Category Archives: Animals

Alive! But wilted!

By | Animals, My Garden | No Comments

Five days away from home with weather skirting the hundreds, and I wasn’t surprised to return and find a great deal of wilting going on in the garden. The big established beds are completely fine, and would likely keep on keepin’ on for a couple more weeks without any supplemental watering, but the plants from this spring, which haven’t established yet, are suffering badly. Most of my natives will generally take a heckuva lot of abuse on the drought front, but they do need to get their roots well into the ground, so as soon as we pulled into the driveway and counted the animals, I was in the backyard trying to save the abused elderberry and plumleaf azalea.

Clearly the answer is more mulch. More mulch!

Other than the crisis with some of the more tender shrubs, things are going well. Bees and bee flies, hummingbirds and hummingbird hawkmoths, hordes of flower beetles—they’re all swirling over the bee balm and the wild quinine, which are surprisingly long lasting, and the narrow-leaf mountain mint finally bloomed, which is one of the best nectar plants, hands down, and is covered in a swarm of delighted pollinators.

The spicebush swallowtail eggs have hatched into a number of tiny “instar larvae” (the stage before they become actual caterpillars) and now I’m fretting that I won’t have enough spicebush for them. It’s one potted plant on the deck! It’s an okay size, but how many caterpillars can it support? Will I be frantically transporting swallowtail caterpillars to the stand of sassafras behind the general store? (It could happen. You know it could happen.)

I am also happy to report that my garden is apparently now under the ownership of a very grumpy little box turtle, who has commandeered my wheelbarrow as a sun-shade. Given the decline in box turtle populations, I am very glad to have him—apparently they have very small territories, so my garden ought to be hosting a half dozen turtles, in a perfect world, to provide sufficient population density for them to find each other and make more box turtles. But you have to start somewhere, and one grumpy turtle under the wheelbarrow is as good a place as any.

After five days on the road, and three days the weekend before that, “alive but wilted” applies to me as well. I am very tired. I was going to knuckle down and get to work today, but I’m so beat that I may just go to the coffee shop with a book for awhile and vegetate in a sandwich.


June, June, June!

By | Animals, My Garden, plants | One Comment

The garden is glorious, so of course I am going out of town for a week at the height of its glory. On the one hand, I am sorry to miss it, on the other hand, I can pretend that was the one week when it all came together and looked totally magnificent, and I just happened to come back when the wild quinine has fallen down on the verbena and the salvia needs deadheading.

Ah, annuals...

The steps off the back deck are being engulfed by basil and nasturtiums. I have finally succeeded in growing nasturtiums from seed this year, in a couple of places. (In other places, they are a spindly spray of sad little pallid leaves, but by god, some of ’em are the sea of foaming variegated leaves and glorious flowers that they OUGHT to be.)

The bee balm redeemed itself this year, and has reminded me why I planted it.

Most of the flowers are just on the cusp of opening, so of course I’ll probably miss the one glorious week that they were all open at once. Damn these June cons…! But the hummingbird is happy with what we’ve got.

I luuuuuv you, flower...

The shrubby St. John’s wort bloomed really FAST this year–instead of one flower a day for a month, it was like ten flowers a day for two weeks. But it made the bugs happy while it lasted.

Meanwhile, the Giant Joe Pye Weed has lived up to its name–two ten foot stalks and one that’s got to be pushing fourteen feet tall. I have had to tie multiple tomato stakes together to keep it anything like upright, as it wilts madly and photo-tropes aggressively. It is an ungainly, ridiculous, completely unaesthetic addition to the bed. Needless to say, I love it madly.

Having the pond in the backyard is marvelous. I just watched an enormous black beetle swim from the horsetail to the gravel slope. It seemed to be quite a good swimmer for a beetle, and it obvious knew where it was going—made straight for the beach, no flailing or swimming in circles.

Except there was a frog in the way.

Frog was about half again the size of the beetle—small frog, large beetle, obviously. The frog freaked out and lunged at the beetle, biting at it. The beetle was knocked back, but continued on, undaunted. The frog attacked it again. (I don’t think it was trying to eat it—it’d be like me trying to eat a German shepherd in one gulp.) The beetle did not seem particularly injured by this assault, but clearly it was pissed, because the frog’s next assault met a savage pincer attack that knocked the frog back. The frog leapt into the water and went to sulk in the horsetails, while the beetle finally reached the shore, climbed out, and trundled off into the woods.

Kevin says he wants me to dig a pond visible for HIS window now, because it’s so damn cool out that. I can’t blame him, but that’s a heckuva lot of digging…


Slice of Life: Mulch Rationalization Division

By | Animals, My Garden | 4 Comments

I plodded upstairs this morning to where Kevin was taking a shower and said gloomily “So it finally happened.”

