Habitat Home – Part One

Back in the day.(can you guess what my favorite TV Police show is? Just asking!).

In one of the years after I became a Master Gardener we had a Continuing Education Class given by Carol Heiser who at that time was Habitat Education Coordinator , DGIF, VA .She talked about turning our backyards into certified Wildlife Habitats Homes. There were strict guidelines and requirements to meet. After several weeks I forwarded my application and photos to Carol and in 2005 I was awarded Certificate #7 has having a Habitat Home. In 2007 I became a VA Master Naturalist (Cohort 1, HRC) . I decided it would be fun to use my training to identify and list all the flora and fauna living in my Habitat Home.

Habitat award (2)

My suburban home sits on a 0.31 acre lot in the Denbigh section of Newport News. The house is a two story Dutch Colonial with an attached two car garage, a 12ft x12 ft deck and a 10’x12’x10′ storage building.

We had the front yard landscaped with Gardenia bushes , dwarf Nindidas, dwarf English Holly and two female American Holly trees. Some years later I planted a Japanese Red Maple and a dwarf Crepe Myrtle in the front yard.

My beautiful picture
Gardenias, dwarf English Holly, Dwarf Nindidas, Spireas
My beautiful picture
another view of front
My beautiful picture
Japanese Red Maple & Dwarf Crepe Myrtle

The rest of the flora resides in the backyard. There are 14 canopy trees 40-60 ft, 18 Understory tree 10-30 ft, 33 shrubs, 8 vines. The largest trees are a Willow Oak, Red Oak, 2 Maples, 3 Sweet Gums, 7 Loblolly Pines,and a Magnolia.

My beautiful picture
Canopy Trees above house

Understory trees include Crepe Myrtle, Sourwood, Camellias, Pear, Rose of Sharon, a Snowball tree, a Golden tipped Cedar tree , Yaupon hollies and two female American Hollies

My beautiful picture
female American Holly ( bears berries in the fall)

.The shrubs are comprised of Azaleas, Privet, Nandida, Blueberry bushes, Fetter Bushes, Beauty Berry. The vines consist of Wisteria, Trumpet, Virgin’s Bower Vine, English Ivy, Clematis, Vinca, Dead Nettles,, and Cat Briar.

My beautiful picture
Virgin’s Bower Vine – Clematis virginiiensis

The flowers showcased (excluding the Fish pond and Butterfly Garden) are Roses, Spireas, Hostas, Iris, Day Lilies, Hydrangeas, Sweet Spice, Carolina All Spice, two patches of Milkweed., various annuals in containers , flower boxes and hanging baskets.

My beautiful picture
Carolina All Spice  –  Calycanthus floridus

In 2011 I found a pretty wild flower growing along the road to our airport and transplanted a few of them in the back yard. Over the years they taught me  an important word in my gardening lexicon- INVASIVE.

It is the Carolina Wild Petunia- Ruellia caroliniensis – a native wild flower.

wild petunia

Carolina Wild Petunia

In my ignorance I lucked out by planting a bed of Iris and Day lilies along the south side of our house and a large bed of Hostas on the north side. Both plantings took to their locations like a drunk drinking Ripple. I gave up on establishing grass in the backyard (too many trees) and grew moss instead. It solved the problem and I don’t have to mow it!

My beautiful picture
Fish pond
My beautiful picture
Butterfly Garden

There are several odd plants that enjoy the yard and over winter in the garage;

An Orchid Cactus, a Carrion Plant and a Pregnant Onion, they also come with stories.

My beautiful picture
Orchid Cactus

The Orchid Cactus


My Uncle Mike Nieznay immigrated to the USA from Poland in the early 30s. In order to expedite his citizenship he enlisted in the Army (he was stationed at Ft Story as a member of the Coast Artillery on December 7, 1941-( A day that did live in Infamy). He served in Europe until 1945 and then was sent to the Pacific area in preparation for the invasion of Japan. He was mustered out in Honolulu later that year. On his way stateside he “smuggled” a stem of the orchid cactus growing next to his barracks as a reminder of the time he spent in Hawaii. He and my Aunt Mary bought a country store in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania where I spent my boyhood days hunting , fishing and prowling the woods. As Paul Harvey said, “The rest is history”. I always admired the gorgeous flowers of the plant and took some home to Bethlehem , Pa. When I settled here in 1979 I brought a scion of the plant to Newport News. The final part of the story is that Uncle Mike always wanted to take Aunt Mary to visit Hawaii but his heart gave out and I promised myself I would take Miss Ellie there in honor of the two most beautiful people I ever knew. In 2000 we made it to Honolulu and on an excursion to the Punch Bowl National Cemetery we found the Orchid Cactus blooming. We bowed our heads and said a prayer to my Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary.



My beautiful picture
Carrion Flower

Stapelia hirsuta

I bought the Carrion Plant at a yard sale in Aurora , Colorado in the late 70s and it moved with us to Newport News in 1979. It winters over in our garage until May and spends it’s summer on the deck. It is a native to the deserts of South Africa. It uses flies and carrion beetles as pollinators by attracting them to the large hairy starfish shaped flower that exudes the smell of rotten meat. It blooms during the summer and fall. Great conversation piece but guests seem to lose their appetites. Interestingly this plant is in the milkweed Family.


pregnant onion

Pregnant Onion

Ornithogalum caudatum

The Pregnant Onion is not an onion and can not be eaten. It’s home are the deserts of South Africa.

It reproduces both sexually via a flower stalk and seeds and asexually by budding off complete “baby” plants that burst through the skin of the “pregnant” mother plant. This occurs all year long. The flower stalk usually forms in late summer. This plant is virtually indestructible. Miss Ellie admits to the fact she hasn’t met a plant she can not kill except for the Onion. I bought the plant ( they are all mothers) in 1985 at a local plant sale. I filled numerous containers with the her offspring to give to my friends. I finally couldn’t keep up with her progeny ( and also ran out of friends to give the babies away as gifts)

Because of the length of the article & photos I will divide it into four parts: Flora, Birds, Mammals, Amphibians & Reptiles.

