X is for eXciting!

Yes, we’re poking at our letters today, but our little snake is an Xciting sight for some humans and is twisted into just the right shape!

For all the excitement a snake popping up in the garden causes, the ring-necked snake is one you can flick your tail at. It rarely gets over pencil-sized, and can easily be identified by the yellow to orange ring around the neck, or if you have scared it, the yellow-orange underbelly, as it tried to flash you nature’s warning color and chase you off.

And what do they eat, we would like you to ask? Slugs–every gardener’s bane–earthworms and salamanders.

U is for…Uh-oh!

Yes, we missed U day yesterday. We’ll chalk it up to three days of rain! No squirrel wants to be out in that! Not mentioning the procrastination that went on the day before because U is an exceptionally hard letter to find in nature.

So in the interest of saving time, we’ll repeat a past Blogging From A to Z Challenge post, one you humans might have missed in nature:

Underwing Moth!

This moth sits calmly on tree bark, blending in with its upper wings of gray–up until it feels threatened! Then it flashes those underwings of bright orange…enough to scare even the hardiest squirrel–*cough* Hickory *cough*–off a branch.

Go looking for them if you are bored!

O is for Owl

The Barred Owl, who keeps watch in our neighborhood!

And maybe O is for Oops! Sorry we’re so late this morning, but now I bet you see why we weren’t too enthused about today’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge letter. We could only thing of something dangerous!

Yet as dangerous as owls are, they are endangered themselves. You humans don’t seem too keen on keeping dead trees around, and dead trees are where many owls nest. Have you considered putting up an owl box on your property? They can be purchased or made from plans…and it seems like most of the plans we are seeing in a online search are for barn owns, which need lots of open land.

In spite of our squirrel instincts to avoid owls, we’re going to hunt down some plan sources for your humans. In the meantime, here’s a good overview of why you should want owls in your life from Rodales Organic Life.

I is for Poison Ivy

We are repeating a favored perennial for ‘I” on the Blogging From A to Z Challenge: Ivy, of the poisonous kind!

Please consider this a nature service announcement! This native vine can be one of the nastiest you encounter in our woods, fields, and even your lovely foundation plantings. Notice we said ‘can be’. Some people do not react to this plant’s oils that cause itching. But with exposure, their tolerance can decrease, so it pays not to expose yourself unnecessarily.

In the spring, it looks like this:

In the fall it looks like this:

In the winter it looks like this:

Don’t get poison ivy this year. Know what it looks like so you can avoid it.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Our mystery today comes to us from regular reader, Connie. Thanks, Connie!

Mystery #179

Yes, it’s those little blobs, about the size of a small acorn.

I’ll check back later for your guesses, but if you’d like a hint, scroll down:

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Hint: Connie found these on her pontoon boat.

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One brave reader guessed that these particles were the stuffing from the boat. No, but that was our first guess, too! No mice or insects were burrowing inside. This was deposited on the boat and appears nearly every morning, Connie tells us.

And every morning someone visits the boat.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon Paul Hartke 2016

If the light is a bit too dim for you, here’s another photo.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon

That’s a Great Blue Heron. A very old one, we believe, because his beard–the feathers trailing from his neck–is full. Now we squirrels had heard of owls regurgitating pellets of fur and bones after they eat, but not herons, so we did a bit of research. Turns out herons do as well, and it’s called “casting.”

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

If you look closely, this deposit, or regurgitation, contains small fish bones and scales!

Herons also have a throat pouch. When they have young in the nest, they swallow a fish or two and carry them back to the nest and regurgitate them for the young birds. Young birds might do the same if a predator attacks their nest to frighten it away.

Want to learn more about Great Blue Herons? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a camera on a heron nest and answers many questions about these birds on their Bird Cam FAQ website.

Pokeweed, leave it or weed it?

American Pokeweed

The berries of American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, are poisonous. And oh-so tempting to you humans, especially when they are in full ripeness –and at their most toxic!–this time of year.

Pokeweed in late summer

The plant is big and weedy and produces many berries. No wonder it can take over a farmer’s field!

Yet there are birds who will eat them with no harmful effects, like the Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Gray catbird and Brown Thrasher.

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

Nutmeg advised you human readers to leave your flower seedbeds for the birds, but here’s a plant you should clean up.

mystery #164

Know what it is and why?

Make your guesses and I’ll return later with the answers.

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Hmm, here’s a vine you humans ought to become more familiar with–because it’s terribly invasive! You’ll want to get rid of Mile-a-Minute Weed the second you see it.

Mile-a-Minute Weed

The triangular leaves and barbed stems are a great way to identify it, even if you don’t notice that the vine is growing 6 inches a day. Yes, it can take over quickly, and we squirrels beg you to keep this from happening! We like our native foods better, though some deer, chipmunks, mice and birds will eat them. Of course, that’s another way the Mile-a-Minute Weed is spreading.

Did you notice some of the leaves have holes in them? That’s because some great humans have released a weevil that eats Mile-a-Minute Weed leaves, then lays its eggs in the stems. The larvae eat the plant from the inside. Read more about Mile-a-Minute Weed and this weevil on this New York Invasive Species Information bulletin.

When you run across a bit of danger…

There’s nothing like leaping branch to branch through in a tree. Sometimes Hickory and I feel we’re flying like the birds, we move so fast.

Then you come upon something that really makes you think I need to watch where I’m going!

Paper Wasps building a nest

Yep, paper wasps. Building a new nest. Luckily, we had swerved to avoid the wild rose tangle they were in and missed leaping into them. Also luckily, this was a tiny piece of new nest, with not many wasps around. This late in the summer, that means a nest broke in a storm.

“Or did the hive split and these ones are establishing with a new queen?” Hickory  asks with a twitch of his tail.

Well, we didn’t stick around to learn the answer.