Monday, May 31, 2010

Baby Fox Snake

juvenile fox snake
"People are both repelled and fascinated by snakes"...E.O. Wilson
Don't be alarmed if you see this little snake  in your backyard. Fox snakes have hatched and are out and about. They like to sun themselves on warm stones, highways and, in the case of the little 14" snake above, on our deck. They eat mice and other rodents, bird eggs and young hatchlings. That perhaps is their only fault. They are not poisonous and will quickly move away from you.  There is really no need to kill  any snake in this area as none are poisonous. However, if you are one who is repelled by snakes, find someone who is fascinated by snakes and ask them to remove it from your yard. They will be glad to do so.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I have been noticing more sedges (genus Carex) here at Habitat Home now that I am reading about them in a recently acquired book Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedgesby Andrew Hipp. Sedges have edges, grasses are hollow and rushes are round. This saying refers to the shape of the stem (culm) of the plant and is about as much as I know about sedges. Of course, as with all such sayings, there are exceptions. Sedges are an important part of all natural habitats so introducing sedges to any recreated habitat contributes greatly to the biodiversity of an area, but in order to do so one must be able to identify sedges. Many native nurseries are now offering sedges and even some regular nurseries are offering sedges for home gardeners because of the ornamental value sedges provide to a home garden. The Morton Arboretum is offering a workshop on sedges (June 17-18, 2010), which will be led by the Andrew Hipp, the author of the book mentioned above. I will be attending and if you are interested in recreating natural areas, I encourage you to learn more about sedges and attend the workshop.

If you get an error on the "workshop on sedges" link above, go to the Morton Arboretum site, click on "Adult Programs" in the Education tab, and then click on "Current Schedule of Courses..." link. This will give you a cookie that will allow you to successfully click on the workshop on sedges link. Bad!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chain saw, weed whacker, fence cutter and herbicide sprayer.

This morning was spent using the chain saw to cut down the huge honeysuckle bushes along one of the old fence rows. The stumps were then sprayed with a 50% solution of Roundup. After the honeysuckle was removed we were able to remove some more of the old, old, fence that years ago confined the pigs that lived here. We then noticed some invasive yellow clover blooming in one of the old fields. So out came the weed whacker. The morning was spent dealing entirely with invasive species and old fencing. This can at times be overwhelming but one must remember that every invasive removed is helpful and that the job will never be finished. So, do not fret and worry, just do what you can to remove the invasives and old fencing from your property. These tools will all be out on many more mornings.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Azure Butterfly

summer azure butterfly (Celastrina neglecta)
While out weeding the flower beds on this hot humid day, I noticed a lot of azure butterflies out and about. Are these spring azures or summer azures? It is so hard to tell, and this is probably the crossover time period for the two species to appear. This small butterfly is seen here feeding on white clover, notice the proboscis extending into the flower; its wing is less than three quarters of an inch long.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bluebird chicks

eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) chicks
We were away for a week, and then didn't check the birdhouses last week. But today, we took a look at the bluebird house and found four chicks, all fairly large with well developed feathers. This is the same nest as covered in the April 30 ("Time for Eggs") and May 4 ("Revisited") posts, where five eggs were incubating. Unlike the calm female we found in that previous post, today she was quite agitated, complaining loudly from the nearby trees as we opened the box. These four will likely fledge in the the next few days, and likely receive yet another post, especially if we can see the little guys afterwards.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Land Snail

We will be seeing more of these with all the rainy weather we are having. I rather enjoyed watching the little critter with it's beautiful shell inch along the stump it was walking on. Land snails can be a huge pest to both vegetable growers and gardeners as they are especially fond of lettuce and hostas. They deposit their eggs in the soil and within two weeks the eggs hatch into fully developed little snails, fully mobile and ready to eat. They themselves though are an important food source for many others, including birds, snakes, turtles, beetles and even humans. Don't think I will eat him/her however, I am glad to see land snails here at Habitat Home.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fringe Tree

fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Our poor fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus). It must have been just the right size for the deer this year; they totally destroyed it. Or so I thought. I was just about ready to give up on it when I started to see new growth. This small shrub or tree has a great ability to recuperate after heavy deer browsing. This is not the first year this has happened but it will be the last. I plan to securely fence this tree this fall before the deer start rubbing on it and break off the branches.

A fringe tree can be a beautiful specimen tree for the home landscape. It produces abundant fragrant white flowers in the spring, it's berries are eaten by many birds, and the leaves turn yellow in the fall. However, locally it is hard to find even one for sale.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

University of Wisconsin Arboretum

On our recent trip to northern Minnesota, we stopped at the Universty of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison, Wisconsin. There we  viewed and hiked a number of recreated native habitats, prairies, savannas, woodlands and ponds. The visitor's center has been entirely landscaped with native plants. It was a delight to experience and that is where I saw the plant, cream false indigo Baptisia leucophaea. I was particularly interested in this plant because I have tried to establish it here at Habitat Home but have not been successful. It was growing in an area that was much like those at Habitat Home so I will try once again.
cream false indigo (Baptisia leucophaea)
Another recent interest was furthered by the purchase of the book Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedgesby Andrew Hipp at the arboretum's bookstore in the visitor's center. My interest in sedges was previously aroused by reading the book The American Meadow Gardenby John Greenlee, in which the importance and prevalence of sedges in recreated meadows was discussed. Since we have a meadow area already started at Habitat Home, I am interested in further developing that area with sedges. So perhaps there will be future photos and information on native sedges...of which there are a lot!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wild Ginger

wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
Nature's Garden, a book printed in 1915 written by Neltje Blanchan, asks these questions about wild ginger (Asarum canadense):
Like the wicked servant who buried the one talent entrusted to his care, the wild ginger hides its solitary flower if not actually under the dry leaves that clothe the ground in the still leafless woodlands, then not far above them. Why? When most plants flaunt their showy blossoms aloft, where they may be seen by all, why should this one bear only one dull, firm cup, inconspicuous in color as in situation?
So as poetic as it all sounds, the reason is to attract the gnats and small flies that come crawling out of the warming soil looking for something to eat. The color and location of the flower are similar to the food they are seeking: dead meat. The gnats and flies pollinate the flower and a leather capsule develops which eventually bursts and discharges many seeds.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Time for Eggs - Revisited

It's been four days since I checked the nests in the birdhouses (see the previous post, "Time for Eggs"), so time for another look. This time, mom bluebird sat and posed for about a minute, but as you can see in the left photo below, she didn't look too happy to see me. She finally had enough and took off, revealing the five pale blue eggs still incubating.

The white-breasted nuthatch nest, in the right photo below, was more interesting. Again, and unlike the bluebird, the female left the birdhouse as I approached within 30-40 feet. The five eggs have all hatched and the chicks are waiting for mom to return, presumably with their next meal. It's hard to believe looking at them, but these chicks' wing feathers and muscles will develop sufficiently in 18-26 days for them to leave the nest. Their mom and dad will continue to feed them for another two weeks after that, and then they'll be off to find and establish their own territory.
white-breasted nuthatch chicks (Sitta carolinensis)
eastern bluebird female (Sialia sialis)