Oh about the TV Police show- It is Blue Bloods on CBS

Ramblin Clyde



Featured photo: Lehigh Valley by Bonnie  Pancoast

Memories are part of our lives and the lives of our families. The earliest Marsteller Family memories start in the 17th century. Our Great Grandfather Nicholas and Great Grandmother Elizabeth ( 5 times removed) were born in Pfungstadt and Darmstadt, Hesse Germany . They were married on January 17, 1685. Their  son Johan Georg married Anna Margretha Erlebach. Because of the religious upheavals at that time Johan’s family immigrated to Pennsylvania arriving in Philadelphia in 1727. They and their families settled in the new frontier of Lancaster, Blue Church in Upper Saucon Township (near the Moravian settlement of Bethlehem) and the wilds of the Poconos in the town of Stroudsburg. Our Great Grandfather (3x)  Frederick Wilhelm (William) met and married Mary Magdalena Shafer and settled in Stroudsburg  Their son Great Grandfather Simpson Marsteller  met and married  Great Grandmother Julia (Weiss) there in 1855. They left and traveled along the Blue Mountains to the Broadheadville area .He bought a goodly parcel of property and commenced to farm it. Along with farming he and Julia raised the largest family in our history . They sired 21 children to include three sets of twins of which my Grandfather Calvin Floyd was in the last set. Great Grandmother Julia died giving birth to her last child on November 12, 1882 . Simpson died on November 21, 1882. He was 50 years old and they had been married for 27 years.

1832 1882 Simpson Marsteller

Several interesting memories about Great Grandfather Simpson survived . He was known to enjoy his liquor and on Saturday night it was the responsibility of the sons and cousins to go to Broadheadsville to bring him home in the farm wagon. My Grandfather Calvin being one of the youngest sons had to make sure he grabbed Simpson’s skinning knife from the old man’s boot as he was usually reluctant to leave his merry making.

As Simpson grew old and lost his teeth he had the boys chew his meat as he would not spend money to buy false teeth. He also used a magnifying glass to read his bible and local papers as he deemed eyeglasses an unnecessary expense.

My Grand Uncle Franklin Marsteller was one of Grandfather Calvin older brothers. He was very wealthy and one time owned both Saylor’s Lake and Lake Mineola. He was a very foreboding man who walked with a cane and wore a goatee and mustache. He sold Saylor’s Lake to a Judge from Bethlehem for several thousand dollars saying, ” I don’t believe people will ever pay to sit and look at water”! It is now a multi- million dollar resort development area.

Grand Dad & Uncle Frank

Grandfather Calvin Marsteller & Granduncle Franklin

The only memory of Grandfather Calvin that my father passed on was was that Grandfather was a voracious reader. When he got hold of a new book he would read the first chapter, a middle chapter and the last chapter, if it held his attention he would then read the entire volume.

Earliest Memory – 1940- 2 years old

clyde at Asbury Park- 1940

Dad & Clyde at Asbury Park Beach

Playing on the beach at Asbury Park, New Jersey and watching the surf wash up the beach and covering my feet. It scared me to bad I refused to the beach again.


Dad & Clyde Asbury-1941

memory-1940- 2 yrs old

I remember riding a trolley with me Grandfather Joe Prem and standing in front of a 5 & 10 store at the corner of 3rd and New Streets on the South side of Bethlehem. There was a hot dog vendor at the corner hawking his “dogs” for 5 cents. I remember holding Grand Pop’s hand and yelling Hot Dogs 5 cents. I was two at the time.

Grandfather Joe Prem & Clyde

Grandpop Prem & Clyde- 1941



Memory- 1943 -5 years old

We were on a Family vacation in spring of 1943 at Grand Uncle Clayton Marsteller’s farm near Brodheadsville . Brother Floyd was 2 years old. I remember sleeping in a large feather tick and listening to the sound of bees. There was a large hive in the bedroom wall . It was later removed by a local and many quarts of honey were recovered.

I saw my first skunk cabbages and Jack-In-The Pulpits along the lane where a small creek ran into a swampy area. They remain my favorite wildflowers.

The creek sprang from a spring in front of the house. Grand Uncle Clayton had built a Spring House over it and stored the milk from his cows in large containers in its cold waters. I went along with him to get a milk bucket of fresh milk and he showed me a large native Brook Trout that lived the the water there.

Later I stole down to Spring House and with a stick I chased the trout around. Of course I knocked one of the milk containers over and turned the water white. I started to cry. The family ran down to see why I was bawling. I expected to be punished but Clayton’s wife- Aunt Carrie picked me up and said the “Junge” was just being a little boy.

I think my passion for fishing started that day.

Memory -1950 – 12 years old

Grand uncle Clayton died on my 12th birthday April 12, 1950. He was 71. ( Note: Grandfather Calvin had passed away on April 9, 1950 , he was 72). The families met at the farm house for a combined wake and spent the day with Grand Aunt Carrie. I was allowed to take my fishing pole along and after the dinner meal I was given permission to fish the little creek that was fed by the Spring House. I spent a couple of hours catching my limit of the most beautiful native brook trout I had ever seen. They were not very large averaging about 7-8 inches long . I felt like I had wandered into a magical place, I will never forget the experience.

War years memories 1941 – 1945

Aunt Mary, Dad & Clyde, Mother, Aunt Helen

Aunts,Mom, Dad, me - 1939

I was a WWII baby as I was three years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Some of the memories of those times include having to use coupons on special week days to buy food. Butter was non existent and we used an oleo margarine instead. It came in a plastic packet and had a button containing yellow food coloring. You broke the button and kneaded the packet until it looked like butter.

We picked milkweed pods for the War effort . We were told the “government” used them to stuff life jackets . Later on we also collected lighting bugs that were used to make “cold light” sticks for the military.

