Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dragons and Damsels Part 1

Currently my feed is down as I switched to feedburner, good idea not too sure about it.

I just love to find these dragonflies and damselflies in the natural habitat. I have found 42 species of them here at my little pond. Here are some samples from my pond and a small ( I do mean small) bonus!

At top right is a pair of Amber-winged Spreadwings in tandem. The female is ovapositing eggs into the plant stem. The male holds her head so she can mate with him. This photo was taken from waders in 2 foot of water in my pond with a tripod. I sweat ed and waited out this photos for over an hour. They were never even slightly disturbed.

Next we have a Common Green Darner that was emerging in my pond at about 11 pm. Too hard to shoot outside so I brought it in and shot a series of photos as it emerged, using a blue sheet for a background.

The Common Green Darner is pumping up its wings, not quite ready to fly off.

Now for your bonus! These sprites (damselflies) are so tiny I'm sure I spent years wading through them without ever noticing them. They are about 3/4 inches long and blend into the grass very well.

The first one is a female Southern Sprite perched on a reed.

The last one is a pair of Sphagnum Sprites in a "wheel" mated. Telling these sprites apart is not the easiest thing to do. Also to photograph these sprites like this one has to nearly lay down in a bog to shoot them.

New Yard Art


In my last yard art posting I mentioned a sun that I picked up. This sun is made from a recycled disposable gas tank. Better than than the melting pot don't you think. It was made locally by Foster's Custom Steel in Mebane, NC.

Weather oh my, we are getting lots of rain right now. Tomorrow it is expected to snow perhaps up to an inch or snow by Monday morning and be 22 degrees. Is this our last bout with winter?

last night we left a window open so we could hear the frogs (Spring Peepers) calling, it was pretty loud outside :-). They called alright as we saw this morning we had 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, one perched on the willow right over the pond. Does anyone know what a Red-shouldered Hawk's favorite food is? That would be frogs.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Daisys and Daisy Fleabane

Ox-eyed Daisy, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum some think of it as a weed, we just love it. I have been in meadows full of it covered with butterflies. Like this Juniper Hairstreak the only green butterfly in the eastern US. This hairstreaks host plant is Eastern Red Cedar and you might get lucky to find one in your garden.
Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron annuus seems to pop up along roadsides quite often. The native Daisy Fleabane grows in our gravel driveway to about 30 inches tall. It attracts small butterflies when it has had a lot of moisture, during a drought the nectar in it seems to be slight. That is a Pearl Crescent butterfly on it a common visitor to garden is the eastern US.

Both of the plants above are considered invasive plants and can take over fields and invade crops. We have never had any problem controlling them in our yards. Sometimes I do mow around them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Odonates a little about them!

Well it looks like we have made it though the hard freezes here in North Carolina, the greens did fine. Today it is expected to get to 64 degrees, then the possibility of rain for the next 3 days. So with not much gardening going on I came up with this post.

I've been chasing odonates for many years, odonates means dragonflies and damselflies from the order of Odonata.

Do you know how to quickly tell them apart? Come on think about this one..

Ok, I'll tell you dragonflies always perch, well at least the ones you see perching with the wings flat open like this female Yellow-sided Skimmer on the right.

Damselflies always perch with their wings closed over their backs like this Sparkling Jewelwing. Jewelwing females are easy to tell by the white stigma near the top edge of the wings.

There is one exception to damselflies having closed wings behind their backs, the spreadwing damselflies. Spreadwings hold the wings partly open like this male Southern Spreadwing.

Speadwings are my favorite damselfies as the are hard to find and always found along ponds and marsh edges unlike some of the other damselfies that travel away from water a good bit. Telling them apart is another thing altogether.

Local yard art

I read the other day at Defining Your Home garden that the Fearrington Folk Art Show was going on last weekend. I had some free time and made the one hour trip out to see it. Not as much yard art as I'd liked to have seen, but still it was fun.

This large weather vane is one of several permanent fixtures at Fearington. If you did not know Fearington is a artsy retirement home for people with a lot of money, the have a high class restaurant, coffee shop, garden center and other amenities. It is also known for the Belted Galloway cows like the one seen on the weather vane in the bottom photo.

The tire planters, very cool made locally and around $100 each. Breadfoot makes these with a sharp knife then hand paints them with house paint. He says the trick to cutting these out is getting tires with 2 ply sidewalls. I want to try this one day and I have plenty of pink house paint. Breadfoot is a musician here you can watch him play Valentine.

