The Bodyguard

Whenever I am out in the garden Cueball wants to be with me.  It drives him nuts when I am out front and all he can do is watch me from the living room window.  Recently I have been allowing him out there with me because, unlike Lucky or Judy would have done in the past, he will not wander off.  He feels that it is his mission in life to keep me safe from the monsters, so he will stand guard, watching for said monsters at all times.  Occasionally, when I am doing something that requires a particular amount of concentration and I cannot monitor him at all times, I will put him on the leash, but, for the most part, I just leave the front door open so he can come and go as he pleases.

Such was Saturday, I was working with my container plantings and I opened the front door and let him follow me out.  He sat there on the pathway and observed the neighborhood.  Sniffed the grass.  Scratched his butt on the Azalea.  Snoozed.  If I moved a little too far from him, he would pay attention and check out where I was going.

At that point, Cadbury, wearing Chinese Privet blossoms,  would stir from her favorite spot on the chair on the patio and make sure he was not going to come and bother her.

Occasionally Treacle would come and check out what I was doing, and Ellie Wyatt would come and follow me, attempting to dig up whatever it was that I had just planted, or in some cases, waiting for me to dig a hole and then promptly pooping in it, because I had saved him the trouble.   In between all that of course would be Ms. Peaches, stalking me through the grass and then doing a ninja attack on my head.

Yet Cueball sat, wary eye on all of this, watching.   He doesn’t mind his cats you understand, his cats are cool, however should a strange cat decide to wander across his yard he will go bananas at the living room window in an attempt to get out to it.   In fact he doesn’t mind his Squirrels, or birds for that matter, they are all cool.  But should a strange Cat or Dog wander into his yard all hell breaks loose.   The yard is his domain and Cueball makes sure everyone knows it.


Every Dog has its Day

The Chinese Privet is blooming right now.  Apparently (according to my local Extension Agent Dr. Tom) they were a popular landscaping tree in the past decades but it has now been discovered that they really are nothing more than a noxious weed and very invasive. My house was built in the late 1980s so it would make sense that either the builder or the homeowner chose them for the landscaping.   I can certainly attest to the weed thing, I am constantly battling the seedlings in my flower beds and elsewhere and it would appear that nothing you can do to them can kill them.  Last year when trying to get rid of some in one flower bed (which had gone past seedling form) I cut them down to the stubs and then covered them with black plastic trash bags, securely tied at the base.  They didn’t care, they just sent up sprouts from the roots several feet away.

In any event, noxious weeds sometimes do have a purpose and this time of year the Chinese Privet comes into its own when it is in bloom.  To begin with they have a very unique scent, and one that I remember from the privet hedges in England (of course a different species but with the same scent).  Secondly they must produce a tremendous amount of nectar, because the pollinators absolutely adore them.  I have two or three which shade the pathway to my front door, and this time of year, when the blooms are at their height, the humming from the bees and other pollinators swarming the blooms can be almost deafening.

Today the butterflies were also enjoying the nectar, there were dozens of them, dancing in the air around the blooms, and chasing each other off from favorite spots.  The biggest contingent were the Red Admirals constantly squabbling among themselves.

I also saw Painted Ladies

Also to my delight Question Marks

They are a very timid butterfly so it is rare that I get a chance at a good shot of one.  They are also difficult to tell apart from their cousins the Commas (there is a joke in there somewhere about my punctuation battle with my boss.)

Despite their status, the Chinese Privets do have some redeeming points, once the blooms have faded they will turn into black fruits, which are enjoyed by some birds,  especially Cedar Waxwings, which can swoop down in flocks and completely strip the tree of fruit within minutes.  They are a source of endless (and sustainable) free firewood and kindling, and they provide nesting places for birds.  This morning I noticed a nest in the pathway trees.  From the looks of it, it is a Blue Jay, and mom was dutifully sitting on the nest while dad visited the feeders and brought her food.

Every dog has its day I suppose, and sometimes we just have to learn to live with the cards we are given.   That is the way I look at it anyway.


Happy Save the Frogs Day!

I obviously do not follow my holidays closely enough but apparently it is Save the Frogs Day.  In honor of that fact I will post about my little pond in the back garden and how it has become a favorite spot for the local frogs and toads.

When I first thought of building (or perhaps the correct word is creating) a pond I had no idea how much hard work it would be.  While it was going to be small, just four feet wide and deep, the amount of digging it took to get to the correct depth just about killed me.    This was due to the fact that just below the surface soil was a construction site dump filled with concrete blocks, rocks, bricks and various other debris.  After I had removed various leftovers from the building of my home, I discovered yet another obstacle.  There was so much clay down there I could have opened my own pottery.  I soldiered on and eventually got the hole big enough that I could line it with a layer of sand and then the plastic pond liner.  I set up a small fountain and filled it with water.

