Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who's at the feeder

We've had a our first few inches of snow this past week and the birds are flocking to the backyard feeders.  I like to hang suet for the woodpeckers and a mixed seed feeder which the songbirds prefer.  My "blind" is a curtained living room window that overlooks the back yard.  It's hard to sneak the squeaky screen up and down without scaring off the birds, but I have managed to get some photos.  Of course, the crazed barking Sheltie at my side doesn't help matters much.  Here's who we've seen so far:

The juncos were some of the first birds to arrive, hopping and pecking around the ground below the feeders.

They're peaceful and don't seem to mind the company of others like this male cardinal.

The tufted titmice are always present, side by side with plenty of chickadees.

  These cheeky little birds allow us to get pretty close before flying off.

By far my favorite visitor has been this red-breasted nuthatch.  There are plenty of white breasted nuthatches, but I haven't seen a red one in many years.  This bird comes every day and prefers suet to seed.  This bird's tiny size doesn't stop it from fighting off every other bird that comes to the feeders.

One of the largest birds is this hairy woodpecker.  Despite his size, this male is very easily frightened away by the slightest noise or intrusion.

He can only peck at the suet from outside the squirrel proof cage, so he'll fly to the ground to pick bits of suet that he's managed to break off.

Unlike the hairy woodpecker, the downy woodpeckers are small enough to fit inside the suet cage.

Some other ground visitors include blue jays,

mourning doves,

white-throated sparrows, and

female cardinals.

But no one can clear a feast like the red-tailed hawk that patrols the neighborhood feeders.  This hawk landed in a tree just behind our house and I was lucky enough to catch a couple of quick shots at dusk before it flew off.

Hang some feeders and enjoy the show!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Seirarctia echo

This smartweed caterpillar will become a Smeared Dagger Moth (Acronicta oblinita).  They range from southern Canada down the east coast to Florida.  This one was roaming around beside a pond.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blob blog

As I mentioned on yesterday's "What's That?" post, I had no idea what the weird blobs I had found last weekend could possibly be.  Thanks to Steve Willson of Blue Jay Barrens for his answer:  BRYOZOANS.  Try googling bryozoans and you'll see lots of references to alien life forms. 

These particular blobs are actually Pectinatella magnifica a freshwater species of bryozoans or moss animals.  They're colonies of tiny aquatic invertebrates with an extensive fossil record going back 500 million years.

The majority of bryozoan species are found in salt water.  Each colony is made up of individual animals called zooids.  They are filter feeders with tentacles for grabbing tiny protozoa and algae from the surrounding water.  Some species give off chemicals that are being studied for use in medicine.

Amazing, fascinating creatures.  Reminds me of "The Borg" from Star Trek. Intrigued and want to learn more?  Visit these websites: and (a professor studying freshwater bryozoans) (gorgeous photos of freshwater bryozoans including species found in Europe) (This link has a great detailed black and white drawing of Pectinatella magnifica

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's that Wednesday is back

After not posting "What's that Wednesday" photos in a long time, I'm back with a real stumper.  I have no idea what this mass is and would love to hear from readers.  It's very solid to the touch.  There were two masses, one a bit larger than the other, stuck to the bottom of a nearby pond next to a log near shore.  Although they're gelatinous, they are very heavy and not loose like salamander egg masses.  It's quite firm and solid. 
Here they are in the water:

This is the larger mass close up:

More swans and other birds

The mute swans and one cygnet were feasting on plants in a small beaver pool and I was able to get closer shots.  The initial clutch of eggs contained about 7 cygnets, but only this one remains.  Maybe it hatched later?  Last winter the adults left and one juvenile overwintered on the pond.  Adults will sometimes migrate to salt water during the winter.  Perhaps this youngster will overwinter here. 

The male swan hissed loudly at me and my Sheltie the first time we encountered them on a walk a couple of weeks ago.  This time, these two seemed relaxed and weren't at all bothered by our presence. 

A quiet mallard couple was busy dabbling in the shallows.

A flock of Canadian geese squabbled loudly, fighting the swans for pond real estate. 

Here they find a moment to preen.  The vegetation is changing color, providing a glowing red and gold backdrop.

A little killdeer steered clear of the ruckus on its own mud flat in the middle of the pond.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hiking Baker's Meadow

We spent a beautiful crisp morning hiking at Baker's Meadow. The beavers created this pool which has become carpeted with duckweed.

Two adult mute swans (Cygnus olor) and their youngster patrolled the pond, diligently keeping intruders at bay with their loud hissing.  They feed on the numerous aquatic plants growing in and along the banks of the pond.

The swans and Canadian geese weren't alone.  Two Great Blue herons (Ardea herodias) held their ground like sentries, catching fish (there are sunfish and bass) and lazily preening in the warm sunlight.

Fairy House Tour

My daughter and I went with friends to our second Fairy House Tour in Portsmouth, NH this weekend.    It was a perfect day and the displays were wonderful.  Building fairy houses is a great way to get kids outdoors and interested in the natural world.  Fall is an ideal time to build.  The weather is cooler and there's an abundance of building materials - acorns, tree bark, twigs, moss, pods, and seeds. Some builders even use seashells.  I love the details.  Here are some of the imaginative houses built by both children and adults:

This last one was labeled "The Nut House." What a great way to use all those acorns littering your driveway.  Have fun using your imagination!  For more information visit:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Build it and they will come

Since we moved into our new home three years ago, we've been contemplating adding a water feature to our back yard.  But we soon found out that digging through rocks and roots was a challenge we weren't up to.  Other factors like lots of children running through the yard and having to hook up an electrical line to run a filter made us think twice about constructing a pond.

A compromise was in order.  After considering container water gardens, we thought why not do the same thing but with a small pond form?

Lowes had just the thing - a fifty gallon preformed kidney-shaped pond liner.  Add a few plants - some water hyacinth, a hardy lily and some pickerel weed -  and voila a beautiful low maintenance water feature.  But would it attract the wildlife we were hoping for?

At first, we got a load of mosquitos.  A couple of attempts to add small fish to eat the larvae failed.  Then, our luck changed.

In mid-July, my son came home with two green frogs he'd rescued from our neighbor's pool.  Into the pond they went.  Luckily, they decided to stay.  When we returned from a week's vacation, our two-frog pond had become a five frog pond.  Goodbye mosquitos. 

These little frogs have staked out territories.  There's the lily pad frog, the pickerel frog, and the rock frog.

We were quite overzealous with our plant purchase, so we decided to add a whisky barrel water garden alongside the pond.

This container houses water lettuce and a fun and funky dwarf papyrus.  It's addictive!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Painted Turtle Lays Her Eggs

Saturday was egg laying day for the painted turtles in our neighborhood.  First we spotted this female trying to burrow into our lawn and moved her along to a more turtle-friendly area away from dogs and cars.

Later that night while walking my Sheltie, I discovered another painted turtle on a neighbor's lawn.  This one had already dug her hole.  I ran home and got the kids and the camera.  My daughter videotaped the egg laying.  The turtle layed seven eggs, deftly catching each one with her curled right hind foot before depositing it into the moist hole.  

The turtle's nesting spot was too close to the street, so my son took her down to the creek away from traffic.  We covered the hole and noted the spot.  Eighty days from now - around September 7 -seven baby painted turtles will make their way into the world.  The short clip below shows the first two eggs being laid.