Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day 2010

Emerging Oak Leaves April 13, 2010

I was thinking back about the first Earth Day in 1970. In college, I attended many of the organizer meetings. We had "teach-ins" and lots of great activities--not too much different than today's events. Our main topics were air and water pollution, overpopulation, roadside litter, and conservation of plant and animals. The "greenhouse effect" was talked about also although the terms climate change and global warming were not used. Great progress was made during the 70s under an unlikely president--Nixon (Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, etc.). I have been involved in environmental issues since then.

Forty years later (can't believe it) and many challenges to our environment remain. However, I am hopeful that young people are enthusiastic about keeping planet Earth as a sustaining habitat for humans, plants and animals.

I got an email from Catalog Choice today. I had joined them three years ago to cut down on the number of catalogs I receive in the mail. It worked--I noticed I haven't gotten catalogs from those I entered. It works best if you have the catalog right there to give them the specifics. Check it out--it's free and easy. And, there are even coupons to download from some of the participating companies. Might save a few trees!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bluebells and Butterflies in Paradise

Years ago, our retired farmer neighbor moved to Florida to be closer to his son. Every year he sends us a holiday card telling us to enjoy our paradise. He seems to miss his Virginia home so much. I am reminded that I live in paradise every spring and especially at the first sign of Virginia bluebells.

Virginia Bluebells April 14, 2010

I love the magenta of the buds with the open blue flowers and the soft green leaves--lovely color combination.

The bluebells line the left side of this spring-fed waterfall which flows into Walker Creek. I was afraid the bluebells might be affected by the historic flood we had in March. And they were in one location where gravel piled up. Worse, I noticed garlic mustard was beginning to invade so I pulled up about 50 plants today--probably only a fraction of what's there but I plan to keep working on it for one of my Earth Day resolutions.

During the past week, the butterflies have really come out, enjoying the very warm spring days. Earlier we had the mourning cloaks, anglewings, and spring azures.

Spicebush Swallowtail April 17, 2010

The Spicebush is very common because of all the spicebush shrubs we have. Not photographed but also common is the Tiger Swallowtail which feeds on the many yellow or tulip poplars here.

Falcate Orange Tip Anthocharis midea
April 17, 2010

I've also seen quite a few of these Falcate Orange Tip butterflies. The female has no orange on its its forewing while the male is unmistakable as you see the flash of orange as he flies.

I'm not sure what this butterfly is. He flies quickly so I thought it might be a skipper but the only id that comes close from my field guide is the Red Admiral which is around here. But the Cattle Heart looks even more like this photo and its range is only in Texas?? Any ideas?

I am looking forward to Earth Day--should be a lovely spring day.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Toad Love and Salamanders (Newts)

Last Saturday, I attended a workshop on vernal ponds at Catawba, Virginia. After a morning lecture by Michael Hayslett, Naturalist-in-Residence at Sweet Briar College, we ventured out to Fenwick Mines, an historic and nature area in Craig County. There, we saw and heard toads mating as well as several species of salamanders including spotted, Jefferson, and marbled.

Vernal ponds are spring ponds in the woods that dry up in the summer. While we have 6 ponds on our land, 4 are used by cows and only one dries up in the summer. All are surrounded by woods. Nevertheless on Sunday, I ventured to our ponds on the back part of our land anxious to see what was happening in them. In the small pond that dries up, I saw lots of tadpoles--no salamanders or toads.

I began to hear the distinct song of toads in the direction of two ponds near our hay barn. As I ventured toward the pond of the toad songs, they stopped. Having seen them the day before, I knew exactly what was going on.

The American Toad is a frequent visitor to my gardens and only ventures to water in the spring when you can hear their distinct songs along along those of the spring peepers.

This toad was perfectly still and looked like he was irritated that I was interrupting his or her mating activity.

This toad was swimming in the direction of the other one and floated toward it. Maybe after I left, they hooked up.

After I walked about 100 feet away, I heard the toads calling again. I did not see or hear any toads in the other ponds.

Red Spotted Newt

NOTE: Clark corrected my id--it's a Red Spotted Newt, very common in this area but very hard to identify from my field guide.

One pond had newts and eggs in it (the only one). I was able to take this photograph and tried to identify the salamander with Peterson Field Guides (see note above). This pond does not evaporate in the summer although it gets downright mucky with the cows in it.

Here are salamander eggs but they didn't look like the ones I saw the day before which were round or oval shapes around the branches whereas this one was all along the submerged branch.

On Thursday--only 4 days later, I checked on the two ponds where I saw the toads and salamanders. There was no sign of either. But two Wood Ducks flew off as I approached one pond so maybe they were feasting on tadpoles. I also haven't heard any more toad songs so maybe toads only have short period of mating while the spring peepers are still going strong.

Thanks to the great workshop, I look at our cow ponds a whole different way.