Today is the Spring Equinox of 2021. But, really, this post is a summary of the last season in photos since it is so overdue. The global pandemic kept me grounded which meant I and others did lots more clearing last spring of unwanted plants in the meadow. Ryan and Emily cleared truckload after truckload …
Mating, birthing, returning and missing
By 7;35 Monday 15 June I had looked out my bathroom window to see a pair of grackles mating in front of the bird feeder and stepped out on the porch to catch the first romps of a fawn. The Scrooge in me said, “damn, more of them!” but as a patroness of the meadow, I also had to admit to the privilege of such witnessing.
The fawn was adorable — all covered in speckles and testing its legs by racing around in wide circles. Its mother was trying to catch up with it to finish licking off the amniotic sac. Cute but not cute enough to want deer around.
Advice on eliminating or at least substantially reducing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is to cull the deer population by 90%. Erring on the conservative side, which would not be my preference, would cull this pack who appeared in April back to three. Even that would be a relief. In a restructured, post-covid world, I’d love to see resources spent on such a project. It would pay for itself I’m sure in the savings for the medical treatments and the reduced disabilities, which can be life-long, resulting from the disease. But here are photos of the other reason I could do with fewer deer: the chomping they do on plants. Images from before deer browse and after.
In the returning or emerging from hibernation category, I recently had my first good look (even if the photo isn’t) from that same bathroom window at the groundhog. My neighbors lent me their very large have-a-heart trap when I had evidence he was out of hibernation even if I hadn’t yet seen him. That was a couple of months ago. I pondered briefly what I would do once I had the groundhog in the trap, but decided those odds were so long that I could postpone giving that any thought. How right I was. Although last year this groundhog eat large helpings of kale from the veggie garden, he did not fall for kale as bait when in the trap. He is supposed to love cantaloupe as well. Not this one. My success with the trap was in causing the groundhog to move from under the folly back to his previous haunt under the kayaks. He’s still a free groundhog.
In the long interval of not catching him, he’s had time to break into the garden. So far he hasn’t. Scott finished re-enforcing the perimeter fence with 4-foot quarter-inch hardware cloth buried 2 feet. If this is the new deal: groundhog eats clover flowers in the grass but nothing in the veggie garden, I can return the trap to my neighbors and congratulate myself for not wasting time wondering what to do with a captured animal.
Other returners include the Baltimore orioles and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds who came back on schedule. And while I can’t count bees are returning, I unpacked a nuc of Carnolian bees into a hive on Monday. The nuc with its five busy frames of bees and a marked queen (blue dot) is henceforth the way I will replenish my bee yard. My previous method of renewing a hive by buying a package of bees is history.
In the missing category — and this is serious — are the monarchs who have not returned. In past years, they have come back sometime in the first 2 weeks of June. Last year they were here on Flag Day. The milkweed is ready for them, and this year’s crop is a good one. I can’t imagine what a loss it will be if they don’t arrive. The privilege of monitoring this old field will be drastically diminished. More importantly, what does this foretell of the crisis facing the Monarch population? I’ll trade deer for the Monarchs.
Since I can’t manage to mount a little hunting camera I bought over a year ago, I have to use fresh snow to record traffic through the yard at night. It works pretty well when the tracks clearly resemble the mud prints in the Animal Tracks of New England book I use, and when I apply Occam’s razor.
We nearly got through the winter without snow, but on 13 February, we had enough to find tracks.
See the clear tracks of a raccoon and deer in the photos.
The raccoon tracks appeared around the house before heading into the field; the deer tracks were down at the bottom of the field near the blueberry bushes.
Deer tracks, of course, are unmistakable, but I was also catching sightings of a family of three deer nearer the house and even in daylight. They would hang out grazing in the early morning beyond the guest house and around the compost pile before cutting across the field.
I got a photo of each of them but only post two. Not wanting the area around the guest house to become part of their regular route, I sprayed there with Deer Out. That seems to have worked well. I have not seen them there or anywhere of late.
On 28 February we had more snow. Before I could get out to check for new tracks, I saw what looked like a fisher cat or maybe a mink. He came out of the woods by the pond at the bottom of the field. I grabbed my bins for a closer look and, after a safe interval of time, my boots and camera. This snow was very wet and I did not get a good impression. I also could not match the footprint to either fisher or mink. For one thing, the impression this animal left was smaller.
