It’s that time of the year again, when the bugs and the deer discover all the tasty plants in my garden. While the Japanese beetles ravage the leaves of the apple trees and raspberries, the deer fawns chow down on the wildflowers. I don’t mind them, though, they are pretty cute, and very shy.
The usual suspects have returned to the back yard this summer, but one of my favorites is still missing, the pretty little red foxes. So, here’s a glimpse of their visit to the backyard last year.
June 30, 2017: What a delight to see my favorite canids lounging in my Minnesota backyard this morning.
In addition to brief, one minute naps, there was quite a lot of scratching and grooming going on.
And when they stopped digging at their own fleas or whatever was itchy, they groomed each other.
I watched these two foxes for several minutes, but can’t figure out if they are a male-female pair, or two youngsters, or what. Male foxes are usually noticeably bigger then females, and these two seem to be identical in size. They do seem a bit small and skinny, so maybe they are younger, but this year’s kits would not be this big yet, having been born in late March, and just out of their den in early May. It’s a mystery.
Shot through the not very clean porch window at 500 mm —
This is a tale of “if at first you don’t succeed”, keep trying. Mr. and Mrs. Robin decided to build a nest above a light fixture on our garage.
It’s a very unstable platform, and every stick added seemed to fall between the lights to the ground.
But gradually, after a few sticks held in place, and with the addition of some critical flexible, long leafy material, a platform began to take shape, and the nest cup was added on top.
I hope it’s strong enough to hold the weight of several growing chicks.
It’s nice to see familiar wildlife in the backyard. These were my first (vertebrate) visitors since returning from May travels.
now if only the fox family would come to visit…
Looking for bees in the garden the other day, I came across an insect that looked a lot like a honeybee or small bumblebee, but something was not quite right.
It’s the eyes — they’re too large and round, and the antennae are too short. It must be a bee mimic fly.
I think my bee mimicking fly is a Narcissus bulb fly, and if so, my iris, lillies, and chives are in trouble. Adults feed on the nectar and pollen of a wide variety of flowers.
But their larvae infest the soft tissues of the bulbs of these perennials. Females lay from 40 to 100 eggs at the base of a leaf of bulb-forming plants, and the larvae crawl down into the soil and burrow into the bulb, eventually hollowing it out completely as they feed and mature to pupal stage. Lillies, iris, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, etc, are all susceptible to infestation.
There doesn’t seem to be a good way to control these pests, introduced from Europe, probably along with bulbs, in the late 1800s. Their strong bee mimicry makes most insect predators leave them alone. Apparently, if you grow bulb-bearing plants in your garden, you’re very likely to have these destructive pests present.
The purple flowers are blooming in my garden: spiderwort, weedy creeping charley, iris, bellflower, mountain cornflower, and lovely blue wild indigo. And there are a few bees around, doing their best on the limited amount of nectar and pollen available so early in the summer.
Lady Bumble made the rounds of the newer flowers at the top of the raceme, working her way from oldest at the bottom to newest opened at the top, and then on to a different spike of flowers. But the small solitary bee working these flowers had an entirely different strategy.
Lady’s Slipper Orchid may be one of the slowest growing plants in the world, taking 6 to 11 years to reach the size when it first flowers. But when it does, we rarely fail to notice, and marvel at its color and structure. All this from a minuscule seed the size of a speck of dust!
Like many showy flowers, orchids are dependent on pollinators to transfer pollen from one plant to another. But Lady’s Slippers and another 40 percent of the 20-30,000 orchid species of the world attract their pollinators with color, fragrance, or even by mimicking the shape of a female pollinator of the same species, and offer no nectar reward. How do they get away with “cheating” their pollinators and still ensuring pollination success?
By “inviting” them in, trapping them momentarily, and then providing a narrow escape route that forces the pollinator to squirm by sticky pollen sacs on the anther as they exit. Here’s how it works.
Bumblebees are too large to fit through the narrow slit at the top of the flower, so they exit the way they came in. Smaller bees land on the hairy pad at the back of the inside surface of the labellum, crawl toward the light showing at the top, and squeeze themselves through the slit, as shown on the video below.
Practicing this deception seems risky, especially since bees are less prevalent today than they once were. This rare beauty, once found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia is in decline world-wide. It suffers from being over-collected, loss of habitat, and now —perhaps, a decline in the numbers of its pollinators.
My neighbor called to tell me there was a big snapping turtle on his patio, so I went over to make friends. It was indeed a big one, maybe a female looking for a soft garden spot to lay some eggs. I decided to get down on turtle level to take some photos.
They are called snapping turtles for a good reason. Those toothless jaws can produce a powerful pinch, strong enough to tear flesh. And if they can’t nail you with a vicious bite, snappers will put a nasty gouge in your skin with those long, sharp toenails. Beware of picking one of these up!
Once the turtle got tired of watching me, it moved off the patio toward the garden, raising itself up on its toes to step over a hose. How does a beast whose eyes are at the top of its head know where it’s feet are in relation to an obstacle on the ground? Obviously, snapping turtles have a wider visual field than you might think.
A familiar phrase we heard from Icelanders during our visit this spring, “you don’t go to Iceland for the weather”. But you do go for the fantastic scenery, which is often enhanced by the weather.
Another common saying about their weather we found to be very accurate was, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”, or perhaps a little longer. Rain/sleet showers usually passed over us quickly, and sometimes we drove around them, as weather blew in from the coast and clouds got stuck on the high peaks.
If you like dramatic clouds and big skies in your photos, iceland is the place to visit.
A few minutes later, the scene looked like this.
Mid-ocean ridges on the ocean floor encircle the globe like the seams of a baseball. Along their more than 40,000 mile length, magma seeps upward, building chains of underwater mountains and pushing continental land masses riding on massive tectonic plates further apart.
Iceland is one of the few places on earth at which one can see the evidence of this activity, as the entire island sits right on the mid-Atlantic ridge and was formed from the volcanic activity at that site over the past 24 million years.
What an unusual sight this area is, as land mass is added to Iceland at a rate of about 2.5 cm (one inch) per year. The land here forms crumpled and jagged cliffs of rock surrounding flatter rift valleys.
The grounds at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park were a sacred spot for the Norse and Celtic people that settled the island in ninth century AD.
Thousands of people attended these annual gatherings, to participate in the parliament as well as the trade of various goods. Temporary homes were constructed, but no permanent buildings were erected on the site.
There are a few birds, but most of them rely on lake or lakeshore habitat instead of barren lava fields for food and nest sites.
Icy cold water that trickles into the lake seems to be the perfect habitat for growing king-sized brown trout that weigh up to 30 pounds, and Arctic char found open niches in the lake’s varied aquatic habitat, allowing them to split into six different species during the past 10,000 years. Great news for fishermen everywhere that come to fish here and in the many fresh-water streams throughout the island that attract salmon on migration.