Saturday, December 11, 2010

Snow and Cold

Last Saturday, the first snow covered the hollow on the same day as last year--December 5. But, it was not quite as much so I hope we will not have to endure the same record snowfalls.

Unlike last year, the weather turned very cold after the snow so the birds flocked to the feeders. Here's a fluffed-up Carolina Wren waiting her turn in the burning bush. The red berries are a favorite of the juncos and white-throated sparrows.

The male and female Purple Finches also wait to get their chance to munch the sunflower seeds.

While winter isn't my favorite time of year, it doesn't seem to faze my dog, Kookie. She might not stay outside long but she still manages to dig. I don't see how she smells anything in the snow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm thankful....

Thanksgiving traditionally has been a time for football and eating the traditional meal. I wanted to think a little about what I'm thankful for this year.

I'm thankful I live where the cows and horses outnumber the people...

...and thankful for nature because it enriches my life.

Thanks to the uncommon nature finds like this Common Grackle which appeared below the feeders last week or the Golden Crowned Kinglet (a lifer if I kept a life list) I saw on a walk down the driveway today.

Thanks for my family (especially my husband) and my friends and for my health which has held up this year.

I'm also thankful I can share my love of nature with fellow naturalists in the New River Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists and the New River Bird Club.

I'm grateful for my bees who inspire me and my beekeeper mentor who has helped me get through a second year of beekeeping.

Finally, I'm thankful to other bloggers for being a great community. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Witch-Hazel and Honey Bees

I awoke to the sounds of gunshots because today is the first day of deer firearms season which lasts for two weeks (except Sunday--hurray for the religious). I am afraid to go out in the woods to take photos even with wearing a blaze orange vest and hat. Forget about taking the dog out for a walk as Kookie only has the blaze orange collar. She looks just like a deer running in the woods.

So instead of walking, I am sitting here at the computer doing this post on a gorgeous sunny warm day.

Yesterday, I noticed my honey bees were out and about bringing in water and pollen. That's not surprising since the weather has been nice and warm (70 degrees most of the week). But where were they getting the pollen? The goldenrod and wingstem are long past flowering--the same for the asters.

I did notice this solitary dandelion blooming but that was probably not the source.

Then, I spotted the witch-hazel tree that was in full bloom. Sure enough, there were honey bees all over it. The witch-hazel is special that way--always blooming in November, a welcome respite from all the brown.

This close up of the flowers was posted on my blog a couple of years ago with the following text:

The Witch-hazel is an understory tree that is fairly common in our woods and a favorite of the Wood Thrush bird for their nests. The leaves are aromatic and can be used to make astringent lotions. Some old timers use the forked branch of the Witch-hazel branch to detect underground water.

This was an earlier photo of the beehive about a week before. The entrance reducer is pushed out so that the bees were able to come and go as they please. I swear I saw them pushing the entrance reducer out themselves! Anyway, the reducer is used to keep predators out but especially mice which will come in and build a nest making a mess. I made my own from 1 x 1 trim. I put 4 holes in it since I knew they wanted more than the typical small hole.

Thoughts on Hive Winter Preparation

This year I left a lot more honey on the hive, (2-1/2 medium boxes). It seemed I had twice the number of bees going into the winter as last year so it made sense to me. The bottom one had brood and lots of pollen storage. I figure the winter cluster can gradually move up the hive through the honey which also should help insulate against the cold.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I won't lose the bees this winter like I did last year. But one thing I noticed about these bees is that they seem a lot healthier than last year's bees. I kept doing varroa mite checks all summer and did not see any until the very last time when I counted about 5 (used powdered sugar treatment to check). Last year, I counted over a hundred on last check. Nevertheless, I plan on leaving the mite board out of the screened bottom board to allow any mites to fall off to the ground and to allow plenty of ventilation. Last year, I got so concerned about the cold that I left the board in. Maybe the mites got to them or the lack of ventilation made them susceptible to nosema (a fungal infection).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fall Color Fading Fast

Red Maple with Yellow Poplars Oct. 28, 2010

The weather has turned chilly enough that we fired up our woodstove. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees although a few red maples still retain their color.

