Monday, August 30, 2010


It apparently isn't just the deer (or rabbits; I never figured out which, but I'd put money on the deer) who have developed a taste for my cattails. Luckily, I had started to move some out of the Puddle in anticipation of eventually cleaning the pond for the first time in many years (and perhaps rescuing at least part of the filtration system now hopelessly tangled in cattail roots) before most of the remaining plants were neatly and cleanly chomped off.

Nary a leaf tip was to be found, which is why I'm blaming the deer. One three foot long leaf would have made quite a belly full for a cottontail; even a dozen such--which is pretty much what disappeared--would barely appease the hunger of one of the hoofed grazers.

A sprinkle of frass (fancy word for caterpillar poo) across the surface of the water where the relocated--to the large deck--plants are now residing hinted that something else was munching away on the cattails, as well.

Took a bit of searching to find this beauty, for obvious reasons. (Then the camera obviously refused to cooperate with a highly cooperative beastie. Argh.)

Grab favorite caterpillar book, cross-reference "cattail" and… It's not referenced as a food plant. Hundreds of other plants are, but not cattail. Nor common reed. Nor phragmites. That's the limit of my knowledge of grass-like vegetation. Hmph! My favorite caterpillar book has failed me. What's with "highly variable" caterpillars within one species, anyway? And why show a photo of the most "plainly marked variation" of the most likely candidate? Double Argh.

I'm making an uneducated but intuitive guess and will say some species of cutworm... (Correct ID welcome!)


I had only caught occasional glimpses of this handsome wingéd thing this summer. It would pop up from under the spider plant's flower stem if I moved too close to the pot, then just as quickly duck back to the underside. It's been out there on the deck railing for some time now. Finally I was determined to take a photograph.

If I hadn't taken the photos, I never would have noticed that face! Wow.

I was doing well to start; the bug would pop up when I put out a finger, then dive back under the plant stem when the camera moved in. Up-down-up-down-up-down, and then it stayed visible for the last few photos. Then its courage (or patience) finally broke and it flew away. Oops. And I'm the one who believes you shouldn't pester an animal beyond its tolerance limits. ::hanging head in shame:: I would have had to move the spider plant eventually, anyway, but still… Be safe wherever you landed, little one!

[Wanna know what it is? Me too, but it's not a pressing issue. I had assumed some kind of leaf hopper before acquiring so close a view. (Perhaps all leaf hoppers actually look like that?!) Must try to reach insect guide. (Bookshelves are a bit, um, inaccessible. Don't want to cause an avalanche trying to reach a bug guide. Assuming I actually have one; if I do, and I'm sure I must, it hasn't been used much lately so it isn't out in front where I can grab it easily.) A decent internet connection would suffice, but that's more out of reach at the moment than most of my field guides! :o) ]

UPDATE: Aha! Many thanks to TM in Vermont for doing a little web surfing for me, which led me to...: Oncometopia orbona.

Friday, August 27, 2010


A plant problem. A problem with plants, that is. I haven't been able to fix it...

If I pass a poor on-its-way out retail store plant (or one that miraculously is still in relatively good condition, or new off the delivery truck) that happens to be a personal favorite, I simply cannot leave it to die a slow and lingering death in its too dark/too bright/over-watered/under-watered location. Better that it comes home with me and I make an attempt to save it. Being able to actually keep it alive for many, many times longer than it would otherwise have managed is another matter entirely, but certainly it's the thought and the effort made that count.

It could be worse. I don't bring home every such plant I see; for one thing, caring for the orphans would become a full-time job—at least three stores I regularly visit have what they call houseplant "departments". (If I had the time and the money to try, it is conceivable that I could possibly, eventually, make such a lack of willpower pay somehow.) I try not to rescue plants I know nothing about, or those whose like I have killed in the past. That was a hard lesson to learn, but I just passed up—for the second time!—Alocasias still in decent shape, even though I now know where to find growing tips for keeping them alive outside of a greenhouse. Of course, I was more able to resist their lure because I already had this…

…in the truck from an earlier stop. * sigh * I would happen to notice the sale sign. And then stop to look over the offerings more closely only to find this specimen smack in the middle of the store, pining away. Look closely—new leaves turning yellow. Oh, the horror. Such spirit must be succored! Never mind that other Philodendron selloum I rescued earlier in the summer…

