Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorable Memorial Day Weekend, 2012

We had a busy holiday weekend with many activities, including hauling this black snake out of a bluebird nesting box.

On my way down to the garden out back I noticed the bluebirds and tree swallows calling widely and mobbing around a bluebird box we installed on one of the main fence posts around our vegetable garden. This snake had only about a third of its body in the box when I began pulling it back out. It took about ten minutes to coax it out as I didn't want to hurt it by pulling on it too roughly. I showed the snake to Ally and then released it in the ravine on the other side of the house, away from the bird boxes.

Black snakes are non-venomous and not aggressive. I was already wearing my garden gloves when I first noticed the snake so I didn't worry too much about a bite to my hand. This one managed to get its head free twice and would turn around to face me, but it never tried to strike even while I was clumsily trying to catch it behind the head again. Its skin was super glossy, slick, and supple, so I don't think it had been too long since it had last shed.

As for the bird nest, a female bluebird kept returning to the box and flying around but would not go into it. I don't know if there were young chicks or just eggs in the box, or how many the snake ate before I arrived. The birds may have abandoned the nest entirely at this point. While I hate to lose any bluebirds, I know a black snake is a good predator of mice and voles, too.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Ugly Stick

You know the saying, "Nature beat him with an ugly stick"? Well, this is about as ugly as you can get. This is what you get when Nature hates you.

These are the larvae of the buck moth (Hemileuca maia), one of the poisonous caterpillars found in Virginia. (Yes, I did say poisonous.) You do not want to get close to these. See those tufts on the caterpillars? Each tuft is made up of a cluster of hollow, branched spines that are connected to a poison sac. They break very easily if you brush up against them, and the spine essentially injects the poison into your skin and you will think your skin is on fire. Fun! 

The caterpillars will aggregate like this but they tend to drop off very easily when disturbed. Hopefully that won't be down your shirt as you walk under an oak tree. These dropped to the ground right after I took this photo. I hope they regroup this afternoon, and then I plan to beat them ugly with a shovel.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Busy as a .....

Things are busy around here as spring gets under full steam. My seedlings are getting big enough to transplant out into the garden. I'm fighting weeds in the flower bed. So far this month we've had two (2!) honeybee swarms in our house. The coyotes woke me up the other night and last night the groundhogs were fighting. The air is full of wasps trying to make nests all over the back side of the house. My allergies are horrific. Ally will be turning five in two weeks and I'm in the middle of planning her birthday party.


Friday, May 4, 2012

On a Wing and a Prayer

Phoebe fledglings on deck! Squadron cleared for takeoff!

The Eastern phoebes built their nest under the eaves of our front porch in early April and just the other week we noticed little fuzzy heads poking up over the edge of the nest. Mom and Dad Phoebe have spent every waking moment flying in and out of the porch bringing food to their young ones. There's a wide streak of white wash on the railing and floor boards to demarcate their flight path. No matter. All that will come off with the pressure washer next week. Early this afternoon I found the fledglings had left the nest and were pondering their next move. By late afternoon I got to see the last one take its inaugural flight, and now five young phoebes have made their way into the world. We'll leave the nest up as the parents may use it again later this summer. And all that poop on the porch? It's a small price to pay for the pleasure of watching these guys swoop down and catch bugs in the front yard. (And it's certainly no worse than all the poop the bluebirds have left me out back.)