KEVIN:  Oh dear…

URSULA: I need more mulch.

KEVIN: …how much are we getting delivered?

URSULA: No! Just five or six bags. Maybe eight. Not a delivery. No.

KEVIN: Uh-huh.

URSULA:  Really.

KEVIN: And how many cubic yards will you need delivered NEXT year?

URSULA:  Seven was plenty! I had stuff left over! Just…err…now I need eight. To cover the beds I had to make with the leftover mulch from the seven.

KEVIN:  AND the bed that didn’t need mulching this year?

URSULA: …nine. Not more than nine.

KEVIN: Uh-huh.

URSULA: And if you’re wondering why I didn’t use the mulch on the side of the house, I tried.

KEVIN:  Started to cook?

URSULA:  Errr…well, sort of, but no. I started to use it, and now there’s a very traumatized garter snake.

KEVIN: *leans against shower wall, laughing*

URSULA: I didn’t mean to scare him! He’s very pretty! He has gray racing stripes! Only he was in the mulch, and you know…

KEVIN: Did you fling him?



URSULA: …maybe a little. A small fling. Barely a flinglet, really…anyway he’s playing dead right now, and I felt terrible, and now we have to go get more mulch because I accidentally made a snake sad.

There is a highly specific silence that occurs as a man in the shower realizes that he is going to spend part of the day hauling bags of mulch because his girlfriend is insane. Part of the reason that I love Kevin is because he will accept this reason as completely valid. One cannot have sad snakes. No.

Goodness! Who knew frogs were so…fertile?

By | Animals, My Garden | 2 Comments

Dear me. I got up this morning and…whoa.

Look closely at this photo.

What you should see there, despite regrettable focus and all, are a great many little black dots.

Those are frog eggs.

We have had a number of frog eggs in the pond, which then become tadpoles, so that in and of itself is not terribly significant, except that this time, the frogs REALLY outdid themselves.  Yesterday’s torrential rains were clearly some kind of amphibious aphrodisiac. Like…they have covered the entire surface of the pond.

It’s not a huge pond, I grant you, but it’s a good six feet in diameter, and it is coated. The existing tadpoles are having to shove the eggs aside to come up to the surface, the water striders are reduced to a sort of waddle—I never thought I’d see a bug stumble, but I can’t really explain it any other way—and if there are less than a thousand eggs, I would be very much surprised.

The Big tadpoles have grown teeny little legs and may soon be actual frogs. Unless they gain size substantially, I must assume that they are cricket frogs, but it’s still hard to tell. Some variety of leopard frog also lives in the pond, and in order to produce that many eggs, I don’t know HOW many cricket frogs you’d need…a lot, obviously.

I swear, a pond is the most fun you can have with biology with your clothes on.


By | Animals, My Garden | 2 Comments

So I went out to the pond yesterday morning, doing my usual wander-around-the-garden morning circuit, and looked down into the pond, and there they were….tadpoles!

I did the dance of tadpoles, which involved tearing into the house and grabbing Kevin and demanding he come look RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

They’re really really tiny–no longer than the mosquito larvae that are also cropping up, and which will hopefully soon be vanishing down myriad tiny throats. Black, broad-headed, and wiggly, the tadpoles look like  goblin sperm. (Insomuch as I ever pictured goblin sperm looking, which I have to admit, I had not contemplated before today.)

They’re coming from eggs which are laid all over the pond, in clusters along the rims of the pots containing the plants, around the bases of the plants themselves, and in globs wherever the horsetails dip to touch the surface. The eggs are rather larger than the tadpoles, which makes sense, and if not hundreds, there are certainly dozens. The dense stand of tiny horsetail is absolutely crammed with them.

They’re small enough that I could see them being cricket frog larvae—they’d have to grow a hundred times their current size to belong to the pickerel frog that has taken up residence in the pond (and for all I know is cannibalizing some of these little fellows.) But I know that tadpoles can certainly grow a great deal, so it’s not impossible, and the mass of eggs laid in the pond put together would make two or three whole cricket frogs, so I honestly don’t know WHAT they’ll turn into!

Mind you, they’re also so small right now that the predacious diving beetle could eat them like candy, so I hope a significant number survive to adulthood.

I’m very excited!

(Also, an article of mine on Baptisia runs over at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens, which I was in no way, shape or form paid to write by weevils. Nuh-uh. Not at all.)

New Garden Denizens

By | Animals, Insects | 8 Comments

Who's a handsome boy, then?

So I was bending over to pull some miner’s lettuce that had come up in the raspberry bed, and saw a strip of mulch that was brighter and more regular than I was used to, whereupon several neurons fired and I took a step back and told Kevin to put the beagle inside Right Now, as it was this very handsome fellow you see above—Agkistrodon contortrix, the copperhead.