Speaking of this awful trend towards collecting monstrous plants (thinking it's ok because I think I know where to keep them all for the winter—and believing, perhaps erroneously, that I will be able to actually find a place to set myself down on even the large deck next summer when they all go outside again, assuming they all survive the winter) in addition to rooting two cuttings from the lanky, neglected Monstera baby I've had for years, I succeeded in making a brand new one! Just add water and…

Presto! Well, she's not quite there yet, but a leaf sprout, two leaf buds, an actual root and a root bud is a far cry from the long, leafless stem I had pruned off the Baby M. Having past experience sticking pothos stems in water, and being continuously amazed at a plant's ability to regenerate itself from very little, I had a hunch I could force some growth on this bit. (I have since trimmed off that yellow bottom section; it is no longer living tissue.) When there is more root and leaf, this new plant will go to help fill in the pot with the other two rooted cuttings. That will technically be only three Monsteras, two of which are still relatively small. Especially compared to Big Momma (no relation), who is by this time completely out of control (I might need to propagate a few of her stems next) but providing such a lovely background for these photos…

Baby Monster itself is thriving spending its first summer outside, as evidenced by lovely (if the slightest bit sunburned) new leaves and hordes of aerial roots, most now sunk back into the soil of its pot. (I wasn't paying attention as the heat wave went on and on and on and the mosquitoes finally descended en masse: at least one of Big Momma's aerial roots dug into a pot that wasn't hers…) And lookee---

Baby's first split leaf!!! I'm so proud.

In early August, I (some would say unwisely) took a stroll through the Big K's outdoor section to see what plant inventory remained and was still managing to hang on. I, as you might say, hit pay dirt. A half price Mandevilla (that I haven't yet wrapped around a trellis as I promised, but that the goldfinches haven't yet found—they inexplicably tore all of the flowers off the last mandevilla I had some years ago), a half-price hibiscus (which I didn't need at all given that it’s identical to one I picked up last year; but last year's is still recovering from a rough winter and has yet to bloom, so there!), and little potted houseplants for only a dollar each. The wandering jews had wandered so well that I think one of the two I picked up originally started in a different pot altogether…

Looking even better after a few weeks of consistent and constant watering. (Going to be some unhappy stems on this plant: in taking this photo I took them out of the water-filled saucer they were rooting themselves in…) By some miracle, a few bird's nest and rabbit's foot ferns were also still alive, even in full, glaring, summer sun. The rabbit's foot was shorter and denser than any I've ever seen (but has since grown taller), and amazingly only a few leaves on the bird's nests were sunburned… I'll take two each, thank you very much.

Ooh, nice big new leaves! What a happy plant. While pondering how to keep somewhat specialty ferns alive in a dry house over the winter, I finally hit upon an obvious solution.

Self-watering pots are not just for African violets! I had some success with those plants a few years back (even to the point of getting a mess of babies from a leaf stuck in soil—talk about a plant's truly remarkable ability to regenerate!) but neglect took its toll and I have had a handful of these pots about the house collecting dust for the past few years. (Some of my best African violets were actually growing in glass votive candle holders, anyway.)

Voilá! The fittonia (a plant acquired against my own rule of "don't buy it if you don't know what it is or how to grow it"—I still have a ways to go kicking this habit), who had wilted flat on me at least three times over the winter and once when out on the hot deck this summer, loves having its feet constantly wet…

Now if I can just forget about that really tall, quite stunning Draceana marginata tricolor I saw last week at the supermarket (on sale, of course). It was an older plant and might even have been tall enough (and thick-stemmed enough) to escape grazing cats...

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Green frogs have well-defined back ridges.

Bull frogs are sort of squodgy, ill-defined, squishy-looking lumps. With legs. (Okay, their noses are cute enough to consider kissing.) Amazing that I was able to get a photo of this little one at all; I certainly wasn't expecting anything close to focused. It usually screams and leaps for cover when it sees me coming. (Seriously, it lets out this high-pitched Eek! and dives for the water practically before I've even had a chance to notice it. This is the best view I've had of it yet.)

The green frogs, however, are fearless. And really damn cute, standing sentinel over The Puddle.


Milkweed (food plant) + tussock ("thick tuft or clump") + moth (gregarious caterpillars) =

Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar. How...obvious. I like it when something is called exactly what it is. (Okay, so I did have an edge in that I already knew there were such things as tussock moth caterpillars.)