Later on during the war we had to practice air raid drills and at night you had to cover your windows with blankets so no light showed. There were Wardens who checked the homes at night and told you if any light was shining out. There were very few cars on the roads  and an airplane was a thing on wonder. As the war progressed they would bring captured enemy equipment into town on railroad cars to boost morale and sell Liberty Bonds. I remember Floyd and I seeing a miniature sub with life like mannikins of Japanese sailors in uniform . They were very short and yellow colored and all had “buck teeth”. Brother and I also saw a captured German tank. It was very scary. Little did we know that our war was only 20 years in our future in a place called Viet Nam!

Sgts Clyde & Floyd of the Silent Generation with our Uncles -Sgts Mike Nieznay and Leonard Sadowski of the Greatest Generation

Clyde, Floyd Sr, Uncle Mike__ Nieznay , Unlce Leonard Sadowski 1962

Captured Tank – Clyde in Fore ground

captured Tank & Clyde 1942

Uncle Mike  would periodically sent us a “Care” package containing jars of peanut butter marshmallow and other goodies you could not buy.

Uncle Mike - 1945

Uncle Mike- MSG US Army

In 1942 my mother took me on a train trip to Arlington, Va. to visit her sister my Aunt Mary who was married to Uncle Mike Nieznay. He had spent the early part of the war fighting the Germans in Europe was home on leave before being shipped out to the Pacific theater in preparation for the invasion of Japan and Aunt Mary was coming home with us.  Fortunately the Atomic bomb ended the war and there was no armed invasion.   During the train trip I ate a warm meat loaf sandwich smeared with catsup Grandmother Prem packed for us, To this day a warm meatloaf sandwich with catsup is one of my favorite foods.

Aunt Mary & Uncle Mike- home for good

Aunt Mary & Uncle Mike -1945I remember being taken to downtown D.C. And seeing the White House. President’s Roosevelt’s grand children were playing on the front lawn and they were chasing white colored squirrels. We had lunch at a nearby diner and I had my first milkshake. As we were leaving I promptly brought it up.

Later in the week the three of us walked from the temporary housing area to watch the construction of one of the wonders of the world -The Pentagon.

Note: Colonel Leslie Groves headed up the project and as a Lt General he would be responsible for directing the Manhattan Project and the development of the Atomic Bomb.

Other memories

On Saturday mornings Mother would make us Cream Of Wheat with big pats of butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon .I loved to listen to the radio as there were several programs for kids, My favorite was called “Lets Pretend” and they usually told fairy tales. They were sponsored by Nabisco and I can still hear their jingle:

Cream O’ Wheat is so good to eat

So we have it everyday.

It makes us strong and makes us long

and makes us shout HURRAH1

It’s good for growing babies and grown-ups too to eat.

So for all the family’s breakfast

You can’t beat Cream O’ Wheat!

There were two programs, one about a magical fish called “Red Lantern”and one about Buster Brown and Froggie” . Now don’t forget TV was many years in the future so we had to use our imaginations.

At home the Hungarian Grandmothers raised us as our parents were either in the service or working in war related jobs. The Hungarian community came together and planted enormous “Victory Gardens” the produce was either canned or stored in Root Cellars. We all had apple, peach, apricot, plum and pear trees around our home. They were white washed with lime to prevent insects from boring into wood and caterpillars from climbing them. We all had chicken yards with hens and one or two roosters along with a couple ducks and usually a fat goose. Grammy Prem would hand feed the goose corn. She would hold it between her legs and stuff kernels of corn down its throat. By the time thanksgiving arrive the goose;s liver was enormous. After chopping its head off she would extract the oviduct and squeeze out the immature eggs. Next she made a pate’ with them and then it stuffed into the neck . The stuffed neck, heart and gizzard was roasted and became the Piece De Resistance of the Holiday meal. The men of the family  (to include the only Grandson) shared it.

Grandmother Vera Prem & Grandfather Joseph Prem

Grammy & Grandpop PremNote: the geese & ducks that were eaten were cleaned of their down and were stuffed into great “feather ticks”. The blood was collected and made into a jellied Aspic usually containing some of the boiled meat of the fowl. Nothing was wasted.

In the fall of the year my Granduncle Steve Szalay killed one of his pigs that he raised and brought the carcass up to Grammy Perm’s home. The families made a great fire and the hog was butchered. The intestines were washed and cleaned .A mixture of rice, pig’s blood and chopped pork and spices were boiled and the intestines were stuffed to make blood sausage known as Hurka or Hudka. Chunks of pig fat were cut and put sticks and given to the children to roast and let them drip on chunks of home made bread. It was a small boy’s taste of heaven.

Note; The only other time I ate Blood Sausage was in Puerto Rico. In 1970 I was a medical member of an IG inspection of the Puerto Rico National Guard medical facilities. I was assigned a Staff Sargent and car for the week. SSG Gonzales invited me to his home outside of San Juan for supper. His wife served us Blood Sausage and fried Plantains. My short time in that beautiful Island and the wonderful people I met is something I will never forget.

My Pennsylvania side of the Family went one better. After the hog was butchered all the parts left were boiled and made into an epicurean delight called Scrapple or Pan Haas( pan rabbit). The only part of the pig that wasn’t used was the “oink” and if you listened closely as the Scrapple was frying you could hear that too in the crackling. Truly nothing was wasted.

Grandmother Carrie Marsteller & Grandfather Calvin Marsteller

Grandmother & grandfather Marsteller

Here is an extract from Wikipedia:

Scrapple is typically made of hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver, and other trimmings, which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head), to make a broth. Once cooked, bones and fat are removed, the meat is reserved, and (dry) cornmeal is boiled in the broth to make a mush. The meat, finely minced, is returned to the pot and seasonings, typically sagethymesavory, black pepper, and others are added.[3][4] The mush is formed into loaves and allowed to cool thoroughly until set. 

