Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Living With Beneficial Paper Wasps

by Donna L. Watkins

You will probably know this wasp by its nest. This nest, currently to the right of our front door, was in its beginning stages in early June with two mated females (queens) building cells and laying their eggs. It's doubled in size but the wrens prey upon Paper Wasp nests since the larvae are good food for their babies.

Paper Wasps don't make a huge colony like Yellow Jackets whose colony's can grow to thousands by Fall. Paper Wasps are also not aggressive like Yellow Jackets. We've had them building outside our doors that have a covered porch area for 17 years and have never had a problem.

Last year they began a nest at the top of the front door frame against the door, so when we opened the door, and one of the females flew into the house while the others scattered and flew about. Randal rescued the wasp indoors, while I removed the nest and placed it a couple feet away on the base of our porch light. Super glue did a great job of keeping it there. They don't reuse their nests, so we took it down in the late Fall.

I had to giggle thinking about them returning to see the nest in a different place, but with all babies okay. My mind imagined all kinds of silly conversations they had about it. I sat on the porch bench and watched as they returned and scurried all around where it was, and then after finding it, they did a thorough inspection to find that all was well. They kept adding on cells to deposit eggs and all of us lived in happy co-existence.

Although they make many people nervous with the thought of stings, Paper Wasps are considered beneficial to agriculture, since they feed abundantly on corn earworms, armyworms, tobacco hornworms, harmful caterpillars, etc.

In the household garden, they are great pollinators as they gather nectar for their own food, and gather insects to chew up and feed to the larvae (their young). If you look closely at the second photo, you'll notice the top queen has a green globule in it's mouth ready to feed.

By the way, we've also left hornets nests under the eaves of our roof also to enjoy their benefits in our garden. They never reuse their nests, so it can be power washed down in late Fall or if it's in an area that's accessible, the nest is a keepsake. It's incredible the design they make by chewing up wood and spitting it out.

Animals all need protein and wasps obtain protein by eating other insects. Hornets, for example, feed upon flies and other flying insects. Paper wasps generally eat caterpillars. A few common pest caterpillars listed in the literature are cabbage butterfly, Fall webworm and several oakworm species.

Some colonies have been reported to prey upon 2000 caterpillars. Tests have shown that enhancing Paper Wasp populations in tobacco fields reduced caterpillar populations in the crop. Thus, wasps can be real biological control for the landscape and garden. Wasps, in general, are helpful in the landscape, and Paper Wasps are one of the easiest types to manage. All one needs to do is provide nest sites.

The key is to encourage the wasps to build nests where YOU want them and away from places they might be a hazard. A simple box can be a four-sided construction and placed 4-6 feet above the ground for easy observation. An old birdhouse with the bottom removed makes a fine structure. Here's a site with more details on this and a photo of one you might construct:

The European Paper Wasp, unlike our native Common Paper Wasp, also sometimes uses bird boxes, but is bad news. The European prefers to nest in cavities and it attacks people with much less provocation than the native Paper Wasp. It's becoming a threat to cavity-nesting birds. Get more information on the invading European Paper Wasp here:

The benefit of getting macro photos is that when you enlarge them even further, you get a microscopic kind of look at things. I was able to get within two inches of our current resident Paper Wasps' nest for photos.

When I downloaded them, I was very excited to see their little "babies" that are inside each cell. The body is a light beige color with the face or maybe head being the round brown part.

I hope this information will help you to enjoy something that we have been taught to fear.

Related Posts:
Plants That Deter Bees and Wasps
Non-Toxic Pesticide Solutions For The Garden

Friday, July 27, 2007

Being Tested

by Donna L. Watkins

© 2006 Donna L. Watkins - Deer At Our Pond
The word "test" has never been very popular. All through school we had tests that made us study hard and made us nervous before, during and after we took them. As a Christian we are also tested but we don't like to think of God as somebody that's sending evil our way because it would not be true. God loves us and does us good in all circumstances of life, if we will allow Him to. Many times our free will puts up a wall before the Lord and it is without a doorway into our heart.

Many times in life we will have to fight the enemy daily to keep him from destroying and stealing your dreams and desires. He is a thief and will steal every blessing God sends your way. He'll discourage you to give up praying for your family and he'll take away your calling, purpose and future if you listen to him.

