Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Turtle in my Garden

This afternoon about 4:30 I carried three containers of okra seedlings that I started inside to my garden to be planted. Okra, as with green beans, like warm soil and warm days. So, today was the day to plant both beans and okra.

I set the okra next to the bed into which they were to be planted. I made several trips carrying a bucket of water and a trowel and the bean seeds. Before getting underway I noticed that our neighbors were outside. I wanted to give them some extra leek and onion seedlings that I couldn't fit into my gardens. I was gone about 15 minutes. When I returned to my garden to plant the okra, someone was in the bed.

A painted turtle was building her nest and preparing to lay her eggs in the middle of the okra bed. She picked the one empty bed to lay her eggs. I'm certain she was not there 15 minutes earlier, but she must have been nearby. Turtles don't move that fast. So, I got my camera and sat and watched the turtle excavate the nest, dig holes for the eggs, then cover the eggs, all with her two hind legs. I think she was exhausted when she finished as she sort of trundled out of the bed and toward the garden fence on her way back to the wetland.

The okra, the bed, the turtle


The turtle working on her nest



A view through the sugar snap peas



She used her back legs to bring soil from the sides of the nest
and pack the soil. Notice also that her carapace is sunken in the rear,
now that the 5-8 eggs have been laid.


Now, where was the nest!
She did an amazing job of camouflaging the site,
by spreading the loose topsoil back into place.


She was exhausted as she headed back to the wetland.
I marked the nest site with small flags and planted the okra around her nest site.
I'll mark the calendar 65 days from today, when the eggs should hatch. 
The green beans will be planted tomorrow.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kodi's Pool

Kodi got a new wading pool in advance of the warm and humid Memorial Day Weekend. We were away visiting relatives, but as soon as we returned home this afternoon when it was near 90 F, Kodi hopped into his pool to cool down.


Rain last week followed by high temperatures over the weekend jump started the garden and the mosquitoes. In Western Massachusetts, where we spent the weekend, the mosquitoes were fierce. There is much to share and show about our gardens, but after a busy weekend of weeding and planting at my parents Winterberry Farm, that will have to wait until tomorrow. Rest is needed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wild Geraniums

I'm a bit taken by geraniums, both wild and cultivated. I have various shades of pink, purple, and red geraniums in my perennial beds or in pots. They look lush after weeks of rain. The wild geranium though is really beautiful with its lilac-colored petals and deeply lobed or cleft leaves. They grow in small clusters along trails at the edge of the woods or meadow, usually in moist soils.





Kodi and I walked at College Woods this morning. One of those perfect late spring/early summer mornings. A mix of warm sun and puffy clouds, clear air with low humidity, birds singing, and toads trilling. A chorus of toads trilled from around the pond. As one started trilling, the others followed. When you approach the pond, the nearby toads may go quiet. But stand still and wait patiently and the toads will start up again. Even with your naked eye you can see their vocal sac expand as they trill for up to 30 seconds.

On our way to the pond at College Woods we passed the lovely patch of wild geranium, also known as spotted cranesbill (the seed pod takes the shape of a cranes bill), photographed above.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Treefrogs

I woke early this morning. Warm air wafted in our open bedroom windows and the morning dawned bright. A combination that we've not had for some time. The dawn chorus started early, first the robins and phoebes, then a barred owl.

Warm temperatures the last few nights have stirred another creature: the gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor). This small 2-inch frog waits for warm evenings (above 15C/59F) to start its intense breeding season. The male belts out a loud trill, amazingly loud for such a tiny amphibian. Males sit on tree branches near a wetland, trilling with all their might to attract females. The males use so much energy to trill that over the course of several intense calling nights they lose weight.

Treefrogs trill during the day some, but the most intense trilling occurs in the evening, up until about midnight. Yesterday late morning Kodi and I wandered back to the wetland as we are apt to do these days. I listened to the birds of the wetland and forest edge: yellow warblers and common yellowthroats in the shrubs, red-winged blackbirds defending their territories among the cattails and buttonbush, an ovenbird behind me in the midstory tree canopy. The loudest call though was the treefrog.

The gray treefrog, as its Latin name versicolor suggests, can change its color from ashen gray to green to light brown. This, along with their small size, makes them hard to find against the lichen-covered trees that they inhabit. They could be down low in a shrub or up high in a tree. Large toe pads enable them to climb easily.

Throw open your windows at bedtime or spend some time outdoors in the evening after sundown and listen for a loud trill. You might mistake it for a bird or even an insect (such as a cicada). The diminutive treefrog rules the night sounds on these warm evenings.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sun and Shiitakes

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...the sun came out today!

And we harvested 11 shiitake mushrooms; four were sauteed for dinner.



