Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Pair Of Bald Eagles

This last week of 2017 has been frigid and snowy.  Staying inside where it is warm and cozy just seems sensible.  Twice this week Ed and I have seen a pair of bald eagles fly low over the house and garden.  The first time it was sunny and clear, but very, very cold.  We spotted the first bird over the garden.  It was joined by second bird who had been perched in a tree .  The tree is the evergreen  that is separate from the others and has light shining through its branches  in the first picture from Ed's post for today.  Once together the two eagles soared slowly upward over the garden.  Neither bird flapped a wing as they circled with the sun glistening off their white heads and tails.  It was so cold  that the updraft was not very strong and  they did not soar much higher than the house.  Both birds flew directly over the house still riding the wind without flapping a wing.  By the time I got to the North side of the house to look, they had disappeared over the pines in the direction of the river.

Yesterday morning it was snowing very hard.  This time the pair flew low over the house.  One flew into the notch, the other barely cleared the trees on the edge of Amy's high meadow.  Since the snow was heavy enough to obliterate the ridge , they disappeared from sight almost immediately.  Seeing them was a thrilling way to end the year.  I will have a very Happy New Year if they return in 2018.  Eagles in this neck of the woods nest in February.  It would be a real delight if they choose to spend time here. Perhaps the garden will not be so quiet this winter after all!

Finally Snow Cover Almost

This last month of 2017 has featured nothing but unusual weather.  The flat water sections of the nearby Unadilla River have frozen solid three different times.  One of those bitter cold nights resulted in clear ice perfect for skating if it had been thicker.  We have been looking for some snow cover to insulate the plants.  Several consecutive forecasts consistently predicted a three inch snowfall for us.  The evening before the possible snow fall featured high closely spaced parallel ridges in the clouds.  It could have been that corduroy clouds were a sign of impending snowfall but nothing happened.  Our plants remained exposed to the bitter cold.

There have been several nights when a possible accumulation of one inch of snow have been forecast.  We cannot be certain that what little white stuff accumulated overnight was snow rather than heavy frost.  With the subzero temperatures spanning several days, the blanket thickened.  These arbutus plants had a generous cover of fallen pine needles and now some snow nearly completes the blanket.  Perhaps the next dusting will finally hide these evergreen plants.  Rabbit tracks were evident close by  but with the protective cage  these leaves remain uneaten.

This first plowing of the lane was not really necessary.  Both the state and county road crews have been clearing and salting the roads but accumulations of snow are so thin that the plows have little impact.  I was faced with pulling two huge empty trash cans up the hill.  Two trips with the lawn tractor took care of the cans and it made no sense not to plow at the same time.  Besides, the plow on my lawn tractor is overwhelmed by three inches of snow.  I plowed wide since the next event will pile the new snow inside of the ridges made this time.  Plowing now also pushed aside some of the stones that came to the surface as rain water washed away the fines.  Having those stones gone before the snow blower is used is a real benefit.  The tools needed for shear pin replacement and new pins are in the tractor compartment but old bare hands in dry cold air bleed easily if bumped.  It is much better to avoid breaking the shear pins.  We are ready for another new year and we try to take some advantage of and enjoy each new day

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December Springtales

This has been the scene just outside of the basement door for the past several days.  We do not recall finding this swarming mass here previously.  Our past encounters with this life form have occurred during hikes taken when the snow pack was thinning.  Boot prints left in the soft snow on an earlier walkabout would contain several of these Springtails.  Their method of moving about is to snap an appendage on their underside sending them up and out with no control over the direction.  Landing on the sloped side of a boot print would cause them to tumble to the bottom.  Whatever became of them when bitter cold returned remains unknown to us.

This sizable collection is the result of the sloped surface of the ramp that leads to the basement and several days of moderate temperatures.  Snowfall is forecast for tonight so these creatures will be out of sight or gone by morning.

This closeup reveals some of the structure of the creatures.  Apparently some people have experienced populations of these hard to classify creatures inside of homes and see the need to eliminate them.  Ours seem to remain outside so we simply look and marvel at the diversity of life forms on this planet.

The snow expected to fall here did not appear but the temperature dropped to nearly single digits.  The springtails have completely disappeared from our door step.  They were pictured on the metal step beneath the door.  Each ridge in that step measures only three eighths of an inch. Those specks of black are indeed tiny.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Nearly Snowless

It is unusual for the ground here to be bare this late in December.  Much of our snow is delivered by winds coming from the northwest.  Cold polar air sweeps across Lake Ontario stealing moisture from the still liquid lake.  Our lake effect snowfalls fail to make the news headlines most days since the one hundred miles separating us from the source of the snow limits the amount that falls here.

