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Stalking alone

Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild. … and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.

Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling

 

Wolves and other canines hunt in packs. Cats, in the main, prefer their own company. There are advantages to each. This magnificent buck, shown here napping in a soft bed

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after a light meal of sunflower seeds and cracked corn, was top dog deer around Flying Squirrel Hollow for several winters in succession until taken one midnight—following what was probably a mutually exhausting chase—by a loud pack of coyotes.

The victors apparently divided the spoils for private dining around the neighborhood, leaving this grisly souvenir near where the photo above was taken:

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A couple of decades prior, feral cats were a common sight in the area. Sometimes mangy, sometimes sleek, always distrustful of humans and clearly at home in their territory, they may contribute significantly to the decline of some songbirds hereabouts: while estimates are variable and controversial, it seems that at least several hundred million US birds are taken by feral and outdoor housecats. So, with due sympathy for the circumstances of pets forced to resume to a level of self-reliance against which they have been bred for several thousand years, not all mourn the recent confluence of the coyote and the cat.

Nonetheless, a few individuals survive, through greater wile, sharper senses or some other beneficial selection or adaptation. One such, seen for a few years in the area, is this confident but highly solitary individual:

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(Photos taken in haste, at extreme range and through windows that could use a wash.)

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With compassion for its victims, one may still respect and admire the hardy loner.

Flights of fancy

Farrar Pond hosts resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis) from spring’s first persistent open water to final closure a few weeks from now, and much larger populations of transients as the seasons shift. Harold here offers us some fine shots of geese on the wing.

While geese cannot soar great distances at perfect rest, as can gyrating scavengers like the buzzard (utilizing thermal lifts) or extreme sea voyagers like the albatross (near-surface wind shear), they do fly efficiently, with a glide ratio estimated around 20:1. There is a widespread factoid—based on sound but highly approximate calculations and then over-generalized—that by flying just so in V-shaped “skeins” the flock can fly 71% further than individuals could alone with the same energy expenditure. A more cautious view, which includes an above-average explanation of how formation flyers can benefit from wingtip vortex shedding of those ahead to mitigate induced drag may be found here. And similar benefits are posited for coordination instinctive in schooling fish and calculated for wind farms.

-Ed.

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Pond Geese 02

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Not geese, but quite a gaggle of invasive European starlings!

Hallowe’en shades (and tints)

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Skeleton Dance  (Heptacodium miconioides)

 

Antiparallel to Beltane, the cross-quarter holy day of Samhain marks the short tail of a scenic transition between riotous color and the muted browns and greys of the long half-light. Most birds and mammals

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have put aside their flashy meeting-and-mating duds in favor of being invisible to increasingly motivated predators. Arthropods in the main, with perhaps the widest range of chromatic mechanisms of any life-form, are flown away, in mulchy retreat, or still better camouflaged. Or indoors, when warmth and food still prevail:

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Browsing snow machines

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The Siren’s luminous lure

 

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Weaver and beaver

But plants—unable to flee out or down—yield a final display, either late-bloomers in vain hope of one more round of pollination like this late mullein,

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an inextinguishable ‘Sparky’ marigold

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and the ever-reliable aster, here beneath a beaching wave of change:

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Hydrangeas persist even when frost-nipped, blue fading to white and green inverting to purple:

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Even in a drought-impoverished “color” season like this year’s, with most (but not all) of the usual top act—native maples—

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prematurely defoliated, some kind of show always attends the asynchronous withdrawal of valuable pigments, in various order, from to-be-shed leaves,

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Small-leaf maple and big-leaf magnolia

 

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Golden threads of autumn bluestar

with actinic sunlight sometimes influencing the sequence where its drooping rays still land:

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Smokebush

A few sustain one color from spring bud until the tender whole is frozen,

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Amaranth with seeds

while many more undergo “the change”—here maple and hydrangea again against forsythia, oak and berry-bearing holly: evergreen, therefore much at risk from winter deer and other browsers.

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Some fairly noxious weeds pay back in autumn. Nothing can surpass the fall fire of poison ivy, though Virginia creeper comes close. And this ground bramble brings a glow to compensate for summer’s snaggles

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and a reverse-contrast background for a seed-head’s silent explosion:

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Natives are nearly always best, like the magnificent and slightly primeval-looking staghorn sumac, singly

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or in its preferred habit of small groves;

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or our unfailing (except when stricken with anthracnose, easily prevented through hygiene and pruning) native flowering dogwood:

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–here, as often, carrying a few unharvested berries even as next year’s buds swell. And where season’s end signals not senescence but the flush of youth, a persimmon sapling flashes adolescent energy that later may be better contained for the production of its own offspring:

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Because fruit make their color not as a byproduct of declining metabolism and resource conservation; rather, to beckon consumers to come and taste—once fruit is ripe and life quickens within it—and reward with a few calories the effort of carrying germ to new growing grounds, like these ripe persimmons on a somewhat older tree

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that did, indeed, attract a large mammalian customer who enjoyed sticky-sweet flesh and parked sucked-clean seed in the refrigerator for winter stratification and spring planting.