The trials in life offer us tests and the higher the grade we earn, the more wisdom, character, joy and peace we will attain. Tests give you opportunity to continue in your vision even when you're in the middle of disappointments and a lot of opposition. The level of attack often means the level of blessing you will receive if you persevere.

God never takes us beyond what we can bear (I Corinthians 10:13 says, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

This is testing as permitted and controlled by God to produce sterling character that is a reflection of His own. Consider Malachi 3:3: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." And this Author Unknown segment from the internet:

This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot then she thought again about the verse that says: "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy - when I see my image in it."

We learn a lot about God and ourselves when we're in trouble and some lessons are learned no other way. Adversity should draw us closer to Him, but some choose to tun away when they don't have it their way.

Submit your troubles to God and let Him choose the way out and the timing. That means giving up control. That is one of the biggest lessons we all need to learn in life since letting go of control requires us to walk by faith and not by sight.

If you're in the melting spoon, remember that God is closely watching you and is there to provide a way of escape at the right moment and in the process you will become more like Him. That will make people want to be more like you! Isn't that the greatest compliment of life?

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:

© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, TheNatureInUs.com for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL: http://www.thenatureinus.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Monarch Migration Begins

Depending where you are in the country, you may soon be seeing Monarchs on their migration to Mexico. The Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico, while those west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to a grove of trees along the California coast.

We're in Central Virginia and have begun seeing them. We also have Monarch caterpillars (see photo to left) on our milkweed. I am very excited about that. I've counted 7 of them so far and one is big enough to soon be spinning the chrysalis.

The birds won't eat Monarch caterpillars since they become toxic from a property in the milkweed plant that the eggs are laid on and that the caterpillar eats as a larvae stage of the butterfly.

We are a certified Monarch Waystation which is a fun family or individual project to attract Monarchs and help with recovery of their population.

Below is a list of peaks for Monarchs. If you don't know your latitude, you can Google the word 'latitude' along with your city and state.

Latitude Peak In Monarch Abundance

49 18-30 August
47 24 August -5 September
45 29 August - 10 September
43 3 - 15 September
41 8 - 20 September
39 14-26 September
37 19 September - 1 October
35 24 September - 6 October
33 29 September - 11 October
31 4-16 October
29 10-22 October
27 15-27 October
25 20 October - 1 November
23 27 October -8 November
21 3-15 November

In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year.

Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall.

That's incredible!

This site for Monarchs is relatively new and has lots of information:

Find out more about Monarchs and the Waystation program: www.monarchwatch.org/

Consider turning a part of your yard into a Monarch Waystation. We did and the local paper did an article on us. This was the photo they used. We put the sign on the mailbox post since we have a lot of walkers in our neighborhood. Hopefully it's causing others to become a waystation also.

Monarchs need our help for nectar sources and egg laying plants. In the 15 years of Monarch Watch, we've lost 34 million acres of habitat, an area nearly equal to the size of Illinois. There is great value in creating Monarch Waystations.

We're all connected! You've certainly heard this year about the news on honey bees and the effect that will have for our food supply. The Senate designated June 24-30 as National Pollinator Week and the U.S. Postal Service produced a set of stamps to commemorate pollinators.

If we protect Monarchs, we protect other pollinators, and if we protect native pollinators, we protect honey bees as well. Let's help keep it all connected by doing a small part. Providing a Monarch Waystation will give so much back to your family. The wonders of nature always complete the circle of giving and receiving.

Shrinking Your Lawn

A National Wildlife Federation Website Article

If you're like most homeowners who have lawns, you’ve already hauled out your mower several times this summer. And if that mower happens to be gasoline-powered, you’ve also been spewing excessive amounts of pollution into the environment. “One mower used weekly during the growing season pollutes as much as 43 late-model cars driven 12,000 miles a year,” says Sam Atwood, spokesperson for the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California. “They’re little pollution factories on wheels.”

