Sprinting Spring

Time moves far too fast when you’re getting ready to relocate.  Between spring cleaning and house staging, I feel as if I’m missing spring!

It seems as if just a moment ago the red maple (Acer rubrum) trees were still in burgundy bud, and now their growing green “helicopter” seeds have mellowed the crimson blooms so that the trees look decked with flakes of copper.

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I allow my forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) to grow rather large and wild; it’s tallest branches reach up to my second story window. The arching stems and myriad bright yellow blossoms make it look a little like a firework.

The forsythia bushes (Forsythia x intermedia), tulip magnolia (Magnolia lilliflora), and spicebush (Lindera benzoin) are in full bloom, not to mention actual tulips and daffodils.

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The tiny, chartreuse blossoms of the spicebush (Lindera benzoin) are a true sign of spring. The spicebush is a native shrub/small tree in this area of Virginia and, having evolved here for millennia, really “knows” when it’s spring for sure.

I have already seen mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), and cabbage white (Pieris rapae) butterflies!

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The mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) butterfly is one of the first to emerge in spring because its caterpillars feed on willow trees, which are among the first to leaf out.

It’s wonderful to watch the Earth wake up, all blossoms and bird song – if only time would slow just a little so that I could enjoy it longer.

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It makes me unreasonably happy when the willows finally turn green. My inner child skips around singing “It’s here, it’s heeeere, spring is really heeeere!”

To capture the few seasonal moments I had between cleaning and donation runs to the local YMCA, I thought I’d write a couple of haiku poems.

I wanted to do it “right”, of course, so I quickly Googled the how-to.  Big mistake.  The rules I learned in grade school apparently no longer apply.  By the time I was done being confused by the many voices and opinions on what English haiku should comprise, I decided it would be easier just to call the following “triplet” poems.

So, here are the four quick triplets that describe the spring moments of my March:

 

cold hands

tucking in tiny roots and

courageous leaves

breaking ice,

wild yellow explodes

forsythia

warm earth

soft pink petals

hope

trilling, proud

and persistent, he calls

to his future

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Common 10 Insects)

Mixing it up among Common 10 lists, as promised (but with an unexpected,  fun segue), we’re going from yesterday’s stinky skunks to the species I blindly pulled from the Common 10 prompt box today:  stink bugs.

Stink bugs have made their way onto the Common !0 Insects list for the New River Valley, and most of us wish they hadn’t.

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This is the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) adult. It’s weird to see just one, isn’t it?  Photo provided by David R. Lance, USDA APHIS via Wikimedia Commons.

The brown marmorated stink bug – A.K.A. the BMSB – (Halyomorpha halys) is an invader from Asia.  Accidentally brought here in the mid 1990s, the BMSB population has exploded because this area’s climate and ecology are remarkably similar to east Asia (many of our non-native, invasive species come from Asia, e.g. the hemlock woolly adelgid, emerald ash borer beetle, Japanese honeysuckle, kudzu vine, tree of heaven, and many, many more) and because none of the BSMB’s natural predators live here.

They gather on warm, sun drenched exterior walls in autumn by the dozens or hundreds, and as temperatures drop, they find little nooks and crannies through which to work their way inside walls or even into a home’s interior.  They will spend all winter in these warm refuges.  I have had neighbors and friends complain of finding hundreds loitering around sunny windows.

And did I mention that they stink?  You know s species really smells bad when they put stink right there in the name.

Everyone has a different level of sensitivity to the BSMB’s smell.  They don’t bother me much as long as they’re out of doors and unmolested, but I’ve never had them gather inside my house, so I may be being unrealistically generous about it.

The stink they emit is actually a chemical compound used for self defense.  They emit this vile compound from holes in their abdomen in order to make themselves smell highly unappetizing to any would-be predators.

When poked or, heaven help us, squished, they release a load of this foul chemical brew and the stench could knock a buzzard off an outhouse.

I experienced this rank odor in full during Master Naturalist training.  We were learning about insects (3 bodyparts, 6 legs, antennae, wings, exoskeleton) in an entomology lab at Virginia Tech and one of the already certified naturalists brought dead stink bugs in for us to explore and dissect.  (I’m only now realizing that this may have been hazing.  Cheeky!)

Thirty trainees picking apart stink bugs under macro scope for at least a half hour.  Thank goodness the lab door was left open (small  mercies) or I’m certain that I would have a) vomitted or b) passed out.

If you’re visited by unwanted stink bugs in your home this winter, I suggest removing them by sucking them into a handheld vacuum or one with a hose.  Then, either throw the bag away immediately inside of a sealed trash bag or, if it’s bagless, dump the contents of the vacuum’s plastic container into a plastic grocery bag that you can knot up tight or completely seal before putting it in the outside garbage bin.  Releasing unconstrained BMSBs outdoors gives them an opportunity to find their way back inside – a challenge they’ll meet with ease.

Do I feel bad about advising the mass slaughter of these invaders?   A little, but they don’t belong here and they’re throwing our native species off balance.  (Here’s a guide to telling the BSMB apart from its native look-alike bugs.)  The only good thing you can say about them, in fact, is that at least they don’t sting or bite.  They’re a real pest in orchards though, destroying fruit by the acre.