The fruit of this Asian bitter orange are entirely inedible by humans—their juice even curdles gin—

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but make a decent marmalade that takes well to dark-chocolate couverture, if not already harvested by the next cross-quarter day—dread Imbolc—when not much else remains to sustain sciurid life.

In chromatic opposition but equally unpalatable to us is the Early Amethyst beautyberry:

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And speaking of royal purple, the ancient “Queen of Trees”—magnolia—delivers a fruit to match its magnificent flower, large cones of bright red or orange seed that hang down on long threads when fully ripe to present themselves to birds and small mammals:

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Magnolia macrophylla

 

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Magnolia obovata

In recent years, a few cultivars of the glorious Southern magnolia have been discovered that are hardy even in our neighborhood:

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Magnolia grandiflora

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But at the end, all color vanishes, and drab hues of winter overtake most plants even in advance of snow, like the grey beard of this seed-heavy native clematis,

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until even hoar departs, leaving emptier shadows of life past that will, on the same roots or new, eventually return from the grave.

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Left behind – wild carrot flower as was

 

 

A bounty of orchids

Lincoln is blessed with so many wonderful wildflowers that it is almost fortunate that our showiest local orchid, the pink lady’s slipper, is rare enough not to outshine the rest. By another of its monikers, it became the eponym for Moccasin Hill, one of Modernist neighborhood Brown’s Wood’s crossing ways. (The other is Laurel Drive, for another spectacular native, Kalmia latifolia.)

The lady’s slipper is noted for its particularity of habitat, requiring a mycorrhizal helper to germinate (and to survive when dormant), very acidic soil and just the right amount of light to thrive. It is also sparing of its graces; while plants may survive for a century or more, they only leaf in favorable years and flower not always then. Difficult to propagate by usual methods, expensive in the trade, it is occasionally poached from the wild—like this example of which Harold says: “Someone has stolen this lady’s slipper from along the Farrar Pond trail. The first to appear, it has bloomed at the same spot for over 20 years. Now it is gone forever. Shame on the perpetrator!”

Before   After

And doubly sad, the fragility of root structures means that few pilfered plants will survive captivity anyway. This selfish act, stealing delight from people and food from a number of other animals, is also illegal:

No person shall pull up or dig up the plant of a wild azalea, wild orchid or cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis), or any part thereof, or injure any such plant or any part thereof except in so far as is reasonably necessary in procuring the flower therefrom, within the limits of any state highway or any other public way or place, or upon the land of another person without written authority from him, and no person shall buy or sell, or offer or expose for sale, any such flower, or the whole or any part of the plant thereof, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that in procuring such flower or plant the foregoing provisions have been violated. Violation of any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than five dollars.

Though now risible, the size of the fine is consonant with the seniority of this law (1935), and the relatively early awareness that private depredations on public land were degrading natural beauty belonging to all. Please leave these too-rare gems to live, grow and spread!

-Ed.

 

 A good year!

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Each year, volunteers intimately  familiar with the pond’s public southern shoreline make a careful census of Cypripedium acaule:

  Shoreline segment 2014 2013 2012 2010 2009 2008 2007
 1-2 Boathouse ↔ Flying Squirrel Hollow  38  23  24 33  56 51  71
 2-3 Flying Squirrel Hollow ↔ Pine Point  17  7  6 15  32  24  32
 3-4 Pine Point ↔ Sweet Pepper Bush  3  2  1  2  4 3
 4
 4-5 Sweet Pepper Bush ↔ Perch Point  17  10  5  7  7  2  4
 5-6 Perch Point ↔ Canoes  27  22  25  11  33  10 37
 5-7 Canoes ↔ Birch Point  0  0  0  0  1  0  0
 7-8 Birch Point ↔ Well  47  27  33  44  43  32  41
 8-9 Well ↔ Dam  3  1  5  1  3  5  2
   
   Total    152  92  99  114  179  123  194

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(More information on points of interest in this post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird shower

Birds baths, when available, are a year-round boon to all sorts of winged and surface-bound visitors and permanent residents. Where the vigor with which an oriole

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On the subject of low water, austerity measures imposed by state authority and refined in administration by Lincoln’s own Water Department (for an interesting read, see also the per-address usage tables posted there) mandate broad reductions in non-essential use. Since tubs require such a large fill volume for so little actual consumption, avian bathers are duty-bound to respect the same guidelines as their human benefactors. Fortunately, low-cost photovoltaic cells and high-energy product rare earth permanent magnet motors (both increasingly monopolized by China) converge in the ready availability of fixed or floating “solar fountains” in various configurations:

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Deep dish

 

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Plugged into the sun

An additional benefit from adding this feature to a bird bath is that mosquitoes seem unwilling to lay eggs in their presence. Apparently, egg deposition does not occur at night, when the spray is dormant. This does not apply to larger bodies of water,

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Shallow pool

but the fish, tadpoles, turtles, dragonfly nymphs and other carnivores that more natural ponds usually host can make quick work of both eggs and wrigglers (ad even low-hovering mosquito mothers).

