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    Blogtober: transformation

    My front yard garden, here in its third summer.

    So I’m a couple days late on this post. I’ve been working on a post about transformation for several days now, but the particular interpretation i chose is still too big to handle quickly. I bit off more than I can chew for a quick daily post. So I’ll try a slightly different interpretation. Never fear though, I’ll keep working on the original post– it’s something that I really want to write, I just need to take longer on it than usual.

    Native plants I grew included swamp milkweed (the pink flowers), common milkweed, and even a few persimmon trees grown from wild seeds.

    They say time spent in nature can be transformative, can change how you experience life. We also can transform nature itself– our climate itself is changing due to human activities. That’s the bad kind of transformation, at least unfortunate. But we can have a positive influence too. All the sterile monoculture lawns could be turned into wildlife gardens, for example. Imagine neighborhoods buzzing with activity as bees and other pollinators flit from flower to brilliantly colored flower. Birds sing as they hunt through the shrubs for plump caterpillars to feed their babies. Doesn’t that sound nicer than silent, sterile lawns? And there’s much less mowing to do! Bonus.

    One winter we even had a Cooper’s Hawk visit, hunting the songbirds that were attracted to my feeders.

    I transformed much of my front yard into gardens, back when I lived in Rockville. For ten years, I created and annually expanded a veggie garden, ending up with a 12’x 12′ patch full of tomatoes and hot peppers and summer squash and much more. Other areas of the yard I turned into native flower patches. It was wonderful! I loved looking out the window to see small animals enjoying my handiwork, from squirrels and chipmunks to rabbits to songbirds (and occasionally a hawk or two), even the neighborhood fox now and then. And so many gorgeous insects! Of course my heart’s desire was caterpillars, and I had plenty of them so long as I let plenty of dill reseed itself. If you’re looking for a completely hands-off crop, dill might be the way to go. It reseeds gloriously. I always had more than I needed, but barely had the heart to thin out too many, so usually had most of my garden taken over by towering dill by the end of the summer.

    Some of my yearly dill forest in bloom. All those yellow flowers will turn into seeds to grow more dill next year!

    That all being said, still the most triumphant feeling was when neighbors started putting in vegetable gardens after seeing mine. 🙂 OnceI even surprised a neighbor’s kid “stealing” a couple tomatoes. I would happily have given him some if he asked, of course, so didn’t really chastise him. The idea that he wanted my fresh vegetables was so enchanting– especially since we hear so often about kids that hate veggies. (I never was one of those, but maybe because I helped my parents in our own garden so I had a different relationship with veg.)

    The birds often dropped sunflower seeds into the garden. Those flowers attracted lots of pollinators and always put a smile on my face.

    So I feel like I transformed a whole lot with just my front yard gardens– the neighborhood ecosystem, my neighbors’ views on gardens and gardening, my neighbors’ children’s ideas about veggies. It gave me so much happiness too.

    Migrating monarchs often visited my late-season flowers like these coneflowers.

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    Blogtober- Decay

    I did not know that fungi could bleed.

    It’s been a pretty good year for mushrooms. I’ve found bright red chanterelles, gooey inkcaps, and more. But the weirdest and maybe creepiest has been the globby fungus I found oozing dark amber liquid near the bottom of a tree.

    I think it’s Pseudoinonotus dryadaeus, also known as Oak Bracket. I don’t know whether the tree it was near was an oak, but one of the blobs is growing around an oak leaf– so there’s definitely an oak somewhere nearby.

    The way the fungus has grown around the oak leaf makes me think of a ghoulish hand pushing out of the soil.

    I haven’t had a chance to look for more resources on fungi that might tell me exactly what that amber liquid is. Or why it’s that color. Maybe it’s related to tannins from the oak tissues it grows on. That could make sense. I also read that Oak Bracket leads to further decay in its host tree. I know mushrooms are actually the fruiting bodies (basically the reproductive organs) of a fungus colony. Underground, the colony is a massive branching network of threads. I knew fungi was weird, but this oozing species is one of the weirdest I’ve encountered so far.

    More of the Oak Bracket nearby

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    Blogtober: spiders

    I have a sign in my apartment that says, “Keep calm, it’s just a spider.” I was torn about whether to buy it when I saw it. Of course I think that nobody needs to get upset at the sight of a spider. I am more than happy to be the spider catch-and-releaser. But on the other hand, “just” a spider? More like “it’s a fantastic spider!” I really do love spiders.

    Shelob? No, just a spider in the bush.

    There are so many different types of web spiders in my area. Some are orb web spinners, who make the familiar eight-spoked roundish webs. There are grass spiders which spin flat sheets of webbing, and funnel spiders that spin funnels of webbing in which they hide, waiting to jump out at prey that blunders into their web. I even saw one orb web spider that apparently took a lesson from the funnel spiders– it had glued together the top edges of a leaf beside its web, creating a safe retreat when a big predator (me) came poking a camera near the web!

    Funnel web spider lurking in its funnel

    The different kinds of hunting (non-web-spinning) spiders fascinate me too. Wolf spiders, jumping spiders, crab spiders. The latter are one of my favorites, especially when they match the flower they’re sitting on, so they are perfectly camouflaged. And I’ve already talked about how amazing mother wolf spiders are, in my Freaky Family post a few days ago.