Electric mowers have been around for some time but earlier versions often were impractical because they were tethered to an extension cord. Now, several companies sell cordless mowers that run on rechargeable batteries. Push mowers are, of course, the best choice, especially if you have a small area to cut. But if switching to a different type of mower is not an option, there are some other possibilities:

• Shrink your lawn: Installing a rock garden will decrease the amount of turf in your yard. Incorporate islands of small native trees and shrubs or transform a section of your yard into a native wildflower meadow. By doing so, you’ll be creating habitat for wildlife - something a lawn doesn’t provide. A meadow requires no watering after its young plants are established. It needs mowing only once a year.

• Use ground covers or native grasses

Read the entire article.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cool Bird Facts

Song Sparrows are prolific singers. A naturalist once heard one sing almost nonstop for 9 hours. Its repertoire included more than 2,000 separate songs.

Some Blue Jay babies are fed by their parents until they're as old as 4 months.

Nuthatches only raise one brood a year, but they lay large clutches of eggs, usually 10 per nest.

Meadowlarks nest on the ground in grassy nests covered with a dome of camouflage grass.

A male House Wren often builds dummy nests in surrounding birdhouses to keep other wrens away from its nesting territory.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Information on Chemicals in Household Cleaners

Don't you wonder if chemical cleaners are really as bad as they say? Who are "they" anyway? Here's a few links to sites that will give you plenty of information on this topic.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Pages of slightly denser information summarizes the threat of toxic chemicals and introduces people to the concepts of hormone-disrupting chemicals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Natural Resources Defense Council

A similar effort can be found as WWF above divided into sections concerning children’s health, health effects, pesticides, and organic farming. This site lets guests choose their own level of desired detail by giving them the option of accessing either "in-brief" or "in-depth" pages on the subjects in question.

Children’s Health and Environmental Coalition (CHEC)
Excellent introductory resource for those with children. The home page offers a trip to the HealtheHouse, a nicely interactive virtual tour of a typical house that highlights common trouble spots. HealtheHouse pages include a simple quiz to identify possible actions one needs to take in their own home; an extensive resource section that lets users pick the level of information that best suits their needs and interest; and a section of brief animations that outline six very basic rules for healthier living.

Friends of the Earth in the U.K.
Although this is for the UK, this site provides some general safety tips when it comes to cleaners and other toxic products.

Here's A Few Options of Natural Choices for Household Cleaning

Sunshine Multi-Purpose Concentrate
One Product Cleaning Solution from Nature's Sunshine. Highly concentrated, this cleaner is good for just about every cleaning need imaginable.

Nature's Fresh
This widely tested deodorizer utilizes a special formulation of enzymes gleaned from plant sources. These enzymes work as deodorizers and break down the molecular structure of stains without harming fabric. Nature's Fresh is hypoallergenic, unscented, non-irritating and environmentally safe.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Don't Cut the Grass

Feel guilty about not cutting your lawn? You shouldn't! What would happen if you let the lawn go? One couple did that 26 years ago and they've got an incredible habitat that developed over the years. This year due to illness they weren't even able to mow right around the little farmhouse. View a photo essay about what showed up at Hilton Pond while the mower was parked.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

"Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure. I'm trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them." ... Unknown

Dragonflies and damselflies are fascinating creatures. Looking at the wings of this dragonfly makes me wonder how he flies through the air with all those "holes" in his wings. See a close-up here.

They appear to be magical creatures darting about, many in such bright metallic colors. Although we put in a very small pond in the backyard, it has provided a habitat that brings in more species of God's creatures. From each one there is a lesson to be learned.

Male dragonflies set up a territory by a body of water and defend it from other male dragonflies. As I watched one a couple of weeks ago, darting about and fighting for its rights to our pond, I thought about how often we dart about defending our own rights. Fighting the battles that God said He would take care of for us. Trusting in a Father we cannot see is not easy for many independent types, but it's a process and skill we all need to learn to find true peace in life.

It seems the longer we take to learn it the more opportunities we have to experience the lessons. I often ask myself why I take the hard way when God provides so much for us when we trust in Him. Why do I think I can do it better than the God that created me ... and the beautiful colorful dragonflies? How silly can ya get!?

I'd rather picture myself like the deer. He's not wasting time defending his space at the pond. He's simply being satisfied with God's provision of water in our pond.

