Monday, August 27, 2012

Classroom butterflies! Goat last time stuck.

Several of you guessed it, I finally called Animal Control about the neighbors goat problems. We heard the goat stuck every morning for 3 days. At noon on Friday I went and looked and found the goat as shown below.
 Notice the weeds on the right of the goat, that is Japanese Bamboo Grass unchecked, hope you never get it in your yard or garden, it is insane.

Anyway when I called Animal Control I told them the neighbor never hears the goat crying due to closed windows, loud AC unit and barking dogs. So they asked if I wanted to sign a complaint, I  agreed to. So I waited two hours in the mean time the mini bee swarm happened in our back yard as noted in the last posting.

2 pm the officer finally shows up. She tells me I can sign a complaint about barking dogs, but not a goat being stuck in the fence??? The dogs don't bother me, so she goes to investigate without my complaint about the dogs. Today she called me and said when she arrived there the goat was free already and she checked over the animals with the neighbors, no problems to speak of, I'm relieved. So they are going to get the goats horns removed and she is to follow up on that.

 As some of you might recall I rescued this goat and another goat 4 times last year during the heat of the summer.

Now some fun. The butterfly cage I built for Meg's classroom currently has 25 or 26 Black Swallowtail chrysalises, all the caterpillars are finished. The photo below shows 7 chrysalises hanging from the ceiling of the cage in her classroom. My best guess on swallowtails emerging would be at best Thursday or Friday. Likely as things usually happen most will emerge over the weekend. 
The school had a picnic at the shelter where they hold the Durham Farmers Market on Sunday. Meg was doing the composting station, we collected 75 gallons of compost! Amazing that every kid in the school is taught recycling and composting from kindergarten and many of the parents did not know what compost was...... Guess the new parents are off the hook on this one, still a crying shame to see adults just toss everything in the garbage right next to recycling and compost containers. In Durham you have to recycle, it is the law, still many do not do it.

 So OK I'm off the soap box now. I did get to play a little with my camera. I walked accross the street to investigate the iron bridge over the creek. I found this Hackberry Emperor posing on the iron bridge for me.
 This proves I'm a likeable guy right, the butterfly jumps from the bridge onto my camera then on my camera hand. So given the camera has a swivel mounted viewfinder I managed to take this photo by myself. Not easy photo to take and manually focus my point and shoot,.
I carried the Hackberry Emperor across the street and into a crowd of about 500 children and adults. From there to Meg, she coaxed the butterfly  onto her hand. Then she let not one but three second graders coax the butterfly on to their fingers. I don't ever recall finding a wild butterfly and getting it to walk onto 5 different peoples hands before. Took some adorable photos of the kids with the butterflies but would need parents permission to post them here.

Oh, I'm helping with a second grade butterfly walk at Duke Gardens on Wednesday if the hurricane doesn't hit us.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bees swarming or kicking out a failing queen?

Perhaps it started last evening at 5:30PM. I went out in the yard and found what looked like an extra big orientation flight, like the bees do during spring build. Summer flights are usually smaller as the brood grows more slowly when there is not much food for them. For those of you that did not know what a orientation flight is, it is what the bees do at about 3 weeks of age. They are now ready to become forager bees and the orientation flight is done in front of the hive so the bees can orient on where the hive is so they can return safely. Bees might forage 2 miles away so knowing where home is is very important!

So these bees were giving me the impression they were getting ready to swarm, but I have never seen a swarm coming out of a hive at the beginning. I looked skyward and did not see any bees leaving the area, nor building up in greater numbers. Was heading to the Caswell County Beekeepers club meeting so I had to leave.

This is a video of the bees in front of the hive that evening. I got stung in the forehead just as I finished videotaping this.