Given the choice of having any poisonous snake in the yard, it would absolutely be the copperhead, a mild-mannered retiring snake who would very much prefer to issue warning bites or venomless “dry bites”  when stepped on or pestered than anything else. My biggest fear was that the beagle would harass the snake into biting, and I suppose it’s possible I’ll step on one someday, but I’m honestly more worried about accidentally putting my hand on an assassin bug. Kevin’s kids don’t go outside unless the indoors is actively on fire, so that’s not an issue either.

This is the first time I’ve seen one in the yard (and if the black snake catches sight of him, it’ll be the last time) so I don’t know if he’s just passing through, or far more likely, has been living here for years and I just happened to catch sight of him today and won’t see him again for another couple of years.

I realize that my attitude may strike some as ridiculously casual, but Dad A) kept snakes when I was a kid and B) lived in one of the most rattlesnake-heavy areas in North America, with the end result that I spent a fair amount of my childhood living in the vicinity of snakes and have no particular fear of them. Trying to kill snakes is generally how people get bit, the snake has probably been there all along and we’ve never come into contact, ergo if I leave the snake alone, odds are very good that everything will just keep on keepin’ on.

Besides, look at that face!

I'm too sexy for my scales...

(Photo taken with a very long zoom lens.)

The other newcomer in the garden is rather less exciting, but still nice to have in a hey-the-system-works! kind of fashion—Acilius mediatus, a predacious diving beetle, has found my pond! Its offpsring are called “water tigers” and eat insect larvae, and hopefully will keep the future mosquitoes under control.

So that was exciting!

And another one!

By | Animals, My Garden | 2 Comments

Who is that mystery frog? iPhone photo

I have no idea what species this little guy is. He was also about the size of a quarter, but doesn’t match any of the photos in my Frogs & Toads of North Carolina website of choice closely enough to make an ID for sure.  (very small bronze frog? Maybe?) He was exactly the color of the dirt, and I would never have spotted him if he hadn’t moved.

Eventually I just mulched around him, leaving a square inch unmulched so as not to trouble him. He pressed himself into the dirt and glared at me.

Any herpetologists in the audience who can name him, I’d be delighted to know what he is!

Pickerel Frog

By | Animals, Stuff In My Yard | 3 Comments

Photo taken with iPhone

Well, look at you!

This handsome little fellow hopped out from under one of my bags of topsoil, and I managed to snap a few photos. (He was happy to just hang out on the dirt for awhile, perhaps hoping that I would go away.) I believe he’s a pickerel frog–he’s a little bigger than a quarter, and has squarer spots than a leopard frog. According to the internet, he eats a whole bunch of different bugs, and we’re at the southern end of his range. Happily, his species is not suffering serious declines at the moment, unlike the majority of amphibians, so as long as I keep bringing in the bugs and don’t slather pesticides around, Pickerel Bob should be a common visitor to the yard.

Teeny Tiny Anole

By | Animals, My Garden | 2 Comments

I am really likin' the iPhone for these quick nature shots. I'd never have gotten my good camera out in time to capture this guy.

Carolina anole! This is the smallest one I’ve ever seen–he was barely an inch long without his tail, and every single one of his little ribs was visible.  (For a sense of scale, those are blueberries. Small blueberries.) He was hanging out in the potted spicebush on the back deck, and I was actually checking for caterpillars when I saw him. I suspect he must have hatched fairly recently–we’ve been seeing all these little tiny anoles and five-lined skinks this year, more than Kevin says he’s ever seen, so my tentative guess is that the garden brings bugs which brought lizards which reproduced this year.

This one might even have come from an egg laid in the potted plants–apparently momma anoles are not terribly concerned about where they drop their clutch, as long as the soil is soft. (Which, come to think of it, might be the REAL reason we’ve got all these young ones–it’s pretty much hard clay subsoil everywhere except where I’ve put in the garden beds, so maybe it’s not a matter of food but of nest space…)


By | Animals, My Garden | One Comment

Amphibian, ho! The photo is a little blurry–Kevin got it with his iPhone–but unless I miss my guess, this little guy is a juvenile Fowler’s Toad, one of the most common toads in our area.

The presence of a juvenile amphibian of any variety is cause for celebration in this amphibian-hostile world, so I celebrate by doing the dance of frog biodiversity, which resembles many of my other dances, and also a Muppet having a seizure.

Toadlet here eats insects and small invertebrates, but apparently does not like earthworms, which means that he is super-uber welcome in my yard, and I would have done the dance of toad welcoming, but I suspected that the neighbors would look at me funny, and Kevin would have gotten that one expression, and anyway, it might have scared the toad.