On Wednesday November 14, the Green Hour Group went on a hike to look for naturally occurring brushpiles. Last week we made a small brushpile of our own in Schoolhouse Park. Brushpiles are helpful to wildlife during winter as they provide shelter during cold days and nights as well as, a place to hide from predators. So we were hiking, running, skipping and hopping along the Zim Smith trail while looking for brushpiles and any signs of wildlife. At a small stand of pines we stopped to look at holes in a tree made by woodpeckers. We also saw a large brushpile. Jessica, one of the moms, pointed out a big pile of pinecones. The pile was in the woods next to the brushpile. We didn't think it was made by a person. As we all took a good look, we also saw a pile of pinecone scales, called a midden. Earlier that afternoon I had been scolded by a red squirrel in that exact spot while walking my dog. Was the squirrel responsible for the pinecone cache and the midden of discarded pinecone scales? Yes it was! After our hike I looked up the habits of red squirrels and read that this is what they do. There's been caches of up to 200 pinecones. Wow are they hungry! Today I was able to catch a picture of the squirrel as it scurried up the tree, all the while scolding me for interrupting his hoarding. Thank you Jessica for that great sighting!!
In Round Lake on Sunday October twenty-eighth, it was the calm before the storm. There was not even a whisper of wind. It felt eerie outside. On Monday as we all braced for Hurricane Sandy, the wind picked up. The Village’s many trees began bending and swaying. Thankfully, most trees had already lost either all or a majority of their leaves. Heavy rain and possibly snow with trees still with lots of leaves makes for downed trees and power lines! Wind whistled between houses and swirled leaves up and against windows. Rain held off until late in the day. Out several times with my dogs, I noticed only tree branches down. The dogs enjoyed chasing flying leaves and finding new sticks to play with. In the afternoon I saw on the news that Lake George had large waves crashing onto Million Dollar beach and looked like an ocean. Before sunset I went down to our lake to check it out and to take some pictures. Round Lake did have white caps but certainly did not look like the Atlantic. I would not have chosen to go kayaking at this time however. The wind whipped the tall reed Phragmites on the lake’s shore. There was not a water bird in sight. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any flocks of geese flying overhead on Monday. At least, I didn’t hear their honking which could have been swallowed up by the wind. Not a single duck was on the water. The Bald Eagle which I have been seeing several times a week either gliding up in the thermal air currents or perched on a lakeside tree was not to be seen. As night fell so did some rain. Wind did not pick up as strongly as forecasted. Power stayed on through the night and was still on come Tuesday. As I walked through the woods at the end of Peck Avenue that morning, the stand of towering red and white pines was still upright. The large maples and oaks in our parks hadn’t toppled. We had gotten through the storm unscathed. Unfortunately, we discovered that downstate, NYC, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut had devastating destruction. My hometown of Locust Valley, on the North Shore of Long Island just minutes from the L.I. Sound, did not fare well. It is a heavily treed area with nature preserves, marshes, swamps and woods. High winds took down numerous trees making areas unrecognizable. Bayville, the next town over, sits right on the Sound. It had terrible flooding and some areas still have no power. As I dismantle sump hoses and put away flashlights, candles, and a crank radio, I am very thankful we were spared the storm’s wrath but so sad for what others in Sandy’s path are enduring. On a brighter note, if you are looking for Fall color in your garden and a late source of nectar for bees and butterflies, plant some asters. A hard frost on October thirteenth killed everything in my garden but the asters. I had bees on the flowers right up to early November. Last Fall I remember that my butterfly bush and asters were in bloom at the same time. Asters won out over the shrub for having more butterflies and bees visiting them. This is most likely because asters are native to our area whereas the butterfly bush is not. Native insects generally prefer to take nectar and/ or eat native plants. Alien plants for some of our local fauna just won’t do. This Fall the butterfly bush was in bloom long before the asters. Monarch butterflies used it as a nectar source before their migration to Mexico in September. Afterwards, the asters began to bloom and were frequented by bees and Cabbage White butterflies. A great book on this topic is Bringing Nature Home : How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, by Doug Tallamy. Berkshire Botanical Gardens also offers classes in gardening with native plants.