This is the first curve as the driveway exits the pasture where the house was placed.  There was not even a path here when we bought this land.  The truck would be parked some distance away and the gardening tools were pushed uphill in a wheelbarrow.  Following the scheme of the ancient Romans, cobblestones removed from what would become planting beds were dumped here establishing a base for the lane.  Many wheelbarrow loads of gravel from the nearby borrow pit were pushed uphill to create a usable road surface.  This summer the birthday bobcat was used to spread and smooth this surface since rainwater erosion carries away the surface fines.  When I was in my mid fifties this work was completed with hand tools.  Now in my early seventies I need huge machines.

The mystery of an S curve is visually appealing.  Robert Frost may have written about the call of the unknown that lies just around a corner out of sight.  Part of the Fall leaf harvest can be seen piled in front of the stone wall rebuilt along the property line.  The huge cherry tree is on the other side of the wall.  Sadly it is dying.  Since it is owned by my absentee neighbor, the nearly dead tree is his responsibility.  That fact will be of little comfort if the tree falls across my road.  Perhaps I should buy a chain saw.  The hand powered bow saw that has carried me this far will be of no use on a tree of this size.  I did recently contract with a tree removal service to remove several large lower branches that grew over the curve.  Small fallen branches frequently litter the lane but none have hit me yet.  The tendency is to move quickly here.

I was still employed when we first came to this land.  Arrangements were made to have the driveway plowed but that service would kick in only if the snowfall exceeded four inches.  I used a hand snow pusher to clear lesser snowfalls.  That task took the entire day but school would be closed because of the storm so the day was mine.  A snowfall never made be miss or be late for work.  I was once closely overflown by a bald eagle while outside clearing snow.  The presence of that majestic bird and the silence created by gently falling snow made for an unforgettable experience.

Here the lane drops to the county road.  This was part of the road that was used to reach the gravel bank.  It was deeply rutted and narrow when we first found this place.  Hand tools and many years were required to dig the ditches that now line both sides of the lane.  Most of that work here was done by torrents of rain water.  Venturing out with my potato hook during heavy rainstorms was seen as a boy playing in the rain by the woman of the house.  As is usually the case, her analysis of my behavior was right on.

This road surface is maintained using the lawn cart pulled behind the garden tractor.  A recent discovery is that water added to a load of gravel to make what resembles mortar results in an easily smoothed substance that packs rock hard under the wheels of the pickup truck.  Timing is a critical part of the packing since wheels sink into the surface if it is excessively wet.  This surface has frozen twice so far this season.  If it remains frozen for the plowing that must be close by, this road surface will remain in good condition.

If you are sharp eyed, you likely saw a leaf on the road surface in picture number two.  This is not the former location of that fallen oak leaf.  Winter wind just blew this leaf away.  We really try not to stage our pictures.

This smaller lawn tractor has no home in the shed.  It rests under a custom cover but is exposed to exploitation by the furry critters that are the true owners of this land.  Field mice build nests in open areas of the engine.  Entry is found next to the starter motor with the nest located on top under the screen cover that spins when the engine is running.  Clearing the fluff from under the screen is within my skill set but removing the cowling and cleaning the starter requires a mechanic.  The tractor is parked on fresh gravel intended to limit easy access to dried grass.  A mesh bag containing moth balls hangs just under the hood.  So far so good.  The tractor was uncovered and the engine started today.   This preventative action has never been required in the past.  More frequent snowfalls kept the machines primed and ready for action.

The larger lawn tractor does exist under a roof.  This shed was built for a single tractor.  Rugged winters made us see the need for a larger machine.  Keeping this beast moving in the intended direction is a major problem.  It wants to slide to the side into deep snow.  It has taught me that a machine stuck in the snow when moving downhill is really stuck.  Now the plow is used to push snow into the level center of the drive.  Then the blower is called in to move this snow far away from the lane.

There is no snow cover for the plants.  My decision to leave the fallen pine needles in place has proven uncharacteristically wise.  The flower buds that presently exist here are nestled in an open coat of cover.  Still, snow cover would really help the plants.

