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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A pollinator magnet

After we bought our house, I was disappointed to realize that the large and elegant American holly next to the driveway was a male tree, leaving us with no holly berries for holiday decoration. As time passed, however, I came to appreciate the fact that our male is the likely pollen source for the rest of the neighborhood hollies, and the scent of the plant in bloom is one of the joys of spring (last year's fallen, spiky leaves and this year's flower litter and enormous yellow pollen, not so much). Today I learned something else about this common tree: it is a magnet for bees.

Our tree is tall, and because of its location, we keep it limbed up to facilitate driving under it. We enjoy the scent of its blossoms but don't spend much time looking at them. Late this afternoon, though, I heard buzzing from several yards away and had to check out the action. The tree was loaded with tiny blossoms and full of bees of various species, all busily checking out the blooms and ignoring the wonderstruck human below their all-you-can-eat restaurant. No other single plant in the yard has ever hosted such a collection of bees at a single time--but then, the holly is the largest flowering plant we have. 

Lesson of the day: when hoping to help bring back our threatened pollinators, look beyond the obvious. I had never associated Christmas greenery with bees--and it turns out that holly honey is a specialty item, reputed to have a strong floral scent reminiscent of the blossoms.

We may have to set up a hive.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The wooded glade

Or what will eventually be the wooded glade, just downhill and to the west of FernGully. Right now it's the shaded slope below the white oaks, pine, and hemlock and a Work Continually in Progress, but progress seems to be occurring. This was the view this morning from the street at the bottom of our lot.

The arrowwood viburnum are finally blooming happily, and those little green things curving away are "Ruby Spice" summersweet, which may not bloom this year but will be spectacular when they do.

Viburnum dentatum "Blue Muffin" in close-up

Last Saturday brought the addition of three fothergilla in addition to the summersweet. They've quit blooming for this year, but next spring their white bottlebrushes should light up the dark area under the white oaks. (Eventually, they may get big enough that I can finally make myself take out the privet.)

Speaking of bottlebrushes, the bottlebrush buckeye that something snapped off near the ground two years ago has come back and will bloom this summer, joining the two in the upper yard.

It is painfully obvious from all the undergrowth visible in these photographs that I am  excessively lax about removing volunteers, even those that we Do Not Want, like Bradford pear, the ubiquitous landscape tree that has forgotten that it was supposed to be a sterile cultivar. Periodically, I cut a swath through the unwanted vegetation to save all the water and soil nutrients for the plants we do want, but the squirrels, birds, and wind keep bringing the volunteers, anyway, and the roots do keep the dirt from washing away in the downpours that seem to be our typical rain these days.
It's also nice to be able to share. So many dogwoods have sprouted that we give them away, and a colleague is waiting for me to pot up some white oak seedlings. 

Other inhabitants of the wooded glade include recent transplants. As much as I am not a fan of hosta, those left by the deer have been divided and some moved to the dry shade near the evergreens. The shade-tolerant white asters that seem to sprout everywhere they're not wanted are being forcibly migrated to the glade, along with the goldenrod that seems not to need too much sun. More ferns are headed that way, along with violets and mint. The single jewelweed passed along by a friend two years ago has produced a hundred or so offspring, so some of our glorious wild impatiens has been moved to FernGully. Being too impatient to wait for color from the late jewelweed, I couldn't resist a young flame azalea, currently strutting its stuff near the middle of the slope.

Our little patch of the Great Eastern Woodland is on its way to being a happy, healthy ecosystem.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Birding Fail 2014

With exams and commencement behind me, I succumbed to a rare burst of spontaneity. The details of my occasionally-complicated existence being irrelevant to most of the world's population, let me say only that this impromptu adventure led me to Magee Marsh during this month's warbler migration, at a time when Northwest Ohio is called "the warbler capital of the world." For anyone not in the know about the habits of small, generally  brightly-colored songbirds, they winter in Central and South America and head to Canada once spring is well underway. Given the length of the migration, the birds are generally tired and hungry by the time they reach Ohio, and they still have Lake Erie to cross before arriving at their breeding grounds.

Yes, there is land on the other side of that large lake. You can almost see it in the center of the picture.

Magee Marsh, near Toledo, seems to be a magnet for weary warblers, with thousands of the little creatures passing through in waves, leading to waves of humans hanging out on the boardwalk that has been built through part of the marsh to accommodate visiting birders. Even though I arrived late on a Sunday evening, I had plenty of company, human and otherwise.

The first few yards of my amble brought delights, not least among them this Prothonotary Warbler, who obligingly posed on a tree adjacent to the boardwalk. Unfortunately, most warblers prefer to hang out in the foliage, resulting in numerous variations of the following photograph.

Some of the bird enthusiasts present claimed to be getting great shots of the visiting passerines, but I was not among them, and gave up. I can barely see that fast, let alone photograph that fast. A further complication is that the bone spurs on my cervical vertebrae allow for approximately fifteen seconds of backwards head-tilting before reminding me that this position is a Very Bad Idea. Given a choice between experiencing the warbler wonderland and continuing my frustrating attempts at documenting the experience, I chose having. And what an experience it was, despite my technological fail.