No hurry scurry for the deer. What a peaceful image compared to a darting dragonfly.

Deer or dragonfly?

Which would you like to be?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Green June Beetles In The Garden

We had Green June Beetles joining the Japanese Beetles this year eating the buds on our Rose of Sharon bushes. They are not the same as the familiar brown May or June beetles that are seen flying to lights on summer nights. The Green June Beetle adult flies only during the day.

Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley, Virginia - July 2007

We are blessed to live within an hour of the Shenandoah Valley and there are many options on which way to go to enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains before getting to the Shenandoah Valley. One July day we headed out simply to enjoy the cool of the mountains. The waterfalls aren't as beautiful as in the spring, but the roadside delights are enough to keep a smile on my face for weeks after.

Photos include wildflowers, waterfalls, gardens, grist mill, nature trail, and herb farm.

View Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley, Virginia Photo Album

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Who Are You?

by Donna L. Watkins

We get ourselves into messes in life, many of us working and doing to please somebody that may even be dead and buried. We confuse what we do, or what our title is, or how much money we make, or what kind of car and house we own, or whether we look like a model, etc., with who we are. Do you believe what the Bible says about you ... or what the corporations want you to believe to create you to buy?

Fibromyalgia attacks mostly women and has been linked to a lifestyle of handling too much. Of bearing up under pressures that women were never designed to handle. It's a disease of our busy and demanding world.

Who we are has nothing to do with what we own, look like, or accomplish. In the end, it will only matter that we were pleasing to God and He loves us as He made us. All our quirks and dreams and skills and lack thereof are what we were made to be. We were born with desire and passion for something that God wants to accomplish through us. We already have what it takes!

We sin by wanting to be somebody else. We covet by desiring other people's skills and natural talents. While we are looking over the fence at their grass, God is calling from behind saying this is what I made you to be. I love who you are. You don't have to be anybody else for Me and don't let anybody tell you that you have to be somebody else for them.

Soak yourself in a bath of God's love and walk each day in a holy manner adding character qualities to your life, rather than trinkets on a charm bracelet that will rust and decay.

Don't let disease win the battle. It's a battle in the mind since our brain has so much to do with our physiological health. It controls the hormones and neurotransmitters and body processes, and what we think creates action within the brain.

Some of us have had too many troubles and burdens in life. If we're honest in our looks back, we can see that much of the chaos we created ourselves. We listened to what everybody else and the world told us we had to be and do and have. We made choices that created complicated lives. We were the only ones that believed we "had to do" all those things. We can't change the past ... but what's driving you today?

Maybe our minds can't comprehend a different lifestyle. Maybe we see no way out mentally, but our bodies were not meant to deal with the "super woman" and "super man" requirements of the world. They are not capable of those kinds of demands, so they began to manifest diseases. Maybe our brain unconsciously agrees with them and somewhere there is a bit of peace and joy in having a "good excuse" why we can't "do it all" any more.

Keeping things simple is easier if you are sick. Without ever thinking it or consciously knowing, it would be easy to believe that being ill makes life easier. People don't expect as much. The reason for saying "no" is a qualified and accepted one. Nothing to prove, no shame of not being able to take on yet another task. Your life now appears to be ruled by the disease.

There's a better way .... love yourself, believe in who you are and who you were created to be. Jesus came so that you could have abundant life. That includes joy, peace, contentment and health. You can't lay down your life if you don't have one, but God wants us to walk in our passion and dreams. To be truly us. To know we are really "okay." We don't have to say 'yes' to everybody to be good. Saying 'no' is important if the request does not match with who you are.

Work on being well. Not by pride and a puffed up spirit commanding the body and God to make it so ... but by humility and gratitude for all that God made us to be. Find your real self inside. Find those dreams and hopes and desires you had as a child. Ask God where you got off His path for your life. Why and when did you begin to conform to the image that others desired instead of being who you really are?

When we love ourselves, our bodies will heal and we will be able to love others so they can begin to heal. What the world needs now is love. Then we can lay our lives down in love doing what comes naturally and walking in joy and peace daily. No burdens ... only blessings. Begin to be you! It's okay. God made you to be you! Isn't it sin to try to be everybody else? (Answer: Yes)

Gardens and Forests Are For Dreaming

At this time of year it's such a joy to wander outside to find so much going on in God's Creation. He has made many beautiful things to attract our attention and to bring peace and joy to our weary souls.