Because I was raised in a Hungarian community I learned to speak Magyar. My Pennsylvania German however was limited to two phases;

Gott verdammt Sie -God Damn you- which I was forbidden to repeat and Snicklefritz that I could say when I was angry.

Here is another Wikipedia extract:

Snicklefrtiz was originally used in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where Snicklefritz is an affectionate name for a mischievous or overly talkative child.

It is hard to believe that during elementary school we had corporal punishment .The individual teachers had wooden paddles and the miscreant was forced to lean over a desk at the front of the room and given a paddling. If you were sent to the Principal’s office , he used a strap and you got whacked across the back of the legs. To add insult to injury you were sent home with a note describing your misconduct. The note had to be signed and sent back with you the next day. This guaranteed a second punishment meted out by you parent.

We started each school day by reciting the Lord’s prayer and the teacher read a bible verse. On Fridays we had a general assembly of the classes(1-6). We also recited the Lord’s Prayer and sang the National Anthem. We then sang several hymns, my favorite was “The Little Brown Church In The Dale”.

First Family Portrait 1941

Front Row: Aunt Mary, Mother, Clyde,Floyd, Aunt Helen

Back Row Grand Pop Prem, Grammy Prem, Grammy Martseller, Grand Pop Marsteller

Marsteller & Prem family parents__ - Grammy & Pop Prem, Grammy & Pop Marsteller, sisters - Mary, Vera &__ Helen, Clyde & Floyd 1941

Family Portrait 2001

Family Portrait 2001

Front Row: Fred Clark , Kayla Marie Covert, Grandmother Vera (Marsteller) Clark

2nd row: Tara(Marsteller) Covert, Ellie(Garze) Marsteller, Clyde Marsteller, Barbara (Stralo)Marsteller, Christine Marsteller, Stephanie Marsteller , Bethany Pancoast

3rd row: Roger Covert, Floyd Marsteller, Floyd  Marsteller, Jr, Sandra(Profitt) Marsteller, Bonnie(Marsteller) Pancoast &  Dan Pancoast

A High School classmate Dale Stewart wrote to me after reading “Memories.”

She writes:

First, thank you so much for your trip down memory lane. You realize of course that since we are the same age and grew up in the same general area many of the places and events you mentioned were very familiar to me. Re the air raids, my Dad was an air raid Warden so when the siren went off my Dad grabbed his sleeve band and hard hat and headed out the door. And it was dead silence and black-black until the all safe siren blew, I grew up Bridge Street, just a block away the Laros Silk Mill where the parachutes were made and two blocks away from the Minsi Trail Bridge which crossed the Lehigh River to the Steel Company. I’m sure the Bethlehem Steel was a prime bomb target since all the steel manufactured there for the ships and planes. Very scary! I definitely remember scrapple. I loved scrapple! I haven’t had it for many decades.Remember Miss Kelchner and how we hung out at biology lab after school/ those high school days were great.

Thank you Dale for sharing those memories

Those were the Days my Friends!

Tell me ’bout the good old days
Sometimes it feels like
This world’s gone crazy
Grandpa, take me back to yesterday
Where the line between right and wrong
Didn’t seem so hazy

Did lovers really fall in love to stay
Stand beside each other come what may
Was a promise really something people kept
Not just something they would say
Did families really bow their heads to pray
Did daddies really never go away
Whoa oh Grandpa
Tell me ’bout the good old days

[musical interlude]

Everything is changing fast
We call it progress
But I just don’t know
And Grandpa, let’s wander back into the past
And paint me a picture of long ago

Did lovers really fall in love to stay
Stand beside each other come what may
Was a promise really something people kept
Not just something they would say and then forget
Did families really bow their heads to pray
Did daddies really never go away
Whoa oh Grandpa
Tell me ’bout the good old days

Whoa oh Grandpa
Tell me ’bout the good ole days

Autumn Nostalgia


A Lehigh Valley Autumn – courtesy of Bonnie Pancoast

The days grow short as you reach September

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame

as days dwindle down to a precious few October then November

One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

So I’ll put Halloween decorations away

and welcome in Harvest Time and Thanksgiving Day.

with acknowledgement to lyrics to “September Song”

My beautiful picture

May you enjoy A bountiful Harvest

My beautiful picture

A Blessed Thanksgiving from our Home to Yours

Ramblin Clyde

For a taste of real nostalgia here is one of my favorite songs sung by Andy Williams:

Autumn Wish

The flowers of Summer are past

and Autumn leaves rule at last.

As monarchs fly south , geese cackle overhead

I know Winter is coming but long for Spring instead.

Gardens are barren and turning brown.

Lawns are covered with leaves falling down.

Where flowers grew, plump pumpkins play host.

Beware the Scare Crow and occasional Ghost!

From our home to yours,


Ramblin Clyde

peggy's photo

HABITAT HOME-Reptiles & Amphibians

As far back as I can remember I have been fascinated by Reptilia. My favorites are the Testudines – the turtles and tortoises. As our ownership of our home went along I became aware that the future Habitat Home had come to us populated by a healthy population of snakes, frogs toads and lizards. The only thing missing were turtles. This vacancy was filled when our daughter Tara brought home a Box Turtle she found trying to cross Rte 60 near Busch Gardens and was afraid it would get run over. ( she was raised well). He lived in our backyard for a number of years and became the first Habitat Home turtle resident.

There is a song that starts with “Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes, I’ll never Love Blue Eyes Again”. Brown eyed female Box Turtles have drifted in and out of my life many times since I became a VMN(Cohort 1) in 2006.

Even though the first lady turtle involved was not part of the Habitat Home turtles it is a story worth telling. I call it the Sunday Snake and the Monday Turtle.

In the beginning the Zoo came into existence with forages into God’s Three Acres (G3A) aka our church’s woodlot. I was invited to a Monday Zoo visit at Poquoson Elementary School where a team from the Virginia Wildlife Magazine was doing a story about the schools’ new eco-friendly facilities.

