Saturday, July 25, 2015

Birthday Bottle Cap Project

I celebrated my birthday at the beginning of July and as a gift to myself I created something purely for pleasure. Inspired by the Bottle Cap Queen, we saved bottle caps for years and turned them into a really colorful, fun piece of yard art. I love it! Thanks to Steve for facilitating the project and for celebrating with me in many ways, but of course for hiking those 8 miles filled with mushrooms, fledgling birds and bird song!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Encounter

While sitting by our campfire the other night we saw some movement in our nearby black walnut tree and saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flitting about amongst the leaves. It was on a mission to eat as many of the Hickory Tussock caterpillars feeding on the leaves as possible. Cuckoos are really beautiful birds with interesting lives that are not here year round so we paid attention.

Jim McCormac wrote a blog post/newspaper article about cuckoo life history that's definitely worth a read. The cuckoos have very distinct calls and we have been hearing the yellow-billed "po" call and the black-billed "cu, cu, cu, cu" in the woodlands near us.

Pardon our amateur video skills, but watch the cuckoo look for the caterpillars and eat them:

Yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos are both here right now in Ohio and both share similar diets. Cornell Birds says this about the black-billed cuckoo diet:

"The Black-billed Cuckoo is a notorious consumer of caterpillars, with a demonstrated preference for noxious species, including the eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum), fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea), and larvae of the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar). Observations of cuckoos consuming 10-15 caterpillars per minute are testimony to the great service this species provides in forests, farms, and orchards. Stomach contents of individual cuckoos may contain more than 100 large caterpillars or several hundred of the smaller species. The bristly spines of hairy caterpillars pierce the cuckoo's stomach lining giving it a furry coating. When the mass obstructs digestion, the entire stomach lining is sloughed off and is regurgitated as a pellet."

As soon as the caterpillars felt threatened by the cuckoo in our yard, they dropped from the leaves but still remained attached via a strand of silk. If you look closely at the photo below you can see at least four strands of silk on the left side.

The cuckoo repeatedly attacked different groups of caterpillars and some were physically knocked off the leaves before they could drop with their silk attached.

After the cuckoo moved on we went over to the site and observed at least 50+ and probably more caterpillars dangling from silk and crawling on the ground. The lucky ones attached to the tree via their silk had the arduous, but attainable task of climbing their way back up:

Those knocked to the ground without silk kept climbing up the tallest plants around in hopes of reaching their food plant. Alas, many days later and dozens are still wandering about here and there since the lowest leaves of the black walnut are at least 4-5 feet off the ground. Of course, I help some back up to the leaves when I find them in the hopes that they will reach adulthood. Luckily, hickory tussock caterpillars are generalists and eat a wide array of plants so they should find something else they like to eat before too long or they just might become another tasty meal for the local cuckoos - a bird we are so happy to have around.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Common Milkweed Brand

We found some kindred friends here in Ohio thanks to a shared love of bats. How cool is that?! Michelle and Nathaniel Stitzlein are interesting, kind and fabulously talented. You can find them online at their website and through August 16, 2015 you can see Michelle's Industrial Nature at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, NY. This is a do not miss show! If you've ever made anything with bottle caps, you can thank Michelle for dreaming up this way to reuse a non-recyclable material. Yes, she is the original creator of bottlecap art! Nathaniel is a genius with wire sculpture, art tours, home improvement, coffee brewing and as it turns out, linocuts. We desired a logo for our new business and these two offered their talents to us. We sent them a favorite photo of common milkweed and Nathaniel turned it into a linocut for printing. Note that this is a salvaged piece of linoleum!

He also created a milkweed leaf with the same process and Michelle used her design talents and turned the prints into new branding material for us. We are SO excited with our new look!

The rain and cold temperatures this June and July don't make for a great growing season, but they do offer good motivation to sit inside at a computer and work on our new website: Check back often as I am still working on a few pages, but it's fun to have it published for you to see.

Here's your happy entrepreneurs with our friend Michelle on a beautiful evening walk two springs ago. Linocut master, Nathaniel, is the photographer. We're grateful for genuine friends and for all of you followers who continue to support us!