Back in the middle of August I could
not stop watching and taking pictures of the Painted Lady butterflies that
covered the butterfly bush in my garden.Although I've had this white flowering shrub for a number of years, I
have never had these visitors.The
Painted Lady butterfly is orange with black and white markings.It has a wingspan of about two inches.I read about them and learned that they are
migratory, wintering in the south and flying north and throughout the country
in spring.Some years their population
reaches great numbers and we see an influx of them.Other years there are very few seen in New
York and New England.Weather conditions
can also affect their arrival.Perhaps
our mild winter and early spring enticed them up here this summer.
The Painted Lady caterpillars feed
on plants such as mallows, hollyhocks, and thistles.The butterflies get their nectar from many
plant sources.They not only loved my
butterfly bush but also covered Theo and Laurie's, Jean Sweet's, the bush by
Alumni Hall, and the one at the library.Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Clear-wing Hummingbird moths, and
Ruby-throated hummingbirds all vied for nectar on the bushes. A small Brown Elfin butterfly enjoyed the
overripe banana I put out on my butterfly feeder.The Painted Lady show lasted for a couple of
weeks and then they were gone.Hummingbirds stayed through the first week of September.Monarchs continue to drift by, taking nectar
from the now blooming asters and butterfly bush.
I've paddled down Round Lake's
outlet several times in the last month.Two out of three times I've seen a Bald Eagle perched in a treetop on
the eastern shore.I have spotted half a
dozen Great Blue Herons either fishing quietly or flying low over the marshy
areas.Belted Kingfishers are on the
outlet too.Last week, Judy Selig and I
paddled around a bend and came across one sitting atop a small dead tree next
to the water.We quietly paddled toward
it. I suddenly noticed a hawk flying
fast up behind the kingfisher.At that
exact moment our paddling disturbed the kingfisher. In the nick of time he left
his post, gave his rattle call and just avoided being attacked by the
hawk.The hawk flew on and the kingfisher
flew low into the vegetation.Wow!Better than the nature channel.
A dozen three to five year olds
successfully prepared the ground, planted, tended, and picked vegetables at the
Round Lake library this summer.We
called it our Pizza Garden: dirt to pizza in four months.We grew tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, garlic,
basil, oregano, thyme, and lettuce.The
young gardeners especially liked watering and picking the giant cherry
tomatoes.We enjoyed a tomato buffet and
zucchini bread tasting.Everyone loved
the zucchini bread but not so much the tomatoes.We learned how to make sauce with our roma
tomatoes.We tasted salsa made from our
big boy tomatoes.We ended with a
homemade pizza party.The sauce for the
pies had herbs and garlic from the garden.The adult pie had garden pepper, zucchini, and the roma tomato
sauce.Delicious!Great job gardeners!!
Lastly, my husband called while on
his way to work last week, to tell me of a pig sighting.By now I'm sure many of you heard and/or saw
the news about the huge pig on the exit 11 entrance ramp.Dan and I had fun wondering if it was a wild
boar living in the woods on top of the hill, disturbed by construction workers.But it was just a sauntering swine from a
Sweet Road farm.You really never know
what you'll see out and about!
So, after a long day of hiking, thirteen hours and eighteen miles to be exact, I was home eating dinner at eleven P.M. I felt a bug on my face while sitting on the couch shoveling pasta into my mouth. I swatted it away. It went into my ear. I was up and on my feet at that point. I may have been yelling. I did not know what kind of bug it was. I felt its wings whirring in my ear. I heard its wings whirring in my ear, my right ear. The dogs were barking and my husband was yelling and I was shaking my head to get the bug out. It was flying down the canal. It was NOT coming out. Dan, my husband, was googling what to do when a bug is in your ear. I was dancing\ jumping\ yelling and trying in a not so calm way to calm everyone down, including myself. Dan poured mineral oil into my ear in hopes of drowning the bug. I felt the oil, the bug, and a pulsing sensation. I thought bee, deer fly- something with wings. How could this be happening? I was tired and hungry and it was our twenty-seventh anniversary! The bug was not budging. Dan tried tweezers, and flashlight and sucking it out with a turkey baster. He tells me I was jumping around like crazy. Well, yes! We went to the E.R. It was midnight. I told my situation to the receptionist. The poor woman... Who knows who will come in with what. I was covered with mineral oil and I still had a cake of mud on my legs from the hike, even after showering. Dan had not showered. His legs were covered with mud. We had walked for miles up and down a stream bed which was the trail. There was a lot of opportunity for mishap - a slip - some broken bones. But no - a bug in my ear. The first nurse tried hard with washes and rinses and a probe. The bug was dead she said. My friend, Kristin, another nurse, came into the room. We exchanged greetings. She knew of a tool with a suction cup. A third nurse came in with that tool. I squeezed Dan's hand as she pulled out the beetle. I had to take it home to photograph. She placed it in a urine cup. I was happy and relieved. It was a BEETLE! Are you kidding me? It was a memorable day. It was our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary. It was our thirty-seventh high peak out of forty-six. It is our story.