God made the Garden and forests and then created us within it so that we would walk in the garden and fellowship with Him. I guess that's why you can't enter a garden or forest without sensing that stillness overcoming your entire being. It doesn't take long before you sense that wonder and awe of the Creator.

As you walk and see and experience, your heart is filled with the knowledge that you were created beautiful also and your mind begins to dream dreams and believe, once again, in your the hopes deepest in your soul.

How long has it been since you've walked with wonder in God's Creation? If it's been too long, schedule a time now!

Visit our Bluebird Cove to experience a bit of the natural world happening around us. Here's a few recent articles on some of our visiting critters: Scrawny Tail, a squirrel with a broken tail, Black-winged Damselflies and Five-lined Skinks that often entertain our cat on the screened porch.

Your Own Civil War

by Donna L. Watkins

Ever feel like you want to surrender and just lay down and die? If you have a civil war going on in your mind, at some point you will feel like giving up. Life can be so frustrating, as Paul writes about in Roman 7:15, "For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate."

Sin is a daily battle and it's one that's fought alone, out of view of friends and family and in the shadows of our mind. We play guilt tapes over and over as the devil whispers, "You'll never be good enough. Give up. Stop trying to be so holy. Nobody else is perfect. Everybody sins. Don't worry about it."

The devil knows Scripture and quotes it well having had thousands of years of practice. Don't let his choice of condemning words take you down. Yes, we have all failed, but God still calls us to be holy. Don't give up! Paul says, "Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." We make the choice daily - Spirit or flesh? That's why it's so important to be in the Word early in the day. The devil camps at your pillow and is ready to pounce the moment you lift your head.

One problem is to try to conquer it on your own. We like to keep our sins hidden, but the Bible tells us to "confess our sins, one to another." It brings it out into the Light so the devil can't make you think it's only your dark secret. Find a person with mercy and wisdom and share with them. Ask God to deliver you. You work at keeping your thoughts clear and your actions will follow your direction because no action occurs without a thought preceding it.

Some people memorize a Scripture related to their sin issue and that's a good thing to overcome evil with the Word. Another thing I've noticed that works, and takes less concentrated effort when we've got something that jumps around in our brain like soda droplets hitting the air after we've shaken a bottle and opened the top, is to choose a Word that means a lot to you. I mean one word of the Word. Like Jesus, or glory, or freedom, praise, or hallelujah.

A word that resonates with the deepest parts of your soul. One you can repeat over and over while it washes your mind free of the thoughts that turn into sins. The thought is not the sin ... it's choosing to continue thinking it or acting upon it that turns into sin. Don't let the devil fool you by saying that you will never stop thinking about it so you'll never stop sinning.

You only sin when you act upon the thought. Beg God to get the stuff out of you! When you've had thoughts that have controlled you for a long time, you will need God's help in cleaning that mental house. You can't conquer it alone.

Never give up hope! You are not hopeless! Through God's amazing grace He can take the bad and the ugly experiences of your life and use them to make you so much better than you would've been without them. In the economy of the Kingdom, all in your life is redeemed and nothing is ever lost.

Those bad experiences will all be used to make you better. Love Him and let go of the past, whether it's your childhood or yesterday. He will turn the dung into gold if you will let Him.

Copyright and Reprint Information
All photos remain the property of Donna L. Watkins and may not be republished without written permission. You may forward or use this copyrighted article on a website if you include the following credit and an active link back to this site:

© 2000-2007 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission. Visit the author's website, TheNatureInUs.com for more articles and free email subscription. Link URL: http://www.thenatureinus.com

Aromatic Flowers, Deer and Box Turtles

I spent quite a bit of time smelling this gardenia at Monticello on July 4th. I miss having them in the garden as we did in Alabama. The deer ate the bushes we planted after moving to Virginia so we can't grow them here.

It's such a heavenly scent, I suppose the deer can't resist munching on them, and like me inhaling time after time, they also must think, "just one more bloom."

