Thursday, September 15, 2016

Painted Turtle Update!

Although Kenn and I were away from home and missed it, two more baby turtles hatched! And while our hearts might be a teensy bit sad to have missed it, we couldn't be happier that our dear friend Tiffanie got to share this experience with her daughter. In fact, after looking at the pictures and seeing the radiant, happy smile on Delaney's face as she released these tiny bundles of life, we wouldn't change the way these two baby turtles came into the world for anything. 

Hatchling baby turtle #2 has arrived!

And if you look closely, above #2, you can see the head of 
#3 just beginning to emerge!

Just look at that beautiful, happy smile!  
Baby turtles are definitely smile-inducing!  

 Delaney sends one tiny hatchling off into 
its new aquatic world! 

There are still a few more to hatch, so we'll keep you posted! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

BobWHITE Memories, New and Old

Kimberly Writes: We should all seek happiness in our lives. But, oh the joy when happiness finds you. ♡♡♡ 

We were overjoyed this morning when this pair of Northern Bobwhites walked out from under the shrubbery to forage around one of our bird feeding stations. 

We'd had one male in the yard a few years ago...

 ...but this is our first pair. 


This is a totem bird for me. It was the first bird I ever really knew existed. Sitting on the porch swing of my Grandparent's farm house, little 5-year-old Kimmer sat beside her Grandpa Jake, who she idolized. And when he whistled that sharp, clear "BobWHITE." 
and the bird called back from the ravine on the edge of their yard...well, 
I just knew that my Grandpa was magic. ♡♡♡

 And off they go, back under the shrubbery from whence they came. 
Thanks for stopping by and making our hearts so happy, you dapper little birds. ♡♡♡

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Shell YES!

From Homebase in Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kimberly Writes: On July 9th, I shared the story of our encounter with a Midland Painted Turtle laying eggs in our prairie. 

For several weeks we wrestled with what to do. Our yard is frequented by many of the main predators of turtle nests, and after much discussion, a great deal of research, and some serious soul searching, we made the decision to collect the eggs and raise them inside.

Excavating the eggs was a delicate, stressful operation. But after several minutes of painstakingly careful excavation (using a series of small brushes) seven gleaming white eggs were revealed.

We took exceptional care in handling this precious cargo, and placed them in a container under several inches of the same soil they were removed from. 

And then, we waited.  

And waited...

And waited...

And waited...

Wondering, hoping, yes, even praying that we'd done the right thing and that our adopted foster turtles would emerge, unharmed and healthy. As we approached the documented incubation period, we began checking on them obsessively, day and night. And finally, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, September 10th, after a long and worrisome 66 day wait, there came a barely detectable scratching. Tiny grains of dirt began shifting on the surface, and...
Our first baby turtle made its way into the world. 
And into our hearts. 

Impossible tiny, extraordinarily cute, exquisitely perfect. 

It won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me but the tears came.
It just felt like such a gift, like a miracle, to hold this new new life in my hand. 

After some time to adjust to life above ground, we released this tiny miracle 
on the edge of our pond in an area with shallow water, 
plenty of cover, and a good bit of exposed bank.

I was overcome by how very small and vulnerable it seemed, and had to fight hard against the urge to snatch it right back up and raise it indoors where we could protect it from harm. I wondered how any of them survive in a world where nearly everything seems willing and able to eat them. 

But survive they do. Their population is stable and healthy across its range, and they're one of the most abundant turtle species in Ohio. 

We're still waiting on the others to emerge, and we'll keep you posted on the progress. In the meantime, please say a little pray to the turtle gods that our first little hatchling lives long and prospers. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Buzz ON

A few weeks ago, Kenn and I threw a party in honor of some dear friends. While prepping the area near our fire ring, I started to move a rotting log at the edge of the area - and the doggone thing started buzzing -- like, LOUD! At that point, I turned to hightail it outta there, but it wasn't long before three of the angry residents (some species of small bumblebee) caught up and delivered three notices to the back of my thigh to let me know how they felt about being disturbed.

After nursing the stings, and allowing what I hoped would be enough time for the buzzles to calm down, I returned to the scene of the crime, and here's what I found.

If you look closely at the bottom of the stump, you can see the nest and 
the little cluster of "alien pods," each containing a Bumblebee larva. 

I felt terrible for disturbing the nest. And, in order to at least turn this into a teachable moment, we cordoned off the area and encouraged our guests to peer inside. And now, I'm sharing this unique view with you, totally sting-free! :-)

A closer view reveals a glimpse into the bizarre and fascinating lives of Bumblebees.

