Wednesday, November 20, 2019

November Animal Activity in an Orchard

What animals frequent a Granny Smith apple orchard in November? Some apples are still on trees but those that fall attract a variety of critters, especially at night. The following photos were gleaned from 4,709 taken automatically by a trail camera. Most deleted photos were of rabbits, squirrels and many thousand female deer images. No male deer were photographed in daylight.
A Small Doe an Hour After Dark

A Doe in Mid Afternoon
A Very Short Tailed Cat: It Looks Much Taller Than the Opossum in a Following Photo
A Second Photo of the Above Cat Showing the Short Tail
A Raccoon
A Six Point Buck
An Opossum
A Coyote
The Coyote a Few Moments Later (Too Bad It Never Faced The Camera)
An Eight Point Buck
A Two Point Buck
 Second View of the Buck Above
A Cat Entering Frame on the Left
A Subsequent Photo of the Above Cat: Maybe a Bobcat?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Raising Monarch Butterflies

In 2018 we found fewer than ten Monarch caterpillars which we raised until they formed chrysalises that, by September, transformed into butterflies. We let them fly but have no idea whether they succeeded in getting to Mexico or eventually made it to Texas early this spring. All together, we counted fewer than two dozen of these butterflies the entire summer. Learning of stickers produced by Monarch Watch: that are placed on the underside of a hind wing, this year we obtained a unique sequence of 100 so we could tag the butterflies we raise or catch. 
Zinnias That Attract Many Insects Including Monarchs
What Happens to Flowers When Netting Butterflies Sitting on Them
Monarch Caterpillar Shell That Was Sucked Dry by a Stink Bug or Spider
Mid July, 2019, we started finding a few of the brilliantly striped caterpillars and brought them indoors because stink bugs and spiders killed quite a few in the wild. Seeing their limp blackened bodies draped over milkweed leaf stems got us searching for live larvae both morning and evening. We have cultivated many hundreds of milkweeds that cover half an acre but these healthy ever larger  plants very rarely had caterpillars. Butterflies seem to prefer isolated small young plants for laying their eggs. In early July our neighbor cut and baled hay (including milkweed) off one of ours and three of his adjacent adjacent fields. Throughout August we found hundreds of caterpillars on new milkweed growth in these four fields. We had to order 500 additional stickers and at the end of October have only 31 left. We did find two stickers off butterflies who lost them. So 567 are on butterfly wings heading toward Mexico.
Our Monarchs Were Raised in Three Translucent Storage Bins with Window Screen Covers. They Need Bright Sun and Dark Nights So They Lived In Our Front Greenhouse
Caterpillars Eating Fresh Milkweed Sprigs Held in Quart Yoghurt Containers by Inch Thick Foam Rubber Above Two Inches of Water: The Foam Prevents Caterpillars From Drowning
To Develop Properly, Butterflies Must Hang Straight Down When They Emerge From Their Chrysalis. Most Caterpillars Attached Theirs to the Screen on Top of Their Container. A Few Fell And Failed to Develop Flat Wings and Could Not Fly.
We Glued Chrysalises Developed in Inappropriate Places to Arms on "Trees"
These "Trees" Worked! Note the Chrysalis Hanging From a Toothpick: Required to Use Wood Glue To Attach Those That Had No Stem. Hot Melt Glue Quickly Attached Those That Had A Strand of Silk or a Leaf Stem To the Wood Tree. Hot Glue Would Kill a Chrysalis If It Touched It.
Utilizing Wood Glue to Suspend Chrysalises From Toothpicks Hot Glued to the "Tree"
Some Caterpillars Attached Their Chrysalises to Yoghurt Containers!

At First We Released Monarchs on Weeping Willow Branches But Wind Often Made it Difficult for Them To Hold On. Placing Them on the Trunk Was Better. Note: the Two Dark Spots On The Lower Wings Indicate This One Is Male.
Hanging Monarchs Showing Stickers With Some of the Flowers That Attracted Wild Butterflies in the Background
Another Male Monarch This Time on Willow Bark
Many Monarchs Waiting For Good Weather to Enable Them to Fly Away

Our statistics of tagged monarchs: 309 female, 260 male, 388 raised from caterpillars, 181 wild caught butterflies. Fewer than 1% of monarch tags ever get recovered and reported so we expect to learn what happened to maybe four or five.

Monarch Butterflies On A Cape Cod Beach

After raising hundreds of monarch caterpillars and netting almost as many wild butterflies in late September we made our annual trek to the northern end of Cape Cod. There we spend most of our time combing the beach for useful stuff: rope, buoys, animal skulls, fishing gear and clothing. This usually accumulates above the high tide levels and we rarely cover wave edges. 
Typical Sight After a Wave Recedes
Damaged Monarch

Limp Monarch Butterfly Left High on the Beach

Reviving Monarch Butterfly 
Because we were in the peak period for Monarch migration, I spent a few hours checking what the waves were leaving behind as high tide receded toward low tide. Water temperatures were much cooler than the air and waves left immobile butterflies on the wet sand. After counting a few dozen I began picking them up and noticed most were very much alive! Holding them in cupped hands and breathing on them made them active but not able to fly.
A Monarch Butterfly Trying to Open Wings Cemented Together by Salt Water

