Category Archives: Animals

Turtles, Turtles, Everywhere

By | Animals | No Comments

So for those of you not on Twitter, Turtle-Bob made a triumphant return last week, all patched up (though with a scar) and was duly released in the garden. (The rehabber informs me that Turtle-Bob is a girl, incidentally. Also, when I arrived to pick up the turtle, I was handed a bottle and drafted to bottle-feed a fawn. Needless to say, I did not resist terribly hard.)

bobreturn

You can see the scar and the lump there–they had to drain the cyst repeatedly, so she’ll probably always have some kind of lump, but it no longer looks like she’s got another head.

Now, box turtles are nearly invisible when they’re in leaf-litter or mulch, so I have no idea where Turtle-Bob got to–she could still be lurking in the garden, she could be in the next county, I have no way of knowing. We commend her to whatever saint watches over small box turtles and hope she lives to a ripe old age, and of course I’ll be delighted if I trip over her again in the garden.

This morning, however, as I strolled down the path, I nearly stumbled over ANOTHER box turtle, this one twice the size of Turtle-Bob. He was, for a box turtle, very large, and not terribly impressed by humans. (He looked at me, I looked at him, neither of us retreated.)

It’s been very cloudy for the last few days, and I know they navigate by the sun and sometimes wander afield when it’s cloudy, so he may have trundled off his territory and into the garden–or this may BE his territory, for all I know, although given that adult boxes have come through before, that could mean that a couple are sharing this particular chunk of their range. I have no idea if they do that. It’d be considered a food-rich environment, I suspect–veggies to raid, worms and slugs to nosh, lots of mushrooms–but this requires an insight into box-turtle behavior I lack.

He most definitely did NOT come in through the chain link though–he wouldn’t fit–so he had to come in under one of the two gates with a gap. Or he lives here full-time and I just haven’t had a good look at him before because, as previously stated, box turtles can become damn near invisible.

The Middle-Aged Woman & The Sea (Plus Bonus Turtle!)

By | Animals, My Garden | One Comment

I return from the vacation of vacationness!

It was pretty good. We walked on the beach and wore hats and went to small tacky beach shops and bought small tacky objects that seemed like a good idea and which will puzzle us in years to come. (Though I am quite pleased with my flamingo-shaped birdhouse.) We went out to Shackleford and saw the wild horses, which are not the Marguerite Henry ponies (I was wrong) but probably the descendants of Spanish horses, and are believed to be the oldest population of horses in North America. So that was pretty cool.

I went in the ocean. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I am highly skeptical of the Atlantic, because it is warm and not full of rocks. I suspect it is plotting something. It rewarded this suspicion by slapping me repeatedly with waves. I retired from the field of battle, because it is not possible to win against geography.

Got back home and went into the garden to do some much needed clean-up—the heat over the last week has slain the last of the peas, and the beans are starting to produce big pods that are yellowing up. Built a drying rack out of narrow RV window screens, which fits nicely in the studio window table and should be destroyed by the cats any moment now.

And then, as I was chopping back the native creeping St. John’s Wort, I saw this little guy digging into the mud alongside the path…

turtlelet

As you can see, he’s got something swollen on the side of his head. It turns out that ear infections are common in wild box turtles and cause abscesses. (Who knew?) It’s a pretty easy fix—you drain it and give them antibiotics—but well beyond my skills, so I started calling wildlife rehabbers in my neck of the woods. Fortunately, I got a gentleman on the second try who was still taking small stuff (I think, based on his cautious answers, he was afraid I was gonna dump a fawn on him or something) and said “Oh, that we can handle!” So I put Turtle-Bob here in a box and ran him out to the rehabber. (Big house, huge garden, peacocks and beagles roaming the grounds. I took him up to the front door, and the porch was covered in peacock feathers. My kinda people.)

The rehabber said that Turtle-Bob was quite young and that they tend to be pretty hardy with this procedure, so he’ll give me a call if he pulls through and we can bring him back to the garden. Box turtles have very small, very set territories, and while this one may not have settled yet, if he has, we don’t want to stress him out by trying to introduce him somewhere else and possibly having him get hit by a car. (We lost one to a UPS truck that way awhile back, and lots and lots of box turtles die on roads every year.)

Honestly, I occasionally think I’m running box turtle hospice here–I found another one a few years ago, and he hung out in the garden for a week or so, eating my tomatoes, then expired quietly. There wasn’t a mark on him, so for all I know, he died of old age or something. (I can at least be sure he didn’t get into any pesticide laden veggies here, but reptiles are hard and they get weird diseases that don’t make sense to us mammals. Anyway, I at least know he had plentiful food and peaceful final weeks.)