    This crab spider doesn’t quite mat ch the green leaves, but it’s pretty close!

    As for venomous spiders, we do have black widows in my area. I had never seen one in the wild until moving to my current apartment, though. There’s a small field with a walking trail around its edge nearby, and I found my first wild widow (there’s a band name for you!) on the concrete retaining wall. It was so plump and glossy! Definitely worth the hunt.

    The red hourglass on the ventral abdomen shows this is a female Black Widow.

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    Blogtober: Owls

    At my very first park job, one of the programs I most loved to lead was the Owl Prowl. That consisted of wandering down the trail, just after dark, with my participants and a red-masked flashlight (to prevent us from losing night vision) and a way to playback recordings. We usually have three main owl species in my area: Eastern Screech Owls, Barred Owls, and Great Horned Owls in order from smallest to largest. The order in which we called them in was very important, assuming we wanted to run an ethical prowl. We’d always start with the smallest owl species, and end with the largest. Great Horned Owls (GHOs for short) sometimes eat the much smaller Screech Owl, and even Barred Owls who aren’t a lot smaller than the GHOs. If we started with the biggest, and had a Great Horned Owl not only call back to us but approach, then when we switched to the smaller owl(s) the GHO could just fall silent and lie in wait while we attracted its dinner. That just doesn’t seem fair for said dinner!

    A Great Horned Owl I saw on its nest in Florida. Perhaps it was thinking, “I’m a bit hungry, wonder if I could lure a Screech Owl or two?”

    So instead we called the Screech owls first. That gave them the chance to flee when they heard us play the Barred Owl’s calls. My boss could imitate all three species’ calls without needing a machine. Me, I mastered only one, the Barred Owl. I think it’s the easist to remember and also the simplest in terms of sound reproduction. The mnemonic for its cadence is, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” Check out some recordings on Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds pages if you’re interested. See if you can mimic too, in the privacy of your own home! (Those of you reading this at the office, maybe don’t try right away.) https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/sounds

    Since they’re so easy to copy, even on prowls when absolutely no owls cooperated with my playback, I could still send my participants home with the ability to call Barred Owls themselves! I have successfully called back and forth with an owl in the wild, one afternoon on the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail. While I don’t know exactly what I was saying, I know owls call for territorial purposes, to see who else is in their area, and for courtship. So I only called a couple times, I don’t want to either bully an owl or have one develop a crush on me. 😀

    That reminds me, though, if you hope to see/hear an owl during the daytime, Barred Owls are a good possibility. I frequently hear them around 4 pm during the late summer and early fall, several hours before sunset. I saw one on a hike with my mom one time in May as well– we were really lucky to spot it. I’m sure there are many more times I’ve been within 20 feet of an owl and had no idea. Happy owling!

    The Barred OWl I saw with my mom, It looks shocked that we could see through its camouflage as a tree stump!

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    Blogtober: Masked

    It seems fitting that after writing about how maybe orange bugs seemed more prevalent just because they were easier to see amid the green leaves, today I write about masking and camouflage. I am fascinated by the different ways creatures have of disguising themselves. From cryptic patterns on their skin/exoskleleton, to even gluing pieces of plant to their backs, there are a ton of different ways across the animal kingdom, even skipping most of the mammals. I think costume and makeup designers often pay attention to the patterns on insects and reptiles too, because the times I’ve been watching a science fiction movie or TV show and had a sudden recognition of a certain bug’s pattern in the coloring of an alien race are numerous. Unfortunately I haven’t been taking notes along the way, so I don’t have specific examples. However, if there’s anybody out there looking for a thesis topic in entomology and arts, there you go! 🙂 I’d love to hear about it if you are or have looked into this. Leave me a comment below.

    When I think about “masking,” I usually visualize something you can put on and take off, to change your appearance. Like a Halloween costume– you appear to be something you’re not, just for a few hours, then return to your normal self. I don’t know if the removability part applies to the animals I’m talking about though, usually the mask is something they keep on at all times to hide what they really are. The caterpillar of the Wavy-lined Emerald Moth is one animal that creates its own mask, by gluing bits of plant to its back so it looks like a walking clump of debris. It’s pretty amazing! I’ve looked at lots of photos and the type of plant matter seems to vary, sometimes bits of leaves and sometimes flower petal scraps. Which probably makes sense, depending on where the individual caterpillar wants to be or is. A brownish-green clump moving across a vivid yellow flower, for example, wouldn’t be camouflaged as well as one using scraps of the yellow flower petals or even flowerets. I’ve seen two of these caterpillars before, once in my garden in Rockville, and once at Huntley Meadows. Both times I only noticed them when a piece of “plant” started to move. Whoa!

    Nope, no caterpillar under here. Just some plant debris.
    The caterpillar was moving pretty quickly, giving me trouble focusing on it.
    Not only was the caterpillar positively scurrying across my finger, this was taken 11 years ago. Phone cameras have improved a lot!

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The sky is not completely dark at night. Were the sky absolutely dark, one would not be able to see the silhouette of an object against the sky.

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