Speaking of deer and heavenly scents, this year I had decided to grow Heritage Petunias in a large area thinking it would be impossible for the deer to eat all of them. I was correct, but since they nibble daily, the plants aren't able to bloom.

We so enjoy the aroma of those luscious petunias. Louise, the wife of the man who created the Butterfly Bench, gave us 8 seedlings and they spread and grew so lush even in the Alabama sun. When we moved here I had to have more and she brought some on their first visit.

I've grown them on the deck here each year and that is where they will need to remain to keep the deer from feasting. So, this morning I had the awful task of pulling all of those petunia plants out of the ground. It was a task that grieved me, but it was also sad to see them not being able to bloom for the butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

I had enough annual seedlings of the Hummingbird Salvias to fill in the area, and I knew that it was the right choice. We have a Backyard Wildlife Habitat and our yard is a Monarch Waystation, so I had to do the best thing for all concerned.

In the process I discovered a Box Turtle! That's the second one in the past month. This one was smaller than the first, so I know there are now two in our habitat and the joy of that took away all the sorrow of removing the petunias.

I placed him in another area where he could dig under the leaves and when I checked later, that's exactly what he'd done.

Box Turtles are becoming less common with all the development and clearing of forests. They can live to be 100 years old.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Story of Antlers

Antlers are naturally shed by deer, elk and moose. They are bony outgrowths that develop from and are attached to two protuberances called pedicles on top of the skull. While antlers are growing they are covered by a furry skin covering called velvet. The growing antlers and the velvet are supplied with oxygen and nutrients by a network of blood vessels. Growth and hardening of the antlers is completed in late July or August.

In August, increased production of testosterone cuts off the blood supply to the antlers and velvet. The velvet dies, dries up, and peels away. Further removal of velvet from antlers occurs during the rut. Among the testosterone-induced rut activities of the male, which begin in late August or September, is the thrashing of antlers against sapling trees and shrubs which rubs off the velvet and polishes the antlers while staining them.

The reduced daylight of winter diminishes testosterone production, this causes the shedding of antlers. Mature males shed them in February-March and younger males may retain theirs until May. New antlers begin to grow within days after old ones drop.

Get more facts from the site where this information came from and also look at their chandeliers and lighting options made from shed antlers.
Visit site.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Blue Ridge Parkway Wildflowers

A short album of wildflowers noted while driving the Parkway in July 2007.

View Blue Ridge Parkway Wildflowers Photo Album

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Eastern Gray Tree Frog

The Eastern Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) is the chameleon of the frog world. Although its name would imply it's not always the same color. It has the ability to adapt to backgrounds ranging from gray to green.

With a white spot under both eyes, a white belly and yellowish-orange markings on the inside of its hind legs, he is rather an exotic-looking frog for our area. The large adhesive pads on the end of its toes aide its ability cling to vertical surfaces.

Their predators are many species of birds, small mammals, snakes and other larger frogs. Bullfrogs and Green Frogs in our area are known predators and Giant Waterbugs will also attack them. They rarely leave the trees until the breeding season to avoid predators and are most active at night.

They prey upon most types of insects and their larvae. Mites, spiders, plant lice, harvestmen, and snails are also eaten as they hunt in the understory of wooded areas in small trees and shrubs. Like most frogs, it may also eat smaller frogs, including other tree frogs. Local pest populations of mosquitos, gnats, and flies are reduced in the territory of a single Gray Tree Frog.

Females in the animal kingdom tend to be more selective than males in choosing a mate. Female tree frogs respond to male tree frogs who have longer mating calls and ignore the frogs with shorter calls.

This initially seemed to indicate that females chose the male with the best song, but careful study revealed that offspring bred from these superior singers were of a higher quality, being measured by growth rate.

The sound of the male calling is comprised of a resonant musical trill and the dewlap (the pouch at his throat) expands and quivers.

In comparison to other frog species here, their calls are shorter being only .5 to 3 seconds long, but similar to the American Toad, but not as shrill.

Breeding is April to July. The female will lay up to 2,000 eggs singly or in loose clusters up to 30 eggs attached to vegetation near the surface in temporary or permanent ponds in swamps, forests, or gardens.