I wanted to take along a small Earth Snake for the children to see and interact with. Sunday morning I told Miss Ellie I was going to skip Communion and look for a specimen in G3A for Monday’s visit. I could find a snake almost immediately under any one of the numerous “Isabel” logs in the wood lot. Try as I might – no snakes. My final try was under a piece of plywood in the upper end of the lot. I could almost always count on finding a snake there.

When I raised the plywood I found a 4 foot Black Racer, one of G3A’s apex predators lying there. It stood its ground repeatedly striking at me. I finally pinned its head down and picked it up. It immediately wound itself around the sleeve of my suit jacket. The adage of “having a Tiger by the tail” came to mind.

black racer
Black Racer top predator in G3A

As I carried my catch back to the parking lot I realized I didn’t have a container large enough to put the snake in. I briefly thought of going into the Parish Hall kitchen to look for one but the church ladies were setting up Coffee Hour and I realized I really valued my life and my marriage. I sat on a log and carefully unwound the snake and set it down. It immediately tried to eat my leg. As I scrambled to the other side of the log I tripped over something. It was the first of my Brown Eyes. As a beautiful female Box Turtle looked up at me I was convinced the Guardian Angel of G3A was looking after me. Miss Brown Eyes went to Poquoson on Monday and back to G3A on Tuesday.

My beautiful picture
Box Turtle -Beautiful Brown Eyes

The second affair came a few weeks later. Miss Ellie and I were spring cleaning Habitat Home on a Saturday morning when a motorcycle came roaring up. A Biker Dude picked something out of his saddle bag and walked over to us. He said “ I have something for you”. He handed me small Box Turtle. Suzie Blutz had entered our lives. Miss Ellie took one look and fell in love saying, “ She is so cute”. Miss Ellie was sure anything that pretty and vulnerable looking had to be a little girl. She named her Susie Blutz. It seems in her childhood home town when a new girl moved into the neighborhood the kids called her “Susie Blutz” until they became acquainted. Susie was a guest at Habitat Home for a couple of weeks until I released her near the site the Bikers had picked her up. The Biker Dude was my son-in-law and told me where she was discovered.

female Box Turtle - Suzie Blitz
Suzie Blutz

A little over seven years ago a big male Box Turtle took up residency in our backyard , we named him Jacob. Over the years we would see him (usually after a rain) looking for slugs and worms.

My beautiful pictureJacob

In September of the same year I was doing some weeding in my flower beds and there in my Vinca ground cover sat a new turtle, She blinked her Brown Eyes at me and was immediately named “Miss Terry”. I suspected Jacob was going to be real happy to make her acquaintance.

Miss TerryMiss Terry

In April two years later I came across Jacob and Terry in their “Honey Moon bower in the Vincas. Note the”dimple”does work. Later in the year I found Miss Terry digging a nesting hole near the fish pond, unfortunately a tropical storm hit our area and washed the site away.

My beautiful pictureJacob & Terry

The following year while I was raking a drift of leaves up near the brush pile I had the company of my resident Gray Catbird. He would sit fearlessly on a nearby work table and as I uncovered an insect or bug he would fly down and grab it.

About halfway through I uncovered Jacob in the leaf mold. I gave him a quick dip in the fish pond and fed him a night crawler. I was finishing up raking when to my utter delight I uncovered our first ever Grand Turtle Child. It was a little larger than a quarter. I guess Jacob and miss Terry must have figured out the correct geometry. I took it inside and showed it to Miss Ellie who again fell in love with the little tyke and named it “Bee Tee” (Baby Turtle). I fixed up a temporary home for it and took it to a Zoo presentation to several 3rd grade classes at Poquoson E.S. It generated lots of Oohs and Aahs and had it been bigger it might have ended up as the school’s Mascot. I returned home and put it in my compost pile . Later on in the week Miss Terry emerged from the brush pile and followed Jacob into the pond and a nice worm meal. I swear she had a “Did you see what I did” look and attitude.

My beautiful picture
Bee Tee

The following year Jacob And Miss Terry proudly announced the debut of another hatchling- Miss Caroline. I found the youngster in March by literally stumbling on her. Fortunately I didn’t harm her. I introduced her to Miss Ellie and the neighborhood children. She is too young to raise so I put her back into the leaf mold and into Gaea’s care.

My beautiful picture
Miss Caroline


The rest of the reptiles and amphibians gradually introduced themselves as Habitat Home evolved.

The snakes turned up under flower pots, in the gardens and under the leaf mold. There were the ubiquitous Garter Snakes, a large and hostile Brown Snake and a docile Ring Neck Snake. There are two species of lizards scurrying along the fences and among the logs and rocks. They are Fence Lizards (Swifts) and 5 Lines Skinks.

Eastern+Garter+SnakeGarter Snake

Dekay or Brown Snake
ringneck snake
Ringneck snake
Fence Lizard (Swift)
A 5 lined Skink

The largest group among our amphibians are three species of Frogs: Green Frogs, Green Tree Frogs, and Southern Leopard Frogs and two species of Toads: American and Fowler’s toads. There is a small population of Lead Back Salamanders that occasionally are uncovered in planting and weeding the Butterfly Garden. You can see that Habitat Home is truly blessed.

Green Frog
My beautiful picture
Green Tree Frog on Gardenias
My beautiful picture
Leopard Frog

fowler's toadFront Yard Fowler’s Toad


american toad

Backyard American Toad

lead back salamander

Note: We have had an awful year with infestations of Roaches and Camel Crickets. The Exterminator placed sticky strip traps around the garage that unfortunately produced “Collateral Damage”.

My beautiful picture
Skink on Sticky Trap

My beautiful pictureGarter Snake on Sticky Trap

Ramblin Clyde





Habitat Home -Part 3 – The Mammals


Samauri Squirrel & BunnyMy beautiful picture
Samurai Squirrel & Bunny

A Squirrel’s Tale

Yesterday Little Bunny met one our seven Samurai juvenile squirrels in the backyard .