Jump forward to 2pm the next day. I'm waiting for an animal control officer to show up, yep I called them about the neighbors, some of you might recall last year? Next post I'll fill you in. So anyway I'm in the yard and look at some extra bees in the air, then on the ground I see a small handful of bees. I look closer and see a queen bee, this is 15 foot from the hive mentioned above. See in the video below.
I look around more bees moving in the grass, air and I find a slightly bigger cluster of bees. So I grabbed them by hand and looked for another queen as I drop them into an empty hive box. No queen in this bigger pile of bees. Here is a video of the second cluster of bees.
So I then grab up the other bees, no I let her crawl onto my hand, then I dropped her into the hive box. Only a few bees pay her any attention. I then notice she has a broken wing and is dragging one of her hind legs. Question is did the bees swarm last evening and she had a bad bad night? Or did the bees expel her after superseding her with a fresh new queen? Or had she been stung by a new queen? The hive appeared to still be full of bees. One clue I have that says we had a swarm is the writing spider web in the tomato plant had 15 balled up bees in the web, yes 15 not the normal day for a spider in an out of the bee flight path place. This video has the queen in the center of the bees, near the end you can see she is damaged.
Left to meet customers and Meg and I ate dinner out. We got back just before dark and found the bees clustering over her right where I left her on the ground below the hive.  I think she fell off the landing board before I left at 2PM. Here they are in this short video, I then covered them with a hive cover for the night as it was starting to sprinkle.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cantaloupe, oh so tasty! The Butterflies...

I picked it today, the stray cantaloupe next to our compost bins. Thanks to those who gave us suggestions on how to tell when it was ripe. Yesterday I noted it looked orange and ripe, got down and smelled it, sweet and just right. Pulled on the stem it did not come loose. Tonight I smelled it again and went for it. Good thing as the underside was splitting apart and bugs were in the tiny cracks. So I cut it where it was splitting open and got rid of the split rind and cut out some very sweet cantaloupe to eat fresh from the garden....

Those are 3/4 liter wine bottles next to the cantaloupe to give you a sense of how big this beauty is! Looks ripe to me! We'll cut this for 3 days each morning for a snack during the work day, oh my. And I have a store bought watermelon to eat also.

An update about the Durham Butterfly count. It rained most of the night Saturday, then cleared just in time for 15 diehards to meet and form groups to go out counting butterflies, gray skies and all. Our organizer Jeff went to Duke Gardens, got poured on as soon as they arrived, saw one Painted lady from a pavilion where they sat for 3 hours in waiting for it to dry up.

Mean while Meg, Owen and I drove over to the Flat River Impoundment. One parks their car and walks in on a gravel road leaving the car behind. We managed to walk for 37 minutes before we were rained on. We walked back in the rain wearing rain coats and umbrellas. Tallied up 15 species of butterflies despite the weather in an hour. Four of those were seen in the rain walking back to the car.

We drove to our place and hung out on the porch until the rain
slowed. Jeff called and cancelled the count. Owen and I decided
what the heck we'd get back out there. Ended up at Quail Roost and
found three old guys (Tom, Gene and Carl) in rain coats counting
butterflies. So we weren't the only crazy old guys counting
butterflies and we had umbrellas! Tom and crew had complied a
pretty good list.

So Owen and I poked around Quail Roost and added a few butterflies
to our list.

So here is our rainy day list of 24 species from both the Flat River Impoundment
and Quail Roost

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 10
Spicebush Swallowtail 2
Clouded Sulphur 1 outer wing margins clearly behind the dot, tough ID in our parts
Orange Sulphur 8
Sleepy Orange  1 (found in the rain)
Eastern-tailed Blue 120 everywhere
Variegated Fritillary 10
Silvery Checkerspot 2
Pearl Crescent 18
Red Admiral 2
Common Buckeye 25
Red-spotted Purple 2
Viceroy 1 (found in the rain)
Carolina Satyr 18
Monarch 7
Clouded Skipper 60
Least Skipper 7
Fiery Skipper 5
Crossline Skipper 2
Sachem 18
Zabulon Skipper 4
Dun Skipper 5
Ocola Skipper 2

And 45 Black Swallowtail cats in our garden and 25 more cats at
Meg's school(transferred from our garden days ago) + one

One of the highlights of checking out Quail Roost was the Devil's-walkingstick (Aralia spinosa) growing wild along a fence line. When the rain would slow the butterflies would be on it, saw 5 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails enjoying it. These have huge flowers and they are not common here at all, I now know of two places it grows in Durham.
Below is a portion of the Devil's-walkingstick (Aralia spinosa)
patch, it is as always around 15 foot tall (5 meters). See Will Cook's page about Devil's-walkingstick
An update on Meg's butterfly house at school. As of today they have 13 chrysalis and should have more tomorrow. Our garden has a lot of big 5th instar caterpillars and 2  chrysalis, tomorrow should be another story. Don't tell the kids but Black Swallowtail chrysalis usually take about 10 days to emerge.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Scouting the butterflies! Robberfly defeat!