Another serendipitous discovery (and a new species for me!) while I was out looking for the frogs and Snap, who abandoned the Mud Puddle on or after the full day of rain we had. (I'm hoping they come back when things dry out again.)

The hasn't-let-me-down-yet-though-it-may-take-some-searching-it's-so-big caterpillar book I use (Caterpillars of Eastern North America) notes that the milkweed tussock moth caterpillars seem to prefer older milkweed and therefore don't appear to compete directly with Monarch caterpillars.


In spring it's the mulberries, in fall the wild grapes that splatter all over my "patio" (a large cement slab intended to be the floor of an attached garage that was never completed). The mulberry came up between the slab and the cinderblock foundation years ago and is now quite well established. I trained the grapevine across the deck railing when I found it coming up in the garden, and once it reached the mulberry it spread through it like wildfire.

The mulberry fruits quite early, before the grape begins to leaf out. Mid-summer there's a thick tangle of vegetation shading the patio and deck. By the time the summer has taken its toll on the tree and it begins to lose leaves, the fruit of the vine is nearly ripe.

Quite a nice little system, really, that provides great food resources for the local wildlife, but a bit of a mess for the human puttering around her patio...

With a non-cultivated crop like this (only a portion of what's there—and no, they don't taste any better than the mulberries or wild cherries), there's no need to wonder why vineyards and their associated wineries have become quite popular business ventures here in the county in the last decade or so!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I looked out my kitchen window this evening and noticed a little gray blob on the roof of the shed that is directly across the yard. Keep in mind that I stare out at this shed twice a day, every day, so it stood out. (Find it yet? Roof's edge just above the top right corner of the doors.) It's not what you might think. But having past experience of spotting little gray blobs on this shed from the same window, I did have a pretty good idea what it was. Binoculars confirmed it; a chair put me practically eye to eye with the little gray blob.

Hello, handsome.

Gray Tree Frog. No idea which flavor, Northern or Southern, even though Southern is rare (endangered/threatened species kind of rare) and should probably be reported to the appropriate authorities. Most living things at the very-most edges of their ranges tend to be rare, with or without declining availability of suitable habitat... My yard and the surrounding acres seem to have proven to be quite suitable habitat for these critters this year, if the multiple scattered calls around the place this spring and early summer were any indication. This shed has turned out to be one of the best places for actually spotting gray tree frogs without having to track them down by their calls. (Which I have yet to successfully do anywhere. I have, however, once been lucky enough to spot one when it jumped from one branch to another in a tree!)

Last year's looked-out-the-window-and-saw-the-frog. (There were actually two there that day.) I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the shed is Gray Tree Frog gray? (And shaded; the other shed of identical color, although larger, is usually in full sun and has yet to host a tree frog that I've seen.)

If I am ever able to record their calls, someone else can then time said calls and factor in temperature and humidity in order to figure out which gray tree frogs I have. So long as the frogs know...


I had discovered weeks ago that the raised bridge itself made an incredibly boring subject for a photograph…

When I was young, I loved it when we took the boat under one of the local drawbridges; the noise the cars made on the steel grid overhead and the echo-y sound of the water slapping the pilings underneath is a part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Of the falling rain! Woo-hoo! It's raining. It's been raining. For hours. Half an inch and still falling at 9:00am. And I didn't even have to water every plant on the decks to get it to do so. (I meant to give everything a good soaking last evening but forgot.)

It was a bit cool for me to go dancing in it so early in the morning (I might yet), but that didn't stop this lovely from being out:

What she think's she's going to catch in the pouring rain is beyond me. Weeeellll, she is rather close to a hummingbird feeder, and the rain hasn't stopped them from zinging around in search of breakfast either...

It's not often that you get to see photos of the underside of an orb weaver, but that's all I could take given where she's hung her web on the edge of the deck, strung between a trellis and some irises on the deck railing. And it's quite interesting watching her: for one thing, there is cover nearby so she doesn't have to be out getting pummeled by the rain. But to allow for it, she's hanging by only her back feet, with her front legs straight down rather than resting at an angle on her web. I presume this posture is keeping at least some of the water off. (Freaked me out, though; thought I had taken photos of a dead spider for a minute until I saw her move.)

Update, 9:00pm: It continued to rain for hours today. Hours. And the precipitation could be measured in inches. Not traces, not tenths, but inches. Listen to the sound of Wren weeping with joy...