Three Reviving Monarch Butterflies
Because I could only wear a half dozen at a time, I periodically placed groups on flowers or tall grass, the only available vegetation. They spread their wings to catch sunlight but took their time trying to fly. The next day most of three dozen had flown away and only a few were no longer alive.
Wave Beaten Monarchs Drying Out Their Wings on Goldenrod

Monarchs Warming Up on Grass
The shortest distance between parts of Maine and New Hampshire and Mexico is over ocean. They probably want to rest at night and land but have no experience with water. They are very light and float but it's probably impossible to take off again. Wind and waves push them to shore but breakers and advancing waves push them up the beach and damage them. We found many missing parts. But the lucky ones came to shore when waves were receding and these were cold but in good shape. With help some may make it to Mexico but without warming and transport to dry vegetation the next high tide or shore birds would pummel them. A three hour snapshot of a quarter mile of beach yielded three dozen healthy Monarch butterflies. How many folk would spend an hour to rescue a dozen?

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: An Interesting Year

This post rambles through topics that don't warrant dedicated blog entries. Many subjects like sprouting seed, growing them to transplant size in the greenhouse, then planting in outdoor gardens have been covered earlier and methods haven't evolved much. Tomatoes this year were outstanding, though the rows proved too close together (36 inches) and hard to get through later in the season. Next year we'll try four foot spacing between rows.
Clacker Toys for Toddlers
The Showcase Entry Clacker Toy
I often spend time in winter working on wood projects to get ready for the spring Northeast Woodworkers Showcase where our organization displays articles made during the year. I entered one of four "clacker" toys that make a lot of noise when rolled across the floor. It only won second place in the toy category because someone created a perfect scale model of a bulldozer in which everything worked! Each of the hundreds of treads actually move when pushed along, an incredible amount of beautiful craftsmanship. 

Bulldozer that Won a Blue Ribbon
 Every winter two nieces and their parents visit us on their way back from a week skiing. They usually want to work on a project and this time chose to help make two animal figures: a cheetah and a French Bulldog. These are mounted on pedestals with springs hidden inside so strings attached enable each to wag a tail, bow, lie down or assume other motions. I sent them home unpainted, hoping their owners would make them look like the animals they chose.
Cheetah and French Bulldog Toy Action Figures
 Every spring we shave most of the hair off our dog to make her more comfortable (she withers in heat). She loves looking like a lion, or at least, being much cooler (and rolling in cool grass).
Belle in Her Lion Cut
Fully Developed Monarch Caterpillar
Newly Emerged Monarch Butterfly
 We love butterflies and I've been collecting and identifying them my whole life. Monarchs are our favorites because they are large, beautiful and migrate such long distances. Last year I saw only three. This year was different: we saw many all summer, including their caterpillars on milkweed. After monitoring many caterpillars that did not survive to make chrysalises, we collected new ones and placed them in a large jar with sprigs of milkweed. We successfully raised nine through their becoming butterflies! And we let them go: hopefully to fly to Mexico where they overwinter. 
Some of Many Millions of Monarch Butterflies Overwintering in Mexico, 2018-19
Our daughter, Zoe, is in Mexico as I write this, and just sent me the photo above. She went there specifically to see these butterflies and was encouraged that guides at the site noted that there are more this year than many prior years. Ever more folk are conserving patches of milkweed that promote these butterflies in their migration north.
Zoe with Her Catfish
We have a farm pond that we stocked with fish many years ago. The species that flourish are crappie, bass and channel catfish, though sunfish and bullheads also thrive. Our daughter, Zoe, wanted to catch one of the large catfish for a long time and finally she caught one, and we ate it. The downside was that this lady was full of roe, even though it was September. We had no idea fish could be laden with eggs at this time of year. As with all of the animal parts we don't serve as dinner, we pressure cook them and grind them into paste for our animals so none goes to waste.

 Our Guinea fowl have always been problematic: they like to lay their eggs in hidden thickets around the property instead of in the egg boxes we carefully prepare for chickens. This year we had three females establish nests in remote hedges and luckily we found each one. Two of the three fowl did not survive incubating their nest overnight, one disappeared leaving only feathers and the other we found lifeless but in perfect condition a few hundred feet from her nest but her eggs had been eaten. The male and those females that were not laying eggs roosted in their protected enclosure indoors every night that had safe nesting boxes but these ladies refused to use them. We did routinely snitch eggs from their nests, hoping that they would not start incubating their eggs until they had around 30 (a persistent rumor). Eventually each started sitting overnight even though they had fewer than 20 eggs. We placed some of their eggs under two broody hens (chickens) and five hatched, with four now almost grown up (thinking they are chickens).
One of the Guinea Fowl Nests
A Second Guinea Fowl Nest
Shiitake Mushroom Harvest
Some of the Chestnuts We harvested
One Batch of Onions Packed for the Shelter We Supply
One Picking of Ripening Peppers
Except for our Brussel sprouts, our gardens produces plenty of food for us, friends and the shelter we supply. We planted many types of squash and they did very well, hundreds of pounds more than in other years.
Some of the Winter Squash Maturing 
Another View of Winter Squash Drying on Tables So that Rodents Don't Nibble Them Before They Get Distributed