Tuesday, June 29, 2010

pyrolas and damselflies

I've barely gotten out this June--the weather, my schedule and my mood did not often happily align--and I've missed so much. Missed the ladyslippers, missed twinflowers, missed coralroot, barely saw any clintonia and columbine and sarsaparilla and mertensia. So today I set aside silly things like job hunting and housework and went and walked around in the woods for a while.

June has turned out to be three weeks of rain followed by one week of warm sun, and the forest in the Antenna Farm is lush and thick. I'd been assuming that the snowmobile trails were ATV trails in the summer, but they were largely overgrown and barely used. And also severely flooded in several places with up to a foot of water, which is probably why they aren't ATV trails. At least I hope not; several times as I approached the pools I heard a splash of unknown origins, and once I actually saw a frog hop from the grass into the water and into the grass again.

And there were damselflies galore, too. A few dragonflies, too, but mostly damsels, and some of them even posed nicely while I fiddled with the focus of my camera. (Any damselfly experts in the audience care to chime in on ID?)

In the world of birds, highlights include a pair of bluebirds along the roadside, a small flock of cedar waxwings eating underripe serviceberries, and a mourning warbler that was yelling at me from the shrubbery.

And while I have missed a lot of blooms already this summer, one that I did not miss is pyrola, which is one of my favorite flowers, but one that I don't see very often. There's some on the Superior Hiking Trail a bit further west, and one year I saw some at Scandia cemetery, but it's kind of hit or miss whether I see any pyrola each year. I like the unassuming structure of the plant, the kind of lurid-looking, long, curved pistil, and the sweet lily-of-the-valley scent. I feel lucky to have seen some at all, and luckier still to have found them in my Antenna Farm.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

rodent omens

This must be my week for meeting new mammals. Today I was running errands out west, and I can't say I was really paying much attention to the scenery, when all of a sudden a groundhog runs across the sidewalk, moving much more quickly than I would have expected a groundhog to move. I've never really given groundhogs much thought, and was somehow under the impression that they lived Somewhere Else, not here, but according to my Kaufman mammal book, their range covers most of northern and eastern North America. 40th West doesn't seem like very happy groundhog territory, but there he was, squeezing itself under a chain link fence and disappearing behind or under a pile of palettes. He must've crossed the (rather busy) street to have gotten where he was, and I just didn't notice until he was right in front of me. It seems like it should be some kind of omen, to have a groundhog cross your path, but I'm not sure what it means.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

a real live weasel!

In my backyard this evening, I saw what I can only guess is a weasel. There was a small mammal back by my neighbor's shed, and I thought, "Well, huh, that's a funny looking squirrel." So I got out my binoculars. The animal in question was about the size of a gray squirrel, but with reddish brown fur, larger ears, a longer snout, a thin weaselly body, and a skinny dark tail. Consulting my Kaufman guide to mammals, my best guess is long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata). I'm not entirely committed to a weasel ID, but I don't know what else it could be. Fisher, marten and mink are all too big (and are also not any more likely to be found in the city), and tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, etc. don't have a long weaselly body.

The weasel spent some time poking around my compost pile--although the only weasel-friendly things that could possibly be in there are worms and beetles--then hopped back to a pile of brush and scrap wood behind my neighbor's shed (moving very much like pet store ferrets-- which I am sadly more familiar with than wild weasels--kind of boinging and slinky-like). The weasel made a couple such trips, and I've heard that weasels will sometimes move their den from one location to another, but there is no earthly reason for a weasel to build a den in my compost pile, especially since I'm out there three to five times a week throwing stuff in and stirring it up, and the neighbors are in their yard just a few feet away pretty regularly too.

I went outside to go investigate, and caught only the very briefest glimpse of the weasel as it boinged away, making a cute little trilling chirp as it did. It looks like it was digging in my finished compost pile, the one I haven't added anything to for about a month or two, the one that is covered in volunteer squash sprouts, and there is now a pile of compost on the grass outside the bin, which wasn't there two days ago when I mowed the lawn. I did not see any obvious evidence of a weasel babies or a mouse den, and of course the weasel did not come out and pose nicely for a photo. I tossed some grass clipping over the tunnel it was digging (because that totally weasel-proofs the compost, right?) and went back inside.

I can't recall ever seeing a weasel in the wild before, and from what I am reading now, they are not an especially common thing to see, especially in the city. Sources say they do generally live near a water source, and there is a little blip of a creek across the street (it is mostly underground in pipes). Maybe the weasel got washed down the culvert from upstream (where it is woodsier) and is just refueling with worms in my compost. I will report more details as events warrant. And I should probably share my observations with the neighbors, since they are currently in the process of building a chicken coop off of their shed.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

botanical transitions

Lupine are blooming already, despite the cold and the wet. My cultivated spiderwort has been blooming for about a week, and now the native spiderwort is blooming, too. Some volunteer rough cinquefoil in my yard is just starting to flower, and the volunteer wild strawberries are still putting out a few flowers but are mostly concentrating on making tiny fruit. Chokecherries are long done blooming, and now the cherries are already starting to swell.