Tuesday, March 31, 2009

3 days rain, 3 days sunny now 3 more rain, geez...

Did not expect to have such a lucky day with butterflies. It was only sunny for a short time and I had an hour to make the rounds of the property around here including going up the gravel road to the neighbors meadow. This meadow is lined with Eastern Redbuds and the woods are full of Loblolly Pines the host plant for Eastern Pine Elfin yet finding a Eastern Pine Elfin here is once every 2-3 years usually the end of April or early May. I was thinking the meadow was mowed way to low and I was hoping for dragonflies perched on the higher twigs in the grass, not many twigs at all from the mowing, but the low grass gave me a clear look at the Eastern Pine Elfin featured below. I'd already seen 2 Henry's Elfins on the way to the meadow, seeing two species of elfins is not something you get to do everyday here in North Carolina.

This butterfly is about 5/8 inch tall

Loblolly and Virginia Pines are the food plant of the Eastern Pine Elfin.

Above is a male Springtime Darner found at the edge of the meadow.

Male Common Baskettail.
Called a baskettail because the eggs are carried in a ball at the end of the female's abdomen and it resembles a basket. You will only see this when the egg laying is happening. I have seen this from a canoe at Merchant's Millpond in eastern NC.

A primrose from the garden today

May Apples everywhere in our woods, still lots of Wind Flowers and a handful of Trout Lilies in bloom

Our first apple tree blossoms, I think it is a Granny Smith.

Moving back to the rain mode shortly...........

Monday, March 30, 2009

First Dragonflies of 2009/ Newt Explosion

Yesterday it was windy yet rather warm. I walked up the driveway to the warm spot where I always find the first dragonflies of the year. Sure enough I found a Springtime Darner, tried to chase it with the camera and then found a Stream Cruiser. Later I came back and photographed a Stream Cruiser and a Sely's Sundragon!

Above and below
Stream Cruiser, Ditymops transversa known by the single diagonal stripe on the side of the thorax, most spring dragonflies with stripes have two stripes.

All photos below are Sely's Sundragon, Helocordulia selysi this is a somewhat rare spring dragonfly, yet we find good numbers of them here every year. The Uhler's Sundragon is here also, it would have an amber spot in the wing at the base of the hindwing.

Those dark spots at the base of the hindwing would have a tiny bit of amber in them if it was an Uhler's Sundragon.

Sely's Sundragon, Helocordulia selysi

All photos taken on March 29th 2009 in Orange County, NC

A mated pair of Falcate Orangetips found here yesterday. I also saw a mated pair of azures but could not get on them with the camera.

Yesterday must have been the day of newts as there must have been hundreds of them in the pond, with breeding in mind. I don't recall ever seeing more than 10 or 12 in a given day before. The newt below is likely a gravid female, note the swollen belly.

Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens also called Red-spotted Newt

These newts were either mating or fighting over a female, there was a lot of tumbling underwater then a rise to the top, where I got this photo. My guess is they are both males.
Other news on the pond. Meg spotted the Snapping Turtle in the pond yesterday! In the past week we have twice spotted a pair of Wood Ducks on the pond and enjoyed them quietly from the screened in porch.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Garden growing update end of March

Yellow Pear Tomatoes I planted on March 17th. Meg thinks I put too many seeds in each container, maybe I did..

The main veggy garden. Notice the Eastern Redbud in full bloom after three days of rain ...The green under those poles is the Super Sugar Snap Peas. All the veggy photos below are growing in the above garden.

The new flower bed to be between the house and the pond with a new creek stone path.

A primrose I've had for a very long time is about to bloom.

Fingerling potatoes the first sprouts!

Arugula we have three patches of these.

Mesclun Mix salad greens looks so yummy!

Curly Kale my first try at kale, three small patches of it as well.

Super Sugar Snap Peas

Clematis Henrii starting to bud, this plant is over 12 years old it is spread out everywhere.

Carolina Columbine, just moved to a new location after coming up in the topsoil pile. We picked up a new red columbine yesterday and should be planting it soon.

Hostas found in the topsoil pile, I have some huge leaved hostas, these are not them.

The front butterfly garden! Looks pretty bad right now. The tall broken off plants are Bronze Fennel behind this is Mountain Mint given to me by some gardening friends that live in the NC mountains. The green is the far back is double day lilies and invasive blackberries. This garden needs a lot of work, there are some nice Phlox from Big Bloomers in there!

Dot the Wonder Dog bored to heck after three days of rain.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Peepers and Toads.

Finding that getting older has its advantages and disadvantages! First the advantage is I just came back from the eye doctor today and she says my nearsightedness is improving. My sight have improved by 5 notches in the past 6-7 years. The disadvantage is my bones and joints seem to ache more everyday, today my back was and is killing me, hopefully it’ll pass by tomorrow.

Before I launch into this posting on frogs and toads I wanted to point you towards Sharna’s blog, she is Meg’s daughter who is a roving biologist. She has experienced more nature than most of us will ever and she’d not even thirty yet. Right now she is in Yosemite working for the National Park Service studying the Great Gray Owl. This study requires her group to snowshoe up into the forest at night and look for and track these owls. Other jobs she's had included capturing and banding hawks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and doing Monarch butterfly surveys. She caught a Bald Eagle, the second ever in nearly 30 years of banding there. Also she has spent 6 months in Belize banding birds,, these are just some of her jobs. Her blog is called Where You At Fool?

Spring Peepers mating and swimming together.

Male Spring Peeper calling for the lady Peepers.

Spring Peeper with the X on the back makes an easy ID. The peeping call is even easier to ID them with.