Hopefully Turtle-Bob the Third will pull through and be able to return, and if not, at least he got care.

And the rehabber told me to take a bunch of peacock feathers when I went, so I’ve got a couple in my studio now.

 

ETA: The rehabber just called—Turtle-Bob survived surgery just fine and is doing well! If all goes well, he’ll be ready to come home in a week or so!

Serious Anole Is Very Serious

By | Animals | One Comment

You are not serious enough to please Serious Anole.

srsanole

Do you think that life is all butterflies and delicious slugs? No!  SERIOUS ANOLE WILL HAVE NO MORE OF THIS FRIVOLITY.

(That handsome plant, by the by, is Camphor Pluchea, a weirdass native wildflower that I grew on a whim, which reseeds readily, if not frighteningly, and about which pretty much nobody knows nuthin’, beyond the dutiful listings in databases. It is an annual and plops itself into various damp spots around the garden, but doesn’t seem to do much beyond that. Bees don’t even know what to make of it, but teeny little weird pollinator flies think it is AWESOME.)

Ninth Day of Christmas

By | Animals | 3 Comments

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…nine frogs a-croaking!

…eight vultures circling!

…seven spiky yuccas!

…six types of milkweed!

…fiiiive! naaaative! plaaaaants!

…four hummingbirds!

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!

 

We have frogs here.

Most of the year we merely have a LOT of frogs. There is a stretch in spring, however, when the cricket frogs are hatching, where we have frogs in Biblical proportion, and I stop going out in the garden for a day or two because I will step on too many tiny amphibians.

The nine species so far found in the garden are Southern toads, Fowler’s toads, chorus frogs, the aforementioned cricket frogs (and don’t ask me if they’re Southern or Northern, because I am not a herpetologist.*) eastern pickerel frogs, bronze frogs, Gray’s tree frog, leopard frogs and spring peepers. (I have never actually seen a peeper, but boy, do we hear ’em. The real songsters, however, are the chorus frogs.)

Our pond is full primarily of bronze frogs, which are like small bullfrogs. Every now and then a leopard frog will come to the pond, but it’s primarily owned by bronze frogs, and they’re the ones who breed in it most enthusiastically.

The cricket frogs (who are teeny weeny little things) breed everywhere, but primarily in the drainage ditches and any standing puddles you may have lying around. Improving some of the garden’s standing water issues had to wait until the narrow window when they weren’t full of tadpoles—and we’ll see next year how successful I may have been there.

There are enough interesting frog facts to keep us here until the new year, so I won’t start in, except to say that having a frog pond is possibly the most fun I’ve had as a gardener.

 

*I’ve never even had a cold sore.

 

Found On Water Barrel

By | Animals | 6 Comments

Gray Tree Frog

 

This handsome fellow was hanging out on my water barrel. This is the same water barrel that is inexplicably full of tadpoles. There are Many Fewer Tadpoles Now.

I have a suspicion that he might be involved. But that’s okay. At least the tadpoles are being useful. (I have transferred as many to the pond as possible, but the remaining few are avoiding the Official Tadpole Transferring Pitcher.*) The alternative is that they expire in the water barrel or somehow grow to froghood on a near-nonexistant food supply, and I was feeling kinda guilty about them.

The gray tree frog seems to think that a water barrel is THE place to hang out during a hot day, since it’s damp and shady, so I’ve been leaving the top cracked for him to get in and out.

 

*I am not allowed to use it in the house anymore.

Ittiest Bittiest Lizard Ever

By | Animals | 3 Comments

I was sitting on the front steps drinking iced tea and reading “Fire Study” (and a big thanks to the people who recommended the trilogy! Have devoured it completley.) and I happened to glance over at my tea and saw the teeniest little blue-tailed lizard darting away to one of the flowerpots.

He was maybe two inches long, much of it tail, and given the numerous varieties of skink in our area, all of whom have juveniles with blue tails, I cannot possibly tell you what specific species he was. He was teeny. A skinklet.

He was also fixated on my water glass.

I probably spent half an hour there reading and sneaking looks over at the skinklet. He would get closed to the iced tea, sniff around it, notice me and scurry away. His toes were finer than needles.

Finally I snuck a glance over and discovered him carefully licking condensation off the sides of the glass.

I was reading on my iPad and had take the photo with it, and I couldn’t move most of my body without spooking him, but here’s what I managed to get.

I wish I'd been able to get a photo of the tongue.

That glass is a half-size tumbler. The skinklet was WEE.