Today I was off work and managed to get the time to look for butterflies and see what was blooming. This time of year many of our local "hot spots" can be fantastic or a disaster. Disaster usually means the highway department has mowed the roadside down to brown nubs. Each year the wild flowers change, some that were great last year are gone or taken over by something else.

I visited the Flat River Impoundment near Durham, it is one of the best wild places we have for butterflies. A good walk there can take 4 hours, today I shortened it and walked 2 hours. In past years Tickseed Sunflowers (Bidens) have been everywhere(seas of yellow), loads of butterflies on them. This year the tickseed is behind and barely blooming. So right now the best wild flower is Narrow-leaved Sneezeweed, it grows in the gravel roadway around a foot tall, today there was atleast a mile of in in the road. Also Brazilian Verbena was everywhere, it can be awesome for butterflies, today it was barely noticed by butterflies, might need some rain. Thistles were on there way out, still they are butterfly magnets!

Anyway cutting to the chase here are some photos I managed to get with my point and shoot camera today. 
The show was stolen right after I got out of my car by these Silvery Checkerspots above and below on narrow-leafed Sneezeweed.  I counted 25 of them in the parking lot, usually you have to walk at least a mile to find just a few. Found at least 100 of them, one on my best days ever for finding this species. The link above sends you to my big butterfly page Butterflies of the Carolinas and Virginias which is now back up after 31 days of being down. Forgot to pay for the hosting, the hosting changed hands and names, left me confused.
Below is a Pearl Crescent on sneezeweed, they look very much like the larger Silvery Checkerspot shown above.
Below is a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on thistle, saw maybe 25 of them today. This is a crappy photo compared to the DSLR photos on my website.
Below is a Painted Lady on thistle, saw 3 of these today. I believe I missed seeing any of these last year. The 4 small eye spot help to tell it from the American Lady which was absent today.
Never expected to find this tiny Juniper Hairstreak today, what a lovely find! And on sneezeweed, sure that is another first for me. Made my day for sure! Their host plant is Eastern Red Cedar. Be sure to see my best photos of this tiny butterfly on my website.
These can be common in your garden, only saw three of them today. This is a Silver-spotted Skipper on thistle.
OK a little excitement in my top bar hive today! I came home and found the bees balling at the hive entrance. Balling is when the bees attack something or protect their queen. I saw the queen just yesterday two bars back.
 Anyway I watched for a few mintutes and saw the tail end of a Giant Robberfly under the pile of bees. Yes sir my tamest bees defended themselves very well, way to go girls! Below is the invader after they kicked him out.

 I think this is a Giant Robberfly, Promachus bastardiiI did a full post on them last year.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The garden mid August

I've been cutting Bronze Fennel for Meg the past few mornings for her class room caterpillars. We decided they had enough fennel this morning. I did a quick count of the cats in our garden, 31 was what I came up with, Meg has 22 in her class room. So 31 cats here eating up the fennel like crazy, I think we have enough. In past years we have had 4-5 dozen cats on our fennel. Those of you growing dill or parsley for Black Swallowtails, you never have enough, Bronze Fennel grows to 6 foot lots of food get some.

These Black Swallowtail cats were not posed in the garden, lots and lots.
Donkey, he's some very cool yard art Meg bought me for my birthday last month.

Stray cantaloupe from our compost. It is huge. Please tell me how does one know when these are ripe? Alice?
The stray Butternut Squash, we have 4 huge ones like the one shown above, note it is 3 inches wide at the base to give you a sense of scale. We have 4 more coming o n like the one shown below, it is 6 foot up in a willow tree. This is a monster plant.
A few local notes about local things going on.

 First Paperhand Puppets are having weekend shows in Chapel Hill, we plan on going Saturday. This year it is "City of Frogs" can't wait to go, we'll do a post on it for sure. They'll be preforming every Friday Saturday and Sunday until September 9th at the Forest Theater. And the following weekend(Sept 14,15and 16) at the Museum of Art in Raleigh. Please don't miss it.

