Sunday, July 29, 2012

We Live Here: Chipmunks

We live here but don't tell the cats. This is just one of many burrow entrances we've made (click on the photo), but the cats don't know that, ha, ha! It sure is funny to watch them stand guard while we run in and out of other burrows, climb trees and look down at them while they're looking down the burrow to see any sign of us.

If foxes are around, don't expect to see us peeking out of our hiding places in the woodpile or running like the wind across the lawn. You might hear us scurrying up the downspouts if a fox, cat or crow is on our trail. But, we're used to running and we like to run.

We live here because there are a lot of berries, nuts and seeds for us to eat and we can always find fresh water. We are also fond of cracked corn and birdseed. Lucky for us, there seems to be a steady supply of both. It's good to be able to count on something when you never know from year to year how many acorns you'll be able to find. Last year was a terrible year and lots of our mouse friends perished. We held on and we're glad we made it to another summer.

So the next time you see a hole like this in your backyard, remember us chipmunks. We live here, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

We Live Here: Your dog

We Live Here, my series on raising awareness about  habitat and how you can maintain and preserve it, continues with a message from your dog (as told to me). And if you're wondering whether the lawn qualifies as habitat, your dog would tell you it does, because he pretty much lives there every chance he gets in the spring, summer and fall.

"Sure, we love your bed and hanging out on the sofa with you, but we really love playing in the grass, chomping on sticks, chasing our favorite ball and just rolling around and getting dirty. So, please don’t let Scotts® persuade you to grow the greenest lawn in the neighborhood, and step away from all pesticides and chemicals for our sake and yours."

Canines have been suffering from cancer for years now and the studies are conclusive; there is a definite link between lawn and garden pesticides and cancer, and not just in dogs and cats, but in humans, too. Small animals and kids are especially vulnerable because of their lower on the ground level exposure to these harmful chemicals.

If you don’t know the facts, it’s time you learned. Protect your children, your pets and yourself. Prostate, breast and other types of cancer are linked to the use of pesticides. And run-off from lawn fertilizers and weed and feed products have been polluting our waterways for decades.

As a major public health threat the use of pesticides on lawns, gardens and the produce we eat is similar to what we learned about smoking cigarettes. For a long time we didn’t know any better and the folks that were making money from tobacco didn't want us to know. And then we learned and now we know.

Many organic alternatives are reasonably priced and widely available; making this change is easier than you think. 

Your best friend thanks you in advance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We Live Here: Uprooted

This uprooted tree provides shelter from the weather and a hiding place from predators

My We Live Here series to raise awareness about wildlife habitat and how you can help maintain and preserve it continues with this post.

Even if it looks unoccupied and not particularly inviting to you, this uprooted tree displays a welcome sign to wildlife and provides a safe house for those who need one.  

According to my American Heritage dictionary the word uprooted means, "to force to leave an accustomed location."  And that's exactly what is happening to wildlife. Displaced by the development of farms and open land for housing, they suddenly find themselves homeless, often with young to care for. 

An uprooted tree can provide a temporary shelter and can even become a permanent home for mice, chipmunks, voles and insects. The one pictured above has been left alone to blend in with the surrounding landscape. Forestry managers understand its value for wildlife and that it adds important nutrients to the forest floor as it decomposes.

When you come across an uprooted tree in the woods, use your imagination. What if you suddenly had to move your family and you were tired and scared? Finding shelter and safety in a cave like environment would give you a chance to rest undisturbed and explore the surrounding area to find a new home. Click on the photo for a closer view.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We Live Here: Groundhogs

An entrance to a groundhog den

This post continues a series I am calling We Live Here to raise awareness about wildlife habitat and how you can help maintain and preserve it. 

To some people this is just a hole in the ground. To a groundhog or woodchuck it is the front door to the den or den pipe. (Click on the photo.) According to writer Patrick Burns, "The den pipe of a groundhog den may plunge straight down as much as two or three feet. It is very common for a groundhog pipe to have at least one or two right angles in it locations from which the groundhog can slash at foxes and dogs that might try to pursue them underground."

I like groundhogs and enjoy observing them as they raise their young. Several generations of groundhogs have built a network of dens here and seeing them out and about in early spring is a sign that the ecosystem is healthy. 

I don't grow vegetables, so groundhogs and I have no "issues." I've learned to plant what they won't eat and they help me out by consuming a lot of weeds. 

