Friday, March 30, 2007

School for Creative Procrastination

Click for easier title viewing.

This was fun. I didn't have time to get artsy1 with it, but since I'm a cum laude graduate of the School for Creative Procrastination, I made an entry for LibraryThing's March bookpile contest2.

I wrote a little blurb to go with it:
I find myself planning one million and one projects every spring.

I dream of getting into peak condition, staying on a diet, and cooking healthier. I can't wait to plant the garden, finish the spring cleaning, and get that chick order in. I'm determined to read educational blogs, brush up on my Shakespeare, and learn Italian. I want to key out every wildflower. Identify each bird, snake, and butterfly that flaps, slithers, or flitters by. Plus of course I plan to have plenty of spare time to lie in the hammock and relax with seasonal poetry, a garden memoir, an herbal mystery, and a flower confidential.

Hope SPRINGS eternal.

(Yes, it's corny! But I couldn't resist the need to explain to the imaginary critic over my shoulder why I had Conversational Italian and so forth in a pile of spring books.)

I didn't actually get a chick order in though. We decided that since we actually are on a diet3 and not eating many eggs, that we probably didn't need 25 more chickens (the minimum order). I thought we might just pick up a few chicks4 at the co-op, but they didn't get any this year.


Part of the fun was putting in books that you might recognize. Like Susan's or Amy's or a few others that May have been mentioned here before.

1I believe the technical term is artsy fartsy.

2You can too, but hurry because the deadline is tomorrow noon.

3I've lost 15 pounds. Woohoo! Only (mumble, mumble) left to go.



Edited to add:
Woohoo! I won 3rd runner up! Thanks Susan for pointing me to LT.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring chickens

It doesn't really take much to have a chicken fan club.

Before you know it they'll be eating out of your hand.

Chicken dance lines involve a bit more training.


Why do you think they call it henbit?

A mouse does not make a good pen.

Once more, from the top

"Sure, they're both European invaders, but the flowers taste really good to chickens. And the square stems are pretty cool too."


Submitted to the Friday Ark.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Local weather seems fixed on skipping straight to early summer. I'm in t-shirts and shorts and still sweating -- it's been in the mid-80s (30°C) already. News reports said we'd had the driest December - January - February period on record for over 100 years. It doesn't seem to have affected the wildflowers, though. And finding springs has never been easier: just walk into the woods and listen for frogs.

Hubby tilled up the garden. He mowed the grass for the first time, or part of it anyway -- he also experienced the traditional first bending of the lawn mower blade.

Tiny ants keep popping up in the kitchen, and outdoors the larger ones are unrelenting. Diatomaceous earth poured onto an ant superhighway only served to split them into two trails on either side; seemingly twice as many ants.

I happened upon my first migrant (Swainson's Thrush) when I was without binoculars, and had to practice a considerable amount of stealthy sneaking to confirm the ID. We've seen or heard several others since then: Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black and White Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Rough-winged Swallows, Broad-winged Hawk.

The chickens' and ducks' fancy has turned to love, or to mating at any rate. The female muscovy is trying to sit on eggs yet again, but that duck doesn't have a lick of sense so I'm not holding my breath. The chickens are laying very well, but the color of the eggs is lighter than last year. Sometimes the green/blue eggs are almost as pale as the white ones. Hens are supposed to lay fewer eggs every year, but larger ones. I don't think our Leghorn or Marans read that book though, because their eggs are smaller than last year.


Edited to correct horrendous spelling error. I read once that the smarter you get, the worse your spelling becomes. It's probably not true, but I repeat it a lot anyway.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tiny treasures

Virginia pennywort, Obolaria virginica

A plant that's very easy to overlook in the leaf litter. It would be nice in rock gardens, I think. Some of them get a bit larger than this, but not by much.*

Do you see any violets?

I took this picture with the camera pointed at my feet.** There are almost a dozen clumps of Viola walteri in the frame. (A.k.a. Prostrate blue violet or Walter's violet.)

Here's a closer look, with my foot for scale:***

They're very petite.

Most of them are purple, but there are a few white ones:

Every flower in a clump is the same color.

They have a medium-length hook or spur behind the flower. At our place they grow in dry limestone areas. (For the longest time, I just assumed they were regular violets that were stunted because of poor soil conditions!)

Common but still enchanting:

Bluets! This is one of the first wildflowers that I learned the name of. It's also how I learned that many birdwatchers are also very knowledgeable about plants: when the birds aren't showing themselves, you can always look around on the ground. ("Hey, what do you call this little purple flower, anyway?")


