Friday, 25 September 2015

The Cache

Corner Pocket

"The best feeding time is autumn when, in a good year, the trees are laden with nuts and acorns. Some of this bounty is consumed, but many nuts are cached. Because they are industrious hoarders, they become thoroughly engrossed with their task, and frequently seem oblivious to the hazards of traffic. From the beginning of September, many are killed by cars when they attempt to cross busy streets."

Top Shelf

"Winter is a harsh survival test. By the first week in January, their buried larder is empty and to live, they are forced to eat pine seeds, buds, twigs, and bark. Even squirrels in the city feel the pinch of hunger at this time, and resort to raiding bird feeders...Tests have proved that peanuts, the staple "handout", contain insufficient nourishment to keep squirrels in good health."

Fast Food

 "A high percentage of nuts buried in autumn are never recovered and eventually take root.  Thus the grey squirrel makes an important contribution to the renewal of the trees upon which he feeds."

Yea, squirrels!
Could take Root

from: The Squirrels of Canada by S.E.Woods Jr. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

"Best Looking Corn in Essex County!"

I say this out loud to myself every time I drive by the fields my son-in-law planted. This is a very prejudiced thing to say as I know nothing about corn but I do love the young man who planted it.  I know he planted it with great excitement and trepidation and faith and prayer. And he visits his corn often to have a chat with it and see how it's coming along.

This is his passion.  
So I ask him about it.

A good crop is measured by the number of rows on a cob and how far to the tip the kernels grow.  This one has 16 rows and covers almost all the cob.  These results are determined by the quality of the soil and the fertilizer it's able to take up, the amount of rain and sun, and pest infestations. Corn removes a lot of the nutrients from the soil so it is only planted in the same fields every two years.

He tells me that farmers call the dimples in the kernels dents. And funny enough, it is officially called Dent Corn (Zea mays indenata). Around here we only make two distinctions; it's either sweet corn that we steam and eat in great quantities while the season is on, or field corn that is used for everything else. Dent corn is used for livestock feed, in industrial products, or to make processed foods. These dents signify that the corn is drying out. In order to harvest, they want 15% or less moisture in the corn so they can sell it right away.  If there is too much moisture the corn must be put in the dryer before stored in an elevator or it will rot.

 When it is this dry the kernels are spongy in the cob, like rows of loose teeth.

 An attentive farmer, like my son-in-law, will often check his crop and pick out one kernel to check for the telling black layer. The corn needs this layer as it is an indication of its starch content and must be at this stage before the first frost. When the time is right the harvester will cut the stalk, the thrasher will remove each kernel, and a conveyer will move them up to be put in a wagon. Then off to market it will go.

You may have remembered my mouse issue. I recently relented and bought the non-catch-and-release type and one mouse was removed from my house. One mouse, I am told, means many more. My gift of Dent Corn was placed on my counter with the bet that a mouse would eat the corn before entering the trap.  Neither of us won. I think my mouse problem has ended. Smart mice.

Friday, 28 August 2015

View from my Window

I am sitting here at the computer when something caught my eye; a lumbering, inconsistent flight of something odd shaped.  I stood at my desk and snapped photos through the window with my cell phone so the shots are not as clear as I like.  I ran outside with my camera but could not find them anywhere. I always shoot first in case such thing happens. Insects are not patient subjects.

I give you this very large photo so you can see the wasp holding on tight with two sets of legs.  In all the photos the katydid's legs are hanging so I am supposing that the wasp had already delivered its paralyzing sting.  The wasp will bring this treasure to its nest and lay an egg on it then seal it up in one of the cells.  When the egg hatches, the larvae will feed on the katydid that has been preserved because it is still alive and just not able to move.

It looks very much like a mud dauber wasp which I recognize because of its petiole, the narrow abdominal segment that joins the rest of the abdomen to its thorax. You have seen its nest of mud on walls and fence posts. The holes to the cells of these nests are very narrow and I first thought this wasp was very silly to catch a prey that was too large.

Silly me, insects know what they are doing.  The mud dauber wasp selects a specific kind of spider and can cram from ten to twenty paralyzed ones into a single cell with one egg.
This must be a ground-digger wasp. It has nests in the ground with cells big enough for katydids or the cicadas which they dig up for their young.

Glad I noticed.
What have you noticed today?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A "Wuchack" by Any Other Name

Over the last few years I was enjoying the occasional glimpses of a ground hog in my yard. We knew it was living under our shed and we were okay with that as it was not destroying anything we noticed.  And it was adorable.  I used to have a vegetable garden but now choose to support the local growers instead, so it was not harming us or our property in any way.

Last year a young man rang our door bell and introduced himself as the manager of the community garden.  He asked if we had a ground hog living on our property.  I surprised myself by lying in a protective den mother way.  I ventured to ask him what the problem was and he said that this animal was tunneling under the chain link fence from my backyard into the community garden on the other side. It was not only helping itself to a few vegetables but the entire row of broccoli!  I chucked to myself imagining the looks on their faces when they noticed their depleted harvest.

This young and earnest man then asked permission to set up a live trap on our side of the fence, which I quickly denied.  I wanted to give my yard pet a fair chance of changing its dining location.

A trap was dug in and wired to the tunnel on the other side of my fence.  And in one day it was trapped and carried away with the promise it would be released elsewhere.  I was sad. I missed its little furry self.

This week I was sitting outside by the pond eating my breakfast and what should appear along the path but another groundhog! Equally adorable and delightful.