Mid afternoon today, 17 March, I looked out the kitchen window and saw what I realized was the same animal. But this was Oscar, the neighbor’s cat. He not been around for months maybe because his master and mistress have put their house on the market and even, I thought, moved away. Certainly Oscar had retreated from my concerns. Yet today there was no denying that Oscar was back. I could see his white paws even if I could not see his white bib. And yes, he must have been my fisher or mink. Think horses, not zebras.
Just this afternoon I caught a glimpse of an Eastern bluebird and his mate. When they are here in March, there is a chance that they have chosen one of my bird houses as a nesting spot. But they were in the part of the field that Oscar had just been prowling. Please find a buyer for Oscar’s house! The bluebirds join me in this fervent hope.
Dodder (too much) and Monarchs (too few)
This may be the year for fire management of the meadow. After a four year hiatus, Dodder is again ensnaring the Goldenrod and Joe pye weed in the wetland end of the meadow.
Dodder, to refresh your memory, is a parasitic plant that drops its own root once it has borrowed into the stem of its host. “Burn it,” is the instruction I remember for ridding an area of Dodder. Nic, now a college graduate who cleared dodder from the lower meadow before his freshman year at Vassar, built a funeral pyre of the infected branches that I planned to burn.But my fastidious neighbors, who did not like the looks of a heap of decomposing vegetation, suggested that they’d ask the tree men to haul the pile away. I explained my plan for a fire thinking that would convince them to leave my problems to me. I also cautioned that the tree men would not want to collect dodder given how hard it is to eradicate after it gets established. To my dismay, the site of the pyre is now the location of the most intense invasion of dodder!
The pile disappeared. I never asked whether the tree guys had knowingly taken away such a pervasive parasite.
As a concession to my neighbors and to spare the tree service further pollution, Jim and Emily, who have taken Nic’s place in the meadow, are bagging the dodder for delivery to the household waste collection chute at the transfer station. So far, they have carted away four contractor-sized garbage bags’ worth of the stuff.
The UC Davis website is not as clear that burning is the management tool as I remembered. It cautions to remove the host plant before the dodder sets seed. The seeds, as we have just witnessed, can stay in the soil for five to 10 years, maybe longer. Under my lax management, the dodder removal job has not been accomplished before the dodder set seed. At least, we’re throwing the host plant and the dodder in the trash, as recommended by the UC Davis site.
The website also recommends frequent mowing. I could ask Scott, the meadow path mower, to mow dodder-invaded spots or to keep plants from regrowing after Jim and Emily cut out the dodder.
I have not ruled out burning either. That area still has more Bittersweet than I’d like. A general fire could be beneficial.
Despite the dodder problem, management of the meadow to keep invasives and succession at bay has become a simpler task in recent years. I have not sprayed Triclopyr on anything in the meadow (save poison ivy and the persistent Black swallow wort that peeks out from under the folly) for about two years.
I (or Jim and Emily) dug Bittersweet as the meadow was beginning to regrow in the spring. I dug up a dozen Thistle plants as they emerged and Lonicera bushes — maybe its Latin name is Lonicera maackii — and a couple of Japanese barberry bushes, known for its nasty thorns, deep yellow roots and invasive habits. I chopped back many a Wild cherry (Prunus serotina), a native but a successional plant. So far, I have left two sumacs, Rhus glabra, growing in the wetland section. They are also signs of succession and, like the cherry, loved by wildlife. The sumacs can’t stay beyond their setting seed, but I plan to collect — before the fire — the fruit that the birds leave for grinding on top of humus.
Most of my interaction with the meadow involves watching it from the paths, the folly and the porch. It is, to me, endlessly entertaining even when it is depressing. The butterfly count is not what it should be. Only 4 Monarchs, circling endlessly, have made the meadow their home. A few Cabbage whites have been above the meadow and the gardens beds all summer. One Eastern tiger swallow tail has visited the Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis). I have not seen Painted ladies or Mourning cloaks. I need a butterfly/moth authority to report on the small browns (Satyrs, Frittilaries, Eyespots) of which there are a few. But the tally is way down from past years.