I did buy a 24 inch yellow/orange sun to hang on the wall, it was made from a recycled welding tank by Foster's Custom Steel in Mebane, NC.

The awesome bottle tree was sold, my guess it was over a $1000. The biggest one I have ever seen.

Still trying to get the alignment of my postings right, one day I'll figure it out.

The pond is frozen and it is 19 degrees outside, hope those greens do ok.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Our Morning Glories

Back two seasons ago when we were having the big drought (does it ever end??, in a mini drought now). We bought these morning glory plants at Big Bloomers Nursery thinking they were Heavenly Blues, oops guess not. later there were a few more blooms, did I mention the drought.

Behind the flowers is one of our two rain barrels I built, cost us $18 each, from recycled pickle barrels, seems some of our North Carolina Mt Olive pickles are actually shipped in to NC from India in these barrels. We watered the morning glories and two other small gardens with about 90% rain barrel water during the drought.

These barrels have a screw top and you can cut out part of it and staple in a screen to keep the bugs out. Then you need a spigot, cost about $8 drill the barrel with a 15/16 inch spade bit and screw in the spigot. So easy if you can get the barrels cheap. The stand was made from deck scraps.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wild flowers from my woods part one

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)
These are common in my woods. Our property is almost 4 acres and more than 3/4 of it is a wooded hillside. This plant blankets the understory in two places on the back slope. Further down the hillside on my neighbors property there is a huge mass maybe 50ft x 50ft, one of our patches are like 15ft x 20ft Thought we loose a good part of it when we had the septic field moved into the woods to make room for the addition I built. Yes the patches are smaller but also there in more light for them now. The native red Carolina Honeysuckle is abundant there also, but it does not get enough light to flower usually, maybe now it will, time will tell. We found 2 morel mushrooms with them last year!

One thing about this flower if you don't catch it in bloom, the flowering lasts 2-3 tops, you'll be waiting until next season to see them.

Hoping to find hundreds of Trout Lilies in the next few days or a week not far from these plants. This is one of the reasons I moved here the wild flowers. The Duke Natural History Group came here on a field trip I provided and I just could get them to move out from my woods...

These were tripod shots taken about 100 ft from where I'm typing right now.
Soon I'll have more on our garden, it is 22 degrees this morning and we are hoping that the baby plants handle it ok.

Henry's Elfin springtime tiny beauty.

This little gem of a butterfly is hard to see and mostly over looked because of its size. When I first started butterfly watching and photography I wanted this butterfly pretty bad, so I drove 2 + hours to Raven Rock State Park to join a field trip in March to find it. Some were sighted but not close enough for good photographs.

The next year I learned that right here in the yard we had a huge population of them (ok maybe 10, but 4-5 is usually the best you will do anywhere in NC). So in the past 8-9 years I have worked the woods and hedges to get a good photo. We have loads of wild Eastern Red Bud trees that they seem to favor the blooms on.

Here is the Henry's Elfin, Callophrys henrici on a sprouting blackberry twig they are about 1/2 tall. You can find more info with three more photos and a full scale web page on everything you need to know about them here on my web page on Henry's Elfins.

BTW This photo was taken in the wind with my Canon DSLR 20D and 180mm macro lens with a flash to enhance the ambient light.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Both Lady's-slippers orchids

Back in May of 2006 the Carolina Butterfly Society had a western NC field trip to look for rare mountain butterflies. These kind of trips always bring in nature people with all kinds of interests. A lot of us also know birds, botany and dragonflies.

Luck would have it a local naturalist lead us to see both types of Yellow Lady's-slippers orchids . We found Greater Yellow Lady's-slipper (Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens) and the Small Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum).

Anyway these flowers took beautiful photos in the moist slopes where we found them.

Today I was stumbing through the White Flower Farm catalogue and saw they were selling Yellow Lady's Slippers for $115 a plant! I'd hope that with these kind of prices that our rare mountain plants will remain in unnamed locations. We found just a few plants and they were so remarkable.

For those that would want to know the camera info on these photos. The top photo was taken with a DSLR Canon 20D and the bottom was taken with a point and shoot Nikon Coolpix 8700.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tiny Overlooked Garden Gems

Just wanted to share some of my macro photography which has been my passion for at least 10 years. Yes I do get stuff published, mainly butterflies though not as much as I'd like. Well over 100 photos one year, last year 2 :(, one in the works right now for a book on Pacific Northwest insects. Once I got an e mail for a photo request of a butterfly it was sent to John, Jay and Randy, that is my Dad's name, brother's name and my name. The John on the list was John Shaw one of the most published nature photographers in the US. Guess what yours truly provided the image!

