So I’ve not been around very much this past week, but I’ve been busy finishing up with school and out and about enjoying the bounty of spring. Plus, I didn’t have much of interest to say, still don’t in fact, but don’t want to make it a habit to just post a pic and be off.
Since I last had anything much to say here I’ve been to two wakes for coworkers of my husband and a memorial service for an old birding buddy who passed away back in January. I dragged my husband along on a day trip to the Pine Barrens and spent a lunch hour or two at the little park near to where I work watching the tree sparrows fight over the too few nest boxes. I had a successful evening looking at wildflowers in the woods and three unfruitful visits to various spots locally looking for migrants. The only new birds I’ve added this week are Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Kingbird, Ovenbird, Oystercatcher, Willet, Common Tern, Laughing Gull and whichever Vireo it is that sings incessantly from the treetops. Other people are seeing great birds, but I haven’t managed to be in the right spot at the right time.
The pond is up and running and the fish are happy, my husband has cut the lawn twice and we got our hands on 5 little dwarf mountain laurels for the woodland border. I’m looking for ideas of what to plant as a groundcover in that area beneath the American Holly trees, so if anyone has any bright ideas I’d love to hear about them soon, while my husband is in the habit of digging planting holes. If I don’t come up with any other ideas, I’ll probably plant a few ferns just as soon as I figure out which ones might actually be able to survive in the dry shade.
Hope you all had a happy weekend; I’ll be around to visit with you before too long.
We accomplished most of the pond cleanup yesterday. In the interest of honesty I’ll show you pics of just how ugly it was, but I’d really rather not. Bad, bad, bad. It’s our fault for not ever getting a cover over it in the fall to keep the leaves out and there was really no way to avoid emptying it. I never even got to push my lilies and other pond plants down to the deep end, so they’re mush from having been frozen. We pumped the water out of the pond and onto our newly planted trees, so all that fish fertilizer will be put to good use.
As nasty as it looks, most of the water we pumped out was actually pretty clear. The fish are in a holding tank for a week or so while we refill the pond and let the water settle. You can see how clear the water was in the pic below.
We rescued this lone surviving frog from the skimmer box. There was another in there that was well past stinky! I feel badly for the frogs and don’t understand how they manage to die over the winter, considering all the leaves and mulm they have to burrow under. I wonder if it would be possible to catch them in the fall and bring them inside? I wouldn’t want to make a pet out of a wild frog, but I hate finding them dead in the spring.
Here’s a view of the sparkly clean pebble beach as we started to refill the pond late yesterday afternoon. The birds love this part of our pond, because most of this area is only an inch or two deep. It’s a nightmare to keep clean, but worth seeing the birds come in for a bath. The fish also love to play in this part and root around in the pebbles. Down at the far end of the pond the water is a little over 3 feet deep and it holds about 1,000 gallons. So the pond is filled today and the frog is back in one of his hiding spots. I’ll wait till the weekend to put the fish back once the filter has been running for a while. The only time I add any chemicals to the pond is in the spring when we have to clean it out like this and then I use just a dechlorinator. The next step is to get some pond plants and some annuals to dress up the edge. It’ll be pretty before long!
How significant that the rich, black mud of our dead stream produces the water lily; out of that fertile slime springs this spotless purity! It is remarkable that those flowers which are the most emblematical of purity should grow in the mud.
– Henry David Thoreau, from a journal entry
I felt like looking at water lilies today, so I’m posting this pic from last summer of one that grows in my little pond. I’ve forgotten the name, but water lilies tend to be mislabeled when I buy them anyway. It’s beautiful, that’s enough!
My guilty pleasure for the day was going to a bookstore during my lunch hour. I bought a charming book of nature quotes, poetry, short essays, and watercolors called Meditations on Nature, Meditations on Silence published by Heron Dance Press. Their books are beautiful and I snatch them up whenever I come across one. Heron Dance also has a website that you might like to explore.
This frog perched pondside is the extent of our outdoor decorating this year – I like it, but worry that it might be keeping the fish awake! My husband loves outdoor decorations and would have the yard filled with obnoxious stuff if I let him have his way. He came home with this gem following an unsupervised shopping excursion with his brother a few weeks ago. It makes me laugh when I see it there in the middle of the dark yard, so it can stay.