The Dragon and Damsel flies have not appeared in the numbers they should. I recently learned from an authority on those insects that their populations are drastically reduced state-wide. But, in June we had, to the delight of Henning, my German son-in-law, a meadow full of June bugs/ Fireflies. The calls of Tree frogs provided the sound for the Firefly light show.
My grandson, Owen, was disappointed that he visited so early in the season that he did not get to see Wild turkeys. They are around now.
Meadow management may include an element of fire this year but mostly its the practice of observation.
Bees alive! and other records
This gallery contains 3 photos.
Disaster — in the form of weak hives invaded by wax moths — awaited, I was certain. So certain that I called in a veteran beekeeper to help me open my hives. True, bees were flying in and out of both hives but this summer challenged my sub par beekeeping skills more than ever. First, …
Meadow cafe: carrion carryout
No photos today. They would be more gruesome than the ones yesterday. A carrion-eating creature came back last night, dragged the fawn carcass to a new spot, removed the front legs and eat most of the head.
To lighten up this post, I borrow a caption for the title from a Gary Lawson Far Side cartoon that once tickled my children’s fancy and remained a family giggle.
Another carrion-eater torn a big hole in a garbage bag to help himself to the wax moth larva and pollen debris from the bottom board of an out-of-commission beehive. I’d planned to keep that mess until the state bee inspector stops by later this week. Not that he’ll be interested; there is nothing noteworthy about it. But, should our conversation lag. I thought I’d whip it out for show-and-tell.
Tomorrow I’ll report on the annual feeding frenzy of the dragonflies and show you the remaining bee hives in action. The bees from the two strong hives robbed the much-swarmed hive of its honey so I have nothing to harvest for my oatmeal this winter. The bees, however, will have plenty for their oatmeal. Da always said: feed the animals first.
The meadow is keeping wildlife of all stripes well fed.
Meadow cafe: all you can eat
This gallery contains 4 photos.
First three now six Turkey vultures are lunching on a fawn carcass in the lawn beyond the meadow. I did not hear the kill, which must have happened last night. The killer had to be big suggesting coyote, but I have not heard any of late. Then again, my night time hearing might be aging …
Bee and Butterfly Update
With the temperature in the 50s on the afternoon I returned from Belize via Boston, it would have been an OK time to remove the cover to check for bee life. But the hives were already in the shade of the evergreen hedgerow. I put a juice glass between my ear and the side of the hive. Definite buzzing in both hives.
Now that’s again cold — we even had a dusting of snow the first morning I was back — I can’t provide any sustenance until it warms up. We’ve had half a month of lion. I’m more than ready for the proverbial lamb portion.
Some insect population is always a wings’ thickness away from annihilation. The Times reported a couple of days ago on the severe loss of habitat for the Monarch butterfly. Where’s Monsanto in this tale? Front and center, as you might imagine. But habitat destruction, drought and abnormally high temperatures also play a role. It seems the forest the butterflies use in Mexico to rest before turning around to migrate north has been reduced to 2.94 acres, just a bit bigger than my meadow!
My Monarchs made a very long season out of 2012. I thought they might have had a plan to skip the migration last year. The photo is from October 22.
What does the coming season hold for the bees and the butterflies?
Among the stranger creatures…Hummingbird moth
Now in its second year, my garden of predominantly native plants is indeed attracting unusual wildlife. Take this Hummingbird moth for example. For most of July, it drank the nectar of the Monarda flowers (and I never got a better photo than this).
It looks more like a hummingbird than a moth. In fact, its Latin name is Hemaris thysbe which I may remember because thysbe sounds like thespian — a moth acting the part of a hummingbird.
Rabbits at risk
Strange new cat on the path by the compost. On second look, and with its tail in view, the new cat is a red fox. This is my first sighting of a fox this year. I had assumed the fox had not returned given that the eastern cottontails continue nibbling the lawn.
The fox trotted down the path, but the deer stood on the rise mid meadow until I got my camera. A couple of days ago with no camera handy, three fawns and a doe had been grazing mid field. The doe had done that “sneezing” that deer do when alarmed causing the family to rush around rushed in a big circle. It would have been a good video. Whatever the danger, the doe decided it was not worth leaving the meadow before more grazing. Could she have encountered the fox?
I’ll be checking for the rabbits in the coming days.