Friday, May 20, 2011

A Wet Week

I just checked the UNH Weather website. Rain fell every day this week, beginning last Saturday, with nearly an inch on Sunday and Wednesday. The total rainfall was only 2.5 inches; it seemed like much more. Today was the first day without measurable rainfall, although the sun remains AWOL. Still, let's celebrate that today was simply cloudy.

Kodi and I wandered back to the wetland this afternoon. He sniffs nearly every sedge blade and shrub stem. I wish I knew what he learned during his wanderings. Since I could only smell dampness, I captured my images on film. Here are some scenes from the woods and wetlands behind our house after a week of rain.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)


Hummock sedge (Carex stricta)

A fern unfolds

A horsetail's fertile and sterile stem,

and a giant, old fallen pine harbors other plants and animals







Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shiitakes

Back in 2004 my sister wrangled a few of us into helping inoculate a couple dozen oak logs with shitake spawn. This involved drilling holes along the length of the four-foot log, filling each hole with spawn, then covering the hole with melted beeswax. As I recall it was a lot of work, as each log had many holes.

Since then, though, we've enjoyed several shiitake harvests. The logs have moved a couple times I think. Most recently they've resided with our parents at Winterberry Farm. Since they are not overly fond of the mushrooms, I thought the logs could come spend some time with us here in southeast New Hampshire. After removing the overtopping white pines from our woods this winter, the remaining hardwood forest offers perfect shade and conditions for growing shiitakes. My parents brought the logs up a few weekends ago and the crib fit nicely into our woods.


Mushrooms of course like moisture, so I turned the hose on them for a time since they'd dried out over the winter. That was completely unnecessary. I think it has rained every day since. Although we are feeling a little over-watered, the shiitakes burst forth in all this rain. Each day they get a little bigger. I think shiitakes will be part of our Friday night dinner menu. I counted 36 shiitakes on the these logs, so some will be stored in the fridge in a paper bag.





I've read that the productive life for these logs is 8 to 10 years, so we may be coming to the end of the shiitake years for this crib. Might be time to start a new one. We've begun looking about for oak trees about 4 to 6 inches in diameter.

Whenever I feel gloomy about the weather, which is fairly often these days, I look out my window at the shiitake crib. Not only are the shiitakes sprouting but the flower and vegetable gardens seem to be flourishing too. The potatoes, radishes, and small white turnips have sprouted in the last few days. I even saw a ruby-throated hummingbird at the bleeding heart this cold, rainy afternoon. The birds and the bees could use some sun sooner than later.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sunbathing Reptiles

Lately I've been spending a lot of time visiting wetlands. Kodi likes water as I've mentioned before and one of my recent work projects involved planting (with the help of volunteers) hundreds of native tree and shrub seedlings around a restored wetland. Most of my walkabouts with Kodi involve walking near at least one wetland.

These wetland visits have yielded a surprising number of turtle and snake sightings. On sunny days I always take time to sit and watch them basking on logs, hummocks, and beaver lodges. The most common sighting is of the painted turtle. I often see more than a dozen painted turtles of various sizes basking on logs and bare sedge hummocks on a late morning or early afternoon walk, when the air temperature and the sun's warmth are just right. If it is too cold or too hot, the turtles won't be out. The painted turtle, although common, is one of the most beautiful of our native turtles, with yellow stripes on its throat and neck and red markings on the edge of its shiny, smooth shell.

Last week I blogged about two rare Blanding's turtles that I spotted basking along with a handful of painted turtles and a small wood turtle sunning itself against a cattail blade. My latest sighting of sunbathing reptiles involved three northern water snakes on a beaver lodge. Two of the snakes were intertwined and sunning at the bottom edge of the lodge. A third, larger snake, was coiled at the very top of the lodge - maybe he was king of the heap.

 A beaver lodge with three sunbathing northern water snakes.
Click to enlarge and you may be able to pick them out.

For some great wildlife watching grab a pair of binoculars on a sunny, late morning or early afternoon, and head out to the nearest wetland. Turtles may slip into the water when you approach, but take a seat and wait and they will emerge again. Scan beaver lodges for sunning snakes. While you sit and enjoy the solitude of the wetland and surrounding woods, you might see a goose family swim by as I did. Four black and yellow goslings floated along in a line, dad in front and mom behind, keeping a watchful eye on Kodi and me.

 The pair of geese swim over to check on Kodi, to make sure he doesn't disturb their goslings,
which they must have tucked away somewhere safe on the other side of the wetland,

and Kodi curiously and harmlessly eyes the geese.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Days

Spring is zipping along now. The black flies are out, but not too thick. Brilliantly colored birds sing from their tree-top perches. From our yard we hear a scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, and great-crested flycatcher. They are visible as the newly emerging oak and maple leaves are still small. Warblers, about the size and color of the leaves, are much harder to see.