Becky saw this sedum growing in the stone wall near the house as a Christmas star.  Despite the hand numbing cold of the season, this is a wondrous place to live.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cat Gone

A statement identifying me as not a cat lover must begin this post.  Their general independent nature sharply contradicts my sense of order.  Still, I recognize beauty when I see it and the only thing missing from this picture is the beautiful cat that was just moments earlier sitting in my garden.  A sharp and narrow gray stripe pattern covers the absent cat.  A huge white beard overlays nearly all of the exposed chest when this cat is sitting.  This visitor is in excellent condition carrying just enough weight to indicate a non-feral existence.  This attempt to capture it in a picture was discerned early on.  The sneak indirect approach was quickly understood and the cat pressed itself flat against the ground.  Despite the fact that the camera was on as I approached, when the cat bolted toward the trees it disappeared from sight before I could snap the picture.

This cat visited our garden earlier in the day.  It patiently sat motionless for quite some time but none of the furry rodents that call this place home ventured out.  The cat had to settle for a good long rub against the seed pods of this now dormant catnip plant.

The fix was followed by a bit of a nap on the fabric covering the lettuce cage.  Satisfied, the cat returned home or at least left the garden.  No pictures were even attempted while the cat was getting its fix.  It just did not seem right to disturb it during its euphoric state.

These pictures were taken just after the cat's second visit of the day.  My intrusion preceded the roll in the catnip.  My best guess is that we will see the cat again before darkness falls at day's end.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Change Of Scene

Winter approaches and Nature's Artwork has a definite wintry change of scene!

If we get a thaw, we may see Nature's Artwork again.  If we get more snow Mother Nature will close the exhibition  for repairs. Do you see what I see?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fallen Giants

When we first found this land, the mix of wooded slopes and former fields just seemed to fit our planned retirement lifestyle.  Time spent here has been filled with a variety of experiences with both nature's creatures and plants.  Trees of mature size gave this place the feeling of permanence and we expected them to outlast our time here.  The good news is that we are still here but sadly many of the huge trees are failing to both wind and disease.  Both are way beyond our control so we just watch what happens.  This red maple has been dead for the past several years.  Now we can watch just how it is falling to the ground.  Its trunk is still standing while the crown has fallen in various sized pieces.  We have not walked near this tree in years since even the smaller branches could be deadly when they fall.

A nearby tree's upper branches have fallen across a deer path that we use for hikes.  The white pine in the foreground is still healthy.  Its dead lower branches are just part of the trees' natural life cycle.  They can fuel a ferocious campfire but our picnic area is far away from here.  A return visit with my bow saw will allow me to cut the fallen branches into pieces small enough for me to move.  They will be dragged and dropped on the downhill slope near the trail.  Then both the deer and I can return to our former route to the south woods.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Do You See What I See?

I had to stop and take a picture of these two rocks leaning up against a stone wall.  The lichens, moss and sunlight paint a definite picture for me.  Do you see what I see?

Monday, December 4, 2017

More Moss Covered Rocks

It seems that I stumble across more stones that will fit right in with the plans for the new woodland garden.  This beauty was partially buried at the base of the gravel bank close to the brush pile.  It seems unlikely that it was not spotted earlier.  Perhaps its location was simply forgotten.  Once again the rock was found some distance away from the garden.  Fortunately most of the way was downhill.  If this rock is partially buried, the moss should survive in its new location.  Garden rocks can be attractive additions to what needs to look natural but moss covered rocks are simply great.

Just why and where these primitive life forms grow is a mystery.  A long row of junk stones were piled along the steep slope of the gravel bank to form a safe place to walk.  One small section of this wall is covered with active lichen and moss plants while the rest of the wall is barren.  Moisture must funnel to this area as it runs down the face of the gravel.  Why that happens is hidden under the surface.

This stone had moss growing on it when it was placed in the patio.  We planted the thyme after the patio was finished.  In time the thyme will spread and cover the moss but now they look great together.

Back at the gravel bank, this seems to be the time of year when both the moss and lichens are in active growth.  Structures supporting reproduction seem common now.  Their timing seems off but they are a very old form of growth so their must be some advantage to doing this important work in the cold.

These rocks will not be moved.  The new location might not support this growth and we will simply not risk ending them.  We can always walk to this out of the way place whenever we fancy a peek at these fascinating lichens.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Anyplace You Build Your Nest Is Home

Even on these short days when the sun drops behind the ridge by 4:30 PM, in the middle of the day a walk in the garden is delightful.  It was the little pink birdhouse in Helen's garden that caught our attention this time.  I guess the brightly colored,  especially pink, house which was a gift to me from Helen was only designed to look pretty.  However when it was placed in the garden, house wrens moved in that very day.  I could not see a way to clean out the house and was ready to give up on it, but Ed took it inside and found a way to pry off the bottom.  It was held on with just three very small nails.  We were both amazed by the tightly packed sticks at the base of the nest.

