Ontario and Quebec, to the eastern states down to West Virginia, and over to the midwest states south to northwestern Alabama. They are usually not found along the eastern seaboard where the eastern painted turtle reigns supreme.
We have never seen a turtle in our pond. This large adult visited our front yard in 2011 as he made his way from the wild area pond to a pond or nest in the woods across the street. Large turtles cannot get into our garden and pond area because of the fence. But a smaller young turtle, like Tommy, could and did.
Painted turtles eat aquatic vegetation, algae, and small water creatures including insects and fish. Our young turtle settled for vegetation and insects (we have no fish) in our pond as he hunted along the pond bottom and skimmed the surface too.
Painted turtles have many predators and are most vulnerable as eggs hunted by garter snakes, crows, chipmunks, gray squirrels, skunks, groundhogs, raccoons, and red fox. The hatchlings are also easy prey for fish, bullfrogs, snapping turtles and snakes.
Of course the adults are more protected by their hard shells from many predators, but they can still fall prey to ospreys, crows, hawks, bald eagles, and raccoons. Tommy is small and easy prey (he definitely hid a lot among the lily pads). Painted turtles do defend themselves by kicking, scratching (look at those claws) and biting. And they can right themselves when flipped upside down.
Painted turtles mate in spring and autumn. Females dig nests on land and lay eggs between late spring and mid-summer. Hatchlings do not leave the nest immediately. Instead it is thought in our area that they arrange themselves symmetrically in the nest (to keep warm) and overwinter to emerge the following spring. And still with all their protection, hard freezes can kill many hatchlings. Tommy was a lucky turtle.
During winter, the adult turtle hibernates, usually in the mud at the bottom of water like ponds. The painted turtle can survive extended periods of below freezing temperatures because their blood can stay cold, and their skin resists ice crystals in the ground.
The painted turtle is active only during warm days when it basks for hours on logs or rocks to regulate its temperature. We would see Tommy basking daily in the afternoon, on the pond edge amongst the dense vegetation. Because it was late summer, the sun did not shine for long periods on the pond so the only warm time of day was afternoons. It is interesting to note that at night, the turtle drops to the bottom of the body of water or perches on an underwater object and sleeps.
Our pond is constructed from a polyurethane liner, and we knew that it was too small to sustain a growing turtle. So Tommy would not be able to dig down far into the mud without digging through the liner which would empty the pond. So we decided to move him to the wild wetlands down the road. We trapped him in a live trap with shrimp and lettuce. Then we found the perfect safe, secluded spot and released him. He immediately went to the body of water there. Lots of vegetation, cover and mud to make any turtle happy. I was sad to see Tommy go, but we knew our pond was not the best home for him…..so good luck Tommy. Thanks for visiting and bringing joy into our lives. Live long and prosper!
Here are some interesting facts and folklore about Painted Turtles:
Four U.S.states (Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Vermont) have named the painted turtle their official reptile. Ours, in NY, is the Snapping Turtle.
Adults in the wild can live for more than 55 years. Good news I hope for Tommy.
Fossils of the painted turtle have been found showing they existed 15 million years ago.
Many Native American tribes regard the turtle as having strong feminine powers.
Algonquian tribes have tales that tell of the painted turtle playing the part of a trickster.
With this wildlife story, I am joining in the meme WildlifeWednesdayhosted by Tina@My Gardener Saysthat happens the first Wednesday of every month, and with Saturday’s Critters hosted by Eileen@Viewing nature with Eileenthat happens every Saturday. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every week.
I leave you with another thought about turtles. Feel free to download the photo and share.
All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-15. Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.
“Birds are flying over the garden. What are you doing inside the house? Join them! If you can’t join them, at least open the window and greet them!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
On March 20th spring crawled in even though we had cold air and snow covering the garden. But it was the signs that nature brings, that really heralded the new season was indeed upon us. The red-winged blackbirds had arrived a few days before….and the deer, who were about and feeding on shrubs, were already losing their winter coats.
And I knew that eventually the warm winds would blow again and melt the foot of snow remaining (we are still waiting for the melt). So it was time to get ready for other critters we knew would be returning. I usually put out the hummingbird feeder in late-April as scouts can be out and about. And right on the hummingbird’s tail feathers, is the arrival of other birds.
One of my favorite birds, returning north anytime between later April and early May, is the Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula). I adore their bright colors, a welcome sight, just as the trees are leafing out so I can still watch them easily.
Last year, they announced themselves with their wonderful song and by hanging on the two hummingbird feeders we had out (see photo at the top of the post). I had not seen too many of these beauties before in my garden except when one or two would take a quick bath in the pond.
But last year, there were several hanging around the hummer feeder trying to get at the tasty liquid. So I quickly purchased a ‘cadillac’ oriole feeder. Orange in color with lots of spots for drinking sweetened liquid, eating orange pieces or partaking of grape jelly. It was a big hit with the orioles and hummers, and other birds who learned how to get to the sweetened water like the catbirds, downy woodpeckers and house sparrows (top left to bottom right).
