Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cool Wildlife: Virginia Ctenucha Caterpillars & American Mink

This spring everywhere we walked around our property, down the road and out-and-about we noticed these cool fuzzy caterpillars we've surely seen before but didn't remember. After looking in our favorite caterpillar field guide we identified them as Virginia Ctenucha caterpillars. The reddened prolegs, black and red head and yellow, and black and white tufts make for a colorful critter. The moist grassy fields around us are perfect habitat providing grasses and other plants for food.

I moved so many off the road and disturbed the caterpillars into their protective posture, but better that than squishing by a car!

The caterpillars are always a favorite around here, but so is the American Mink recently discovered on our property! We created this large brush pile over the past few years with various plant materials and knew it would provide refuge for many wild animals, but we didn't expect a mink (I don't know why....perhaps because you just don't see them everyday.)

While watching the newly fledged killdeer in the farm field behind us, I heard a pretty horrid "scream" and turned just in time to see a mink grab a full sized rabbit. Holy cow. The mink saw me then and rushed back into the pile with the rabbit via the entrance on the left of center in this photo.

The sighting shocked and excited me all at once. How cool! Steve missed the whole thing and we want to set up a wildlife camera to see if we can see more of this interesting animal. The brush pile is near a small stream, lots of wooded brushy areas and our created wetland...a perfect spot if you want cover, water, and lots of small mammals, birds, eggs and frogs for food.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yard Art from Junk

So back to that balance thing...sometimes we find it and sometimes we don't, but we took a break from all the tasks we put on our to do list to get creative and make these two found object pieces. There is so much cool junk laying around everywhere just waiting to turn into something beautiful! I'm sure Steve knows what these pieces of metal are from, but I don't so I will just show you. This one just begged for some glass beads strung on wire to add some color. I love it next to the path.

It's even considered cool by our 14 year old neighbor! I think that means something. :)

This one is an amalgam of three different pieces of junk we had. I just opened the links on the rusty chain to connect them all together. We may add more junk to this one over time, but it  makes an area with nothing growing, right next to the path, much more fun! Emmylou and Anna Lee approve...

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Farm Happenings

It's spring and it's the time of year we most often start to feel overwhelmed. We have so many irons in the fire right now so we continue to work on balance. It's a daily challenge for people like us, but we think we are improving. Yesterday, Steve halted the work at 3 p.m. and we relaxed for the rest of the day. Wow! Even amidst the chaos though, life is good. We are harvesting lots of rhubarb:

Weeding and mulching our 2014 wildflower beds:
(See the brushpile in the back left? There is a mink living in there! More on that soon.)

Planting the vegetable garden:

and continuing to chip away at the bathroom. Steve figured out the best way to haul this heavy tub out of our house by putting it on dollies. Brilliant! We put it out in our driveway and a metal scrapper picked it up a day later.

Amidst, all our outside activities Steve will sometimes slip into the bathroom and in a whirlwind of activity move us that much closer to getting this room finished.

We hope you all are finding and enjoying balance in your lives too! 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Killdeer Babies!

On the morning of May 9th we heard lots of chattering from the killdeer parents nesting in our driveway and upon investigation discovered the cutest little fluff ball ever! Within 30 minutes of hatching, this little killdeer started running around. A bit wobbly at first, but pretty gosh darn great for just coming out of an egg!

Oh my cuteness!

Not long after the first fledgling began running around we noticed another hatchling tucked under the parent. We aren't sure who is Mom and who is Dad, but we saw them switch places a couple of times. Team work!

Hatching day saw temperatures in the high 80s, which is very hot for central Ohio in spring. The babies kept tucking under the parent to remain cool and the adult killdeer sat with her/his back to the sun while panting heavily to stay cool.

Both parents were very involved the entire time.

Not 20' feet from all this action on the top of our barn door is a nesting robin. She maintained a watchful eye on the birds and us.

By evening on May 9, all birds minus the one unhatched egg left the nest. (We investigated this egg the next day and the little bird had started to peck its way out. We aren't sure what happened to stop the process and have many speculations, but we will never know.) While taking one of our daily tours we heard the killdeer in the farm field behind us and unknowingly got too close to the babies. One of the parents worked to get us away from them by flashing its bright tail feathers and doing a broken wing display. We moved away and everyone calmed down....

and then we got to see this:

This was our last visit with this killdeer family before they headed out to the farm field to learn how to find food and survive. We still hear the parents communicating and wish them well with each call. What a gift to our spirits and return-on-investment for the wildlife habitat we've created!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fort Hill - An Incredible Ohio Destination

Recently we visited Fort Hill Earthworks and Nature Preserve in southern Ohio and were completed wowed by the intactness of this forest. This is what many forests in Ohio and the surrounding Midwest are supposed to look like - without invasive weeds, heavy logging, etc. We hike a lot and we don't stumble on big preserves like this lacking the heavy human impact so often imparted. It made both our hearts full and grateful there are still forests for us to experience with all these incredible wildflowers and such diverse life.

It also made us melancholy for a bit that so little is left, but we are in the period of restoration and as E.O. Wilson said: "There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us." So, here's a few  pictures of the magic that is still alive and thriving in this beautiful place.

Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis (Smell this flower next time you see it!)

Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria

Drooping Trillium, Trillium flexipes


Tall Larkspur, Delphinium exaltatum

One happy, happy girl

Bluets, Houstonia caerulea (one of my most favorite plants, ever)

Hopewell Earthworks

Lytta aenea

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis

Early Blue Violet, Viola palmata

Blister beetle, Meloe sp.

Steve, one happy botanizer

The butterflies and migratory birds flitted about everywhere we looked. We hiked only 6 miles, but it took us all day thanks to the many great sightings. The falcate orangetips always steal the show, but a swirling spiral of tiger swallowtails amongst one of its host plants, tulip poplar, ranked high too as did the blooming paw paw and excited zebra swallowtails. How can we pick a favorite? As I said, it was pure magic.

See the natural arch?

See the invasive garlic mustard? Trick question: we saw only one garlic mustard plant in six miles of hiking and botanizing! Check this place out in late April to early May and you too will experience the splendor of Ohio forests.