Along this simple, mile-long, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk were magnolia and Wilson's warblers, along with redstarts and common yellowthroats, with their charming bandit masks. People with more bird knowledge than I rattled off the names of a dozen or more other species spotted in the last hour. A swallow darted in and out of a tree cavity, woodpeckers drummed in the distance, and a most elegant white heron hunted the adjacent wetland. Even though I am not one of those people who can hear two notes of birdsong and identify species and gender, I did become quite familiar with the vocal range of the local catbirds, who were announcing their presence to all and sundry. The boardwalk sojourn was a most satisfying hour.

Leaving the park by its sole access road, I encountered birds much more willing to be photographed--or at least, more my speed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A new favorite

I don't have a favorite plant. The concept is too much like having a favorite cat, or a favorite child. What I have is lots of favorite plants, at least two or three for each season. But right now, I have a favorite that is almost season-spanning, a daffodil that today, in mid-May, is only just ceasing to bloom. The Van Engelen bulb catalog lists the plant as a late-April bloomer, but this beauty started blooming around April 15, and a few blooms are still hanging on.

These were early flowers from April 20:

That pristine white set off by a peachy-pink that sometimes seems lit up from within is so sweet it almost makes my teeth hurt. Besides being almost too pretty, this narcissus is called "Fragrant Rose" for a reason; the scent, while not identical to that of old roses, wafts a good distance, making spring cleanup chores less of a chore.

Like most pink daffodils, Fragrant Rose does best away from strong afternoon sun, but this predilection for partial shade may be why the flowers last so long. Besides, tucking bulbs in among shrubs gives lots of opportunity for unexpected garden vignettes, like this one next to our very ordinary driveway.

Narcissus, wild geranium, and sweet violet--is there such a thing as too much spring?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Your daily dose of cuteness

Mourning doves are so common around here that their coo is part of the background noise of the yard; the sound is nearly always there, as are the birds, foraging for spilled seed and occasionally bursting up from the ground in a panicked beating of wings. Today, though, brought a new sight: baby doves!

Technically, these two are probably adolescents, but they are definitely not full-grown and not nearly as skittish as the adults. Pulling dandelions this afternoon with my handy Grandpa's Weeder, a device that allows the pulling of tap-rooted weeds without bending, (much) yanking, or swearing, I noticed this little guy poking around among the physocarpus.
A few moments later, a second youthful Zenaida macroura revealed itself.
My suspicion is that these two are siblings who managed to hatch (I think the two broken eggs on the driveway and sidewalk this year were dove eggs--fortunately, mated pairs can have several clutches a year, and most clutches contain two eggs) and survive infancy--no guarantee given the sloppiness of dove nests and the presence of outdoor cats (not ours). As common as these doves are around here, I'm not sure that I ever noticed their young before. They resemble the adults but have a white cheek splotch where the adults have a black spot.

I'm not sure these two have quite mastered flying. As I kept tip-toeing around the planting areas attempting better photographs, they would do their cute little dove-walk and attempt to hide behind some piece of vegetation, but they never engaged in the classic dove eruption. 

If these cuties manage to survive, stay tuned for more pictures. Who wouldn't love that face?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Today confirmed for me that Chipmunk Ridge has officially become a Wildlife Refuge (and not just an unkempt mess). Yes, we've had skunks and squirrels and chipmunks since we moved in on Labor Day weekend in 2009, but today brought the second sighting of a pileated woodpecker feeding on one of the pine snags we left when some too-close-to-each-other trees had to be taken down. Downies are common here, and it's not unusual to see red-bellied woodpeckers at the suet feeder, but there is just something about the big, red-crested pileated that is especially exciting.

Maybe it was too many Woody-the-woodpecker cartoons when I was a child. (You can hear the vocalizations that gave rise to Woody's famous call in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds site.) Maybe it's the pileated's resemblance to the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that, even if it still exists, I am unlikely ever to see as slogging through southern swamps is not one of my favorite activities. Maybe it's the fact that the pileated is generally a forest bird, so that its choosing our yard for foraging feels as if we are giving something back to the non-human neighborhood. For whatever reason, big, gaudy birds make me happy.

Unfortunately, the pileated is much more skittish than its suet-hogging downy cousins. Every time our visitor hears the sound of my camera being turned on, it flies away.

A little mystery is a good thing.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Some things are almost too pretty to be real

like spring in the Marietta, Ohio, arboretum, named after tree expert Marilyn Ortt, described by a former mayor as the city's "goddess of green."
Even the weeds looked great last weekend (if there is anyone neatnik enough to describe the classic April combination of violets, dandelions, and spring beauties as "weeds").

All the early spring trees were blooming,
and the dogwood/crabapple combination overhanging the path almost made my teeth hurt with its sweetness,
but the okay-this-is-almost-too-much moment was the redbud/crabapple/springblue sky combination on the edge of the river trail.

How is anyone supposed to get papers graded while all this is going on?