I have spent a good amount of time in my flower and vegetable gardens this summer planting, weeding, and especially, watering as the season has been so dry. Along with these garden chores, there's also a number of diseases to worry about the plants contracting. Farmer friends pointed out powdery mildew on the zucchini plant leaves and advised a spritz of milk, baking soda, and soap to clear it up. The mildew is a result of water staying on the leaves and not drying. It's best to water in the morning to avoid this happening to your plants. Some of our tomatoes have blossom end rot. Lovely! The blossom end of the tomato begins to get a spot which becomes black, leathery, and ugly. This could have happened due to the drought and insufficient watering. Good grief! Gardening can certainly keep a person busy. A gardener battles pests, blight, weather, wayward garden stakes and critters. This leads me to tell you that Chuck ( wood chuck) is also back in my garden. I had my suspicions that Chuck had made a return. One of my dogs has become a window cling on the glass paned porch door looking out to the garden. He barks his head off; I look out and nothing is there. Was it Chuck? I transplanted some ground cherries I grew from seed in window boxes into the garden. I soon noticed their leaves neatly clipped off. Rabbits or Chuck? I went to put tools away in the garden shed and saw a large stone moved back from the foundation. Chuck. Yesterday I looked out and there he was standing in the garden pondering his next move and meal. I opened the door and he took off like an Olympian, darting across the road and diving under the Wade's hostas. I watched the hostas jiggle and ripple as he kept cover and crawled beneath them. Time to make a hot pepper tea to spray on the ground cherry leaves. Yes, yes, I will do it in the morning or else will have powdery mildew to deal with too. I am growing two kinds of hot peppers. One is a Czech black pepper and the other a hot fish-shaped pepper. I will chop a pepper up, seeds and all, soak it in hot water and douse the cherry leaves. I will let you know if Chuck likes his food hot and spicy or not. I have other visitors that tread lightly in the garden and even cooperate for photo shoots. Hummingbirds, dragonflies, hummingbird moths, Giant Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies all can be seen hovering over the flowers, basking on rocks, or resting on the tops of flower heads. The Butterfly Bush is now flowering and attracts butterflies, bees and wasps. There is also a resident toad I come across now and then. I'm happy it's around as one toad can eat up to 10,000 insects in a summer! That's great pest control. I try to take time out to just enjoy the garden and watch the visitors. You never know what you might see and learn about. Years ago, while on a camping trip in the Adirondacks, I took some time to sit by a pond. I raised my binoculars to check out the other side and discovered a Great Blue Heron fishing. The heron walked slowly and quietly in the shallow water not rippling the surface. Its bill was pointed down. Suddenly, it lunged forward, stabbed a fish with its bill and consumed it. For awhile the heron would stand very still in the shallows watching and waiting. Then it would lunge down again grabbing its meal. Years later, I came across a description of a heron fishing which was exactly what I had observed and what I would have written as well. Tell me what's going on in your garden and I'll share your observations in next month's article. Enjoy the month of August.