I think just a change in wind direction or a better view of me and my cell phone made it hurry away with only a few quick stops to look over its shoulder and seek refuge under our shed once more.

And as with most other nature sitings I go to my Peterson's First Guides to identify what I'm looking at then off to the internet for more answers to questions, even answers to questions I didn't know I had:

Groundhog vs Woodchuck
Groundhogs and woodchucks are the same animal. “Woodchuck” is just another name for “groundhog.” Other names that are used for this particular animal include “whistle pig” and “land beaver.”
The groundhog is 1 of the 14 species of marmots. Its species name is Marmota monax and it belongs to the genus Marmota, family (Scuiridae), and order Rodentia. Its higher classification includes kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, and Class Mammalia. The groundhog or woodchuck is the largest member of the squirrel family. It characterized as a ground squirrel that can climb trees and can swim in the water.
They are considered as garden pests since their diet is primarily plants like grass, fruits, agricultural crops, berries, and tree bark. However, they are also known to eat insects, grubs, caterpillars, snails, and grasshoppers.
Groundhogs or woodchucks are common in the North American areas such as the United States, Canada, and Alaska. Unlike their fellow marmots, they are lowland creatures with short but powerful limbs and curved, thick claws for digging. Their spine is curved with two coats of fur. They also have two, large incisors.
Groundhogs are famous because they are one of the few animals who undergo complete hibernation during the winter season. During the summer, the groundhogs eat all the season to accumulate a lot of body fat. When winter comes (usually in October to April), they escape to their burrows, curl into a ball, lower their heartbeats and their body temperature. During hibernation, the stored fat gives it all the necessary nutrients that the groundhog needs. The hibernation ends at the start of spring. Spring during the months of March to April also signifies new life for the groundhog since a litter of six newborns are usually born at this time of the year.
Aside from a place for a hibernation spot, a groundhog’s burrows are also the ideal place for sleeping, raising young groundhogs, and escaping predators like wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, large hawks, owls, and dogs. A groundhog’s burrow has a number of entrances and exits which makes it perfect as an escape route from predators.
Burrows are often found in forest edges near open fields like meadows, roads, and streams. A groundhog would usually serve as a guard to the burrow. A high-pitched whistle from the outside is an indication of an incoming predator and danger. The groundhog can also produce other sounds like low barks and sound from grinding their teeth.
The word “woodchuck” is associated with the groundhog since the Algonquian name for the groundhog is “wuchack.” From there it evolved into “woodchuck.” It has been the subject of a famous tongue twister and a day dedicated to the animal. ( )

So I might have a family there. And as long as I don't plant a garden for our food they will not disrupt our lives.  It is eating the apples that continue to fall down from our ancient apple tree.  It is a good relationship.  I am glad.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Wishful Thinking

Snails; I remember them as the lazy man's way to clean the walls of a fish tank.
This one is on my house.

You know where I'm going with this..
I am wondering if there were more of them would they clean the siding.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Oothecas, Swarms and Keeping

Our last Charlotte Mason gathering at l'HaRMaS saw each guest gifted with their own praying mantis nest in a jar to bring home.  Our instructions were brief and number two warns us to check the ootheca daily from mid-May to June... if you live north of the border.
Praying Mantis egg sack, the ootheca.

Leslie Laurio, our dear Friend of l'HaRMaS and Ambleside Online Advisory member, gives us a heads up on the migration of warm weather as it arrives in Tennessee: "I've kept my jar outside on the back porch all winter and I've been checking them every day. Miranda looked at the jar after church, and it was swarming with little baby mantises! I let them loose in various locations all over my backyard so they will hopefully spread out and not eat each other. I have the pod, and it has little dry egg casings hanging from it. It looks like each mantis had an individual little case that he broke out of. I wish I could have seen them coming out."
I put a call in to Sarah, our ootheca collector,  and asked for further advice: Keep the jar in the garage until it really warms up outside, leave them in a place where the jar will not fill up with rain water, and try to keep them two feet off the ground so the ants don’t get an easy meal.
Here’s a great idea from Laurie: “I'm at my community garden plot digging beds...hurrying home to check mine. They went from one of the worst winters on record on my balcony under a flower pot to the back of a u haul truck to my garage. Maybe it's time to share them at the community garden?”
It's still there in the shed.

Some of us, like Melanie, need the reminder to look at our safely stored jar as it is easy to be distracted with spring bringing more than insects: “Oh!  I almost forgot mine!  I have been watching a little spider egg sac on a boxwood shrub a few houses down on my street almost every day but nothing has hatched yet.”  
I am going to attempt to make it a more prolonged nature study. That cast off aquarium I picked up from the neighbors last year will make a great viewing gallery for my ootheca and will be sure to amuse the nine year old boys in my science club. I just read that you could hang raw hamburger on a string instead of also growing aphids for their food as starving mantises will eat each other not recognizing they are kin.
Swarming is the operative word; from that little Styrofoam-like nest, the size of a walnut, comes around 200 little praying mantises.  They will not hurt you and will not fly out at you as they need a few molts before they will get their wings like the adults.
The Living Page by Laurie Bestvater calls it keeping: take out your Nature Notebook, describe the nest, the hatching and all you see, draw or note what the nest looks like after the swarm has left, take a good look at the baby mantises, use your magnifying glass, make a notation in your Book of Firsts when they do hatch, do something in order to keep this incredible experience as part of what you do know.