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
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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Orchid Cactus

The Orchid Cactus

Epiphyllum

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

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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 grew flowers, plump pumpkins play host.

Beware the Scare Crow and occasional Ghost!

From our home to yours,

HAPPY HOLLOWEEN

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
Dekay or Brown Snake
ringneck snake
Ringneck snake
fence-lizard
Fence Lizard (Swift)
five-lined-skink
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
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

red-back-salamander-dark-phase
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.

DDPhotoofBuffy

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.

raccoon

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
“Stumpy”

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.

IMG_5102(1)

“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.

WhiteBreastedNuthatch

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”.

bluebird

 

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) .

EASTERN BLUEBIRD

Active EABL Nests

EABL Eggs

EABL Chicks

EABL Fledges

Total EABL Activity

7-18-2017

71

115

140

655

910

7-24-2016

31

52

44

440

536

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-butterfly

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]

Toxin[edit]

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

Poetry From The Born Naturalist

IMG_5098(1)2
A Blue Jay Named Satan courtesy of Inge Curtis, HRC, VMN

I took a Child of Nature

and raised it for my own.

And by little acts of Kindness

seeds of Love were sown.

Those flashing Wings of azure blue

his wild and raucous sounds.

The worlds of sky and earth He knew

only by Love were bound.

Within His breast a wild Heart beat

unchained from worldly care.

Yet he loved a Boy, a selfish Boy

this Child of God so fair.

He gave to me his very being

his Love a precious thing.

Perched on my shoulder every night

a song of Life he’d sing.

Puffed up and vibrant He would fly

above my bed each morn.

And Tidings of a new day come

upon his Wings were born.

But now my Life is emptied

of this bit of little Bliss.

there is a dark and lonesome Void

left by Death’s cruel kiss.

He symbolized a link between

God’s natural world and mine.

But now to God I give Him

Oh Lord he’s wholly Thine.

His grave beneath the Willow lies

marked by the Laurel green.

A little bit of Life now stilled

Oh Death your aim unseen.

To be alone is not Life’s way

Through Love the World is made.

Yet for the gift of Life and Love

the Price of Death is paid.

 

pennsylvanian-blue-jay
Satan -A Blue Jay Photo courtesy of Bonnie(Marsteller) Pancoast
https://clydeccedm.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/
Title of article: A Story Of A Blue Jay Named Satan and Other Memories
My beautiful picture
The Lake at Tawlfen

The Lake nestled in the hills

  turquoise blue in emerald green.

A piece of heaven wedded to earth

  when at a distance seen.

Fed by the rains and storm clouds

  born in the sky above.

Droplets splashed into its’ bosom

  soft kisses of celestial love.

Peaceful and life giving it lies

  obeying the wind’ command.

It wavelets chase fallen leaves

  across its’ shoals of sand.

Shy wild creatures come and drink

  and see themselves reflected.

Then move back into woodland haunts

  there by their depths protected.

And deep below the surface

  another world is seen.

Long arms and fronds of plants

  fishes dark and lean.

Glimmering schools of life

  break as their ranks are tore.

By ravenous teeth and shuddering

  forms of hungry predator.

So it is in most things

  in the peaceful something mean.

  below the surface worlds unseen.

In the beautiful and obvious

the Lake
and see themselves reflected.”
Photo courtesy of Bonnie(Marsteller) Pancoast
           https://clydeccedm.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/
TITLE OF ARTICLE: THE SKUNK HOLLOW BOYS

sea-coast-night-sky-stars-milky-way

The Milky Way

Courtesy of Texas Fish & Game Google article

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

How I wonder where you are.

Now obscured by light pollution.

How I wish there was a solution”

Ramblin Clyde

  • The first night we decided to fish at the dock. The sunset was spectacular. I remember later lying on the dock after midnight and looking up. I have never seen stars like that. The Milky Way in all its glory was splashed across the sky and every so often a shooting star fell across the canopy. It was a mystical experience. Then I noticed there were lights in the water! As schools of fishes swam by or as we fought fish we hooked, the water flashed with luminescence. Between the sky and the sea it was a show I will carry in my soul forever. To add to all this beauty the night exploded with sound. Coyotes started to talk with on another and the gulls flew over head in the darkness answering them.
  • https://Clydeccedm.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/
  • Title of Story: Treasured Island

The Demi God

By Clyde Marsteller, 1955, upon the occasion of shooting

The Old Man of the Mountain”

 

The creatures of the forest

are silent and fearful.

For Death stalks the wooded glades

relentless and careful.

A movement now a flash

a sharp thunder is heard.

A wild death cry a thrashing form

to sight is bared.

Large or small none are excluded

rabbit,squirrel and deer.

From their wild haunts

by this pursuer are rooted.

Hiding,running,blindly fleeing

crouching close to the sod.

Quivering,dying, innocent victims

of the deadly Demi-God.

The majestic buck defiant

shakes his antlers proud.

ten pouinter

courtesy of Google

His does unlike their Lord mill

in a frightened crowd.

King of his dominion he surveys

the familiar wood.