We decided that the best thing to do was to clean out the house and see if we could use it again next spring.  After all, I had so much fun watching the wrens work to get those straight sticks into that little hole.  I want to do that again!

I was very curious to see the nest. Ed pried out he tightly compacted sticks and carefully laid out the nest.  Clearly the little birds feathered their nest with feathers from other larger birds. I recognized a blue jay feather, but there were others that were way too large to be a feather of a wren. The little white ball at the bottom of the picture is a tiny spider nest.  Wrens have been observed placing these in their nest.   One small unhatched wren egg was left in the nest.  Whether it contained a dead baby or was all dried up will remain a mystery.  I was not interested in breaking open that beautiful little speckled egg!

You can see from this picture taken in June that the wrens filled the house all the way up to the entrance hole with their nest.  As far as I could tell, the little pair of birds were delighted with their housing choice.  When I was weeding in the area, the little birds would dart in whichever door was on the side opposite where I was working.  I got to enjoy their songs and chatter watch them slip inside with bugs in their beaks and I'm sure I heard the noise of tiny  baby birds waiting to be fed.  In the Spring we plan to put the refurbished house back in Helen's garden before the wrens arrive.  Such incredibly wonderful tenants deserve special treatment!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sisters Or Seed

Cardinal Flower has been a prime focus here recently.  How a native plant that is described as hardy to zone 3 can freeze out frequently here in what is now described as zone 5 is a frustrating puzzle.  Late winter hard freezes are the problem.

The first picture shows several sister plants growing around the base of a single stalk that flowered this year.  The single spent stalk marks this plant as a transplant that was set out in the spring.  If these young plants survive, each will send up its lone stalk that will produce flowers.  The resulting cluster of flowers will create an impressive display.  These plants are positioned so that a covering bucket can protect them from late frosts while doing no damage to adjacent plants.

This jumble contains perhaps seven stalks that flowered this season.  Since a single plant can result in six daughter plants, there may be as many as forty-two new plants growing here.  Overcrowding is the obvious result and if left alone next year's plants can not all survive here.  These plants will be transferred to pots just as soon as the soil is workable next spring.  Fall transplants always frost heave and die.  This cluster may well contain more plants than we usually pot up but we have big plans for next year.  It is our hope to find other gardeners who would like to  encourage cardinal flower to grow in it's natural environment.

Cardinal Flower also reproduces by seed.  Garden soil seldom contains enough moisture for successful germination but at time plants from seed are found.  Warm soil is another requirement for the seeds to sprout so plants from seed will not be found earlier than late May.  This plant was found and moved in August.  Notice how much larger it is than the pictured daughter plants.  These will require protection in place from the late frosts and they will surely get it.  Sumac berries are the source of the small red spheres.  Any that sprout will be weeded out.

This is one of three transplants set out at the base of the forest covered bedrock ridge last spring.  We are hopeful that the plants that follow these can survive on their own.  Since over-protection is in our makeup, one plant will likely get a bucket cover when frost threatens while the other two will be left on their own.  Since moisture leaks out from the base of the ridge, seeds dropped here this fall will likely sprout next summer.  Our hope is that a wild naturally perpetuating cluster of Cardinal Flower plants will establish themselves here.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday In The Garden, Photos by Amy

  After a busy day with terrific food and family time yesterday, I awoke very early this morning.  It was not to hop in the car to go shopping.  I don't do that on the day after Thanksgiving.  I was feeling dizzy and queasy and thought the day was going to be a disaster. Then while sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast, I noticed brilliant flashes of blue outside the kitchen window.  I immediately thought of bluebirds, but that seemed like wishful thinking.  A few minutes later a bird came back and sat on top of one of the bluebird houses.  Both Amy and Ed saw him.  The brilliant blue, reddish throat and white tummy made it definite.  Bluebirds on November 24 would have to go down as something special in any garden journal!  Just seeing them made me feel a little better.

 Bluebirds and beautiful blue skies called for a walk in the garden with the camera and Amy.  Actually she did most of the walking and I spent a lot of time sitting on the garden bench in the sunshine. Here we have  the backside of a sunflower.  What an interesting place to leave your sunflower seeds.

Howling winds have blown most milkweed seeds away,  but these two pods are still waiting for these seeds to have a chance to fly away on their silken fluff.