The yard and garden demand lots of attention these days. We've had a recent stretch of fair weather, after a wet early Spring, so we're playing catch-up. The Yukon gold potatoes and Copra storage onions from Johnny's Seeds are finally in the ground. The sugar snap peas are climbing up our new pea fence. Swiss chard, broccoli, and kale seedlings from Farmer Renee are planted and waiting for a bit warmer weather to really get going. I planted okra seeds indoors and these need hot days before moving into the garden. The spinach, arugula, and cilantro that I direct seeded weeks ago continue to grow ever so slowly.


The Exeter Farmer's Market season opener was last Thursday afternoon. I came home with bags of fresh mesclun, arugula, spinach, and potatoes, along with a dozen eggs. Another farmer friend had miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), a first for me. It made a nice addition to a fresh salad of mesclun and arugula. The potatoes and spinach were paired for an Indian dish of that name. Wonderful flavors after a long winter of hard to come by fresh foods.

Kodi prefers winter temperatures. These warmer days find him wandering back to the wetland to cool off. As I go in search of him, there is always something new for me to see too. These last few days it is a patch of fringed polygala along the path and wild highbush blueberry in bloom near the wetland shore, both flowers so dainty and lovely. The pair of Canada geese honk as they watch over five young goslings; this is the pair that nested on the beaver lodge.

 Fringed polygala

 Wild highbush blueberry

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Turtle Encounters

A week ago I helped my first turtle of the year across the road. It was a painted turtle with a bit of duckweed (a small aquatic plant) stuck to its back and it was just starting to cross the road. I stopped and moved it to the other side of the road, in the direction that it was traveling. One always hopes that they don't just turn around and go back.

Yesterday I had more turtle encounters while visiting a small, isolated pond near the Lamprey River. I saw three different species: painted, Blanding's, and wood. The painted turtles were no surprise; 14 in all were basking on logs. Sitting on the same log with four painted turtles, were two Blanding's turtles, a state endangered species. A Blanding's is easily identified by its yellow chin and domed, helmet-like top shell. See if you can pick out the two Blanding's turtles in this picture.


Here is a little closer picture of the smaller of the two Blanding's turtles. I think you can see the yellow chin clearly.


I walked a little farther around the pond and heard a rustling in the cattails. There I saw a one-inch thick water snake crawling through the cattails, about a foot off the ground. Then I heard a crash when the snake fell or dropped back to the water among the cattails. I continued on and then spotted another turtle sunning itself on a cattail stalk. I must confess I thought young (about 3 inches long) snapping turtle and moved on. Later, when I looked at my photos again, I realized it was a wood turtle, a species of conservation concern in New Hampshire. Wood turtles tend to be secretive and it seemed too open and exposed for such a turtle. But have a look at the photo - a wood turtle for sure.


This is the Year of the Turtle (It seems to be the year of many things, although turtles are always worth celebrating). Have a look at the website of the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and you will read why turtles are highlighted this year. Many turtle species are in decline because of road mortality (watch for turtles crossing and help them across when you can), fragmenting of their habitats (they move from wetlands to uplands to nest), collecting by the pet trade, and an overabundance of mid-sized predators such as raccoons and skunks.

This is the time of year to see turtles and help celebrate the Year of the Turtle.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Two Spring Beauties

I spent yesterday walking about with a client on his 660-acre property in western New Hampshire mapping habitat features, peering into vernal pools, photographing plants, and listening to bird songs. We flushed a ruffed grouse and a barred owl, watched the antics of several pairs of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and discovered dozens of spotted salamander egg masses in the vernal pools, including the following group.


A slight breeze kept the black flies at bay and the partly sunny day made for a fine walk in the woods. We bushwhacked up and down slopes, across fallen trees and ice-damaged saplings, and then more leisurely along several woods roads. Warblers sang as we walked, including ovenbird, black-and-white, yellow-rumped, black-throated green, and black-throated blue.

Two beautiful spring flowering woodland wildflowers caught our eye: trout lily and red trillium.




Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sugar Maples in Flower

I pronounce this the year of the sugar maple. We can't remember a more beautiful Spring season of flowering sugar maples. They are gorgeous this year. Drive along any road or look along the edge of any woodland in these parts and you will easily pick out the yellow glow of the sugar maples.



The yellowish-green flowers hang from long petioles, like dangling earrings. The leaves are just emerging at the base of the flower cluster.



In addition to the incredible flower show by the sugar maple, it's been a banner maple syrup year too. According to the New Hampshire Maple Producers, some sugaring houses had their best season ever. What a sweet tree.