We have been experiencing rain now for two and a half days. The pond is filling up and the Spring Peepers, Pseudacris crucifer are and have been going nuts! The frog concert levels have at times reached a level of ten on a scale of ten, mostly eights and nines though. The rain is good news for the garden, clover and grass seed I planted weeks ago.

Enjoy these photos I have taken here over the years at our pond.

Not sure is this is a peeper juvenile or not, but the tail indicates it has just came out of the pond. It was late summer FYI.

First love can you believe that?

Still with a tail looking so new to being out of the water for the first time!

Next to arrive and call will be American Toads. These toads will find shallow puddles and wet low spots to lay their strings of eggs, the egg masses look like tiny black curled up strings of pearls. American Toads are hard to tell apart form the Fowler’s Toad by eye. But telling them apart by call is easy, Americans have a shrill like call and Fowler’s sound like sheep calling baa baa baa.

Mated toads, the larger one is the females, males can be half the size of the female!

Notice in the above photo the black beads in the water those are the egg strings! Those are males trying their best to get to a female. On this day there were maybe 25 males in the pond and only a couple of females. Right now the pond is too deep for toads to lay eggs so they will be down at the bottom land laying eggs.

Full blown calling of a male!

One of my favorite photos, The boys hanging out!

Do you know how to tell toads from frogs? Frogs leap and toads hop. Toads like American and Fowler's Toad only enter water during breeding season. Once I visited a fishing pond in Caswell County, over 200 mated toads in the pond, it was amazing. Out of about twenty fisher every last one of them thought their were a lot of frogs in the pond that day, not a single one knew they were toads. I was looked at as crazy when I told most of them they were toads....

On a future post I'll have Gray Treefrogs, they do look like toads. Treefrogs have suction cup toe pads, they include Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers if you did not know.

Gray Treefrog notice the yellow/orange under the hind legs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Screened Porch, Finally Done!

We started building our addition on the foundation on February 15, 2008. It was a long haul to get the 985 sq ft addition finished, still some final things need finished. Along with the addition we added a 16 x 20 deck with an adjoining 16 x 16 covered porch. The roof and deck was long ago finished, we finalled the job in mid November 2008.

Just yesterday I put on the final touches to the porch. Having bought a warped treated lumber screen door at Home Depot I had to add 2 more hinges to straighten it out, 4 hinges seem over kill, but it is much better. The door has the old type Stanley solid brass knob and handle, something you can;t buy at Home Depot. The other last touch was adding more railings as Dot The Wonder Dog ran right into the screen, the bars will hopefully keep the animals from going through the screening.

Please excuse the clutter inside the porch. All we need now is a nice set of outdoor furniture for enjoying relaxing at the end of a warm day.

Notice the sign at the bottom left of the above photo? We are a certified wildlife habitat, posted right there!

Above is a view of the porch from the garden. Notice the pair of French doors inside the porch, those open all the way up into the master bedroom. If we want fresh air in the bedroom or a master piece frog concert we just open those doors. The walls inside are 9 foot tall and give a 8 foot high view of the outside.

Above is what you see from inside the porch our pond and the road we live one, two other houses are down at the end of our road so it is fairly private on our porch. You notice the chrome railings? The railings are actually 3/4 inch galvanized electrical conduit, we used it because you can see through it better than normal railings. I added the divider to make sure the railing would be very strong and never sag as I've seen on other poorly made railings. Note the stair railing our architect designed the stairs so they would not block the view of the pond. Look at the top of this photo see the real beaded board ceiling painted sky blue.

There is our veggy garden. See the poles those are our Sugar Snap Peas getting ready to be strung onto those poles.
To answer your question YES I built the entire porch. I had two helpers with the main framing and deck and did all the finish work myself.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Occoneechee State Preserve

Today I wandered over to Occoneechee State Preserve in Hillsborough, NC for a few hours. Hoping to find a Brown Elfin on the Brown Elfin Knob Trail. Meg was feeling sick and could not make it, so I went by myself.
I parked at the main parking lot and headed past the ponds to reach the intended trail from the bottom up. The first patch of mud produced my first Juvenal's Duskywing of the season, the next patch of mud gave me my first Dreamy Duskywing. I reached the Brown Elfin Knob hoping to find some hilltopping butterflies, nothing. Worked my way towards the main spot where the Brown Elfins hang out, found a Henry's Elfin instead on the Mountain Laurels.
Brown Elfins do not have tails on the hindwing, this Henry's Elfin clearly shows tails.
After taking a few photos I headed up towards the lookout tower at the peak of Occoneechee Mountain 867 ft I think. Our property in northern Orange County is at 660 ft if our topo map is correct. Bingo there was lots of butterflies hilltopping 6-7 Mourning Cloaks

Here is one of the better looking Mourning Cloaks that posed for my camera. Given that this butterfly is somewhere like 8 or 9 months old it still looks pretty good. If you did not know this is our longest lived butterfly, living as long as 10 months. They will start to lay eggs now on willows and elms and the next generation will emerge in May, those will be the ones we see this time of year.

The hilltop had these butterflies: a roving male Black Swallowtail, 3 Falcate Orangetips, 1 Henry's Eflin, 1 Spring Azure, 3 Spring "Summer" Azures, 6-7 Mourning Cloaks, 4-5 Juvenal's Duskywing.

Here is the Spring Azure I found today, telling them apart from the Spring "Summer" Azures is very difficult, it takes a trained eye. The Spring Azure is more gray and not as bright blue as the Spring "Summer" Azure, but there is more to it than that.

The hilltopping Henry's Eflin. See those tails!
Not much in the way of wildflowers, I saw some bluets along the picnic area and during the entire walk I only saw one blueberry in bloom. If I'd when down to the Eno River the wildflowers would have been rocking I'm sure.