Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Possum Come A Knockin' At the Door

*disclaimer--no possums were hurt in the making of this post...

It's been happening more and more frequently this winter. Furry critters are hanging out with my hens.

The first visitor was a baby skunk sniffing around under the nest boxes. I didn't notice him (her?) until I had filled the waterer and feeders. When I turned to gather the eggs, we were both surprised. The puzzled skunk watched me back out slowly. The next morning, it was gone.

A week later, I reached towards a nest box to gather eggs and was surprised to find an American Opossum curled up, napping in the straw. I keep a small rake in the hen house, so I grabbed that and did my best to annoy the possum out of place.

The possum hissed and grinned so I could appreciate its fifty sharp teeth, but would not leave the cozy nest. I went to get a camera and when I returned the possum was gone.

It's been back in the henhouse twice since then. I've started leaving my mother-in-law's old cane there. It's perfect for hooking the possum and dragging it out. Today, after persuading O. Possum to leave, I went to the house and got my camera. My two beagles were barking up in the woods, so I walked up there and found the possum.

It was doing a great impression of road-kill.



No amount of prodding and pulling by the dogs got a reaction


I called the dogs off and walked back down the mountain to lock them up.

Then I went back to where we'd left the possum. It had revived and was wandering away. I followed at a discreet distance until it stopped.  Possums sleep during the day and this one was feeling very nappish.


 It yawned several times, then turned and burrowed into a leafy depression.





After a few more pictures, I stopped annoying the possum and left it to nap.




He is nestled above the stream, below the rhododendron, in the middle of the next picture.


Looking in the other direction, I could see where he'd rather be.



At this point in time, the possum only seems interested in a warm bed, but if it starts eating eggs or killing chickens, then I will be forced to take care of the problem. In that case, my next shots will not be with my camera. I hope it doesn't come to that.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Poo in the Pizza Box

     My teaching life often overflows into my home life, so I hope you won't be surprised when I tell you that I spent an evening a couple of weeks ago making fake poop in my kitchen. Not so I could gross my students out. If I'd wanted to do that I would have created the little rolls and balls out of chocolate and then eaten them as part of my demonstration.
     The poop I made was in response to the fact that fake scat (that's what scientists call it) is very expensive.


      This little bucket is $64.00.

     So, after shopping around a bit, it seemed like a no-brainer that I should make poop as a craft project. In fact, I'm considering putting my results on Pinterest. I have this feeling there are other teachers out there who would like to save money on their poop purchases.
     I couldn't find any recipes for this on-line. In fact, googling the words poop, scat or fake animal poo recipe yields some interesting results. But, nothing I found useful, so I created my own recipe.
     I know you are dying to try this yourself, so here it is: one part cocoa powder, one part finely ground oatmeal, one part wet coffee grounds (give them a whirl in your blender to make a black slurry) and two parts craft glue. Add more glue as needed to create a playdough-like consistency. Your add-ins will include steel cut oatmeal, seeds, hair and finely ground grass, depending on the animal.
     I used the resulting mixture to form examples of rabbit, racoon, deer, coyote and bear scat. For mouse scat, I just found some of the real stuff in an outbuilding. All of this was baked in an oven until dry, then glued into a pizza box, which adds to the anticipation since all kids will immediately clamor for a slice of pizza as soon as they see the box and you can then open the lid dramatically and offer it to them.

     If you've read this far, without being totally grossed out, then here's a fun game for you:

Name That Scat







   Answers: raccoon, mouse, deer, rabbit, bear, coyote.

Now, next time you go outside you'll know what animal has walked your way.

If you see the second one from the bottom and it's still steaming, leave quickly and quietly.
   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Something in the Air Calls Them Home

The monarchs are on the move.  In graceful phalanxes they drift over mountains, rivers and cities as they head to Mexico. This is the special fourth generation, the one that lives nine months so that they can complete the trip and then spend the winter hanging in masses from the oyamel firs of the Sierra Madres mountains of Mexico.

They don't eat anything while they are there, so the monarchs must fuel up on nectar as they travel. They have been landing like feathers shaken out of a pillow on the zinnias I plant every year especially for them.

Thursday was a perfect migration day for the butterflies. They fluttered over the goldenrod in the school's Outdoor Learning Lab in such large numbers that my five STEM students trapped and tagged 16 in just 20 minutes.

When I got home, I pulled a chair up to my zinnia patch and settled in for the show. The butterflies rose and drifted away at my intrusion, but I knew the flowers would draw them back quickly.



First one, then multiples of flapping, fluttering stained glass joy returned and landed on the flower bar.





How many can you find in the next picture?



There was even a spotted intruder. Not sure what kind of butterfly he was, but he dropped down to join his cousins.








As dusk fell, the last of the butterflies rose up and fluttered off. I know that they roost overnight huddled together for warmth in a roost tree, usually a pine, but although I tried to follow their erratic flights, I never did discover where they landed.





No matter, they left behind joy and a new appreciation for the beautiful world we share.  Isn't God amazing?


Monday, September 17, 2018

Pearls of Light

This has been the rainiest summer I can ever remember and we just missed major damage from Hurricane Flo, who left her wet footprints all over North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

The ground is so wet that it's like walking on a sponge. Water spurts out everywhere you step.

Nevertheless, there is beauty in the rain. It creates the most wondrous pearls of light.













Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Milkweed Mansion

Milkweed is coveted by those who love Monarch butterflies, because it is the only food the caterpillars, who eventually grow those lovely orange and black wings, can eat. No milkweed means no monarchs.

Milkweeds leak bitter white sap and most mammals avoid them, but I was surprised, when I started paying attention, to find many other insects making use of the plant.
















And of course
Monarch caterpillars....


Monday, June 25, 2018

Beneath the Rocks

The water of the Bullpasture River, which starts just three miles above my house, flows all the way to the James and then out to the Chesapeake Bay. When the weather gets really hot, I like to go sit in a quiet pool and cool off.




Snails cover many of the rocks.  This little guy is a pocket snail. Pocket snails only like clean water, so I'm always happy to find them. His operculum is on the right, so I know when I find him everything in the water is right.


While the snails hang out on top of rocks, lots of other critters live underneath.  They are invisible to the casual visitor, but I know a secret.  I pick up the rocks and I'm always surprised by what I find. First I spot a water penny beetle.  They also only like pure water, so I'm happy to find this one crawling on the rocks.  He's the round bunp near the bottom center.



I transfer him to my hand and his little feet tickle my finger as he glides gracefully around and around .


Under the next rock, I find mayfly nymphs.  They are still pretty small, but they are easy to spot because the minute I lift a rock, they hurry to the bottom side. Note the filmy gills near the back end of this one's abdomen and the three identifying tubes extending from his back end.  May flies are also known as fish flies because when they metamorphose, fish love to eat them.  Mayfly nymphs are also a sign of healthy water.


My favorite thing to find is caddis fly larvae hiding out in their home-made cases.  The larvae spin silk thread and use it to glue small stones or bits of detritus together into cigarette-shaped protective cases. If you look closely, you can see all the small pebbles that make up the shelter.  The worm-like larvae is inside.

Not all caddis flies are as talented.  Here are a some of  the other stone cases I found as I lifted rocks.





My favorite cases are more artistic. This caddisfly must have been dreaming about flying.


I find one last case before calling it a day. It's actually a pair of cases, which is pretty unusual and they are made of rolled up bark.


Next time you go down to the river to cool off, pick up some rocks. There are plenty to choose from. Let me know what you find.