She chooses ponds that are relatively free of predators, especially avoiding fish. Eggs hatch in 3-6 days and tadpoles turn into frogs in 6-8 weeks, grazing on algae and plant debris.

They are subject to being consumed by larger fish and other amphibian larvae such as salamanders.

They overwinter under shelters of bark, leaves, rocks or logs. These frogs prevent ice crystals from forming in their organs by changing glycerol into glucose and circulating it through the organs. The remaining water in the body is allowed to freeze. The frog is basically frozen until next Spring.

In our habitat, the Eastern Gray Tree Frog returned each year to our deck planters which seem to offer protection from predators and they are near our small backyard pond.

This year they don't spend as much time in the planters, but they are often there. Our naughty squirrels have chewed the planter corners so the water runs right out of the bottom rather than being held in the reservoir below.

The tree frogs seem to have adjusted. I hear them in the bushes by the deck and they still visit the planter that has a corner unchewed. They make it look so comfortable there. We would replace the planters, but the squirrels have been eating all things plastic for quite awhile now ... so it would be a fruitless endeavor. Last week they chewed a hole in our big garbage toter that the trucks pick up.

During mating season they call from our deck and catch bugs attracted to the plants. This photo was taken at night while they were leaping for moths against a deck door that had an inside light gleaming through. They are just so cute and squeezable, but I avoid touching them.

Amphibians can be safely handled if you are sure your hands have no toxins on them.

Always wet your hands before touching them so you don't rub off the mucous membrane that keeps them from drying out and protects them from germs that can take their life.

Amphibians are being used to judge environmental toxicity of areas since they are so sensitive to poisons. Our world seems to be so full of toxicity.

Related Article
Eastern Gray Treefrog Tadpoles in Birdbath

Baking Soda Spray for Powdery Mildew

It will also offer a measure of protection against Black Spot:
1 tsp of baking soda
1 quart water

Spray on plant foliage and stems, covering all surfaces.

Monday, July 9, 2007

So Many Kinds of Bird Beaks

Have you wondered why there are so many shapes and sizes of bird beaks? When we first began birding, one of the identifying characteristics was to determine whether the bird was seed-eating (with a rather chunky beak) or bug-eating (with a rather slender and pointed beak). But now I know there's a whole lot more going on than that!

The following website shows you the varieties of beaks and what kind of tool they resemble. The beak of a bird must be adaptive to the food it needs and it will also tell you what type of habitat the bird will be able to survive in. Visit site.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Naturalization Ceremony At Monticello

We had a grand day for the 4th of July and the highlight was attending the Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello with Sam Waterston as the keynote speaker.

If you enjoy history, architecture, gardens, or you're just patriotic, there was much to enjoy and photograph.

This photo was taken amongst the Monticello flowers. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed gardening and made such detailed journals about it.

Living near Charlottesville, VA, has made me a bit interested in history, a subject I didn't enjoy while I was in school.

Maybe getting older adds appreciation for it also since much of your life is now history. :-)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Brown Thrasher

Did you know that Brown Thrashers have "whiskers?" Last month we were delightfully entertained by a Brown Thrasher that fell in love with his own reflection in a window on our front porch.

Although Brown Thrashers are generally very secretive and shy, this bird was smitten with his reflection in the glass. He didn't seem to mind my taking photos at all. It was a wonderful day that I will cherish for a very long time.

I've put some on the site gallery so you could title them with all your ingenious titles .. there are plenty of odd expressions for your creativity.

Photo Album: Romanced By A Brown Thrasher.

Pounce and Bite Cat

by Cheryl Falkenburry, Behavior Specialist

Many cats bite in play and others bite out of fear. It is your responsibility to teach the cat what is appropriate and inappropriate. The following suggestions may help with cats who like to use their teeth and claws. Please contact an animal behaviorist for help with an aggressive animal.

1) Spaying/Neutering: If the cat sharing your home is not spayed or neutered, you may want to consider starting with this. Spaying and neutering is not a cure-all, but many behaviors are driven by hormones which spaying and neutering help remove. Male cats are ruled by testosterone; the female cat ovulates frequently and stays in heat up to two or three weeks. The male cat courts with caterwauling catcalls as does the female in heat. Spaying and neutering will help take away some of the disturbances that normal mating instincts cause and the aggression that sometimes accompanies it.

