Friday, April 25, 2014

Hello Amphibians

What's under this rock? 

 Not one, not two, but three Red-backed Salamanders!  Red-backed salamanders are the most common type of salamander found in our woods.  Actually, it's the only kind I've found so far, but there are four or five other species found in our area.  Red-backed salamanders come in two color morphs; redbacked and leadbacked, and both colors were under the rock.  When I look at the picture below, I was surprised at how much the red stripe looks like a root.  It seems like pretty good camouflage after all.  They are food for lots of animals so the red is not a true warning color.  

 Well, guess what the three salamanders were doing? 

Guarding eggs!  These salamanders don't lay their eggs in water, or have a larva stage.  Instead, tiny salamanders hatch ready for life on land.  

A red morph with eggs near her tail.

A Leadback with a large cluster of eggs.
Some of the eggs look a little dried out, too bad!

We are enjoying hearing frog calls from a pool on our neighbor's property.  We've heard Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers.  I also spotted some egg clusters in the pond.  The eggs survived some cool icy nights last week in deeper waters.  I found a Peeper last fall, but haven't been that lucky this spring.  Peepers are only a few inches long and have great camouflage.  I hope to find more amphibians as the spring continues.

Add caption
I found this exceptionally orange Wood Frog among the leaves as I was raking the garden. 

Jacob getting just the right photo of the orange frog.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Flowers and More

Happy Easter Everyone!  I hope you had a wonderful day. Our holiday was very nice and we're enjoying lots of time outside working in the garden and soaking up some warm solar rays.  In fact, it's hard to spend time in doors writing this post!  Between working a lot more recently, and the gorgeous weather it has been harder to find time to post regularly.  So, thank you for not giving up this blog.   

Bloodroot flowers, named because the roots make a red
liquid when they are broken.
Almost everyday since spring started, I discover new plants planted by the previous owners of our home.  It's exciting to find sprouts and discover that they aren't just weeds, but bulbs, flowers, and ferns. So far I've found daffodils, crocus, tulips (i think), may apples, bloodroot flowers, several fern fronds, violets, strawberry plants (I don't know if they are the wild type or one that will make fruit), and lots of rhubarb.  The Bolducs built and lived in the house for upwards of 50 years.  Imagine if every year you  planted one bag of bulbs!  In addition to planting flowers the Bolducs planted a number of trees including a hemlock grove which our Barred Owls particularly enjoy.  The Bolducs passed away a few years ago, but I think fondly of them when I see the flowers and trees they planted.  I also imagine they would be pleased to know how much I love their garden and that I want to continue caring for their home.  

A few herb transplants on the left,
carrots and greens planted on the right.

a bucket of spider roots pulled with a trusty pitch fork
a row of onions and peas 

Lately, we've been spending all weekend outside in the gardens and porch.  I have started a vegetable garden with early crops: peas, spinach, carrots, radishes, onions, and lettuce.  Later, I will add tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, and a few others.  I think I have too many plants on my wish list even though my new garden is huge compared to the one in Austin.  I'm just so excited I want to plant everything!  An herb garden seems to be missing from the yard, but I think up here in New England many of the popular Mediterranean herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary) die off in the winter. So, I have dedicated a small area of the garden to herbs so far I have horseradish from friends in AZ, rosemary, oregano, spearmint, walking onions, and thyme.  I planted some dill seeds last week, and am waiting to see them emerge.  There will be a few more warm weather additions in May.  The garden is 100 square feet with heavy clay loam soil.  I've been turning it by hand, and there are few rocks since in previous years the plowing was done by tractor.  There are lots of weeds with long connected roots.  I don't know the name of the weed with spider roots, but I'm sure to get to know it well.  The garden must be fenced because deer and other creatures love veggies, too.  It will be interesting to see which plants do well here and which aren't suited to the area.

A cool rove beetle found while turning the soil.
This guy is a carrion eater.

A dead ground beetle with iridescent purples and greens.
I hope to see some alive this summer because they eat caterpillars,
and are one of my favorite types of beetles.

We've also been doing a little rock work.  Extending the path around the house, and making a flower garden.  We have been scouring the 5 acres for flat rocks and still have about a 1/3 of the path to go.  Jacob has really been placing the stone path, and I get an excuse to hunt and gather without being accused of being a nature clepto.  A flower garden will be located just outside the bathroom and will make a pretty view.  It is a small hill around a tree stump with some irises, ferns and other veg.  We are making a few terraces, and I am going to plant some of my favorite summer time flowers: zinnias, sunflowers, and marigolds.  The rocks define the area which had become pretty weedy and overgrown with invasive vines.  I love the way a few rocks make a garden feel permanent, and aged.  I'm sure we'll be coming up with more projects to stay outdoors.  I hope you are enjoying the outdoors, greenery, and nice weather.  
I would love to hear about your spring projects and garden news in the comments!

Our rock and flower garden

Monday, April 7, 2014

Naturalists Buy the Farm

In the last few months, I've read two books about two naturalists buying farms with accounts of the animals, plants, and experiences on those farms.  Both books were written by famous naturalists who dedicated vast hours to naturalist observation.  Both farms are also now animal sanctuaries that you can visit.  The subject of the books are similar, but the writing styles are pretty different; one leans toward flowing short stories from the heart and the other more toward a series of essays of thought.  I enjoyed both books and was inspired to do my own observations.