So, for the sake of the fruit and to save all our noses, go get your vacuum and suck the little stinkers up!

This has been another #10minwri on the Common 10.  To learn more about Common 10 animals, check out:

American Kestrel (Common 10 Birds of Prey)

Opossum (Common 10 Nocturnal Animals)

Red-tailed Hawk (Common 10 Birds of Prey)

Eastern Screech-owl (Common 10 Birds of Prey)

White-tailed Deer (Common 10 Mammals)

Chickadee (Common 10 Songbirds)

Skunk (Common 10 Mammals)

Black Bears (Common 10 Mammals)

The Best Birthday Gifts Ever

Yesterday was bittersweet.  I have to drive out to Claytor Lake and deflate my kayaks.

That’s right, I said “deflate” and “kayaks”.

This August, on my 38th and best birthday ever, I was given two inflatable kayaks!  I have wanted a kayak for at least two decades.  On this birthday, not only did I receive a one person kayak from my parents, but my hubby also gave me a two person kayak.

This is the bow of the Green Darner as I paddled into Claytor Lake's Twin Hollow on my birthday. No more than five minutes after this shot, I was video chatting with my parents and got to share with them the scene of a mink swimming up to and around my kayak. As I said: Best. Birthday. Ever!

This is the bow of the Green Darner as I paddled into Claytor Lake’s Twin Hollow on my birthday. No more than five minutes after this shot, I was video chatting with my parents and got to share with them the scene of a mink swimming up to and around my kayak. As I said: Best. Birthday. Ever!

I was so happy that I could barely keep my feet on the ground.  I walked around all day saying “Hey, you know what? . . . I have two kayaks!” to the family I was with, who a) knew that already, because they watched me open and inflate them, and b) couldn’t yell at me for bragging because it was my birthday.

Besides, if they did get sick of me, I’d just paddle away . . . in one of my two new kayaks!

My nine year old daughter and her friend adventuring in the two person kayak, the

My nine year old daughter and her friend adventuring in the two person kayak, the “Goldfinch”.

The Intex brand heavy-duty inflatable kayaks came with their own pumps, carrying cases, and easy-assembly paddles.  They were a third or less the cost of a traditional kayak.

I was able to easily inflate and assemble the kayaks.  I think the single person took 15 minutes, and the double (which I did second, and therefore more easily) took maybe 12.

I was on the water in my new kayak (well, one of two, did I mention I have two?) in less than 30 minutes!

The bow of the Green Darner pointed out to the main body of Claytor Lake. I

The bow of the Green Darner pointed out to the main body of Claytor Lake. (I “waterproofed” my phone by putting it in a ziptop plastic bag with a few of those inflated packaging cushions.)

Kayaking is awesome.

Not that I’m really great at it; I like kayaking on slow, flat water (hello, Claytor Lake).  I’m not interested in rapids, nor would I take my precious inflatables where there are mean, sharp rocks that might damage them.  I like the peacefulness of a one-person boat.  The ability to choose my own speed and direction.  The secret coves I can get into because of the boat’s tiny, inch-deep draft.

I’m in it for the freedom, for the quiet, and, of course, for the wildlife!  From my kayak, I’ve gotten closer to turtles, dragonflies, damselflies, great blue heron, schools of shiners, and even mink, than I thought possible.

And the half dozen trips I’ve made did not disappoint.  Check out these photos of lake critters:

What's that, attached to that log? Is it frog eggs? Is it fish eggs? Nope. This is a freshwater bryozoan colony. It's an amazing community of microscopic creatures.

What’s that, attached to that log? Is it frog eggs? Is it fish eggs? Nope. This is a freshwater bryozoan colony. It’s an amazing community of microscopic creatures.

From the middle of summer to the first freeze, the lake air is filled with dragonflies and damselflies fulfilling their biological duties. They'll land just about anywhere, including the arms of a swimmer, in order to have a stable platform for their love nest. Here we see two future parents who have alighted on my kayak's bow.

From the middle of summer to the first freeze, the lake air is filled with dragonflies and damselflies fulfilling their biological duties. They’ll land just about anywhere, including the arms of a swimmer, in order to have a stable platform for their love nest. Here we see two future damselfly parents who have alighted on my kayak’s bow.

If you blow this photo up to full size, you'll see that the rock in the center of this little lake-edge grotto is covered with future damselfly parents.

If you blow this photo up to full size, you’ll see that the rock just to the right of center of this little lake-edge grotto is covered with future damselfly parents.

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This turtle was basking in Crawfish Hollow. Based on my research at the Virginia Herpetological Society website, I think this is an Eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna), but I must admit that my turtle identification skills are just beginner level. The thing with turtles is that every time you approach one in the wild to get a better look at it, they slide right into the water to avoid the big, scary predator stalking toward them. I have great hopes, though, because I’ve gotten closer to turtles on the kayak (well, both kayaks – did I tell you that I have two?) than I ever could on foot.

Another turtle basking on a log in the gathered flotsam at the back of Twin Hollow. There were many turtles there but, unfortunately, they were far outnumbered by pieces of litter.

