Saturday, October 10, 2020

Rescued Turtle!

 Last month, we found a box turtle under the edge of our bottom deck. She stayed there several days, left and then came back again. My husband noticed she had a large ear abscess. 

So, I called the Southwest Wildlife Center in Roanoke. I brought the turtle to Blacksburg so someone could bring it to the Wildlife Center.  They worked on the turtle and called me this week to say I could pick her up. They had gotten permission from the state because she was in good health and could find her place for hibernation.

Here is "Fire" right before I released her. As you can see there is no ear abscess and she was rearing to go!

I found a location near where we had found her but in the woods. She scampered off quickly for a turtle. Hope to see her next year. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Turtle Visits

In June, we had visits from three Woodland Box Turtles (Terapene carolina carolina). Formerly, these were named Eastern Box Turtles. The first one to see on June 6 was a delight because he was rescued 3 years ago. Here is the post from then:

"Flame" Rescue Turtle, Male, June 6, 2020

A non-scientific post I looked up online said that you could tell an approximate age of a box turtle by counting the rings on one scute on the shell. Two rings will form each year so I counted 16 so divided by 2, that makes Flame, the rescue turtle, about 8 years.

Flame has only 3 legs (one amputated during his rescue) and a scar from a likely vehicle encounter. He was found close to the road and in the driveway about 500 feet from where he was released.

"Shy" Turtle, Male, June 9, 2020

One morning, my husband alerted me that a turtle was in the mud puddle in our driveway. By the time I dressed, grabbed my camera, and went down there, I could not find the turtle. He had already left. I kept looking and finally found him hiding behind a tree on the hillside and about 10 feet from the puddle. I did see he had a red eye before he escaped into his shell to determine that he was a male.  He also has about 16 rings so he maybe around 8 years old.

I named this female box turtle "Cook" because I imagined that one of the patterns resembled a cook. I believe this is a female because her eyes are brown.  Once again, my husband alerted me but this time she was still in the puddle when I walked down there.  She was just walking around and drinking the water, creating a trail in the mud.  She did not seem afraid of me at all.

This view from the other side shows slightly different patterns. I am hoping I will be able to recognize her again from her patterns if she stops by again. I estimate she is about 6 or 7 years old.

We will probably have turtle visitors again when the blackberries ripen in about a week or so. They always come to get those that fall on the ground.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Cicada Invasion

Southwest Virginia is experiencing an onslaught of the 17-year cicadas.  I experienced them in 1986 and 2003 but was not home all the time as I am now so it has been very interesting to watch them emerge and listen to their songs.

Cicada May 23, 2020

While a few emerged a few days before, I first noticed a number of cicadas on May 23 but with no song yet.  My dogs, Daisy and Molly, noticed them right away. They ate quite a few that were still on the ground.  

Most seemed to gather on this small hickory tree.

Two days later, there were a few more on a hickory tree. And I started to hear them singing but not very loud.  

Every morning, I saw quite a few newly emerged cicadas on the ground. They stay there awhile while their wings finish forming and drying out. Then, they fly up into the trees. Every day, there were more and more.

June 8, Cicadas on Bradford Pear? 

I noticed one of our  "Arbor Day" trees (one I would like to cut down!) had a crowd of cicadas on it.

The above video is of that tree with the cicada sounds. Only the males make the sounds. In the background are more cicada sounds, more like a roar or the background music to a science fiction movie.  And sometimes I hear another sound, almost like the sound of the witches' army in The Wizard of Oz. Later in the evening, the cicadas die down but a few sound like lawn sprinklers.  All together they sound like a symphony during the day. We did hear the cicadas a few times in the middle of the night, probably prompted by the full moon. 

After the mating, the females deposit eggs in the branches of the trees. I remember last time, it was in the last 12 inches of a branch.  Once eggs hatch into larvae, feeding on the branch, they will eventually drop off and crawl back into the grouind. I remember in 2003 all the little branches on the ground.  It did not hurt the trees too much.  I did read it can hurt young fruit trees. 

I was lamenting that there did not seem to be too many birds at our feeders in the past week or two, mostly goldfinches and downy woodpeckers (a family feeding their young). Then, I realized the cardinals and blue jays were probably feasting on the cicadas which must taste very good. My dogs eat them too. 