However, you absolutely can grow vegetables if groundhogs live on your land. The key is fencing and installing it correctly. Learn more at this link.

By digging their burrows groundhogs help improve the soil, breaking it down to create better topsoil. Their abandoned dens provide homes for other animals such as foxes and skunks, and they live here too. 

Groundhogs are also an important food source for foxes, hawks and coyotes, and while it saddens me to see so many of them end up as road kill, their carcasses provide substantial meals for many wildlife families.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

We Live Here: Tree Houses

Dying trees give life

This post begins a series I am calling We Live Here to raise awareness about wildlife habitat and how you can help maintain and preserve it

This tree may look dead to you but to many birds it looks like an ideal place to raise their young. 

It looks like home.

This particular tree is located in a gorgeous open meadow near a riverbank. If a severe storm knocks it down, it can do no harm. In fact, even on the ground it will continue to be useful in every stage of decay. Wildlife will use it for nesting, cover and even as a food source once insects, moss and lichens take up residence.

Unless dead and dying trees pose a safety hazard or compromise the beauty of the landscape, my policy is to let them stand on my property. These trees flash a kind of "vacancy" sign for birds, bats, squirrels and other wildlife seeking cover and a place to build their nests.

Leaving dead tree branches intact is another way to preserve vital habitat for wildlife. Dead branches are often used as perches and important lookouts to guard young from approaching predators or for spotting prey, such as field mice, to feed nestlings.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bandit man

Hemerocallis 'Bandit Man' 

I bought this vivid orange daylily with a large red eye zone and gold throat at R. Seawright Gardens in Carlisle, Massachusetts (see July 15th post). It has made itself right at home in my garden and even seemed to love being drenched by the torrential rainfall we had yesterday. Micro-bursts wreaked havoc in several Massachusetts counties, so we are very fortunate to have little or no storm damage here. What a way to break a heat wave.

The air is much drier today, the sun is shining and the garden is sparkling with hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, all eager to inspect 'Bandit Man' and many other flowers putting on a flush of new bloom. 

Torrential or not, rain is something to be grateful for in every garden, especially now that most of the United States is suffering under historic drought conditions.   

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lilies of the field

 R. Seawright Gardens in Carlisle, Massachusetts

Even though it was blazing hot, classic middle-of-July weather today, the daylilies at R. Seawright Gardens are in peak bloom and what a spectacular sight they are. Gazing out at the fields, I could almost imagine being in Tuscany or Provence. It was well worth getting out of bed early to arrive just as the Gardens opened.

The Seawrights specialize in growing daylilies and hostas and right now potted daylilies are on sale (half-price, cash and carry).  

I came for the view, but I left with four gorgeous late season daylilies, all highly recommended by 'Love' Seawright who turned up to open the property this morning, lucky for me. 

High summer is here. A visit to Seawright Gardens is one of the best ways to celebrate and savor the heart of the season.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Turkeys crossing

Four gangly pre-teenage poults

In mid July the poults are entering an awkward phase and sometimes, at certain angles, they remind me of little ostriches (click on the photo).

They spend more time scratching the earth to turn up insects, something they have watched their mother do for weeks now. The hen is taking them further into her home range so every day is an adventure!

The poults continue to stay close to their mother, on the ground and up on the roost where avian predators like Great Horned Owls are still a threat.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Heavenly blue

 'Heavenly Blue' Morning Glory 
 (Ipomoea tricolor

I am drawn to the color blue ― in the garden, around my home and, of course, in the natural world. The sky, the ocean, damsel and dragonflies, butterflies, the list goes on and on. 

I find the blue hue of the 'Heavenly Blue' Morning Glory utterly captivating. I always think of cerulean blue when I see this flower in bloom. Visit this link and you'll see what I mean. On the clearest day, this is the color of the sky and  the blue I remember most when I think of the Caribbean. 

In the language of flowers, the morning glory represents affection. .According to the Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs it is classified as being under the influence of the planet Saturn, the element water, and with powers over happiness and peace.

Grow these magical flowers in your garden and bring some peace and happiness into your life.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Resting and roosting

Enjoying an early July evening

The poults enjoy roosting now, high or low. In this photo their mother is keeping an eye on the fourth independent poult exploring nearby. Here the poults are just taking a break, they'll forage for another hour or so before flying up to roost for the night.