Last year at the crack of dawn, the orioles would wake me as they ate and sang at their feeder which was right under my bedroom window. Such a wonderful array of bright warm colors against the early morning sun. They are a perfect symbol of summer as the color orange represents warmth and heat.
I have never spotted an oriole nest in my garden, but they do build their nests in the “wild area” woods behind us. It is an unusual sight to see this basket of grasses hanging from slim fibers on a tree branch.
And once the babies fledge, the orioles are gone as quickly as they came. But their short time in my garden gives me much pride; which is another word for happiness.
Here are some interesting facts about Baltimore Orioles:
They got their name because their orange and black colors are the same as the heraldic crest of the Baltimore family of England.
It is said, Baltimore Orioles prefer only ripe, dark-colored fruit, and will ignore ripe green and yellow fruits. Ours loved the dark grape jelly, but did not like the oranges we put out.
Young male Baltimore Orioles do not get their bright-orange adult feathers until their second year. They are very similar in appearance to younger females.
Females become a brighter orange as they molt, and almost resemble bright orange males once they are older.
Baltimore Orioles can stab soft fruits, and drink the liquid with their tongues.
“Like a butterfly stuck in a chrysalis, waiting for the perfect moment, I was waiting for the day I could burst forth and fly away and find my home.”― Emme Rollins
I have long identified with butterflies. Seeing them instantly brought me great inexplicable joy and happiness. A freeing, playful spirit would overtake me. I would want to follow them as it I could fly away on their adventures sipping the sweet nectar of different plants and choosing which I prefered.
And I never quite understood why these creatures held such magic over me until I began to garden for them, and then study them a bit. When one gardens for butterflies, you make a concerted effort to bring in the flowers that will nourish and nurture them through each stage. You bring in shelter too. By getting to know how they live, you begin to know them….it is inevitable. And to really understand them, you must also study their lore.
Butterflies seem very fragile. Thin wings…wisp of creature that a strong wind could demolish…sensitive to their environment where slight changes could bring about their demise. But if you watch them carefully and study them a bit, you get to know how really resilient these creatures are. Flying thousands of miles to get where they must go…where they know instinctively they must go. Battling storms and adverse conditions, yet still moving onward even in their short lives.
And it is the resilience that I most identify with now…still the playful, free spirit, but more the knowing of their place, their journey and never deterring…such commitment. Of course these are human emotions I give to these creatures, but still it feels right to think of them in this way.
This year with my mantra/word for the year being Soar, I feel a strong pull, almost kindred spirit, to creatures of the air and especially the butterflies. It is a transformational year too as I enter my second year of retirement, where I feel ready to shed the old and stretch my new wings getting ready to Soar into the brilliant blue skies. So having butterflies as the symbol of my year, is perfect as they have long represented transformation in folklore.
As I look toward the future, I am looking back at the butterflies that Soared into my life and garden in 2014. They were not great in numbers, but we did have a greater variety.
The Red Admiral or Vanessa atalanta is usually a yearly visitor.
And the White Admiral or Limenitis arthemis arthemis has been visiting the last few years, now that we have been gardening for butterflies.
This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or Papilio glaucus bravely flew around the garden although he was missing the bottom half of his wings. Pretty resilient critter finding lots of nourishing nectar here. We generally have a few of these lovely butterflies visit.
His cousin, the Black Swallowtail or Papilio polyxenes, frequents our garden more, and we usually have many of these caterpillars on our dill or Italian parsley. I grow a patch just for these creatures.
Another cousin, I had not noticed in our garden before, was the Giant Swallowtail or Papilio cresphontes. Very similar to the others, but the body and wings are a bit different. It was a treat to see him nectaring on the Clethra bush.
Another new butterfly was the Fritillary that is pictured at the top of the post. It is hard to identify it with just the one photo. This one was hard to get a picture of as it wouldn’t stay in one place long enough. But I think it could be an Aphrodite Fritillary or Speyeria aphrodite…maybe an Atlantis Fritillary or Speyeria atlantis….most likely though it is probably a Meadow Fritillary or Boloria bellona. I will watch for more of these lovelies in my garden as their host plant is violets which I have plenty of.
Surprisingly the most plentiful butterfly in our garden is the Monarch or Danaus plexippus. I think with all the milkweed we have now, and loads of their nectaring favorites like Echinacea, Monarda, aster and Helianthus, we see them on their way North and again as they migrate South. Not many caterpillars spotted in years past, but I hope that changes.
My plan for this year is to continue to add specific plants to entice loads more butterfly species into the garden. I hope to compile a database of what host and nectar plants I already have that may draw in different species, and then go looking for caterpillars as I am more out and about in my garden. It is my version of play….fascinating stuff really!
Here is some interesting folklore about butterflies:
According to the Blackfoot Indians, butterflies carry our dreams to us at night.
Native American cultures consider the butterfly a symbol of the sacred and the unknown.
Since ancient times, the butterfly has been a symbol for the soul.