Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

I present you with the annual edition of Blue Jay Barrens nature pics that are a little more Halloweeny than the rest. These were selected from photos taken during the month of October. I’ve provided a descriptive caption for each, but you are free to make your own interpretation of what each image represents. I’ll divulge the source of the images tomorrow. We begin with a look at an eerie world that could only be found at Blue Jay Barrens.

Don’t stare into the unblinking eye.

The space alien can read your mind.

Stay away from the Creature of the Black Lagoon.

The dragon is stretching its neck down to get a good look at you.

The Lion’s Head of Rha.

Don’t be hypnotized by the crocodile’s smile.

A few decorative pumpkins.

Beware of possessed kangaroos.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some Birds and Things

Some people keep asking me why I don’t post more pictures of birds. First off, I have to say that I think I have had several bird posts. I can assure you that there’s no lack of birds at Blue Jay Barrens, but to post pictures of birds you first have to get the pictures and my camera is just not very bird friendly. Sometimes I get lucky, like with this Pileated Woodpecker. The bird was just sitting when I pushed the shutter button, but by the time the camera took the picture, the woodpecker was taking to the air.

I also have pretty good luck with yard birds. They’re out in the open and stay around long enough for me to take multiple shots.

When I’m in the woods, I specialize in two types of shots. The first is the silhouette. The birds always seem to be backlit, so I usually get little more than outlines. This shot of the Titmouse is much better than my average effort.

The second type of shot is the blur. I have quite a collection of blur shots.

I’m much better at getting shots of those creatures that stay still and don’t run at my approach. This is a Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, probably the cutest grasshopper around. They are common, but their habit of staying close to the ground makes them hard to notice. They are often found along small creeks and will escape threats by jumping into the water and swimming.

I’m also fairly good at capturing shots of large, slow moving mammals such as this member of the lawn maintenance crew. I’m not even enough of a threat for her to stop eating and look up at me.

My camera most likes the inanimate objects. It doesn’t look like I’ll be setting any balloon finding records this year. This is only number 2 for 2010. Maybe this is an economic indicator showing a decline in the number of birthday parties being held.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Water Garden Maintenance

The water garden could certainly take care of itself, but since it’s just outside the front door, I do some periodic maintenance to keep it from looking too scary in the eyes of visitors. The frost did in most of the flowers, so I’ve begun cutting and removing the dead stalks. The yellow flower in the foreground is a potted mum that was set there after being won as a door prize at some kind of local function. You can’t seem to go anywhere in the fall without winning a potted mum.

Most of the plants around the water garden have arrived on their own. Unless they are of a noxious variety, I usually leave them alone. The Virginia Three-seeded Mercury put on a wonderful show this year.

Three-seeded Mercury doesn’t have much of a bloom. The beauty is in the multi-lobed bracts that enfold the flowers. The bracts and leaves developed an unusually bright orange color this year. They made quite an attractive border.

The Orange Coneflowers meet the end of the season as a tangled mass. I always begin by cutting the stems at one end of the patch and rolling the cut plants forward. When I reach the other end, I pick up the whole mess like a roll of carpet and carry it to the compost pile.

I always wait until plants have completely died back before cutting. There’s still fresh green growth in the center of this clump of reeds. Sometimes I leave them all winter, just to give something of interest sticking through the ice.

Removal of the Coneflower stalks reveals the fresh plants that will provide the blooms for next year. Exposure to harsh winter conditions doesn’t harm the basal leaves and I believe the extra exposure to the sunlight actually thickens the stand.

Another reason for removing the dead stalks is to bring sunlight to the spring flowering plants that will be growing through the winter. This is a young Jacob’s Ladder. These plants would survive beneath the dead growth of the coneflowers, but they would be less vigorous and produce far fewer flowers. Since it’s right outside my door, I want to see the oversized plants with a profusion of blooms; even if it’s not what you would normally see in a more natural setting.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rain 1.4

On Tuesday evening we had a rainfall totaling 1.4 inches. Not a drought buster, but it’s about equal to the total rainfall for August and September combined. A nice rain, even if the storm was a bit violent at times. The rain didn’t actually change the color of anything, but color is masked by a dry surface and the moisture allowed the colors to shine through unobstructed.

The Little Bluestem now stands out with its bright, copper colored leaves. The entire landscape acts as though it has received a massive stress relief treatment.

The ferns have plumped up their leaves and the mosses have rehydrated. There is once again a feeling of vitality at Blue Jay Barrens.

The fallen leaves have softened, so walkers can move quietly down the trail. The leaves were so dry that I couldn’t take a step without announcing my presence to everything within a hundred yards. I much prefer to move in a stealthy manner.

Everything in the woods has lost its covering of gray. Mossy logs, dark tree trunks and bright leaves now liven up the woodland.

The rain wasn’t nearly enough to bring back the creek. It’ll take many inches of rain before the water begins to replenish the ground water reserves. The leaves lay ready to put nutrients into the stream ecosystem, but without water there are no aquatic organisms available to make use of the food source.

Some water has accumulated in this deep hole that formed beneath a fallen log. I bet this will draw in a lot of animals. I keep thinking of the dehydrated Eastern Box Turtles I found in September and hope this rain somehow provided a source of drinking water for them.