Another two turtles basking on a logs in the gathered flotsam at the back of Twin Hollow.  I’m glad that I already gave the disclaimer about my beginner turtle identification skills, because these have me stumped.  They’re far more domed than the Eastern river cooter and the closer one has an awful lot of red on its neck.   More frustrating than that, though, is that there were many turtles there but, unfortunately, they were far outnumbered by pieces of litter.

Now this turtle I know! It's a hatchling (baby) snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). This turtle is easily identified even at a distance by its long, long tail. I was luckily enough to be able to gently lift it out of the water with my paddle.

Now this turtle I know! It’s a hatchling (baby) snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). This turtle is easily identified even at a distance by its long, long tail. I was luckily enough to be able to gently lift it out of the water with my paddle.

This is the largest size snapping turtle you're likely to ever see me handling. Its name is apt, and these turtles at adult size (8-14

This is the largest size snapping turtle you’re likely to ever see me handling. Its name is apt, and these turtles at adult size (8-14″) would easily snap off a misplaced human finger. But this little one is just too cute!

If you, too, would like to see lake critters close up, I highly recommend a kayak.  Or two.

Monarch Mystery: The Case of the Disappearing Chrysalids

This is a close up of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) blooming in my garden in June.

This is a close up of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) blooming in my garden in June.

I have many, many milkweed plants.

(I’m not bragging, just stating facts.  And, the fact is, I’d be happy to send you ripe seeds in a few weeks.)

Here is the classic butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooming in its bright-as-the-summer-sun orange.  This also bloomed in June in my garden, but is still blooming today.  Butterfly weed is now carried in a variety of gorgeous colors by most native plant nurseries.

Here is the classic butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooming in its bright-as-the-summer-sun orange. This also bloomed in June in my garden, but is still blooming today.

I let them grow all over my garden, often as volunteer plants in truly odd spots, because I love monarch butterflies.  I’ve planted milkweed of one type or another (both common milkweed and its cousin butterfly weed) in every garden I’ve had for the last 14 years, so that every year I can cross my fingers and hope to spot those cute, clown-colored caterpillars munching happily in my very own yard.

A few weeks ago we saw our first monarchs of the season fly through the yard, sipping on the zinnias I grow to attract butterflies of all kinds.  Occasionally we’d see one flitting around the leaves of a common milkweed plant; skittish and picky about where to land and easily disturbed.

Brightly colored zinnias are butterfly magnets!  Here we see a monarch sipping nectar from a bright pink "Monster" zinnia.

Brightly colored zinnias are butterfly magnets!  Here we see a monarch sipping nectar from a bright pink “Monster” zinnia.  Adult monarchs will drink nectar from many species of flowers, but when it comes to laying eggs, only milkweed will do!

Then, about a week ago – Eureka! – my daughter called me out to the front yard; she had found five monarch caterpillars one one of the milkweed plants.  Our joy was palpable.  We both went out several times that day and over the next six days to “check on the kids”.

Hello, little fellow!  Monarch caterpillars don't mind the toxins in the milkweed leaves they eat; that's what makes them poisonous to would-be predators!

Hello, little fellow! Monarch caterpillars don’t mind the toxins in the milkweed leaves they eat; that’s what makes them poisonous to would-be predators!

We watched them paring down leaves in neat little arcs, growing fatter by the day.  Then, just as I began to wonder how much bigger those hungry caterpillars could get, they all disappeared.

“Yay!”  I thought.  They’ve all gone to pupate.  We’ll look for the chrysalids (my preferred plural for chrysalis because “chrysalises” just sounds silly) and keep an eye on those and maybe, just maybe, we’ll catch a brand new monarch emerging.

Delight and anticipation immediately poured from my heart into every corner of my body and began fizzing like champagne.

Evidence of caterpillars well fed.  This is monarch caterpillar poop.  It's scientific name is "frass", which is one of my new favorite words.

Evidence of caterpillars well fed. This is monarch caterpillar poop. Its scientific name is “frass”, which is one of my new favorite words.

Until yesterday.  I went out to look for those chrysalids and found:  none.  Seriously!  I couldn’t find them anywhere!  I looked closely enough to see two new caterpillars, each less than a centimeter in length, recently hatched on the underside of a milkweed leaf, but no pupae!

So cute when they're young, but soon it will grow up and abandon me, just like its sneaky older siblings did.

So cute when they’re young, but soon it will grow up and abandon me, just like its sneaky older siblings did.

I looked on the milkweed, on the plants surrounding it, underneath all of the leaves.  I sat and sprawled and bent and, no doubt, entertained the passing neighbors with my comical yogic poses – but I found nothing.

Where are they???  How far away from their host plant can these chubby little caterpillars crawl?

Moving my search area to the internet, I found an article titled “Where to Look for a Monarch Chrysalis in the Garden“, but didn’t care for the bleak numbers about depredation it gave at the beginning.  My caterpillars did not bite the dust!  (It’s my garden, I can be in denial if I want to.)

Can anyone out there help me solve my monarch mystery?