S. Squirrel asked “ What are you , how do you get here and where do you go” ?

Bunny replied, “ I am who I am, where I came from and where I go are secrets I keep.”

S. Squirrel said, “ then linger awhile and whisper your secrets to me”.

Any description of mammals at Habitat Home has to start with the pets that have resided here since we became owners. When we relocated to Denbigh in Newport News we brought along two pets: a Cocker Spaniel named Muffin and a house cat named Carter. How they came to be family is interesting. We spent six years in Aurora, Colorado while I was the Laboratory Administrator for the Department of Clinical Research at the Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center.

Our Department had the following sections: Bacteriology, Immunology, Allergy testing, Chemistry, Radio-Isotope Lab and a small three bed ward for patients that required an overnight stay. We also had a full service Veterinary activity, an Experimental Surgical unit and a high altitude testing lab on Pike’s Peak. This Section housed everything from Opossums to Pig Tailed Macaque Monkeys, large dogs and cats., along with the ubiquitous white laboratory mice and rats.

Our Department head was a Pediatric Oncologist. All the laboratory sections had PhD s in charge, and a Veterinary Officer who in charge of the veterinary activities section.

Back in the day, we had to buy our dogs and cats from a local animal shelter. All the animals we purchased were going to be euthanize by the shelter so we bought them for our doctors and researchers to use in their clinical studies. They were treated well and held for several weeks in quarantine . Most were “sacrificed “ because of testings or surgeries performed on them.

Note: After I left “Fitz” in 1979 the animals shelters stopped euthanization and the Army stopped buying shelter animals.

From the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS):

Although dog use in science has declined by 71% since their peak use in 1979, the most current USDA statistics show that 60,979 dogs were used for “research, testing, teaching, or experimentation” in 2016, although the exact purposes for which these dogs were used remain unclear.

Those that were not “put to sleep” were put up for adoption at no cost to the folks who wanted them. Occasionally a pretty little animal was given to us by the shelter for adoption by our staff or the hospital staff . That is how Muffin the Cocker Spaniel came into our lives. Shortly thereafter the Colonel in charge of the Department (our “Boss”) was driving to work and saw a couple kittens a few weeks old that someone had dumped into a gutter. He immediately caught them and brought them to our vet section. There was an adorable black and white kitten who I fell in love with. I tucked him into my shirt pocket and took him home over lunch. As soon as he peeked out of my pocket Ellie & little Tara squealed with delight and immediately named him Carter after our President and because he was a big as a “peanut”. Muffin and Carter became inseparable and came to Virginia , one by Motor home and one by air.

muffin & Carter Cat

The opossums deserve some explanation. Our immunology and our Radio-Isotope lab were given a protocol to develop a Fetal Hemoglobin Test. In order to start the project we had to come up with significant amounts of fetal hemoglobin . Since we were prohibited to use aborted human fetuses we looked at alternatives. In a brain storming session it was suggested that marsupial fetuses were completely composed of fetal hemoglobin early in their pouch development. I was tasked to contact the Denver Zoo to see if they could give us kangaroo or other marsupials fetuses. As you might have expected I got a responding NO!

Late that day I was thinking about wildlife collectors in Australia to contact ( don’t laugh) when I had an idea. We had our very own native marsupials, they were called OPPOSUMS!

I met with the chiefs and our veterinarian and was given a “go” to get some pregnant opossums. I called to Florida and got a wildlife trapper near the Everglades. I explained the situation and he said ‘No Problem” how many did I need? We agreed on a half dozen animals. The Chief of Immunology and our Veterinary asked for fetuses early in their development . The trapper explained he & his staff would drag several decomposed cow carcasses into the swamp, wait a few day and at night would collect the ‘Possums that showed up. They would triage the catch and sent us the appropriate critters. A few weeks later I got a call from a hysterical supervisor at Stapleton Int’l Airport at 2 am. He was screaming at me that I needed to get over there ASAP because a gigantic “rat” had chewed it’s way out of a shipping container and was trying to eat everyone who came within biting distance. The employees were locked in his office and the “Rat” was my responsibility,. I called one of our vet techs and we went over to Airport. Now an opossum will when cornered will stand it’s ground, snarl ferociously while exhibiting daunting dental wear. However as I learned from boyhood trapping days when I grabbed its tail thumped it on the floor it immediately “played dead” and could be handled without injury to the catcher & the catchee. Long story short. The protocol was successful, we invented an extremely accurate fetal hemoglobin test which proved invaluable in detecting maternal /fetal problems and a had a good record saving human fetuses and mothers from hemorrhaging and causing spontaneous abortions. Thank God it took a very few opossums fetuses to develop the testing. To this day I have a deep sense of gratitude for this wonderful creature.

opposumOppossum photo

Fetal hemoglobin test (Free Medical Dictionary)

a test of maternal blood to detect leakage of fetal cells into the maternal circulation, an indication of fetal-maternal hemorrhage.

Abnormal pregnancy[edit] _Wikipedia

Causes of increased foetal-maternal haemorrhage are seen as a result of trauma, placental abruption or may be spontaneous with no cause found.

Up to 30 mL of foetal-maternal transfusion may take place with no significant signs or symptoms seen in either mother or foetus.[3] Loss in excess of this may result in significant morbidity and mortality to the fetus. Foetal-maternal haemorrhage is one cause of intrauterine death (IUD)

Buffy was our third and last pet here in New Port News. He showed up one morning in our backyard as a couple weeks old puppy with big feet. I guessed that he was a Lab-Chow mix and would grow into a big dog. He didn’t disappoint me. We figured one of the neighborhood boys who had a crush on Tara decided she needed a pet. Ellie picked him up and he licked her face. That’s all it took, he had found a new home.