*My glove size is small, so this really is a tiny plant.
**I'm 5'4", which is exactly average for American women by the way, not short, and I'm not standing on a rock or anything.
***My feet are sort of small too, size 6.
(Yes, since I've gained weight I like pointing out the things about me that are still small!)


In researching the Walter's violet I came across a nice Alabama wildflower web page, Here is a link to that site's excellent photos of Viola walteri.


A sad update:
While preparing to email Dan Tenaglia about his excellent site mentioned above, I learned that he passed away in an accident just last month.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Orange goo

Me: Did you see this wierd orange fungus stuff all over the grass?! What is it?

Hubby: Isn't it from that cedar tree right over your head?

Me: D'oh!

I shouldn't be surprised -- I have a hard enough time recognizing people when I see them out of context.* So I guess not recognizing the cedar-quince rust I wrote about last year when it was in the grass (instead of on a tree) is not so surprising.

This is near a bird feeder, so I'm not sure if the birds knocked it off, or if it just fell off.


* If I normally see Ms. XYZ only in a certain place, then I'm not guaranteed to recognize her if I see her somewhere else. For example, I might not recognize my librarian if I run into her at the grocery store. This has gotten worse since we started doing craft shows and see a LOT of people. It probably also has to do with age. (I just realized that this doesn't usually happen if I know the person's name. But since I'm so bad at remembering names that revelation is probably not going to help me much.)


If it had been cedar-apple rust (see last year's post) I think I would have remembered those alien-invasion-looking things, even in the grass!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Critter cam update

When we've gotten any critter cam pictures at all lately, they've been a little disappointing. Things like...

half a coyote.

The fastest trigger speed is one second, which seems molasses-slow when you're dealing with wild animals. So we see a fair amount of empty frames and half-animals. (The newer model Cuddeback has a slightly faster trigger, I think.)

Sometimes the critters captured are not wild, but still unexpected. Hmm, should Jasmine be that far from the house at night? (She's usually not. I know, because she's usually barking just under the bedroom window.)

Maybe she's made some new friends. She chases stray dogs away during the day, but is she having secret midnight rendezvous?

Then this showed up! I knew armadillos had moved into north Alabama, because I'd seen one on the driveway last year. (Well, that and the 10,000 roadkill carcasses.) But only lately have we noticed quite so many small holes dug everywhere. I was thinking skunk (a critter cam no-show so far), but after catching this picture in the area of maximum hole-digging, I'm ready to assign blame to this guy.

Just another reason to have a yard rather than an actual lawn!


Nine-banded armadillo, (Dasypus novemcinctus).

Their rooting around doesn't bother me much, but according to the link above, evidence is mounting that they may be nest predators to ground-nesting birds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Playing Jenga with beavers

A recent light but steady rain raised the creek level a bit:

The sound of rushing water made tiny light bulbs appear over the heads of several beavers:

This is a bad, bad, bad location for a dam. Flooding here could affect the neighbor's property, and would likely damage the gate that (sometimes) keeps their cows from visiting.

So one beautiful day last week I decided to do some deconstruction:

When I told my husband what I'd been doing he had a "Are you insane?!" sort of reaction, since I'd been having so many back problems lately. And especially since it was beaver-dam removal that had initiated his need for $25,000 worth of back surgery a few years ago.

But this partially completed dam was in such an open area that I really was able to approach it just like playing Jenga: slide the sticks out, rather than lift. No back pain at all.

In fact, it felt so nice outside that I went back in the afternoon and worked some more:

You can see at lower right that I conveniently left all the sticks just lying there for easy retrieval by the beavers. But no attempts were made to rebuild, since (as I suspected) this dam had already been abandoned... they must have switched all their labors to that mammoth 8-foot tall one downstream.

And I was right, it didn't cause any more back pain. What I hadn't counted on though, was the fact that I was doing a lot more bending from the waist than normal. Using leg muscles that did not normally get so much of a workout... those sadly neglected muscles screamed at me about that for about 3 days straight.


One of my tracking books said that you rarely find beaver scat, since it's almost always left underwater. The beavers left me an educational exhibit, but just in case not everyone is interested in examining beaver poo, I've linked the picture here.

I want to save some of these nice straight sticks to use in the garden. The shorter ones will go to a neighbor of my sister's, who uses them in her artwork.

Monday, March 19, 2007


If I keep finding things like this in the yard, I may have to take up writing murder mysteries.

So far no human bones have shown up, so I might be off the hook for now. I would guess that these are from a deer, or possibly a calf.

It's really not much of a mystery who found the bones and relocated them...

(Who, me?)