The deer need to be more cautious when running down a muddy trail. I’ve never actually seen a deer slip and fall, but they can definitely do some fancy foot work and it always seems to be the trail that sustains the most damage. Now I’ve gone too far. Our first rain after almost four months of drought and I’m complaining about the mud.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Clearing

The heavy cedar areas at Blue Jay Barrens contain many small clearings. The adventure books I read as a child always depicted the clearings as places where the most interesting of things occurred. If a clearing was evident in the story, the main characters were either hidden in the trees watching magical events unfold in the clearing, or they were in the clearing themselves partaking in a wondrous experience. Those stories make it impossible for me to approach a clearing without having just a touch of eager anticipation of what I might find. So, as I walk, I find myself steering toward those little clearings just to see what I might discover.

It looks like there was something going on here, but I missed it. More deer sign. A buck has been scratching and rubbing at the ground. When I was young, deer sign was a rare thing to discover and it was always cause for excitement. Now there are so many deer around that finding a place where they haven’t been is a wondrous thing.

From the looks of the moss, there might have been a deer square dance in this clearing. This is what the ground looked like for a distance of about 15 feet on all sides of the scrape in the earth. This must have been a really energetic deer.

In the same clearing, I found one of my favorite asters. This is Sky Blue Aster, Aster oolentangiensis. This aster is fairly common in the dry prairies and barrens.

The stout leaves change in shape as you move up the stalk. Low on the stalk they have a long narrow petiole, which becomes shorter and slightly winged on the mid-stalk and then the leaves become nearly sessile at the point where the flower bearing branches begin.

The thing I really find amazing about these plants is the change in color as the flowers wilt. At one point in the process they become what I would describe as a deep sky blue. I wonder if this is the source of the name. I think this is my favorite shade of blue. I guess this clearing did contain something magical after all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Deer Rubbed Oak

When you regularly walk the same trail, it’s pretty easy to notice a change. Some things are really obvious, like having a tree slap leaves in your face in a place that has always been clear trail. I didn’t actually get a face full of leaves, but the possibility was there when this formerly vertical tree changed to a more horizontal attitude.

The tree didn’t make the change of its own accord. A male member of the local White-tail Deer population chose this oak sapling as a prime place to release some aggression and place a scent marker identifying his territorial claim. An antlered buck can quickly debark a small tree.

This tree was doing a good job of competing with its neighbors for a piece of the rapidly closing tree canopy. Lost bark and broken branches are going to be quite a set-back.

You can tell by the healthy green leaves that this tree was successfully capturing a good share of the available sunlight. This is one of those oak hybrids, Quercus bushii, that are so common at Blue Jay Barrens. Even though it’s common, I’d hate for it to be lost.

Even if it survives the loss of bark, this tree will never return to an upright posture. New growth will develop vertically, but there will be numerous leaders competing to be the new tree top. If a mature tree is eventually produced it will have some deformities that will limit its life expectancy. I’ll probably cut the tree off at the ground this winter and remove a couple of neighboring small cedars to produce a larger hole in the canopy. The established oak root system should produce a rapidly growing stump sprout that could easily make its way back into the canopy in a few years. Assuming a deer doesn’t trash it again, a healthy, mature tree could eventually develop.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Orange Coneflower Stem Borer

This is the last of the Orange Coneflower blooms. Growing right beside the house caused it to be spared from the killing frost. I’ll have to wait until next summer to see the blooms in profusion again.

The rest of the plants display dried seed heads and brown stalks. Beneath the mass of dead stalks are spring blooming plants that will begin growing as soon as the rain returns. I’ll remove the coneflower stalks so the spring flowers can develop unimpeded.

Each year, I find that the flower stalks have been invaded by some type of stem borer. Almost every stalk has a hole at the base that is surrounded by some powdery residue. The base of each stem is also surrounded by clusters of basal leaves that will generate the flowering stalks for next year.

Holes also appear at intervals higher up on the stalk.

Each hole indicates a weakness in the stalk. This doesn’t seem to bother the plant while it’s flowering, but at the end of the season, any pressure on the stalk makes it snap.

This is what makes the holes. I’m not sure what this larva will develop into. Years ago I wondered if my cutting the stalks and throwing them out into the field would have a negative impact on this population of stem borers. Since the infestation returns every year, I would say not. It’s funny that my flower bed population, which was started from seed I collected in the field, hosts a borer in almost every stem, while the population in the field is rarely infested.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Late Season Butterflies

Despite the cold, dry weather and the lack of nectar sources, I’m still seeing several butterflies around Blue Jay Barrens. The most abundant is the Buckeye. This is a southern immigrant that won’t survive the winter in Ohio. I can’t remember a year where I’ve seen this many Buckeyes.

The occasional Clouded Sulphur can still be found in the field. This is a common resident that is normally abundant every year.

The Variegated Fritillary is another immigrant. I don’t see this species very often at Blue Jay Barrens. I’ve seen several during the past month.

Meadow Fritillaries have been especially abundant this year. They prefer a moist habitat, so it’s interesting that I’m seeing so many in this super dry year. Maybe the abundant rainfall early in the year set the stage for a population explosion of this species.

Checkered Skippers are still abundant, but they seem to have ceased their egg laying activities. Most of the individuals I see are just resting spread-winged in the sun.

There must be a lot of butterflies around if they’re all trying to squeeze into the same picture. This year has had an extraordinary abundance of butterflies. I hope the butterfly bonanza continues on into next year.