Tuesday, October 29, 2013

For a faster loading blog...

People have commented that my blog loads quickly... and it does.
It is because I don't have ads. Loading ads is time consuming and it is not worth wasting the valuable time of my readers to place them here. Happy Autumn~

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fall Observations and Pansies

The weekend was delightful with the deluge on Friday and Saturday arriving as a day of pure outdoor pleasure. Once the rain stopped the cleansed sky was a gorgeous azure with billowing white clouds slowly drifting as the caw-caw calls of the crows could be heard in the distance. The sound of the Canadian geese, barely seen in the distant sky in the familiar V formation, was reassuring that Nature does indeed have a plan.

Observation indicates the grasshoppers have become rather lethargic, hopping slowly rather than zinging along. Thankfully their days are numbered, and between the cold and the damp, they are miserable! The ants, whose activity in the fall is always an indicator of the degree of winter we may expect, are racing about storing tiny pieces of grain. And the squirrels too are hastily assembling a stash of food for winter. The weather pattern and the critters point toward a relatively harsh winter so relishing these fall days is a must.
These comfortable daytime temperatures and cool evenings have made plans for fall gardening a delightful priority. And since the rain, the wild violets have sent forth tender new leaves signaling it is time to plant the earliest spring bloomers. Their relatives, the precious pansies, have begun arriving in the nurseries and if planted now will survive nicely over the winter.

Originally a common viola growing in fields and hedgerows in England their first noted appearance as a new species was on the estate of James, Lord Gambier. His gardener, William Thompson, crossed a viola species with a viola tricolor in an effort to achieve a round flower of overlapping petals. In the late 1830s he found by chance a flower with a broad dark blotch instead of narrow nectar guides; from this singular pansy came the future ‘flowers with a face’. Released to the public in 1839 with the name "Medora" this pansy instantly attained rock star status among gardeners and breeders throughout Europe.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Spiders on the Move Before Frost

The Deadly Black Widow... she will attack to protect her egg sac

Most spiders live one season, however some species live long lives and spend the winter in a semi-hibernation. The Fiddlebacks have hidden in the rafters, behind the books, under the bed, and in other out of the way places and are now beginning to look for a warm hiding place to spend the winter.  They have grown over the summer and will shed last years 'shell' leaving behind the empty casing... the empty casing is a sign that a more mature one is lurking somewhere nearby. The gentle Tarantula has an extremely long life expectancy and will easily live up to 20 years in captivity. The record has been set by a female who resides in LA and although her age was unknown at the time of her capture, she is now fifty years old.

Spiders are a most interesting invertebrate in both appearance and habit. All are predators which make them valuable to the gardener as they will eat flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts, cockroaches, and aphids. The habits differ among species with some making intricate webs to trap their prey while some lie in wait on flowers and some simply travel about on the ground.

Spiders are found in every corner of the planet, making them one of the most common invertebrates and they alone have eight legs. True spiders (thin-waisted arachnids) evolved about 400 million years ago, and were among the first species to live on land. There are many references to the spider in popular culture, folklore and symbolism. The spider symbolizes patience for its hunting with web traps, and mischief and malice for its poison and the slow death they cause their prey. (Who could forget the pitiful death sequence in the movie ‘The Fly’?)

Though not all spiders spin gossamer webs, spiders have been attributed by numerous cultures with the origin of basket-weaving, knot work, weaving, spinning, and net making. Lovely pottery artifacts featuring spiders may be found in all ancient cultures, so respect for them is universal.

The lovely Orb Weaver web

Any talk of spiders includes the two most dangerous in North America and they must be addressed. All spiders have venom however the Black Widow and Brown Recluse(Fiddleback)are very dangerous species whose bite may have disastrous affects on humans. The Brown Recluse likes living in quiet corners of the house while the Black Widow resides outdoors. A member of the Tangleweb family, the Black Widow makes an untidy web as the name implies and will aggressively guard her egg sac. Both have thin legs and a fragile skeletal structure, making them easy to squish... do not hesitate to kill them.

Huge Brown Recluse (Fidleback) on the lamp shade!

A favorite spider which comes to mind is the darling fuzzy black jumper.
One summer we had a black fuzzy with emerald green fangs who took up residence in the kitchen. Every morning as the household awoke and greeted her, she would would lift her 'arm' and wave... a marvelous trick by any standard.

A harmless Fuzzy Jumper

There is an entire psychological phobia named after fear of spiders called Arachnophobia. So popular is this fear that comic book creator Stan Lee embraced it, introducing an irresistible spider hero in 1962. Spiderman instantly became an all time favorite!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kettling Hawks

The Magnificent Hawk
Sunday was a perfect day for a drive to see if the foliage has yet begun to change and although the foliage was unremarkable, we did see a most unusual happening. Mother Nature apparently sent a message about the change of seasons for as we drove by a large pasture of brown grasses, a Red Tailed hawk could be seen quietly sitting on the ground. It was notable because it is unusual for Hawks to sit and also because there was another Hawk resting nearby. Hawks are rather solitary in habit so we stopped to better observe this unusual occurrence.

Lo and behold, the entire field was full of Hawks blending with the grasses…. all gathered calmly as if at an outdoor market. The blue sky began to fill with Hawks who were circling to land as though they had been telepathically summoned by those already attending the sit-in. Soon their numbers reached a hundred or more, all waiting patiently for some internal signal.

All at once they began to take flight and Hawks from adjacent fields joined them. As we watched in amazement hundreds of Hawks began the phenomenon bird watchers refer to as ‘kettling‘.

‘Kettle’ is the term used to describe the graceful acrobatic wheeling performed by a large flock that is beginning migration. Kettling birds catch a warm thermal updraft and begin swirling in a circular motion, going higher and higher as more birds join the wondrous dance... they literally floated with a quiet, graceful, and steady movement of feathered flight. It was mid-afternoon and the sight was beautiful as the light caught the underside of their wings. They continued ever-upward until the first birds appeared only as small dark specks in the blue sky. And then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. They will go South now and not return until spring.

Sometimes happenchance will give a delightful surprise if one is simply at the right place at the right time! We feel incredibly blessed to have witnessed such a rare and wondrous sight. Watch carefully for the Hawks will continue to kettle for several weeks… perhaps, just maybe, you will see one.