Red Maple with Christmas Ferns

The Red Maple and Christmas Ferns remind me that the holiday season isn't far away.
The ferns will stay green until next spring when fiddleheads form with the old growth finally turning brown during the summer.

My dog, Kookie, loves it when I go on these walks. She's usually hunting for chipmunks or anything else she can dig up.

Back at the house, she is content to go through her toy box. Unfortunately, she never puts the toys back!

Well, I better put another log on the fire.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall Progression and Last of the Butterflies

Sassafras leaves September 16, 2010

Leaves of the dogwood, sassafras and sourwood trees turn red and orange in mid-September. These are followed in early October by the poplars

Yellow Poplar (left) and Hickory (middle). October 11, 2010

The poplar and hickory trees are brilliant yellow for a day or two in early October. The poplars drop their leaves quickly, filling the ground with bright yellow leaves. The Hickories, on the other hand, stay on the tree and turn brown.

Sugar Maple October 17, 2010

With the leaves off the tall poplars, the sugar maple can show off its glorious orange colors.

The color seems brighter this year, maybe because we had some cold nights in early October.

Buckeye October 17, 2010

I still see buckeyes in our fields, flying a little faster when it's cooler.

Comma Anglewing September 21, 2010

The anglewings along with mourning cloaks overwinter as adults so they are often the first butterflies I see in March. The anglewing are abundant, although usually solitary, in our driveway in September and October.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Banner and Hokie High

I made a new banner for header of my blog--it's a photo taken at the top of the road we live on down the valley to Walker Mountain. The photo reflects the countryside, pasture land surrounded by forests and mountains.

This was another banner photo I considered--a view of New River.

Hokie High!

Most people know I am a big Virginia Tech football fan. My husband is also a big time Best Buy customer. So, it was a nice surprise when the store manager called to say he had won a raffle for two tickets to the game and tailgate Saturday. My husband could not go but I went anyway. The seats were great but more exciting was that my name was drawn in a raffle done at the tailgate to be on the sideline. I would be there with the Best Buy store manager, the ISP guy who arranged it and another Best Buy customer.

It was so exciting to be near the action. The guy from ISP said we should be alert in case the play went close to where we were standing. Sure enough, I saw quarterback Tyrod Taylor head our way as he was being chased out of bounds. I backed up quickly and had to step aside against the wall to keep from getting hit.

The television camera covered Tyrod coming back onto the field, tossing the football to the official, with me right behind him. (my photo of ESPNU broadcast). Here I am in my tie-dye shirt. I replayed the game broadcast today, savoring in the moment!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Migrating Birds: Black Throated Green Warbler

For a couple weeks, we have had large flocks of black birds migrating through. The other day a flock of grackles were in the yard, sounding like a flock of chickens. It's bird migration time. The following photos were taken on September 26.

This Black-Throated Green Warbler was on our mimosa tree. He flew around so fast, it was hard to get the photo with my point-and-shoot camera.

Here's another shot of him from below.

Now, I'm waiting to see my first white-throated sparrow and dark-eyed junco.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Butterflies have been flying everywhere this summer. In the last two weeks, I have seen them on the butterfly bush--counting a dozen or more every day.

Here a fritillary and Pipevine Swallowtail are on the butterfly bush. The pipevine is interesting because at one angle you see a flash a blue that isn't shown in the field guide.

At this angle you can't see the flash of blue.

Here, you see the blue!

And here I captured a blurry flash of the blue as the butterfly flew right in front of me. Now someone should tell me what a pipevine is since it's not in my wildflower field guide.

Besides the butterfly bush, spicebush swallowtail butterflies were on the zinnias which make a good nectar flower for bees and butterflies. The blue here seems to be not affected by the angle.

I've read many comments that there are more butterflies this summer in this area. I think it might be that there seemed to be more flowers all summer but I am not sure since I planted more flowers this year.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Screech Owl of Late Summer

I finally figured out to edit the video from my camera. I taped the sounds of a screech owl the other night and wanted to share with you. I hope you can hear the owl over the cicadas.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Foggy Bottoms and Sunny Pastures: Buckeyes and Mist Flowers

This morning I walked down our 1/3 mile driveway to get the newspaper. I was in such a funk I didn't even notice that it was foggy until I got down to the bottom.