Teale's farm house

The first book I read is by a local author, Edwin Way Teale, and the old farm is only about 8 miles from my house in Hampton, CT.  I enjoyed reading A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm because it is about the area to which we have just moved, and it has given me an idea of what I might expect to see in my own backyard. Teale is the author that uses stories to describe life on the farm and surrounding rural community.  He tells of birds migrating, woodcocks displaying in the spring, ferns and flowers, of all the extra animals that come to the bird feeders in winter, and many more experiences.  Teale also includes the history and people of the rural area with funny analogies.  I found the writing style easy to read and could sense Teale's love of his home.  I think I would have enjoyed this book even if I did not live in the 'neighborhood' of his old farm because Teale's earnestness for nature is infectious.

A bluebird house that is not in use in February 

The farm is now owned by the Audubon Society where several nature programs are hosted each month.  I enjoyed an outing to see the farm house, Teale's study, and some of the trails mentioned in his book.  When I was there in February the snow was deep, but there were thousands of small insects called springtails!  And springtails were mentioned hopping in the snow were in the book!

A Natualist on a Tropical Farm was written by a famous ornithologist, Alexander F. Skutch, co-author of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica.  Skutch's style of writing seems to be closer to essays than stories, and is  thoughtful and personal.  He dedicates several chapters to describing wild birds of his farm in Costa Rica, and the time he spent observing their nesting and general behavior.  Even if you didn't know that Skutch wrote the Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, you would soon realize that he was a dedicated naturalist keen on the details of bird behavior.  He also writes about the farm work from planting crops and harvesting, to dealing with crop thieves both animal and human.  Each domestic animal on the farm gets it's own chapter, but the chicken chapter is my favorite.  Skutch also voices his concern for the future not in a loud preachy way, but with insights and thoughts gained over the years.   He expresses concern about the changes to rural Costa Rica that he saw since first arriving on his farm.  Skutch's essays not only introduce one to an amazing natural world, but also to philosophies that give value to nature.

Costa Rica is a naturalist's wonderland and is a popular destination for people who enjoy birds, frogs, butterflies, and tropical plants.  The Farm, Los Cusingos Neotropical Santuary, is a stop on many birder's vacation tours.  Here is a link to one blogger's visit to the sanctuary with nice photos.   I would like to visit Costa Rica someday, but for now I enjoyed reading about the tropical farm especially this winter with all it's snow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A catch up post

painting spiders
For the last few weeks, I've been subbing at the local elementary school almost every day of the week.  I'm mostly in the preschool helping with art projects and reading lots of stories.  I must confess that working in the preschool has been a lot of fun since I get to play.  One day, I got to wear my armadillo costume to help introduce the week's desert theme, and last Friday was bring your stuffed pet to school to wrap-up the week's pet theme.  While I am having fun, working in the preschool is also pretty energy zapping and my blog posts have been less frequent than usual.  So, here are a few random bits from the last few weeks.

skunk cabbage coming up through snow

I believe spring is finally here although we did get a dusting of unexpected snow yesterday.  Out in the woods, Skunk Cabbage is blooming.  Skunk Cabbage is a weird plant that grows in swampy soggy soil.  It's bloom produces heat, melting through the ice and snow making its flower one of the first to appear in the spring. The flower isn't one you would pick and bring into the house because it is a carrion flower making a stink to attract flies for pollination.  On Sunday, Jacob and I saw pussy willow catkins starting to bloom.  Pussy willow is another sign of spring and first sighting for me!

I've discovered a whole row of bulb plants coming up on the east side of our house!  A friend from the preschool said to look for bulbs because everybody plants them in Connecticut. I'm so excited to see what kinds of flowers they will make, daffodils, tulips, or some other flower.  All the other places that I have lived have been too arid for spring bulbs to do well.  Plus, I get to enjoy flowers that I didn't plant.

Indoors, I've started a few herbs and greens in egg cartons with several lights.  The seedling are doing well and will need bigger pots soon since it is still a little cold at night to put them outside.  My bonsai trees are all looking nice with fresh leaves.  I'm so happy they all survived the move to Connecticut and a long winter in the basement.  The elm bonsai is especially pretty with lots of fresh green leaves.  In Austin TX, it hardly dropped its leaves in the winter so I wondered how it would do in the basement for several months.  Soon, the bonsai and several other house plants will get to move to their summer homes on the porch with bright sunshine!
indoor set-up 

Elm- beautiful new foliage

Ginko biloba

chestnut oak seedling

Japanese maple,
TX red oaks with chestnut oak in between

Bread adventures
Sourdough starter

I started some sourdough starter with bread yeast, flour, milk, and sugar just over a month ago.  The yeast eats the sugar and starch producing alcohol and an acid that keeps 'bad' bacteria out.  Every time you bake some bread you use about half the starter for the recipe, and then replenish with more flour and milk.  After getting the new ingredients, the mixture bubbles a lot for a few days during which time you have to stir it several times per day.  The bread I've made with the starter has been good.  It is usually a pretty dense loaf with a strong flavor.  Our house is on the cool side and this produces a stronger sour sourdough flavor.  I am enjoying keeping the yeast alive and imagining that it is my blob pet!

This is not a sourdough loaf, but a cheesy bread that I made.
I don't have any pictures of the sourdough bread.