Friday, March 16, 2007

What else has been going on

Some of these1

have been doing some of this,

while nearby, this2 was found:

Toothwort3 mania began in earnest.

We had visitors4.


gave way to this5.

There was also this6, which is not the same.

And neither is this7.

Some excavation8 was going on.

But was apparently not satisfactory.

Ahhh it's almost trillium time9.

Tiny snails were observed, and also something else10 that I'm still pondering.


1Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica
2See this earlier post if you're curious about the redrock fossils.
3Dentaria spp. Or is it all Cardamine now? I get confused.
4Canada Geese, Branta canadensis. I would say, "I know that you knew that already, I'm just trying to be consistent," but since there was a woman on a game show last night who did not know that the northern neighbor of the US is CANADA, for crying out loud, I'm not taking any chances.
5Hepatica or Liverleaf
6Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides
7Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans) with Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) flower
8I'm guessing Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), but I'm not sure.
9Trailing Trillium, Trillium decumbens
10Little groups of tiny, tiny rocks are held together and to the larger rock surface like glue. Is something alive in there?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Diagnostic help?

A little early in the season (March 5 or so), the wildflower group I'm in performed a survey on a tract of land in Blount county. There were a few plants we didn't recognize, so I had the idea to put them here to see if anyone else had any ideas. Sorry for the bad lighting in all of them. I couldn't take long at each stop, because our trip leader was a fast mover.

They're all wild plants, in hardwood areas near a largish creek.

These dried stalks were sometimes very tall, to six feet or so. They were always near edge, usually close to the water but sometimes just at the edge of a path. The stalks below this point were bare (I think).

A close-up of the seed pods. I couldn't find any seeds left in any of them.

Someone had thought this was Shooting Stars coming up. It isn't, but I don't know what it is. It was under deciduous cover.

Another dried plant mystery. This one was much smaller if I remember correctly... maybe a foot or two tall. Under deciduous cover.

There was another mystery plant that I forgot to photograph. At first I thought it was deciduous ginger. But there were more than 2 leaves coming up together, and the texture wasn't quite the same. I kept thinking it was ginger of some sort -- there was lots of evergreen ginger on this site -- but I couldn't find anything that matched it exactly. It was in edge areas.

Clicking each picture should make them larger. Let me know if you have any idea what these things are. We should be going back to this site but I'm not sure when.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ishihara cat test

What number do you see in the following picture?

When we went for a walk over the weekend, we were followed by a large dog and a little Dusty camo cat.

This picture reminded me of those round pebbly tests for colorblindness, so I looked up the name just now (Ishihara). I was surprised to also learn that up to eight percent of men may be colorblind. That goes a long way towards proving the theory that men don't talk. Sure they talk, some more than others, but... well, numbers don't lie.

If you'd asked me yesterday, I'd have said that in all my life, I'd only known two colorblind men. One was my grandfather, and when my step-uncle told me about it (during some fairly recent geneological questioning) I was astounded. I was 18 when he died and had never suspected. Never had a clue. Neither he nor my father had ever told me. (And this wasn't some distant grandfather in another state who I only saw once or twice a year. This was Pop, who ate supper with us almost every night of the week.)

The other colorblind man I'd known was the boyfriend of a roommate, and actually it was my (female) roommate who'd told me. Probably when I'd known her for a few months.

Can you imagine knowing a woman for any length of time at all and not knowing that she was colorblind? Only one half of one percent of women are born colorblind, so it's not surprising to never have met one. But to think that up to one in twelve men are colorblind...! Now I can't stop wondering how many colorblind men I may have known. And how they could possibly keep such a thing to themselves.

The article referenced above does go on to say:
From a practical stand point though, many protanomalous and deuteranomalous people breeze through life with very little difficulty doing tasks that require normal color vision. Some may not even be aware that their color perception is in any way different from normal. The only problem they have is passing color vision tests.
I used to have a periwinkle dress that I loved and wore often. You could also call it lavender-blue. I realized that different people called it different colors. I mistakenly called it cornflower blue myself at first, because in truth it was between a cornflower blue and a periwinkle. A dark periwinkle, you might say. But nobody else said that. They only ever said it was purple, or sometimes, blue. People thought I was nuts because I'd always go around asking, "What color would you say this dress was?" But I never did figure out if people called it just "purple" or "blue" due to different color perceptions, or lack of a colorful vocabulary, or what. Maybe they just wanted to get rid of me in a hurry.

Wow, I'm really rambling now. If you've stuck around to read all of this, I really like you a lot, even if you're colorblind and haven't told me.