This coming Sunday is the Durham Butterfly Count, I'll be leading a group looking for butterflies. We'll have 6-7 parties of people out looking for butterflies. Contact me if you want to go.

Oh, the last thing public schools teachers just sign new contracts for less money, longer hours and smaller class budgets. Way to go Republicans, tax the rich and make sure teachers, policemen and firemen get paid what they deserve!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Butterfly caterpillar cage for the class room

Today I collected scraps in and around my work shop and built Meg a butterfly caterpillar cage for her second grade class. It is handy having a decent table saw to make the wood you need from scraps.

The size of this is 24 x 30 (the 1/4 inch plywood bottom. The walls are 24 inches tall and the peaked roof projects it to 36 inches tall.
It fits perfectly on the science table next to the window. I gathered 22 Black Swallowtail caterpillars(1-4 days old) from the bronze fennel in the garden. Now they await the kids in the morning. She has 16 kids in the class so if all goes well each kid will be able to release a butterfly into the schools garden. I did find 3 larger cats in the schools garden.

 Here is a male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail I found in the garden today. I've been seeing around five of them every day in the garden on the Joe-pye-weed
This pair of mated dragonflies are called Halloween Pennants, very colorful. These are common this time of year, usually found out in open meadows.

Thanks to those of you have have alerted me to the fact that my website is down. It might be under going maintenance or I forgot to pay for the hosting I will check into it soon.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Randy's Bees Honey

Last week I bottled up 12 one pound jars of honey and 12 half pound jars of honey. Thought I would share it with you or first bottled and labeled honey. The design is fairly simple and we need to work on a cool name for our honey. Don't "plan" on selling any of it just yet.

I have however sold my first jar to another bee keeper, he's my lumber salesman at the local building supply. He would not let me give him a jar, knowing how much work it takes to raise bees and all. He noted  "if you want to make a small fortune in beekeeping, first you have to invest a huge fortune in beekeeping."

I will tell you this is some very tasty honey! Meg uses it in her coffee everyday. I add it to my oatmeal and we both have it on weekend pancakes.

Coming soon on the blog I'm building a butterfly cage for Meg's class room. We currently have perhaps 4 dozen small Black Swallowtail caterpillars on the fennel in our garden. Her kids will raise them in the classroom.  Meg would not even think of buying those stupid caterpillar kits. And the schools have no budget to speak of to invest in kits anyway.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Walmart's 50th Birthday

You know we only shop Walmart when there is no where else we can go during an emergency. Just had to share this with you!

Do you heard Mitt Romney was busted for buying Twitter followers? Yes one can buy fake followers for $18 a 1000. Who would have though???

Monday, August 06, 2012

Deeper appreciation for shade

Yesterday Meg and I looked at a house with a workshop and an acre pond, it was on 11 acres. Having walked the property in the 90+ degree heat with nowhere to escape the sun I came to appreciate our shady location a great deal more. In our yard there is nowhere that you can be in the sun and not escape it in a matter of seconds.

After walking perhaps a 1/4 mile around the pond on the property, the thought of keeping the emergent trees at bay and mowing the lawns seemed daunting. Mowing our place takes 30 minutes with a push mower.

Exciting news on the bee front! I'm lining up a feral bee hive that is in a dying tree in Carrboro. The hive is 8 years old, the plan is to have the tree service cut out the hive in this large water oak. The portion of the tree that it is in is about 15 inches in diameter. So he'll cut the hive out, we'll secure the top and bottom and retrieve the hive after dark so all the bees will return to the hive. We'll screen the entrance and carry the hive home. Not planning on transferring the bees to a box hive until spring. Meg had told me she did not want any more hives here, but a wild hive really peaks her interest so she wants me to bring it home.

 Thought I'd share with you a few dragonfly photos I took recently. Above is the Dragonhunter, which is a really big dragonfly, known for hunting other dragonflies. Dragonhunters can be seen patroling up and down rivers in a "J" postion as they patrol. Below is a Swift Setwing, these photos were taken along the Eno River not far from here.