He grew up to be about 60 lbs and never stopped trying to be a lap dog. The only trouble when he tried to be one, his butt was was on your lap and his front feet where on the floor. He had a passion for chasing squirrels. Thank goodness he never caught one, when they would dodge around a tree he would run full speed into it .He never learned to slow down .

The article was about my first time as the Lion’s Denbigh Day Chair. I guess I was fated to become a Master Naturalist.


Buffy & Old Man ‘Possum

One night several years later I decided to throw a bag of stale popcorn in the garden. Next morning I let Buffy out for his morning romp, I knew he would spot one of our squirrels and I would hear his barking and the inevitable thud as he ran into a tree. This morning he was frantically barking but no thump. I looked out and saw he was prancing around a very large Opossum that had been dining on the popcorn. True to form it hissed and show an impressive mouthful of teeth. When I walked out it ran to fence and climbed on top of a post. Buffy sat down thumped his tail and with his silly doggy grin looked at me and seemed to say,”O.K. Boss, I’ve done my job. The rest is up to you”!

Habitat Home has its usual assortment of suburban squirrels, rabbits, voles, some rats, an occasional shrew, an odd raccoon and the neighbor’s cat.


Habitat Home Raccoon


A Real Garden Gnome



My beautiful picture
Shrew caught on sticky tape

BrownRat-Rattus norvegicus

Rat underneath bird feeders

The oddest mammalian inhabitant of Habit Home is Stumpy the Squirrel. When Miss Ellie first spotted him she told me a “Mutant” rabbit was climbing one of our pines. It was poor Stumpy who had a close encounter of the third kind with one of our predators and sacrificed his tail.

He climbed slowly and would not jump from branch to branch. As much as I am not fond of his tribe I have come to admire him for his will to live.

My beautiful picture

Last month as I was dead heading my Iris and Day lilies I spotted a clump of pine needles next to the house foundation. I went to pick them up and said,

Pine Needles
“This sure looks funny,
Baby Bunnies
Whoa, its a nest of baby bunnies”

Ramblin Clyde

Habitat Home – Part Two

My beautiful picture
Habitat Home

To paraphrase a quote from the movie “Field of Dreams” , “Build it and they will come”.

As the years progressed I enjoyed the beauty and antics of our backyard avian guests. To encourage them I added a number of feeding stations strategically located near our breakfast area. At first it was a simple tube seed feeder which was quickly followed by a suet cage. The biggest draw came when a fellow Lion made me a log feeder out of a section of a small oak log in which he had drilled a number of one inch holes at an angle. I filled them with suet and peanut butter and the fun really started.

My beautiful picture
three part feeding station
My beautiful picture
niger sock
My beautiful picture
hummer feeder

I finished up with a thistle (niger) sock in the Butterfly garden and a Hummer feeder next to the kitchen window. I started to keep a log of our visitors and discovered  I had both a “year around crowd” and  seasonal immigrants. I finally discovered the GBBC and took my “birding” to a new level. The highest number of species in my “observation” area is 33. I was now scanning the skies and doing the “New Bird Dance” one of my Birding friends taught me.

The most interesting observations occur when  the winter residents arrive: Juncos, Yellow Rumped Warblers, Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker, Eastern Towhee and Pine Siskins. This is also the time I get “mobbed” my gangs of Grackles, Starlings, Cowbirds and Red Wing Blackbirds.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

The only “snake” in Eden is that I am on the feeding route of a Sharp Shinned Hawk. It has taste for dove.

The ultimate conclusion to this part of my Habitat Home has been the installation of seven bird houses . I now enjoy the antics of new fledglings and juvenile “Grand Children”. I also became cognizant of nesters in the habitat trees and shrubs.

My beautiful picture
Titmouse Haven(they have nested in it since I put it up)

The list of nesters include the bird house folks: Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Titmice, House Wrens, and the pesky English Sparrows ( who I evict ASAP).

Shrub nesters are : Cardinals, Brown Thrashers and Song Sparrows.

The trees entertain homes for my favorite bird – Blue Jays ( see https://clydeccedm.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/                                     A-blue-jay-named-satan-and-other-memories ), Doves, robins, and a rarity- a Yellow Billed Cuckoo.


“Satan”                                               photo by Inge Curtis HRC,VMN

yellow billed cuckoo

Yellow Billed Cuckoo

de: Gelbschnabelkuckuck Photograph: Mdf first upload in en wikipedia on 22:28, 4 July 2005 by Mdf Licence

My Loblolly Pines have three cavity nesters in the dead branches : Red Bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and a family of White Breasted Nuthatches.


White breasted Nut Hatch

Although I can’t claim them as Habitat nesters , this year a family of Great Horned Owls raised a family in the pine grove across the street. I also have a neighborhood family of Ruby Throated Humming Birds that have their family enjoying the nectar feeder.

My beautiful picture
Great Horned Owl in pines across the street

I especially enjoy the antics if the juveniles who visit with their parents and go into “flutter, flutter feed me” routine. The funniest pair was Mother Song Sparrow feeding a huge cowbird juvenile who was obviously hatched by the poor biddie.

song sparrow Melospiza melodia

Song Sparrow

My beautiful picture
Fledged Cowbird raised by Song Sparrows



Part three of Habitat Home will deal with our mammals

Ramblin Clyde

Blue Birds Of Happiness and And An Unexpected “Croak In”.



Somewhere Over The Rainbow  from the Wizard of Oz – Judy Garland circa 1939

One of our Historic Rivers Chapter’s projects is monitoring Blue Bird nesting boxes trails on 17 trails scattered throughout the Peninsula. I am a member of a group of Naturalists who monitor 40 nesting boxes each week in the Newport News Park throughout the nesting season March through August and report bluebird data in accordance with the Virginia Bluebird Society protocol. Newport News Park, which is located in Newport News, York County, and is one of the largest city run parks in the United States.

Here is a comparison of nesting activity on all of our trails’ 298 nesting boxes (2017 vs 2016) .