This milkweed seed is hung up in the top of a catnip plant.

Cold has turned the hens and chicks a lovely red.  The prickles on the end of each leaf are perfect for snagging milkweed fluff.  I don't see any seeds here. Perhaps they have been eaten or maybe I will be pulling tiny milkweed plants out of the hens and chicks in the spring.

This unknown Sedum was a stowaway in the pot of another purchased plant.  I planted it on top of Ed's curved wall.  It shows an interesting tangle of textures, shapes, color and light. 

Prickly and soft, red and white, light and shadow make this photo a favorite!

Moss and lichens adorn the top of this stone wall.  Hazelnut catkins add a little more interest! 

The side view of the same rock adds another dimension.  There are always interesting things to see in the garden. Walking there with someone special who notices is perfect!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Before The Shooting Starts

I never know exactly what I will see when I look out my living-room window.  Now that it is November, I very frequently  see a very young male deer with just four points.  Often his twin sister is around as well.  They sometimes sleep in the lawn area between the stone wall on the right and our house.  The gardener in me wants them to go away and stop eating my plants forever, but I have enjoyed watching these deer since they were tiny fawns.  Today I saw  the young male eating grass in the lawn close to the stone wall.  It seemed like he saw the eight point stag step out of the woods  just about the same time I did.  He quietly moved  to the opposite side of the wall from that big buck.  I got the binoculars to get a better look. Wow those big horns  horns looked sharp!  The young deer moved towards the safety of the house while the stag charged with amazing speed clearing the stone wall with ease in a single leap.  Unwilling to let nature take it course, I opened the window and shouted at them both.  The young male, knowing I am totally harmless, took the opportunity to take off to the east as fast as he could go.  The big buck unaccustomed to my bellowing retreated to the edge of the tree line.  He stood there looking majestic long enough for me to get the camera.  Ed got a chance to see him too.  It was not until I saw the picture that I noticed the young female standing motionless in the tall grass right between the two bluebird houses.

Since the young male was now gone, after a time he turned and walked away into the woods.  The young female remained where she was still motionless.  We thought the show was over and the tail of the big buck would be the last we saw of him.

It was then that the young female decided to move.  The buck stopped and turned his head in our direction once again.  There was time for one last picture,  then the female raced off to the east as fast as she could go.  The magnificent stag went after her.  We watched as he bounded across the lawn and then in the tall grass.  His leaps seemed effortless.  His feet barely seemed to touch the ground.  It was not unlike a well trained ballet dancer leaping across the stage. In a flash it was all over. All of the deer were gone!  For four more days that stag will be the force to be reckoned with around this neck of the woods.  However when the shooting starts his magnificent horns will not give him the advantage.  Before today we had heard about this eight point buck.  It was wonderful to see him but it's clear, when push comes to shove, it's the young deer that I have watched grow up here who have captured my heart!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

November Pines

 Some combination of favorable weather conditions resulted in a huge crop of pine cones on several different varieties of trees this year.  These Norway Spruce trees are still holding a heavy load of cones despite their fallen cones thickly covering the ground.  These trees regularly produce a crop of cones but their numbers are usually small.  This crop exceeds anything that we have seen in the past.

Norway Spruce cones remain tightly closed whether on the tree or on the ground.  Some resident rodent peels the cones to expose the seeds tucked close to the center shaft.  This bounty will likely help the squirrels and chipmunks survive the winter in great numbers.  The impact of great numbers of these creatures remains to be seen.  A recent bumper crop of acorns aided an increase in the number of mice which was a factor in a record number of ticks.

Not all trees with needles rather than leaves remain evergreen.  Larch trees needles change from green to a beautiful gold before falling to the ground.  New green needles will not be seen here until next spring.

They may be dropping their needles but they retain a tight hold on their cones.  A slight disturbance now will cause seeds to drop from the cones.  These trees were planted in some of the driest ground we have.  Perhaps this will be the year when some of these cones are scattered on ground that is frequently wet.  Larch trees prefer moist soil.

Our White Pines have matured and dropped their cones.  Hungry critters peel away the scales in search of seeds.  Scales and stripped cone centers litter the ground while the seeds are secreted away for winter food.

These cones have been gathered for two reasons.  Their open structure and white colored tips make attractive holiday displays.  They reportedly make excellent fire starters.  Once snow covers the ground, I plan to make small fires to clear away the nuisance shrubs unearthed earlier this year.  These White Pine cones may help start the fires.