In the next several days I observed the pond to see what, if anything, was beginning to make it home.  To my absolute delight within a week I had frog spawn (this is a shot of Toad Spawn)

and, of course, shortly thereafter, tadpoles.

The pond quickly became a breeding place for several species of frogs and a very amorous pair of  Fowler’s Toads.

The tree frogs also loved hanging around it.

By far my favorite guest though was Jeremiah,  who naturally, is a Bull Frog. He not only lives in the pond during the summer, but overwinters in there in the depths of the gunk and leaf litter that has built up in the bottom over the years.   It is always a sure sign of spring when he emerges from the bottom and heads to the surface to bask in the sun for the first time.

In addition to the frogs and toads, the pond is also a breeding place for the dragonflies, and it is a joy to see them emerge from the pond in the Spring and break free from their naiad form and become a fully formed Dragonfly.

So on this Save the Frogs day, I would encourage everyone to put in a small pond, if they have the space of course.  Once created, a working pond (as opposed to a purely ornamental or koi pond)  tends to be pretty much self sufficient and will bring joy to any person who loves wildlife.

Plant rescues are always grateful

I am a sucker for plants that are growing inside their bags when I see them at the store.  It does not matter where they are, it could be they are the good quality plants that are at Lowes in the early spring and sprouting through the tops of the boxes, or it could be the $2.00 plants that languish in a cardboard box at Dollar General.  You might as well present me with a box full of starving kittens and say “they are only $2.00 a piece” and you know damn well that I am going to take them home.

As it always is, this time of the year I will invariably take home a bunch of plants growing in their bags and then wander around the landscape, bags and trowel in hand, looking for somewhere to put them.  This year it was Hosta, Bearded Iris, Dutch Iris, and Dahlia.  I managed to find a place for most of the Dutch Iris and Dahlia but then I came up blank when it came to the Hosta and Bearded Iris.  As it turned out my wanderings around the garden lead me to the circular bed behind the Rose bed and I dutifully dug holes and plonked the plants in there.

This weekend one of those “rescue” plants thanked me with a beautiful bloom.

The Dutch Iris are also blooming

As are the Windflowers (or Anemones as we call them in the UK)

The Hosta have also gone great guns no doubt thankful that their roots are no longer trying to gain holds in a plastic bag but are in rich, nutrient full soil. I just love it when a plant I rescue thanks me by giving back with beauty.

Ms. Peaches is insane

So this weekend I was working in the front garden and I had the trunk of the car open so I could retrieve various items from it (bird food mainly).

It was a beautiful day on Saturday, warm, balmy, and bathed with gentle breezes.  Most of the cats were taking advantage of the sun, lazing around on the lawn, Lari was on the roof of my car, Pootle lounged on the bonnet.

As I retrieved the last thing I needed from the trunk I went to close it when I noticed that Ms. Peaches was lying on the back seat, of all of the places to sleep on a hot sunny day, she chose the inside of the car.  She really is insane.

While I did not get a shot of her in the back of the car, I took this shot on Sunday.  Look at those eyes, they are always like that, teeny tiny slits.  You just know behind those eyes that she is plotting something dastardly, and in this case she was, shortly after I took that shot she launched herself two feet in the air and attached herself to my thigh.

Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do.

The Shasta daisy plant that I bought at the Farmer’s Market last year has returned and is currently in bloom.  Because I am really 14 years of age at heart, I just love its botanical name, “Leucanthemum x superbum”  and seeing it never fails to make me giggle slightly.  I love these plants because they are a close cousin of the beloved “dog daisy” (or Oxeye daisy) which grow wild along the roadsides in Britain.  Whenever I would go for a walk along the banks of the Lancaster Canal as a child, or played in the ruins of some abandoned or demolished building,  I would invariably pick a bunch and take them home to my Mum.

As I had mentioned previously, the African Daisy plants that I bought for 50 cents at Lowes last year, not only overwintered but appear to be thriving.

I like daisies.  From the humble English Daisy of Daisy Chain fame, to the Shasta, African, Oxeye, and of course the Gazania, they always charm with their simplicity.  They appear to me to always be smiling, and as such always elicit a smile.    I even enjoy the simple, airy beauty of Fleabane which is considered a weed around here, and I have been known to dig them up from the lawn prior to mowing day and find them a safer place to reside.

“And you’d look sweet, upon the seat, of a bicycle made for two”

Pole Dancer

This shot, that I took of a Squirrel in my back yard climbing the pole which housed my platform feeder, is what sent me on my journey of both blogging about wildlife and taking photographs of them.  Like most people, photography as a hobby was financially out of reach for me, because of the cost of developing film.  With the age of digital cameras it opened glorious doors to anyone with an eye and a camera.

Pole Dancer

I have always loved Squirrels, and yes I know they are just rats with prettier tails and better PR, but their antics have always amused me, and can always brighten up the most miserable of days.  I have a Squirrel feeder on the tree in the front yard, it houses a box which I fill with a special “critter mix” as well as a screw that acts as an anchor for a whole corn cob.  While I am working in the yard at the weekend, I will notice the familiar “snap” as the box lid on the feeder shuts after a Squirrel had retrieved a peanut, a piece of corn, or a sunflower seed.