From the Bumblebee Conservation Trust: When she has chosen her nest, the queen will begin to collect pollen from flowers, to bring back to the nest. She forms a mound of pollen and wax (which she secretes from her body) and lays her first brood of eggs. She also collects nectar which she stores in a pot-shaped structure made of wax which is positioned in front of her mound. The queen keeps the eggs warm by sitting on her wax ‘nest’ and shivering her muscles to keep warm.

Sipping from the nectar-pot gives her enough energy to incubate the eggs for several days until little white grub-like larvae emerge. These larvae are fed on pollen and nectar which the queen goes back-and-forth to collect from nearby flowers. Once they have eaten enough, after around two weeks, they spin a cocoon, inside which they develop into adult bees. Read more, here:

I encourage you to do your own research on the life history of Bumblebees. They're incredibly fascinating, and the process of sex determination sounds like something from an episode of Star Trek! (Google search "Haplodiploid.")

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Our big patch of zinnias continues to provide great habitat for pollinators and is attracting a sensational variety of flying insects right now. Today's featured flyer: Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis).

From the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America: 
"The Snowberry Clearwing is typical of a small group of clear-winged, day-flying sphinx moths that are good mimics of bumblebees -- except that they hover in front of blossoms instead of landing on them."

Here in the Midwest, the other two species in the genus Hemaris are Hummingbird Clearwing and Slender Clearwing.

Here's a video of this remarkable moth at our zinnias. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bird's Nest Fungus

I can't even tell you how excited I am about our most recent‪ backyard nature discovery‬.  I've always wanted to see Bird's Nest Fungus, and we've looked for it in many different places on our travels. The last place I expected to see it for the first time was in our own backyard!

It's not hard to see how this fungus of Lilliputian proportion gets its name. And while the cups do look like tiny bird's nests, they're actually the fruiting body of the fungus. Inside, the "eggs," are the peridioles that contain the spores which are the basis of its reproduction.


I am not ashamed to admit that I sort of lost my sh*t when I discovered these. First, I ran to get Kenn, and then I made an emergency fungus discovery phone call to my best friend Tiffanie. Now listen, you know you're picking your friends right when they heed your emergency fungus discovery call and immediately jump in the car to race over!

These remarkable little bird nests in miniature are yet another powerful (and cosmically-cool!) reminder that the natural world never disappoints. Get outside. Exercise your curiosity. Feed your soul. #BackyardNatureDiscoveries

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ode to Baby Bluebirds

For many days we waited, watched, and hoped. We heard your tiny voices calling from inside the box. We listened as your voices grew stronger and noticed when your parents stopped going all the way into the box to feed you. Instead, perching only at the entrance while tiny beaks poked out of the shadowy hole to receive the offerings.

And today, you vaulted out of the little green box in the middle of our prairie and found your place in the sky. Oh, you beautiful little bluebirds. How you have graced our world.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Super Cool Cat(erpiggle)

Kimberly Writes: This spring, a friend gave me a flat of Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea). While I've grown many different plants over the years, this was a new one for me, and I was thrilled to have them, as they're hummingbird magnets!

I've tended them through a hot, dry summer, and they've rewarded me by doing their job, attracting hummingbirds like crazy. Yep, I expected the hummers, but I never thought of them as a host plant for caterpiggles. Not until THIS incredible creature appeared!

A few days ago, we were walking through our gardens with our friends Tiffanie and Delaney Hayes, and we paused to talk about our little patch of Cuphea. It was a total shock to look down and see this gorgeous caterpiggle munching away, and such a joy to share the discovery with our friends! 

A bit of searching turned up two of these big old cats. Kenn did some research and discovered that they're White-lined Sphinx moth caterpiggles. They've grown a lot the last few days, so I took a photo today with my hand in the shot for size reference.

Aren't they amazing?!?! Get outside and explore the natural world. You will never be disappointed!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Deer - and Near to My Heart

Kimberly Writes: Movement in the shadows of the old apple tree alerted us that she was there. It was a surprise to see her so close to the house, and we wondered if the hot, dry weather had driven her here, in broad daylight, to seek out the cooler temperatures and tender plants in the shade beneath the tree.

You have to look closely to see her among the lower limbs of the apple tree. 

 With so much financial and sweat equity in our native plants, we were torn with how to feel about her presence here. But it didn't take long to decide to simply embrace the beauty of the moment, and accept her grace and loveliness for the gift that it was.