If a saucer is used, it should be wide enough to contain most of the spray even in a gentle wind, and deep enough not to require frequent filling:

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Rocks provide stability for the bath, a beach between dips

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and filler to maintain depth when most water has splashed out or evaporated. The area required for bathing per se is quite modest:

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At least when food is plentiful, weather congenial and other priorities minimal, though, the bird bath seems to be a preferred spot for conversation

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(with ever a wary eye on the nearby photographer)

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and peaceful contemplation of the infinite:

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Sky scream

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From its regal post atop the tallest pine around (competitors having succumbed to divine intervention), this broad-winged (?) hawk expressed itself without restraint:

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Why? Mating, chatting with the kids, marking territory. An additional theory is that the cry starts prey from hiding. It is astonishingly loud; this blurry video was taken at extreme range and through a storm door:

Sursum corda

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in manus tuas

Here will be dragons

 

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Living near water offers diverse benefits to birders, boaters and bathers—the last not so much at Farrar Pond, where swimming is prohibited. Also costs; a major one, with shallow ponds and marshy edges, is the rapid breeding therein of contagion-bearing whining bloodsuckers.

Lao Tzu reminds us that when any force or movement becomes powerful, its counter also manifests. The same swampy water that attracts fecund mosquitoes and other unwelcome winged pests supports a varied population of creatures that thrive on their eggs and larvae. Baby turtles, tadpoles and fish all favor this high-protein food source. Among the most aggressive, taking tadpoles and minnows as well as smaller prey, are the naiads—obligate aquatic larvae—of order Odonata (“toothed ones”): dragonflies and damselflies. As top predators among aquatic arthropods, they rival the enormous but more delicately built water scorpions (Renata sp.):

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Naiads, usually concealed in the submerged jungle, may be seen as they cautiously emerge to split and dry on a reed or other protrusion, lifting themselves toward adulthood. Wings dry, they become fierce and effective aerial hunters, clearing the air of more undesirable insects than any bug-zapper ever could. Elegant in flight or at rest, they tolerate the close approach of slowly moving humans, and will even land on us to chew down a bug that may be almost as large as themselves. Stand in a sunny meadow with a finger pointed skyward, and they may come to perch between hunting forays.

Though themselves a rich meal and often brightly colored, iridescent or reflective, odonates are relatively safe in flight: their unpredictable jerky motion and panoramic compound vision

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(note solar and camera-flash reflections from patches among thousands of hexagonally close-packed ommatidia)

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make them difficult for a swooping bird to track and intercept. And though considered by some a canard, their ability to operate fore-wings independently of those aft

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gives them aerial agility and multi-axis maneuverability exceeding even the hummingbird. Nonetheless, a close inspection of dragonfly hunting grounds shows how much they are themselves hunted, with beaked-off wings lightly scattered everywhere. Nor can their substantial translucence defend against that of of a common near-surface hazard;

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unlike their artificial brethren, these do not wield a wire-cutter.

At rest, they are more vulnerable, and to a broader range of predators. So beyond transparency, various camouflage strategies (like disruptive coloration, substrate mimicry and countershading) come into play. Adding species self-identification cues, the resulting shows of color are exceptional even among insects. A few more in situ examples of the hundred-plus found hereabouts, guiding the eye to subtle complexity, grand recursion and even enlightenment:

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And how closes the cycle of life? With eggs. In a seldom-seen dance, this female hovers over a half-submerged nymphaea pad, repeatedly dipping her tail to wash eggs into the smaller pool. The success of this hands-off approach to breeding will make itself known come spring.

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(For another tactical approach, see this entry in Mary Holland’s excellent “Naturally Curious” blog.)

Short video here:

 

 

Unprotective coloration

An attractive accent plant available in various species and cultivars is amaranth:

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When ripe, the seeds of this pseudocereal may be harvested for a delicious and nutritious dish, or saved to plant for next year’s enjoyment by garden guests. Meanwhile, the leaves—also edible by people and other creatures—serve to add additional visual texture for us and a landing pad for small fliers

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while the tiny flowers attract pollinators and perhaps predators

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some of which (as insect vision typically differs in spectral range from ours, or that of other animals) may stand out more than is good for them:

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Bringing home the bacon

Seven pole-mount houses arrayed around a 200-foot square is just enough distance and spare capacity that three bluebirds have taken up residence, and are now on second broods. The other boxes were staked out (if not always occupied) by chickadees and wrens, like this one feeding young that have attained the cheeping stage.

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Asclepias tuberosa

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Interdependence Day

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Eyes on the prize

On this date, the zenith of American barbecue and picnic activity, we can share the bounty (and have less to clean up afterward) by offering our leavings to our natural neighbors, here a selection of sciurids:

 

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Is this where they hide the good stuff?

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Ahh—over under the feeder

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Three cheers for the red, white, blue, green and gray?

And after sunset,

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when bipeds have trooped off to fireworks and indoor dinners, the final (pre-insect) cleanup crew arrives:

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