In honor of the fundraiser for The National Wildlife Foundation I will now tell my absolute favorite Squirrel story.  When I was in the Royal Navy, my last posting before I left and moved to the US was MHQ Pitreavie, which was the NATO HQ in Scotland and many other things.  It was nestled in the grounds of an old Scottish Mansion and surrounded by trees and more importantly wildlife.  The view outside my office window was boring, so I recruited a couple of our maintenance lads to construct me several bird feeders so I could enjoy something other than a barbed wire topped fence as I worked.

In short order the feeders were visited by a variety of birds, including Bluetits (a cousin of the Chickadee in the US).  Seeing as I enjoyed their antics,  I bought a coconut, sawed it in half and hung the two halves from the end of the platform feeder that we had constructed.  The Bluetits enjoyed it for a while, but then realized it was too much work when there were easy pickings to be had on the feeders.

At one point a Squirrel arrived (it was a Grey Squirrel, as we had both Grey and Red in the area).   The Squirrel took one look at the coconut half and had an expression on its face that screamed “that is the BIGGEST nut I have ever seen, it must be MINE, MINE, ALL MINE!”  What followed had both me, and the rest of my staff in the office, completely abandon work for the afternoon so that we could watch the show.

Getting the coconut off the string was a doddle of course, he (or she, but for brevity’s sake we shall say he), simply chewed through the string and let it drop to the grass.  At that point he tried several gambits (and I am reminded of the prehistoric Squirrel and his acorn in the Ice Age movies but I assure you this story takes place in 1989).  First he tried carrying it with both arms in front of him, but it proved a little too heavy.  Then he tried stuffing it under one arm, but it was slightly too large for that and kept slipping out.  Then he tried stuffing it under the other arm (obviously thinking that his right arm was perhaps a little larger than his left).  Then he began rolling it in front of him using both arms.  This worked perfectly until he got it to the base of the tree.

He continued with the pushing it forward with both paws until it became obvious that progress was going to be slow, as the half coconut probably weighed more than he did.   He then turned around, grabbed the coconut with his front teeth and tried dragging it up, as he edged backwards up the tree.  Invariably he would lose his grip, and the coconut would fall back to the ground, and he would scurry down to retrieve it.

At this point everyone in the office was rooting for the Squirrel the way you root for your favorite sports team.  We absolutely wanted him to get that coconut into that tree, so he could sit in peace and feast on its delights.  Pretty exhausted, the Squirrel sat at the bottom of the tree and contemplated, he kept looking at the coconut, and then looking at the spot in the tree where he obviously wanted to be.

It was almost as if a light bulb went off over his head.  He very carefully rolled the coconut to the base of the tree with his back legs, and then very, very gingerly, he began backing up the tree, the coconut gripped in between his very strong back legs.  Using his front legs and his teeth he inched up the tree.  Occasionally he would stop and catch his breath, obviously exhausted.

The office staff stood at the window in wonder and were cheering him on, quietly of course as we did not want to spook him.  Inch by inch he went up the tree, his back paws with a death grip on the coconut.  Five O’clock arrived and we knew we had to go and catch the bus back to base for the evening but none of us wanted to leave.  We decided, that if necessary, those of the staff with cars would give everyone who normally took the bus a ride back to HMS Cochrane.  The Squirrel inched up the tree.   It became almost painful for the audience, as every muscle in our bodies were joining in this epic battle between Squirrel and coconut.

Dusk began to fall and the Squirrel continued up the tree.  He eventually managed to shove the coconut into a intersection of branches, and he could let his back legs have a rest, you could see his chest heaving and falling as he caught his breath, and his mouth open as he panted.  At that point he carefully turned around and nudged the coconut at little further into the intersection until it plopped neatly into a hollow within the branches.  The office cheered, not quietly this time, full throated cheers, in celebration at the utter steadfastness, and sheer audacity of the Squirrel.

He hopped up beside his prize and turned it right side up.  He then stuck his face into it and began eating the meat from the coconut, gnawing out chunks and then holding them between his tiny paws and savoring its goodness.

The office staff left, and I stood, as dark fell watching the Squirrel enjoying his meal.  I am sure he enjoyed the feast, but I never put out another coconut.  I decided that the Squirrels should stick to sunflower seeds and peanuts.   I just couldn’t put him through that again.  It seemed almost cruel.  While I marveled at his ingenuity, his determination, and his sheer stamina, I figured that he probably expended about four times the calories in obtaining the coconut that he actually gained by eating it, and the dead of winter that could be the difference between life and death.

Shortly after that I installed a feeder that was full of just peanuts.  It seemed the best thing to do.  I will never forget that Squirrel.    #squirrels4good