Stuff like this is why I keep reading on the front steps of the house, even if I do get bit by mosquitoes a lot.

Mystery Burrow

By | Animals | 4 Comments

So for the last few days, I’ve noticed that there’s been a hole in one of the flowerbeds on the side of the house.

Well, “hole” is probably a misnomer. It’s a burrow, plain and simple. Something’s tunneled through the mulch, into the clay, and excavated down. The foundation of the garage will stop them after a foot or two on the backside, and it’s solid mud on the front, so they’ve got a limited range to dig, but could probably manage five or six feet if they really wanted to.

Given the size of the hole–diameter of my fist, maybe, and I have very small hands–I was guessing either a toad or a smallish rabbit. There are no suspicious dirt mounds indicating moles, I’d KNOW if it was a skunk, and while we are in the range for long-tailed weasels, I’d be awfully surprised to have them next to the garage. And everything else, like woodchucks and foxes, would quite simply have a much bigger hole.

I was walking past that flowerbed this evening, intent on getting a couple of petunias in the ground to fill some gaps in the flowerbed in front of the porch, and something yanked its head back at high speed. I froze, and saw something dirt-colored scrambling back down the hole and out of sight.

I’m thinkin’ rabbit. I can’t completely rule out that it’s a toad, but toads tend to freeze when startled, and this was awfully fast for a toad. (I mean, I’ve seen some very rapid toad action in my day, but generally they’re pretty sedate.)

Hmmm.

Now, there is already a perfectly good rabbit warren on the property, underneath the enormous sawtooth blackberry thicket out by the road. This thicket is the larder for half the creatures in the region, and every now and again, in the middle of the night we’ll hear a bloodcurdling shriek from that general direction as a fox or a weasel gets one. (It’s also how I know that I will never completely eradicate the Japanese honeysuckle—it’s twined all through the thicket, and I’d have to either poison the whole stand or take it out with a backhoe, and that’s just getting a little too Watership Down for my tastes.)

The rabbits and I have a perfectly good arrangement, which is that I plant nothing in the front yard that they are interested in, and they stay out of the back yard. It took us some years to come to this arrangement, and a few plants that were eradicated within a day of planting, but it’s worked well.

I looked from the burrow to the garden gate and saw a gap excavated under the gate into the garden. If it’s a toad, it’s a toad that logs onto MUCKs and pretends to be a rabbit.

Nothing in the garden has, as yet, been badly harmed…although the swiss chard was looking a little nibbled, now that I come to think of it. Hmmmm.

I blocked the gap with a flowerpot for the moment. There are only three conceivable entry points–it’s actually quite a good fence and goes down into the dirt to prevent puppies digging out, so they pretty much have to come in under one of the gates. A box turtle has managed this in the past, but I honestly didn’t mind him raiding the garden. The sight of a turtle savaging a cucumber would warm the most withered of hearts.

Rabbits, though…rabbits are something else again. You notice that a rabbit has been after your plants when there is no plant there any more. They eat it down to the dirt and then some. And all those tender little lettuces and the beet seedlings and the daikon radishes that have just put on their first set of leaves…well, it’s a problem. I am perfectly happy to have the rabbits around, they have the run of the front yard, but I need a kitchen garden, too.

We’ll see if the rabbit—or rabbit-suiting-toad—moves the flowerpot tonight, or digs around it. If so, I will be forced to take Step One (transport some dog poop into the immediate path of the digging.) If this does not prove sufficient to warn him off, we will go to Step Two, which involves dumping the contents of a used litterbox down the burrow, and believe me, NOBODY wants that.

Grumpy Toad

By | Animals | One Comment

This little guy was lurking in the flowerbeds in the front yard. He’s some sort of toad, but they’re so variable and he lacks any of the really distinctive characteristics, so…well…definitely a toad.

He was extremely skinny, which is unusual in my experience—his little belly was concave on the sides. You don’t usually think of toads being skinny. Hopefully he’ll find some nice worms or bugs or slugs…sigh…smaller frogs…and fatten up. They’re handy little guys in the garden.

Amplexus!

By | Animals | 3 Comments
Avert your eyes, mammal!

Avert your eyes, mammal!

I was picking leaves out of the pond this afternoon, and moved a leaf aside to reveal this shocking scene of amphibian debauchery.

Frankly, given that they’ve been calling non-stop for about a week—there was a chorus going on while it was snowing—I’m amazed I only found the one couple. These are upland chorus frogs. Later in the year, we’ll probably get bronze frogs moving into the pond, and there are cricket frogs flinging themselves wildly out from under my mud boots, but at the moment, the season belongs to the chorus frogs.