I do have one of the largest collections of butterfly photos found in the Southeastern US. If you have not visited my main site please check it out.

This little Planthopper, Acanalonia conica
is about 1/4 long and can be found in the garden mid to late summer. Leaf hoppers can be quit colorful, I find myself looking for them a lot in the garden, but getting photos of these little guys can be difficult, I got lucky here. I found this guy on a Swamp Sunflower that we divided from a friends garden and put into ours. Swamp Sunflower is "sticky" and seems to attract leaf hoppers and crab spiders quite well.

The leaf hopper below I found on a field trip and am not sure what kind it is, but it is a stunner.

I used a canon D20 camera with a 180mm macro lens with a flash unit to enhance the ambient light of my subject. This is just a primer of the type of photos to come, so please subscribe to this blog and be sure to stop back again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Garden Planting update Feb 19


This morning it was 26 degrees and it is expected to be the same tomorrow and Sunday I think. The seedlings in the garden are covered in straw and surviving thus far. The seven day forecast does not really show any growing days, but we are hopeful. Meg drew me a map of what is planted currently. This map is of the garden plot along our pond, the open areas are not planted yet. To give prospective on this plot, it is approximately 40 ft long x 10 ft wide.

The arugula, kale and meslin mix planted on 1/24 is up and looking good, see a photo on our first posting.

All of our seeds came from a seed company that grows all it's own seeds Territorial Seed, the onions we bought locally at the farm and garden supply in Durham. Can't wait for more 70 degree days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spotted Salamander invasion!

Last night Meg let the dogs out the front door while it was raining. At her feet she found not one but two Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) at her feet attempting to crawl inside the house. So I helped her coax them back outside while she managed the dogs.

A little history on these salamanders here. About 8-9 years ago I found 2 of them in the then new water garden (it's is gone now due to the addition), they laid eggs and the eggs might have made it. One was a spotless Spotted Salamander which is the only one I ever saw. They appeared in the water garden most every year in February to lay eggs (or feed the Bullfrogs eggs). Last year in mid summer while removing the old furnace we found a pair of them under the furnace pad, and later that week I found 2 more under some roofing tins I have in the woods for snakes to rest under.

FYI these are mole salamanders common to the southeastern US. Usually the only time one sees them is on the first cold rainy night in February unless they are found under logs rocks ect. And they are around 8 inches long the biggest salamander we have in this part of the country.

Last night was also the first night this year we had a frog concert, the Spring Peepers gave a mild performance, Meg told me about them late late night apparently my hearing is not as good as it used to be or Meg's hearing is better than mine. The new windows seems to insulate the sound from the outside pretty well. This Spring Peeper I took the photo along my pond in 2004, you can identify them by the X on the back.

Meet our cats


We have two inside-outside cats. Grumpy the one-eyed orange tabby male and Valentine the tiny 6 lb tuxedo female with a defective pancreas.

Grumpy came to our porch first, he was so badly injured his eye was gone and oozing, his upper fangs were broken off and he had ear mites so bad he could hardly hear. You might ask why the name Grumpy, well he was not very happy when I found him with all his ailments. I picked him on our deck and he scratched me real bad, so I called him Grumpy. Now days he's the most friendly happy cat you will ever meet. He was real mad at me when I took him to the vet to get fixed up, but once he was better he became the best cat ever.

Grumpy's favorite things to do are to wake me (Randy) and paw my chest as he gets his morning petting as he tells me it's time for breakfast. Roll in the dirt, we have a lot of it here since the huge addition was built. Walk around the pond with me and the dogs. Sleeping in the warmest place he can find. And lastly tending to Valentine his girlfriend.

He does chase all other cats that come around usually he comes back with a few nicks and scratches. Keeping away other strays is probably his most important job here.

Valentine here is her story! The night before we got Grumpy spayed he had a bad night and took me around the neighborhood looking for a female male in heat. While Grumpy was recovering from being spayed Valentine just showed up on Valentines Day, so we named her Valentine. She had her kittens (5) we were hoping they would be Grumpy's offspring, but all were tuxedo kittens.

We should have named her killer as she gets mice, birds and squirrels and seems to think it is a full time job keeping us mouse free. She is the sneaking one and she could be found ontop any wall or roof in the house as it was being built. She even jumbed down off 9 foot high walls when it suited her.

