Yesterday’s Visitor

Yesterday morning early while I was making my tea, one of our cats started growling at something she was watching outside the open window. She doesn’t do that unless something has invaded “her” kingdom.

This little thing was pretty disoriented and skinny. It ended up right outside our door in my herb garden. We did not see it again. Hopefully it found mama.

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More Pollinators on the Monarda

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) on Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

I really enjoy having the Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) in my prairie plot outside my bedroom window and off our front porch. Our pollinators on July 14 were a Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) and a bee, or fly, species, possibly. I have yet to identify this little guy so any help is welcome. I will continue to research and will update if I find out what it is.

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Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted skimmer

This Twelve-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella) actually stayed put long enough on a redbud branch over our little wildlife pond for me to take several pictures. This was the best of them. I am getting a little better with my camera.

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Another Pollinator at Work

Purple Coneflower is a popular flower for pollinators. The male Monarch butterfly was busy going from flower to flower in the sunshine, heat, and humidity today. Hopefully he has found a female and there are plenty of eggs laid on the milkweed plants we leave growing around our property.

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Pollinators at Work

Two-spotted Bumble bee on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpuea)

Honey Bees are not native to the United States, but this big boy (or girl) is. I fairly certain this is a Two-spotted Bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus), but I would love input. I cannot find any local help online and my field guides got me to that point.

I cannot find the notes I took on a Wednesday in the Wild hike several years ago at Celery Bog in Tippecanoe County about Indiana Bumble Bee Species. I would love a repeat of that program. It was very informative.

We need to plant native plants to encourage native pollinators and quit focusing on the non-native honey bee as our only pollinator. Education is key!

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Snow pictures

We had about 3 inches of snow on Saturday into Sunday. Nice snowman making snow. But very heavy to shovel or sweep. I can’t resist snow shadows and the colors of the snow.

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Winter Wonderland

I love being out at night when it is snowing . I got up early Sunday morning to sweep the snow off the patio and the walks. It was magical.

A little later…

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The Acorn Project

We can all agree that 2020 was a radically different year than we had envisioned. All our goals and plans for the New Year quickly vanished by the middle of March. That is when I began my sheltering in place and working from home (until my retirement in May).

Windy Oaks

When making retirement plans for this summer, I had intended to immerse myself in volunteering at Shades and Prophetstown State Parks and NICHES and Nature Conservancy Properties. My hopes were to find a volunteer project or projects to fulfill my hours needed for the Advanced Indiana Master Naturalist Certification. Hopefully I can proceed with those plans next year.

Jody Heaston, our Volunteer and Master Naturalist Coordinator, has been really helpful throughout all this in sending out emails connecting us with opportunities for distance education and volunteer hours.

One such project was collecting acorns from one white oak tree in your area for the White Oak Genetics and Tree Improvement Program, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Kentucky, Research headed by Laura De Wald. Since we had dubbed our property “Windy Oaks” when we moved here twenty-eight years ago, obviously due to having several oak trees, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me. No commute time.  Easy social distancing. No mask required. Total Zen time each day circling a beautiful, stately oak tree looking for acorns.

I have always loved acorns, but I’ve never noticed just how beautiful and how varied the colors are. They remind me of jewels.

It was a very educational time for me.

Things I learned from Laura De Wald in her instructions and further emails:

  • Acorns needed to be brown, not green.
  • The caps of the acorns need to come off with slight touch of finger or not have a cap on at all.
  • Acorns dropped in water that floated are not viable – will not grow – so I only kept those that sank to send to her.
  • Once acorn weevil larvae leave the acorn they will not burrow into another acorn.

Things I learned on my own or from subsequent research:

  • My particular oak tree is 102 inches in circumference. The height to the first branch is over 13 feet.
  • Acorn weevils infest a lot of the acorns.
  • Acorn weevils are looking for soil to burrow in to complete their life cycle.
  • The viability rate is around 40% or less of those I collected (I was a bad Citizen Scientist and forgot to log the first 3 days).
  • I need to pay closer attention to the small details in nature to really learn.

I noticed:

  • Acorns from the same tree come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Viable acorns come in many shapes and sizes.
  • A single acorn can contain many colors.
  • Some acorns have the larva of the acorn weevil in it just waiting to escape the box lid the acorn is drying in so it can scoot across the kitchen counter! (I cannot believe I did not take a picture of the larvae.)

I wonder:

  • Does the size of acorn denote how successful the seedling will be?
  • Why do acorns that are not brown drop from the tree?
  • What causes one acorn to be viable and another not?
  • Do squirrels and chipmunks eat or bury only viable acorns?

My time walking around this mighty oak – starting at the center next to it and walking around farther and farther each time until I get past its drip line and into the direction the wind might blow the acorns down – has been really good for me to slow down and connect with God, Nature, and myself. The breeze and the sunshine feel more relevant to my skin. I notice the small things – the shiny, bright acorns, the brown leaves or the more colorful clusters of leaves, a beetle or fly that might go past while I’m walking, the songs of the birds in the trees and at my feeders, the butterflies in my garden zinnias.

After sending the package to the University of Kentucky project manager, I received the email that my collection looked great and she had already planted them. She said that my acorns were of great quality, which relieved my mind as the weevil situation worried me. I cannot wait until the spring to hear how my new crop of oaks are doing!

And especially in these stressful Covid-19 times of racial injustice coming to the forefront again and political and economic unrest, and family health problems, I have enjoyed taking the half hour to walk the spiral labyrinth around a mighty oak tree and slowing my mind and thoughts to God’s creation and my connection to it. 

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Sometimes you just have to make a snowman.

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Isn’t “He” adorable!?

I noticed Sunday morning after I had filled the feeders, that there was a strange chipmunk eating at the table feeder. I started sketching the differences and notice it didn’t have any stripes on it and that it didn’t have a chipmunk tail. And it had a lovely creamy belly and an orange, foxy blush on the top of its tail with a dark border; darkish on its side with orange/foxy color along its spine. And such lovely big eyes with thick white eyeliner.

How can you resist that look?!

I can’t believe I thought it was a chipmunk. Probably just because we seem to have millions of them on our property getting into all kinds of mischief!

My Peterson’s Mammal guide says it’s a Red Squirrel. I had no idea we had them here. This is a FIRST OF YARD!!! Peterson’s says they are between 7-8 inches with tail 4-6 inches. It is also called a Spruce Squirrel. (The windbreak we planted 20 plus years ago is planted with 100 Norway spruce!)

Our regular squirrel species is the Eastern Fox Squirrel. They keep us extremely entertained with their antics around and around the trees they go. One quite often looks out of the screech owls’ box or lays sprawled on top in extremely hot, humid (i.e. typical) Indiana summer weather.

You can tell the size difference of the Red Squirrel and the Eastern Fox Squirrel. They are about a foot apart.

I have seen the squirrel regularly every day since Sunday. It has become quite fond of the sunflower seeds I put out for the jays, cardinals, titmice, nuthatch, chickadees and not for the chipmunks (grrr). By the way, I counted 12 sunflower seeds going into a blue jay gular pouch before it flew off today!

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