I made this post to document their emergence on our land. I doubt my husband and I will still be living here in 2037, the next time they emerge! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Nature Journals for Children

During this time of stay-at-home school, I urge parents to have their children make nature journals.  I like to make small journals from construction paper and white copy paper.  For grades 4-6, make the half-sheet journal as below. For younger children, have them use the full sheets of copy paper and just staple the construction paper to the front and back.  Here is how to do the half sheet journal:

1. Fold construction paper end to end, lining up edges.
2. Take 3-4 sheets of copy paper and line up perfectly. Fold end to end again.
3. Place in construction paper, making sure border is even on top and bottom.
4. Staple 3 times along left side.
5. Using a ruler, fold the front cover back. You will have 6 or 8 journal pages.

As you can see from the photo, I like to put a sticker on the front, chosen from the many stickers I get from environmental organizations. Or I might glue a nice nature photo on the front.  I also put the year so I don't have to put the year on every journal page.

The information you should include on each journal page is:
  1.  Date
  2.  Weather including description such as rainy, sunny partly cloudy, etc.
  3.  Temperature
  4.  Time
  5.  Location
Here is an example of one of my journal pages from years ago. I don't have the location since it is assumed it is in my backyard:

I added a little colored pencil to a sketch of the spider I saw. I usually annotate the drawing with notes on distinguishing marks to help identification.

Here's another:

This one was done in 2007. A couple of weeks later, I observed another bug, maybe the same one, on a sunflower leaf:

At the time, I did not know what the bug was but now most of us know it as the invasive, alien, and destructive stink bug.  Most articles I have read say the stink bug first appeared in Virginia in 2009 but I sketched this bug in 2007.  This highlights one use of nature journals in citizen science. Since the page is properly dated and includes a detailed drawing, it can be considered to be scientific evidence.

So, citizen science is one good reason to keep a nature journal.  Other reasons include:
  •  help you to remember identifications 
  •  know when to look for flowers or birds the next year by referring to your journal.
  •  use as resource for writing or art projects.
  •  helps you to express your feelings about nature. 
Hope you find this helpful and let me know if you have questions by emailing me at


The American Museum of Natural History has instruction on field journal activities here:

Also, the Smithsonian has lesson plans on journals:

This blog post has some good information on nature journals:

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Spring is a Comfort!

Like everyone else, I am hunkered down at home per governor's orders. I get out perhaps once a week to pick up groceries and to hunt for the elusive toilet paper package.  I am thankful though I live in a beautiful part of Virginia. Most of the hiking trails have closed around here but our old logging roads and pastures provide plenty of hiking in nature.  Also, I am thankful this lock down happened in spring, my favorite time of year.  It's as if spring decided we are having such a difficult time that she decided to be especially beautiful this year or perhaps I am just noticing this season's beautiful.

March 27 Appalachian or Tiger Swallowtail

This butterfly was smaller than the swallowtails I see in April. I tried to identify but needed to see more of it and the back side to see if it was one of the Appalachians.

March 27 Cut-Leaf Toothwort 
March 27 Falcate Orangetip Butterfly on periwinkle flower

The butterfly is the male because it has the orange tip. The female Falcate Orangetip butterfly lacks the orange so many people mistake it for the cabbage white which comes along later and is a larger butterfly.   

April 3 View of neighbor's barn and Walker Mountain from top of our big pasture. 
April 3 Red Maple

The red maple trees have already gone to seed so that is not what is bothering my allergies. I have been wearing an allergy mask I bought in January when I go out. A cough or sneeze can get you dirty looks in the age of COVID-19.

April 3 Pear Tree

I haven't seen the pear tree in bloom for years. This tree is a part of an old orchard on the back part of our land. Years ago, our land and most of our neighbors' land was part of a huge farm.I talked to a man who remembers going to this farm when he was a boy because his grandmother lived in an old house on our neighbor's house. The house is gone but daffodils and irises indicate its location on my neighbor's land. He said our land where our house is was a potato patch. That was before the land grew up in forest as many of the trees are 60 years or older around our house.

April 3 Virginia Pine

This Virginia Pine tree had thousands of pine cones. The last time I saw that on big Virginia Pine, the tree died the following year. But lots of saplings grew in later years. But this one is at the fence line of the big pasture so I doubt the little trees will be able to grow. 

April 3 Spring Beauties with purple Wood Violets

Spring Beauties are carpeting the woods and the wood violets are especially pretty this year.  The spring beauty plants each grow from a small bulb. I guess if I were starving I would dig some up.

 April 4 Virginia Bluebells 

 April 4 Waterfall

This waterfall is from a spring that follows the road and then pours into Walker Creek. The blue bells are on both sides. 

April 4 Walker Creek

April 4 Redbuds

Everyone is talking about how beautiful the redbud blossoms are this year. These were along Walker Creek.