Valentine's pancreas does not digest her food, so we have to get her an pancreas enzime twice a day with her food or she would die....

As you can see from these photos the cats love each other.

The bottom photo was where they stayed and ate while we built the addition and lived at Meg's house.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Harbingers of Spring

I think I spelled harbinger correctly? Well to me they are butterflies Spring Azure and Falcate Orangetip. In the next few days or weeks these should be reported being seen here in North Carolina. More of my photos of these beauties see Spring Azures.

The bottom photo is a male Falcate Orangetip on Winter Cress a winter annual, bet that twists your brain a winter annual?

Mystery plant in my woods


Normally I know most of the plants growing here in my Durham, NC woods. Yesterday Meg and I found this at the lower end of our property near the stream. Most of the plants were 6-8 foot tall and these catkins were hanging from them about 3 inches long or so.

Any ideal what plant this might be??

My first project for Meg's Birthday


I built this 2 years ago for Meg's birthday. Did I tell you she loves the color pink?

It took me a while to build this out of spruce lumber, I goofed up and bought a scroll saw when I should have bought a band saw, you live and you learn. Scroll saws don't manage 2 inch lumber very well.

My plans were for a pair of single chairs, but I messed up one of the arms in the scroll saw, so I built a double chair.

This Adirondack chair is very comfortable we love it.

Finished projects in our garden

Just wanted to share with you some of our garden projects.

Last year when we were building the big addition onto our house we built a concrete bistro table. The main reason we built it was to test out making custom concrete counter tops. So I found a $40 wrought iron bistro table at Costco. We opened the box and put the crappy wrought iron table top in the recycling pile.

I measured it and then built a form the size of the original top. The Meg, Kate and I placed broken pieces of sea glass all over the form (to be molded upside down). Then I mixed 1 part portland cement, 3 parts creek gravel and 2 parts sand to make the mix. Then I added water, green concrete tint and a cup of latex concrete strengthener and mixed it all up. Mixed up the concrete fairly dry and hand packed it into the form one inch deep carefully over the glass pieces. Then I placed into the form some durawall to reinforce the concrete and filled up the rest of the form. Once filled I placed some stainless steel bolts into the concrete lined up to match the frame to the bistro table.

Three days later I opened the form and released the concrete top. The next day I ground it with a wet grinder I bought online. After several steps of various grits the table was smooth to 1500#, very slick. Then I mixed a slurry of black concrete tint and straight portland cement. Then troweled it into all the pits we deliberately made by loosely hand packing the concrete. Two days later I re sanded the top with 800#, then 1500# to make the sanded glass in the top polished again.

One thing we did that seems a bit of trouble is we made the top 1 3/4 inches thick, very heavy. Next one we'll go for 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 inch. See our finished concrete counter top in our kitchen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A first look at the garden in 2009

Hi everyone!

Randy and Meg just north of Durham, NC. We started planting our vegetable garden on January 24th , 2009. Meg planted arugula, peas, mixed salad greens and kale.the seeds on the 24th, I amended the garden with top soil and sand then tilled in it a week or so before.

To the left of the garden plot is our small pond. The straw is covering the planted seeds and sprouting plants. In the center back there is the newest garden plot, not planted yet. You can see the make shift trellis that we green cucumbers on last year. Last year 2008 was the first year we planted in the main garden plot, the organic soil already looks pretty good.

Here is a look at the small plot where we grow morning glories up onto the porch. We just started this last year as the addition was finished last year. Those planter boxes were what the morning glories grew in, but keeping them watered in our droughty region is a huge task. Today I added 4 wheel barrows of top soil and a half wheel barrow of sand and mixed it all in then added the field stone edging.

Above is some of the greens Meg planted on January 24, 2009. Hopefully they will survive the 26 degree night expected tomorrow night. Meg added more straw for insulation just in case. On January 31th Meg planted more greens Then February 14th we planted Bright lights Swiss Chard, spinach, golden beets and red beets. On February 15th, Meg set out the onions, more peas and Easter Egg Radishes.

Here is the biggest achievement of the weekend, moving out the top soil pile and making way for the creek stone path between the ramp to the deck and the pond. I planted a Chinese Butterfly Bush, Buddleia lindleyana that was being nursed in the top soil pile, and a few other unknown plants hiding in it also. The dirt is mounded up about a foot and will be part of the butterfly garden.

At one time I used to get 30-40 or this dutch iris blooming in February, but all the garden and house renovation has scattered them to who knows where. Hopefully more with pop up. This was the first spring flower to bloom here this year.