Here's another view of our weaver; she was still there this evening and didn't appear to have moved all day other than to shake off accumulating water drops and to reinforce the middle of her web where she was (literally) hanging out. I have an 8x10 of one of these beasties that I took years ago, but apparently from an angle where the actual shape of the spider was hidden. Weird looking thing, isn't it? (That's a water drop on its head. Its really flat--and furry--head.) And perhaps not so handsome when you are close enough to see the barbs on its legs, among other things. And where, exactly, are its eyes, anyway?

Alas, I didn't run around in the rain getting soaked to the skin. Nearly did so unintentionally, for I went shopping and at one point spent nearly a half an hour in the truck in a parking lot before I could get out without drowning. It was not, shall we say, anything like a good beach day. I wish I could have seen an overhead view of the causeway coming in from the Wildwoods; it looked like one solid line of traffic from the Garden State Parkway to the island itself. There really aren't all that many places for all of those people to go; as it was I didn't even attempt some of the stops I meant to make. What a sad commentary on our modern lifestyle: it's raining, let's go shopping. Forget walking the beach in the rain, or playing board games for a few hours, or *gasp* perhaps reading a book? (I had legitimate errands to run on my day off, thank you very much. The snake, at least, has thanked me for his nice fat mice...)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Of my front deck, that is.

I'm a homebody at heart. This is the front of my hermitage. Truly, what need have I to go any farther than my front steps?

Well, perhaps a wander about the yard wouldn't come amiss. Sunday morning I was up early and work opened late, so I took the camera for a stroll.

Another green frog, this one hiding in the original Puddle, a 55 gallon prefab pond I installed over ten years ago. (Still a vivid memory, and the reason the other, larger pond liner is still there in the garden where I tossed it years ago...)

A webworm. These things are everywhere this year, eating pretty much anything and everything.

Datana caterpillars. Not so cute and they only turn into a plain brown moth, but interesting enough hanging out on the end of a pin oak limb.

What I really wanted to find was a big fat green giant silkworm caterpillar (Cecropia, Polyphemus, whatever, I'm not picky) somewhere in the oak or maple or tulip poplar trees. I did catch a brief glimpse of a huge moth fluttering out of a maple one night weeks ago and the top of the young tulip is suspiciously bare, so I know they are out there.

Guess who was waiting for me in the middle of the front steps when I came home Sunday afternoon? Yup, BFT (The First) looking, well, fat. And quite colorful, really, with touches of red and even green.

What, I should start traveling again? Visit with people? Spend more than 12 hours away from home? Hah! In a pig's toad's eye, I will...

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010


As the years pass, I have found myself becoming quite fond of the color purple. It's not so far off of blue...

Morning Glory, indeed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


It was so hot once again today that it wasn't even comfortable simply sitting still in the shade on the front deck this afternoon. But as evidenced by all of my posts, the wildlife action was as hot as the temperature.

A young black snake (probably a racer because it is so round), a couple of feet long but still with barely visible hints of its baby pattern, leaving after coming in to the mud puddle for a drink. I only knew it was there in the first place because I had heard a frog's panicked splash as it approached. (The frogs seem to know Snap isn't a threat; a snake is another matter entirely.) I knew that by not taking the camera out in the heat I would risk missing a photo op…

This wee tiny frog, only about an inch long, was smart enough to wait until dark to come out (temps were still somewhere around 90° but at least the sun was down). I happened to glance up while picking up bowls from the cats' dinner and noticed a brown splotch on a plant just outside the window. I don't like using a flash, especially not when I'll be setting it off in some poor little critter's face, but because the sun had set I had no choice. It did, however, bring out the frog's pattern; it's a bit broken, but it sure looks like a Spring Peeper's "X" to me. Or should that be Summer Peeper?

I'm quite sorry that I didn't get a photo of the Gray Catbird who let me spray it with the hose so it could take a bath... Like I said, it was hot today.


Long before I knew there were such things as five-lined skinks or about the color of the tails of their young, my favorite color was blue. Deep, dark, glowing electric blue.

Gives a whole new meaning to the term "baby blue", eh? These shots are somewhat misleading—the blue here is over-exposed and a bit more pale than the eye sees in real life. But I'm sure you get the idea…

These photos are also a bit larger than life-sized. The largest males I have seen are perhaps three-quarters of an inch wide and about six inches long not counting tails. The measurement across my four fingers: two and half inches. (Really makes you wonder how big—or small—their eggs are.)