Unaware out there watching

the Demi-God concealed stood.

Then thunder, the buck sprang up

but the messenger flew true.

The valiant heart stopped by the

message struck through.

Destroyer decreeing that it die

your tools gun and rod.

Who is to argue? Not I

For I am the Demi -God.

 

https://Clydeccedm.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/ title of article : The Hunters

 

 

 

Starting And Keeping A Zoo

When I first conceived the idea of having a Zoo to entertain the children in my granddaughter’s 3 rd grade class at Poquoson ES I did not think what an awesome job and responsibility it would become.

I want to go through the experience before my memory fails me.

I realized that I would have to put any animals I collected to into suitable habitats or containers. If I was looking at long term containment I would have to provide environments close to the one I took the animals out of. Then it dawned on me I would have to feed them!

Terrariums were cost prohibitive. What to do? I settled on large plastic containers like the kind pretzels, Halloween candy, snacks come in. I also bought several dozen various sized storage containers.

typical-animal-home
Typical Critter Habitat-Halloween candy jar
isopod-habitat
Roly Poly Home

slugs-snail-habitatSlug & Snail “Gastropodium”

I made up a collection kit and started off on my grand adventure. I had chosen the three acre suburban tract belonging to our church. It had a lot of undergrowth and logs from Hurricane Isabel’s visit that the men of the church cut into pieces I could roll over easily.

collection-kit
Collection Kit
My beautiful picture
G3A

I worked the area around several of the “Isabel” logs, carefully cleaning the surface area around each and collecting what ever I uncovered and putting the animals in collection jars. Next I rolled over the logs and collected what I uncovered there. I wandered through God’s Three Acres (G3A) chasing after insects, lizards, beetles, spiders, and butterflies.

It was great being a kid again!

betsy-beetle-by-Isobel log

Betsy Beetle by Isabel log

critters-085
Red Admiral Butterfly in G3A
critters-148
Catching a Millipede in G3A
My beautiful picture
Swallowtail in G3A
Isabelle Log
Isabel Log

I uncovered a number of snakes under other logs, rocks and pieces of lumber scattered through out the tract.

snake on Isabel Log
Earth Snake on Isabel log

Once home I separated my catch and set up house keeping in our den.

Over the months I added to Zoo with frogs, toads and turtles and lizards along with more small snakes.

green frog
Zoo’s Green Frog
My beautiful picture
Leopard Frog

My beautiful picture

Mushroom -our Toad

My beautiful picture

Box Turtle

broad-headed-skink

Broad Headed Skink

five-lined-skink
A 5 lined Skink
fence-lizard
Fence Lizard- a Swift
clydes-zoo-babies-009
Common Ground Skink

dekay-or-brown-snake

Dekay or Brown Snake

 

My beautiful picture
female rough earth snake

worm snake #1

 

worm snake

ring-neck-snake

ring neck snake

green_snake

green tree snake

male-black-racer

Male Black Racer

The Zoo was taking shape. I learned how to handle the animals by putting them into traveling containers ,ie; jars, plastic storage containers and various plastic food containers.

Zoo Display

traveling habitats

clydes-zoo-babies-011

traveling container for snails/slugs

clydeandspottedsalamander
Our Spotted Salamander- note Hissing cockroach on my sleeve and Betsy Beetle traveling plastic container

betsy-beetle-containerPatent Leather traveling container

The presentations evolved as I learned about the animals’ life histories. I divided the Zoo into two major elements: Decomposers and Predators. I quickly learned I needed at least two other VMN folks that were not afraid to handle the critters to help with the presentation .

The Zoo Cru was born!

PES Zoo Visit

Zoo Cru Jan & Patty with children at Poquoson E.S,

Meanwhile back at the den. I was learning how to adjust habitat and more importantly- how to feed my charges. Most of the Decomposers were vegans. The Predators of course were more tricky to please as they all ate PREY! Welcome to the world of crickets, termites, ant eggs, grasshoppers, and a worm farm.

Food purchases ran into apples, mushrooms, greens, Cheerios, honey, crickets and a constant search for logs & wood infested with termites. A Master Gardener friend of mine, Cpt Compost, provided me from his compost pile a bucket filled with earthworms ( it lasted the life of the Zoo)

The current Zoo animal levels have stayed the same from 2008 through 2013.

My total expenses for the Zoo and Insect Collection maintenance and upkeep for those 5 years was $1,937.50 .The costs from January 2014 to June 2014 ( when I had a stroke and had to give the Zoo program up) added an additional $180 for a total of $1,117.50

Food included Apples, Packaged Mushrooms, Crickets , Cheerios ,and various greens.

Termites were free.

Why Cheerios? All of the Decomposers loved Cheerios except the Gastropods. The cereal

is vitamin fortified and kept the little critters healthy (sugar content didn’t hurt either).

termites

zoo termites

I can not guess the number of hours I spent in the field collecting, feeding, cleaning the habitats, cataloging, identification and listing of the Zoo animals and The Insect Collection.

They were priceless golden hours granted to me that filled my life.

Ramblin Clyde

Clyde & Zoo
clyde & zoo