Day by day, the poults are growing fast and filling out nicely. Best of all, they can follow their mother into the highest trees and enjoy the pleasures of roosting under the night sky. They are also learning to fend for themselves when the other hens bicker and give chase. 

We're having a stretch of absolutely beautiful summer weather. The days have been dry, comfortable and sunny with clear blue skies. After all these little ones have been through, it's wonderful to see them just enjoying life. Click on the photo for the best view.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tiny dancer

   Thar she blooms!

My new rose called 'Ballerina' is beginning to bloom, which is very exciting because I just planted this delicate beauty three weeks ago! This first cluster is lightly fragrant and holding up well in high heat and humidity.    

I purchased this Hybrid Musk Shrub heirloom rose (1937) from the Antique Rose Emporium and their catalog description is almost as enchanting as the rose itself:

"It produces clouds of small, single, pink roses with white eyes on a compact arching bush with thick foliage. It can be pruned to shape or allowed to spill over naturally. When the leaves begin to thin in the late fall, the entire bush is lit up with tiny orange-red hips like bright Christmas lights."

I'm inclined to let 'Ballerina' spill over naturally, but the experts at the Antique Rose Emporium said I should definitely provide a support for it. Since I don't have a fence or a pillar handy, I provided a wooden trellis and 'Ballerina' is already happily climbing it. 

I have an arbor waiting in the wings for this fast growing climber; I just need to assemble it. I'm looking forward to watching this busy little lady grow.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Old Girl

Wild turkeys can live 10-13 years

An old hen appeared in my yard a few days ago, seemingly out of nowhere.  She looked very sick and I was afraid a fox or other predator might get her during the night. I did not expect to see her again.  But the next morning, there she was, waiting for me to put seed down for the songbirds.  Although she had refused thistle and bits of bread the evening before, she ate millet with gusto and looked much better. 

She has stayed on and I've had many opportunities to observe her.  If she was sick, she isn't now. She's just old.  In fact, I think she is the matriarch of the family raising their poults here.

Old Girl shows mild interest in the poults but she's been too tired to do more.  Wild turkeys are only active during the day (diurnal) and since she arrived Old Girl has spent most of her days sleeping, closing her eyes to doze off every chance she gets.  In between she scratches for seed, drinks a lot of water, hunts for insects, preens and suns herself in the garden.  All she really wants is peace and quiet.

She seems to know that I want to help her.  I speak softly to her and she watches intently as I clean the birdbaths and fill them with fresh water.  I worked non stop in the garden for several hours today and she hung out with me the whole time.

Wild turkeys are highly intelligent birds with amazing memories and have been known to return to an exact location even after many years have passed.  I think the reason Old Girl is so comfortable around me is because she probably grew up here and remembers me well. Few people know that wild turkeys remember faces and voices and can distinguish colors. They see at least ten times better than people and their range of vision is almost 360 degrees.

If home is the place you go to feel safe and protected, then I understand why Old Girl has come back to find shelter here.  In fact, Old Girl looks better every day. Perhaps she just needed a good rest. I think she has a lot more living to do.   Click on the photos for the best views. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

We Four

The Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) family I have been observing since spring is now thriving. The four poults have reached a major milestone in their development their flight feathers have finally grown in! Last night I watched them follow their mother high into the trees to roost. They are much less vulnerable now.

The poults really seem to enjoy this new experience and sometimes during the day they will fly to some low hemlock branches and hang out for a little while just for fun. They look at each other and flap their wings, as if proclaiming: "We can roost, we can roost!" 

The hen following behind the poults is now helping to raise the brood. Her clutch of eggs may have been raided or her poults may have fallen victim to cold, heavy rains or a long list of predators: coyotes; foxes; fishers, mink, skunks, opossum, raccoons, snakes, hawks, owls, dogs and free roaming cats.

Hens cluck to their young while they are still in the eggs (wild turkeys have excellent hearing). Once the poults hatch, they listen closely to their mother and follow her commands to scatter, hide, or come back. I have watched Mama hen issue many commands to these four and they do pay attention. The fact that they've seen some of their siblings preyed upon has made them even more mindful of her.

Eleven poults hatched in May, but only four have made it to July. I think their achievement is something to celebrate. It might just be my perception, but in the top photo, these four poults seem rather purposeful, united in their determination to live, live, live. They have learned how to stick together and fan out for the best insect foraging ever. Click on the photos for best views.