We never expected to be so thoroughly entertained by a pair of House Wrens that nested in a gourd hanging from our garden shed porch! It all started in mid-May. We had been away for a few days. We were not in and out of the shed or out and about in the yard and garden. The wrens probably thought that they'd found a quiet place to select a bird house. The first day I was back I walked toward the shed and heard a chattering and scolding call and saw a little wren, tail up, looking right at me. I backed off. Only the weight of about two quarters, it had convinced me to leave. I retreated to the house porch to watch what was going on. A wren pair flitted in and out of several of the bird houses hanging on the shed's porch. Decisions, decisions and not a realtor in sight. This decision process went on for about a week until I finally saw nesting material being brought into the gourd, consisting of dried grass, leaves and twigs. Watching through binoculars so as not to disturb them, it seemed they were building a barrier inside the house to protect them from the elements and predators.
House Wrens are very vocal. Both the male and female sing. During breeding the male sings nine to eleven times a minute and the female responds. Guess how early they start singing? At the crack of dawn until about 8:15 in the evening. Good Grief! Initially, we closed the bedroom window but I could actually hear them with the window closed. One morning I could not hear them and got up and opened the window so I could. They were ruling our lives in other ways, too. While the male was over singing in a neighbor's yard, we took our gardening tools out of the shed and put them by the garage. As quiet as I tried to be, he caught me going in and out of the shed. He gave me what for, chattering and physically making his presence known by flying around the yard. I stopped weeding by the shed and filling the hummingbird feeder on the shed's porch.
On June eighth, activity changed at the gourd. I saw Wrennie ( Yes, I named him.) bringing insects to the gourd's opening. Baby birds! I saw the female fly out of the gourd with white, round balls - fecal sacs - poop! She would come back after her drop with an insect for the babies. Our yard began looking like a continuous paint ball fight with only white paint. Birds remove the sacs because it can get messy in tight little nests. They also dump them away from the nest as to not alert predators.
Wrennie positioned himself in the lilac shrub next to the gourd like a surveillance camera. He hated Blue Jays. As soon as one came into the yard he not only started his scolding but he went after it, chasing it out to the playground. He went after squirrels and chipmunks the same way and even pecked at a squirrel's back as it ran along the fence rail away from the nest. He would leave in search of insects for the kids but fly back quickly, poke the insect into the gourd and resume his post. These wrens were amazing parents. They were diligent and vigilant, guarding the nest and scouting for insects for their babies for fifteen days.
Then on Friday, June twenty-second, things were quiet at the gourd house. I had heard singing in the early morning but by mid-day everyone had moved out. I missed seeing them leave and was really disappointed. I knew it was about time for fledging as House Wrens fledge between fifteen and seventeen days after birth. I still hear chattering nearby though. Maybe Wrennie and his mate are starting a second brood. I'll keep you posted!
On May twenty-seventh Dan and I paddled down the outlet of Round Lake and saw not a single nest in the heron rookery. A week or so later, we biked on the Zim-Smith trail and detoured into the Industrial Park before Curtis Lumber. We rode over to the edge of the Ballston Creek Preserve. It looked like half a dozen heron nests were back there. On June eleventh, I walked into the Ballston Creek Preserve from Eastline Road. I discovered there are eight active Great Blue Heron nests and one very large Osprey nest in the preserve. Dan and I went back on June seventeenth and several of the heron nests have four to five juveniles in them. The Osprey pair was not at all pleased with us being there. The female flew out of the nest to investigate. We kept our visit quiet and short so as not to disturb nesting. I have pictures on Roundlakenaturenotes.blogspot.com.
Check out the Pizza Garden on the side of the library. It was planted by three and four year old gardeners. They are doing a great job growing ingredients for a delicious pizza. We've had two lettuce harvests and are eagerly waiting for tomatoes, peppers, and zucchinis. Enjoy Summer!
Did you know that if a wild bird enters your home, it's helpful to have a net laundry bag handy to catch it? The bag is soft, light, and see-through. When popping it over the bird, you can see where the bird is and how to handle it. This is what was used to catch a female House Finch one evening early in April at Mary Jo Lanahan's house. Mary Jo had made many attempts to get the bird outside before calling me. She wondered if I had any ideas. I went right over to take a look. Front and back doors were open but the frantic finch was flying toward the skylight, top of the fridge and high shelves. Mary Jo pointed out that she had a net laundry bag. It took a few tries but I finally caught up with the bird and covered it with the bag. It worked better than a towel because I could see the bird. Out to the front porch we went and the little bird flew off. However, as she had built a nest in the corner of the porch, she was soon back. It's the last day of April and she's still on the nest. Mary Jo reported the male has been around a few times too. No babies yet.