Luckily when I went to remove the palm from the cache pot, I managed to lift it straight up. I did not expect someone to be hiding between the two containers. Nearly a dozen years ago, I had left a garden cart still packed in its cardboard box on the deck for weeks; when I finally got around to moving it, a baby skink ran out of the box and its tail stayed behind, twitching madly. It's an effective escape mechanism, and the tails are actually built to do just that, but it is still rather skin-crawlingly grisly to witness first hand. This little one, although completely freaked out when not frozen in terror, managed to keep all of its parts firmly attached and was harmlessly released into another plant pot where it hid for awhile before disappearing when I finally left it alone.


You may be pleased to hear that Snap didn't become a snack. S/he merely has an alternate place to hide from the giant weird monster that keeps hovering over a poor wee turtle just trying to mind its own business…

The largest (~3-4") Green Frog (note that the side ridges run all the way from head to rear legs; a bullfrog's ridges drop immediately behind the head to the front legs) I've yet found in the yard is also still here. Would be neat if Snap learned to eat the land snails (like the one in this photo) that I've seen in/around the mud puddle.

An overhead shot showing how incredibly adaptable is the local wildlife. This is far from what I would consider an ideal habitat, but if it's the only option... (We need rain. A good, steady, ground-soaking rain, and we need it badly.) On the other hand, it is probably the perfect representation of a microhabitat. Any slow draining depression in an even slightly undeveloped area can provide the necessary requirements for generalist species…

Both frog and turtle are in this picture. (Frog is pretty easy to spot; turtle is a quarter of the way in from the right on about the same horizontal line as the frog.) The songbirds need not fear for their feet for another year or so, and even the smaller frogs would be too much of a mouthful right now for Snap. But mosquito larvae, beware!!!

Duckweed has also suddenly appeared in this little bit of water. (Only a few individual plants; this photo was taken over a container of it.) So did a bird bring it in from the side yard from the "real" pond set-up, or are the frogs carrying it with them as they travel over/under/around a cinderblock wall as they move about looking for water? Also amazing stuff, is this itty bitty plant. I personally love it, but perhaps the turtle "pond" is not the best location for it. Duckweed does have a tendency to take over once it gets going, and this little mud puddle hardly has room for water as it is.


When last we saw her, BFTII (Big Red) was heading off into the wilds last Monday...

She was sent off with a goodbye and a farewell pat on the head.

Sunday morning.

One can't help but wonder what will happen if BFT (The First) and Big Red should chance to end up in the petunia pot on the same day… It's not all that big a pot.

Speaking of BFTI: After admonishing her to be careful when she trucked off quite purposefully down the walk straight to the driveway one afternoon sometime last week, I nearly stepped on her out in the drive's turn-around at 9pm last night. (Note to self: Do not come home or leave after dark; she's quick enough to jump out of my way, but the truck would be another matter entirely.) It will be interesting to see when/if she decides to come back to the deck.

One can't help but wonder if anyone has done a study on the territory requirements of a toad.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Sunday evening I cleared some debris out of Snap's and the Frogs' little puddle in order to try to maintain some kind of water level in it. (We haven't had any appreciable rain in weeks, and I've been afraid to move the pond liner so that it would hold more water.) Figures that last evening/night the raccoon chose to root around the front yard. (I'm assuming it was the coons, given that my piled-up junk scattered about the front yard was pushed around and knocked over.)

The frogs are accounted for, but I can't find Snap and the turtle has always been out hunting first thing in the mornings. :o( I even sifted through the water and lifted up the "waterfall" piece that the frogs and turtle bolt under when spooked. Nothing. Not even any turtle parts around that I could find.

I'm not feeling too guilty and responsible, because if you have ever watched a raccoon for any length of time you've probably noticed how thorough they are with those nimble little hands of theirs... It was just a matter of time before one went patting through what little water there is in the yard.

You can be sure I will mention if I find Snap again! Goodness knows, the Big Fat Toads keep returning...

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Aha, whom do we have here…?

Bad babies! Where did you leave your mommas?

(These two had been properly chaperoned by their mothers when the four of them wandered through the meadow this morning. After an initial minute or two of curiosity this evening--the larger fawn actually took a step or two towards the truck--they did finally bolt. I didn't get much closer than it appears in the first photo; three cheers for telephoto!)