Active EABL Nests


EABL Chicks

EABL Fledges

Total EABL Activity













Results of our monitoring on Friday, July 2nd :

I want to thank my Team Member Geoff Giles for identifying the frogs

11active nests,  1 partial nest,  28 empty nesting boxes

31 BB chicks,  14 BB eggs,  3 fledged young BB

no other species nesting

Here are some other observation made during our Survey:

Box 14 had 4 Squirrels Tree Frogs and a Cope’s Gray Tree Frog occupying it.

squirrel tree frog #1

Squirrel Tree Frog – Hyla squirella

copes grey tree frog

Cope”s Gray Tree Frog – Hyla chrysoscelis

photos from Google


Northern Mocking Bird , a Great White Egret, and a Ruby Throated Humming Bird were seen. A beautiful Yellow-bellied Slider made it across the road (just in time) at box 23. He was a “Buff” male who looked like he had just put on new duds and was on the prowl looking for a date.

yellow bellied slider

Yellow Bellied Slider – Trachemys scripta

photo from Google

We spotted three butterflies: an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (our State Insect), a Zebra Swallowtail, and a Common Wood Nymph.


Common Wood Nymph – Cercyonis pegala

Photo from Google

An expanded comment on the frogs :

I was reading an old Gothic novel written by H.P. Lovecraft titled “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”. It put me into a macabre frame of mind.

Box 14 was again the scene of a Batrachian convention hosted by the H.P. Lovecraft Inn at 24 Cthulhu Ave. They were conducting readings from the Nicromicon’s “Book of the Dead” and trying to utter unspeakable incantations for summoning the “Old Ones”.

When we heard , ” Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’ nagl fhtagn”. We shuddered and silently crept away.

Here is a photo of that awful Covention taken on July 7th. There are 4 Squirrel Frogs in the for ground with a Cope’s Gray Tree Frog hiding in the right hand corner.

BB frogs

Photo courtesy of Geoff Giles

To paraphrase Forrest Gump: My Mama always said, “ A Blue Bird Nesting Box was like a box of Chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”.

Ramblin Clyde
















Prey, Predators and Collateral Damage

My beautiful picture

Recently we had infestation of rats in the neighborhood (non-human) and Cockroaches. A number of neighbors including myself hired an exterminator to get rid of them. They had gotten into my storage shed and were also playing havoc with the bird feeders and flower garden succulents. The exterminator first put down sticky strips around and in the shed.

BrownRat-Rattus norvegicus

Brown Rat -Rattus norvegicus courtesy of Wikipedia

Two strips caught the following:

My beautiful picture

Prey:  cockroach- Blattoidea. & house fly-  Musca domestica


My beautiful picture

Predators:  Shrew –Blarina brevicauda and Centipede –Scutigera coleoptrata

(note tick next to shrew)

The first strip which I named Prey and the second is named Predators. As the shrew & centipede were next to the insects I am surmising the two predators were going after the insects, unfortunately they became Collateral Damage. I had the strips removed and rat traps put down.

The traps caught 5 rats over a week’s time and evidently ended my problem. I have stopped putting bird seed on the ground and that has also helped.

The Shrew family are the only venomous mammals found in North America.

Here is an exert from Wikipedia:

This shrew consumes up to three times its weight in food each day.[4] It eats small quantities of subterranean fungi and seeds, though it is mostly carnivorous.[5] It prefers insects, earthwormsvolessnails, and other shrews for the bulk of its diet, though salamanders and mice are also eaten.[5]This shrew consumes vertebrates more often than other shrews do.[5] The shrew mostly forages within a few hours after sunset, though it is also active during cloudy days.[5] High evaporative water loss requires the shrew to have access to a source of water, though it does obtain water from its food, as well.[3] The shrew often hoards food, especially in the fall and winter, or during a time of prey abundance;[3] one study found it caches 87% of the prey it catches, while 9% is eaten immediately and 4% is left where it was killed.[10]


The saliva of the northern short-tailed shrew contains a kallikrein-like protease, used to paralyze and subdue its prey.[11] The toxin is strong enough to kill small animals, up to sizes somewhat larger than the shrew itself, and results in painful bites to humans who attempt to handle the shrew.[3] The venomous saliva is secreted from submaxillary glands, through a duct which opens at the base of the lower incisors, where the saliva flows along the groove formed by the two incisors, and into the prey.[3][5] The toxin is very similar in structure to the one produced by the Mexican beaded lizard(Heloderma horridum) which independently developed its toxin from the same precursor protein.[12]

This photo is an update. I found this strip under our deck and wanted to include it. The Predators are a 5 Lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) and a spider. There are six cockroaches, at least two house flies, a Lighting Bug/FireFly (Lampyridae family), several Roly Polies(Isopods) and a Partridge in a Pear Tree ( a jest).

My beautiful picture

The local paper is reporting large numbers of “bugs “ are being driven out of yards into shady or cooler areas ( especially house foundations, garages, etc).

One wonders if how many Prey animals would be consumed by the Predators if they had not been killed as “Collateral Damage” ?

Ramblin Clyde

I had an unusual experience with the birds that were feeding on the seeds I scattered on the ground.

A backyard resident Song Sparrow brought two juveniles and was busily picking up seeds and feeding two juveniles who were eagerly following and doing the fluttering wings and outstretched head bob .

The odd thing was that the two juveniles were at least twice the size of the adult sparrow. I realized they were immature Cowbirds. I sympathized with the parents having to raise two aliens. I am sure that when they hatched ,the interlopers kicked out the sparrow eggs/nestlings .

song sparrow Melospiza melodia

Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia ( courtesy of Wikipedia)

The two juveniles were very “tame” and I could get quite close to them. They are now competing with the feeders birds though they have work hard as they haven’t learned to perch on the tube feeders and suet log.

My beautiful picture

Cow Bird juvenile Molothrus ater

Ramblin Clyde