Did you know that if you leave hanging baskets up, filled with soil but without flowers, you may be providing real estate for nesting birds? A Mourning Dove claimed a basket on a neighbor's porch. On yet another porch, paper lanterns were an attractive nest site. Robins seem to like building nests where the power lines come into the house. Don't leave your shoes or boots outside. You might be surprised by something that's crept into them overnight! If you see the Wood Ducks flying around or perched in a tree, let them know there's a couple of nest boxes available. Move-in condition and each lined with cedar shavings. . . .
Did you know that you can make a nose out of a maple seed pod? Also known as helicopters, pollynoses and whirlybirds, you first crack the pod in half, then take the thicker end and split it open. Take the seed out and then press the pod on your nose. A sticky substance in the pod will glue it on for a few seconds. So how many of you have ever done this? There's a bizillion pods around right now so give it a whirl! Speaking of "whirl," it's also fun to throw the seed pods up in the air and watch them spiral down to the ground.
Did you know that it takes ten quarts of dandelion flowers and fifteen pounds of sugar to make five gallons of dandelion wine? Dan has been out and about collecting flowers which then have to be pulled apart before used in the recipe. Dan's yellow fingers are the talk of his co-workers. The wine won't be ready until next spring. We hope it's worth the wait
Did you know that garlic mustard is listed as an invasive plant in New York State? It chokes out native wildflowers and is not a good food source for local wildlife. Since it's everywhere, I know that you've seen it. The leaves are green, heart-shaped and toothed. If you crush the leaves they give off a garlicky smell and are edible for humans. The flowers are small and white. Each plant produces hundreds of seeds. As soon as I see it coming up in my yard and garden, I hand pull it out, making sure I get all the roots and throw it in the garbage. I have been able to control it this way. While in the woods, if I spy it around some of my favorite wildflowers, such as Bloodroot, Jack in the Pulpit and Trillium, I pull it up. You can also cut it down close to the soil surface just as flowering begins. It is flowering now. Go get it!
During the month of March, temperatures took a roller coaster ride. They plunged down, up and through several seasons. The first of March brought temperatures in the thirties and a storm that dropped nine inches of snow on the ground. A couple of days later, temperatures rose into the fifties and melted the snow as well as the ice on the lake. Ice-out occurred on March fourth, a full month earlier than last year. By March twelfth, we enjoyed a 68 degree day. Winter careened into spring. In village gardens, snowdrop flowers and crocuses bloomed, tulips, daffodils, and squills broke ground. Coltsfoot, an early, small, yellow wildflower, appeared while skunk cabbage popped up in wet areas along streams and woods. Spring peeper frogs raised their voices as did tree and bull frogs.
Summer knocked spring off its tracks by the third week of March. On the eighteenth, a seventy-three degree day lured a group of us out on the lake for a first paddle of the season. Down on the water, Tree Swallows swooped after insects. Red-winged Blackbirds sang " Konk-la reeee." A turtle basked in the sunshine. By the twenty-second, mosquitoes were out in full force. Butterflies that wintered over fluttered around as temperatures went above eighty degrees. Crocuses wilted in the heat. We wore shorts and reminded ourselves it was only March.
BAM! By month's end there were freezing temperatures at night and it only got into the upper forties or low fifties during the day. The wild ride was over. What will April bring? Hopefully, not the "S" word.
In 2011, I saw Wood Ducks back in the village on the last day of March. This year on March nineteenth I spotted a pair in Schoolhouse Park. They select a tree cavity for nesting and will also use nest boxes. You may remember that last year I wrote about the babies jumping out of a tree cavity during the Antique Festival. They landed in Rowe Park among antiques and people. The mother's next move was to lead her ducklings to water. Due to all the activity, some of the ducklings got separated from their mother.