I hope the bit of respite served her well, and I thank her for moving on with no damage whatsoever. The world seems like a dark and frightening place sometimes, but there is beauty in it too. And if our hearts are open, and we know where to look for it, it's easy to find. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Wanted: Dead But With Life

Kimberly Writes: In my last post I encouraged everyone to leave dead trees standing whenever it's safe to do so. Dead trees provide important habitat and add visual interest to an area - when you look at them through the right lens!  =) But what to do if you don't have any dead trees in your yard? 


When a big dead limb broke off our maple tree, Kenn helped me bring it back to life! And we didn't have to wait long for a sense of satisfaction: a Downy Woodpecker came to check it out right after we put it up! (Not a bad way to mask a satellite dish either, eh?!) 

Our dead tree given a second chance at life!
See the Downy checking out the hole at the top?!
It didn't take long for a Downy Woodpecker
to drop by for an inspection!
Helloooo in there..there...there.... 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Kimberly Writes: Masked marauders are forcing us to take all of our bird feeders in at night. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it. The most recent reward is watching our adult male Red-bellied Woodpecker teaching his kid the ropes. Male and female RBWOs often divide the parenting duties once the young have fledged, so you'll often see just one or the other with part of the brood. We're happy that one of the adults selected our yard for his kid's training grounds!

He has an affinity for oranges...

 ...and peanuts!

So, of course, the kid learned how to exploit these two offerings first. 

The kid's first attempts were awkward and comical,
but now it's feeding like a boss!

And while it's figured out the bird feeder gig, dad is still teaching it how to search for grubs and other goodies in our dead ash trees.

Dad delivers a juicy snack to the youngster, 

providing some incentive for the kid to search on his own.

I hope you're enjoying wonderful observations like these in your yard too. And please remember: always leave dead trees standing whenever it's safe to do so. The woodpeckers and many other birds will thank you!

Learn more about Red-bellied Woodpeckers on the Audubon website.…/bird/red-bellied-woodpecker

Friday, July 29, 2016

From Kenn's Drawing Table: Brandt's Cormorant

From Kenn's Drawing Table: Work in progress - Brandt's Cormorant

Kenn Writes: I've finished a first pass on some of the easy parts, and now I'm about to attempt the subtle greenish and bluish gloss that shows up on well-lit parts of the black head and neck. Oil on illustration board. Brandt's Cormorant is common along the Pacific Coast of North America, from Mexico north to British Columbia, with a few in southern Alaska.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lifecycle of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly

An album depicting the lifecycle of a Black Swallowtail - from egg to adult!

First, the egg...

Plants in the carrot family (Queen Anne's Lace, and herbs like Parsley and Dill) are the host plants for Black Swallowtails. The adult butterfly laid the egg in the photo above right in front of me! I'm struggling to describe the feeling of seeing something like this tiny pearl of life happen right before my eyes. I wish this feeling for all of you at least once in your lifetime. And I love the fact that the first thing the itty-bitty caterpiggles do is eat the egg shell! I watched this happen under a microscope once and it was remarkable!  

Speaking of caterpiggles...

Here's a tiny early instar. See that white "saddle" in the middle of this caterpiggle's back? Well, apparently, that white saddle is "due to uric acid deposits that may function as antioxidant to protect larvae from phototoxic chemicals in the diet." (Timmerman & Berenbaum 1999).
                  Below are various stages of caterpiggle development known as "instars."

This fully grown caterpiggle is preparing to pupate by
spinning a silken harness to secure itself with. 

And this is what it looks like just after pupating.
You can see the caterpiggle's shed skin wadded up
below the chrysalis. 
The chrysalis darkens as it hardens. 

Oh, and I just had to include an image of the bizarre "osmeterium." 
The osmeterium is a gland and you only see it when the caterpillar feels threatened. It also emits a very strong odor that acts as a defense mechanism to ward off predators. (I still can't decide if I think it smells good or awful!) Because just when you think these doggone things couldn't be ANY cooler ... BAM, they pop fleshy, wet looking, really smelly, orange horns out the top of their head. 
And here's the end result of all this effort and transformation: the stunning adult Black Swallowtail

It's hard to believe these things are even real, isn't it?! Nature seems more like magic than reality sometimes. I hope you're providing host plants for butterflies and moths in your garden, so you too can have the remarkable experience of watching this process happen right before your eyes!