After the fog burned off, I decided I should take our UTV up on the back part of our land to plant peach and plum pits. I hadn't been up there for over a month.

I was delighted to find mist flowers growing on the very back---up on the side of the mountain. These flowers are often found at the local nurseries but are native to this area.

This soldier beetle seemed to be the only insect on the flowers.

Lots of knapweed (maybe Brown?) grew in the back grown up pasture attracting honey bees like this one. I had been wondering where my bees have been foraging lately. They go out early coming back to the hive with loads of yellow and white pollen. The knapweed was full of them.

I also saw several Buckeye butterflies on the knapweeds and grasses here. Everytime I see a buckeye, I am reminded of the time when I did a lot of embroidery when I lived in Logan, Utah in the 1970s. I had such a good reputation for doing jean embroidery that a friend asked me to embroider his wedding shirt (cowboy shirt of course). I ended up embroidering a giant buckeye butterfly on the back which he loved. I thought I had a picture of it but alas no.

This Buckeye was rather worn for wear. Neither of the photos turned out great (like Nina's)but I wanted to post this close-up so that I can remember the patterns. Maybe I will try another embroidery like that someday.

I planted the peach and plum pits in this pasture so I'm hoping someday to pick fruit up here.

There's nothing like getting outside and enjoying nature to lift your mood!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

California Trip: Coast

The last half of our California trip was spent along the coast where we made a visit to The Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's my favorite aquarium since we first visited it in the 90s.

I was mesmerized by the jellyfish . . .

. . . and the baby sea turtles.

We then drove south on Highway 1 beyond Big Sur . . .

to a beach where Elephant Seals use---during their molting period. This photo was taken from about 100 feet away. The seals have this great beach to themselves because it's fenced to keep out tourists.

An older seal cools off in the water. He has the large "trunk-like" nose giving the seals their name.

These two young seals didn't get the memo about lying on the beach!

I was surprised at how undeveloped most of the coast was--thankfully the state has set aside much of the coastline for public access.

On our way back to San Francisco for the return flight, we stopped by Big Basin State Park at Boulder Creek. The giant majestic redwoods remind me of what our Appalachian forests might have looked like centuries ago. Back then, American chestnut and oak trees reached these heights (200-300 ft).

No matter how good the trip, I am always happy to get back home.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

California Trip: Yosemite Meadows and Waterfalls

We spent the last week in July in California, first to camp in Yosemite National Park and then touring along the California coast below San Francisco.

We bought a new tent (Big Agnes) last year and wanted to try it out. It has two doors so I do not have to climb over Steve to get up for my nightly bathroom break. I think we were the oldest couple in Bridal Veil Creek campground to sleep in a tent. I'm proud that we are still tent camping in our 60s.

Bridal Veil Creek campground is aptly named--the creek runs right through including behind our secluded campsite, providing a nice meadow but also mosquitoes. My long sleeve shirt with insect shield seemed to work good.

Shooting Stars bloomed along the creek.

After camp was set up, we hiked on a trail that started in the campground and went up to a meadow.

Along the way, we saw dark-eyed juncos (different from ours with the rusty color on the back) . .

...and the Sego Lily with its large blooms.

We hiked about one mile to Westfall Meadow which we had to ourselves.

I wish I could grow a garden that is this pretty.

The next morning, we hiked to Sentinel Dome seen here from the trail. On the way up, we saw a brown bear with 2 cubs. I kept my distance!

Here we are on Sentinel Dome where we saw all of Yosemite Valley.

Look who popped up in my field of view...

A momma ground squirrel looking for a handout.

On one side of Sentinel, you can see Yosemite Falls.

On the other side is the famous Half Dome.

On the way to Yosemite Valley, we stopped by another meadow along the road where I couldn't resist taking this photo of a lady in a white dress taking a photo.

Yosemite Valley was crowded but we wanted to take a short hike up to Bridal Veil Falls.

It was so hot this family cooled off in Bridal Veil Creek on the way up to see the falls.

This was as close as I got to Bridal Veil Falls which really did remind me of a bridal veil.

That evening we watched the sunset at nearby Glacier Point.

There's something about Half Dome that you want to keep looking at it.

In the east, the moon was rising.

We camped two nights at Bridal Veil campground then headed for the coast...