2) Temptations: Avoid loose pants, flowing skirts, and loose shoe laces that will entice a cat to chase, bite and/or claw. Teach children not to run around animals.

3) Training: Yes, cats can be trained. Teach the cat to come by calling his name and giving him a treat when he comes to you. Many cats come when they hear the can opener; they too can learn to come when called. This will help you to control the cat in different situations. When you see the cat getting ready to pounce on Grandma as she shuffles by, you can interrupt the behavior by calling her to you. If you see the cat getting ready to pounce, interrupt her behavior with tin foil balls that you can have conveniently placed around the house. This way you will teach the cat to chase after more appropriate objects than the humans in the house.

4) Playing: Have kitty cat play sessions a few times a day. This will entertain the cat and make her more tired. Cats often follow the same sequence in play that they would use in a hunt. They stalk, pounce, kill, and eat their prey, so be sure to have play times fulfill all those needs. Often humans tire of the game and then leave a cat in a heighten state of arousal causing the cat to bite the nearest thing—the human they were playing with. If using a laser light to play, be sure to allow the cat plenty of time to chase the light, then throw a catnip mouse where the light is and allow the cat to play with the mouse. Put a morsel of food on the floor at the end of play to simulate eating the kill. If you are tired at the end of a busy day, all this can take place right from your armchair during commercial breaks if necessary, but usually the cat will be much more entertaining than the television!

5) Bite and Claw Inhibition in Play: Teach the cat appropriate use of claws and teeth by shouting “Ouch” every time a cat bites or claws hard during a play session. Get up and walk away. After a few minutes, call the cat to you and start the play session again. Soon the cat will realize that biting and scratching hard ends fun games and the cat will learn to modify her behavior in order to keep the game going. Use the phrase “No claws” and “Stop biting” so the cat learns to associate this phrase with the action. Then if the cat jumps on your lap and begins to knead excessively, you can use the phrase “No claws” to get the cat to stop without having to reprimand the cat and remove her from your lap. If the cat is an affectionate nibbler, you can say “Stop biting” before the nibbles begin to hurt so you don’t have to reprimand the cat for what she thinks is affection.

6) Rule Making: Set limits in the household. Cats pounce, bite, and scratch in the middle of the night if they are allowed to. Decide what the rules are and enforce them. If you don’t want the cat pouncing on your feet in the middle of the night, then teach him to get off with a hiss and a quick squirt of water. Don’t get up and play with the cat thinking he is lonely. This only rewards the cat’s behavior and before you know it you will be getting up several times a night. Have quiet play toys for the cat. At night, put the cat in a separate room with lots of climbing apparatuses and toys.

7) Socialization and Handling: Cats who were not socialized early in life or those who experienced excessive or inappropriate reprimands or handing by humans often have a great fear of being near people. These cats need to be taught that having humans around can be quite rewarding. Please see the article entitled Socializing the Fearful Cat for more information on how to help build confidence in the fearful cat.

Ask About Your Pet's Behavior Problem
Cheryl Falkenburry has traveled the world helping people make sense of mind-boggling animal behavior. Working with animal behaviorists in Tucson, Arizona and England, majoring in psychology, and becoming a certified parenting educator prepared Cheryl to teach both humans and animals. Get details on phone and email consultations.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Single Gene Determines Dog Size

In a recent article in the journal Science, researchers report the discovery of a genetic sequence that they believe is responsible for determining the size of a dog.

By studying the genetic differences between small and large breeds, researchers found that smaller breeds had a mutation in the sequence next to a gene known as IGF1. The hormone regulated by the IGF1 gene helps determine growth rates of mammals. The mutation found in smaller dogs like Chihuahuas prevents them from growing to be the size of Great Danes.

The study was comprehensive, investigating thousands of dogs comprising more than 140 breeds. Those involved in the study hope that this discovery will lead to advances in cancer treatment, which seeks to control or reverse unrestrained cell growth, as well as many of the nearly 300 diseases that canines and humans have in common.

Source: Healthy Pet Newsletter, a free monthly newsletter.

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