This year, thanks to funding from W.R.L.I.S. and permission from the Village, the Wood Ducks will have a couple of safer choices in the way of newly constructed nest boxes. My husband made them following the Wood Duck Society's plan. They include a baffle to keep predators out such as raccoons and squirrels. Dan even etched a ladder on the inside of the box so the ducklings can climb out. Placement requirements are a bit tricky. The boxes need to be put in a quiet place, eight feet from a tree, eleven feet from an overhanging branch, with a clear flight path into the box for the mother. They should be located near water and an insect dense area. Wow! Lots of requirements. Meanwhile, the ducks in Schoolhouse Park have been looking at tree cavities right next to nesting squirrels and starlings. Noooo! Pick a nest box. I will keep you updated on their choice.
Thanks to Dave Matthews who had a turkey sighting on March twenty-eighth on the north side of Schoolhouse Park. He counted eight turkeys. I have submitted the count to DEC for their turkey flock survey. Enjoy whatever season it is!!
In the birding world, FOS stands for first of season. This acronym is used when one first sees a bird species' return to an area, usually in spring. Well, I've been waiting and watching all winter for a "FOS" snowfall. Just as I was boasting about not having laid a hand on a snow shovel all winter, weather forecasters began predicting a winter storm on February twenty-ninth. Really? I would have predicted a good foot of snow on the first day of spring or maybe April Fool's Day. The last major snow storm was four months ago back in late October. So shovel or broom?
On February sixth, Norma Spallholz heard and saw a Belted Kingfisher down at the marsh on Goldfoot Road and Route 9. The next day the two of us walked over there to get another sighting. The kingfisher is a regular resident in spring through fall but I've never heard or seen one in winter. As we approached the marsh, I heard his tell-tale rattling cry. He flew down the stream and up into a tree so we got a good look at him. Maybe the mild weather has encouraged his winter residency. With open water at the inlet, outlet, and feeder streams, fishing is possible. The kingfisher also eats insects and small vertebrates.
I was curious if anyone else in the area had reported a recent sighting. With a little research, I found that for the first time ever, two were seen during a Christmas bird count at Five Rivers in Albany. Only two others were spotted - one at Vischer Ferry and another by the Hudson in Albany. Apparently a pretty rare sighting, so great job, Norma! I reported it to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's on-line checklist e-bird.
Kathy Riedel, Norma and I did the Great Backyard Bird Count on February seventeenth, recording eighteen species of birds as we walked around the Village. In the afternoon, Robin and Elijah N'dolo helped me count birds from the library porch. Thank you all! There were a half dozen species that I usually see but unfortunately, didn't show themselves during the count days. The Bald Eagle was one of them.
Just to let you know- it's 11:30 a.m. February 29, 31 degrees, and it's started snowing. I'm writing this article and counting birds at my feeders for Project Feeder Watch, a citizen science project through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Still wondering about 4-8 inches. We'll see...
Wow! The birds are flocking to my feeders in a feeding frenzy! As the snow continues to fall, five cardinals are feeding on the ground. Goldfinches and House Finches are vying with Grackles for space at the three seed feeders. Five starlings and several Red-winged Blackbirds sail into the yard scaring off the cardinals. I had a FOS sighting of three red-wings in my yard on February fifteenth. Last year I didn't see one until the middle of March. It's hard to write with so much bird activity going on. Did they listen to a forecast?
It is still snowing when Robin N'dolo joins me at 4 p.m. to help count birds for Project Feeder Watch. He is delighted to see all the birds at my feeders. We sit on the porch, binoculars in hand, identifying and counting. Five cardinal pairs, a Carolina Wren, two Tufted Titmice, a dozen House Finches, all braving the snow to get a last seed to eat before taking shelter for a cold snowy night. A record number of birds for Robin and a record amount of snow for Leap Day. When Robin leaves, I put a hand on the shovel.
So we finally got a snowfall! Just as I could see a snowdrop flower begin to open and my daffodils were up about an inch and a half. No worries though because in a couple of days it will be up close to fifty degrees. We'll be slogging through mud. I got out for a couple of walks to take some pictures. The ice is going out on Round Lake. We had gusty, high winds over the weekend of February 25-26 which probably helped to break up the ice. Last year ice out was April sixth. The first picture is of the Bald Eagle probably waiting for open water. Then there was snow but the ice is receding! A walk in the woods at the end of Peck Avenue. The last picture is of a Tufted Titmouse in my apple tree. He's cracking open a sunflower seed.