We’re just about ready for company tomorrow; the house is mostly clean, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree, and my husband is out doing the traditional *cookie run* to our friends. In good years we bake; the last few we’ve bought delicious trays of the best Italian cookies we can find to give as gifts for neighbors and coworkers. I have some cooking to do still and then plan to spend the rest of the night staring at our pretty tree from the couch.
I’ve written very little lately about the pond. After the initial flush of bloom from the waterlilies and other plants, early in the season, I haven’t spent much time out there or posted very many pics. I feed the fish most days and occasionally scoop out the fish poop that tends to accumulate in areas where the water doesn’t circulate well, but other than that, the pond has pretty much taken care of itself this summer.
I did need to intervene during the heatwave in mid-July when the overly hot water threatened to boil my pretty goldfish and slimly algae covered the pebble beach. An afternoon with the muck-vack and daily water changes kept that disaster at bay. The frogs have been fairly active and vocal, especially the tree frog who hung around for a month or so. Before he vanished I was finding him calling each evening from inside one of the slats of the pvc fence that surrounds the pond – he found a spot with excellent accoustics. There have been very few dragonflies this summer, which is disappointing because I enjoy watching them so much. No dragonfly nymphs either; I’ve spent many hours in past summers rescuing them (or so I imagined) from inside the skimmer net where they seem to prefer to set up shop. I never got around to planting any annuals along the pond’s edge as I usually do and never even fertilized the waterlillies. Despite that, the new tropical, purple in the opening photo, is still going strong, with two blooms on most days. Before long I’m going to need to figure out how to overwinter it; if anyone nearby would be willing to rent out a small space in their greenhouse it might just continue to bloom through the winter. We planted new fountain grasses at the back of the waterfall a few weeks ago to replace the switch grasses that were there. Switch grass is pretty early in the season before it flops over and looks like it was trampled by an elephant.
One morning this week my husband startled a young black-crowned night heron from beside the pond. Leaving for work before it was fully light out, he called me from bed to bring my binoculars. Sleepy-eyed, I found it perched clumsily in one of the holly trees at the edge of the yard. We haven’t seen it since and there don’t seem to be any fish missing, so I can happily add this new bird to the yard list. I hope this first heron to visit the pond doesn’t mean that others will follow; while I won’t begrudge them fishing rights, I have become fond of some of my fish. Maybe this wasn’t the first visit and explains the occasional fish that has gone missing over the years.
I was poking around this afternoon in the bog garden, wondering over some goldenrod that is growing wild despite the soggy soil, when I found this black and yellow garden spider, commonly called the writing spider. I’d never seen one of these before and was happy to find it there, in its web, overlooking the pond. In the web were two carefully wrapped skippers, caught unawares on their way to or from the joe-pye weed, still blooming nearby.
An interesting bit of folklore about writing spiders says that they can be used to cast a spell on an enemy. All one need do is shout the person’s name at the spider, after which the spider will write the name in its web, and misfortune will follow for the intended victim of the spell. You might also try asking the spider the name of your future husband or wife, and the spider will oblige by writing the name or initial of your future mate in the zig-zag portion of its web, called the stabilimentum.
A volunteer in the bog garden.
Fishies playing around in the shallow end of the pond.
Dragonfly whose name I can’t come up with. Maybe a blue dasher?
Sweet baby robin, looking for a place to put in for a bath.
Joe Pye Weed blooming in the bog.
I spent the afternoon doing some work around the pond. The heat is causing the usual algae problems in the shallow end of the pond. The water is crystal clear (thanks to the UV light), but the little pebbles that line the beach are covered with slimy algae. I have this contraption called a *Muck Vac* which I use to suck up some of the junk that accumulates in the pebbles, but using it is a nightmare! Whoever thought to combine a vacuum with a garden hose must have been delirious. I spend most of the time fighting with the various hoses and trying to keep some sort of suction going. What isn’t sucked out I blast away with the hose. Labor-intensive, but it works and now the rocks are clean and it doesn’t look like a swamp out there. For a few days anyway. I trimmed the yellow and brown leaves off of the water-lilies and hacked away at the mint that is taking over the edge. The parrot’s feather and water lettuce were reduced by half, but I still have too much of both. They provide a lot of shade for the fish, but do get carried away with themselves!
After listening to this tree frog sing for the last 2 weeks, I finally found him early this evening and was able to take his pic. During the day he’s been hiding inside one of the rungs on the vinyl fence that surrounds the pond. I found him there by accident one afternoon while weeding. Later I realized why I think he chose that spot. When he calls in the early evening from inside the fence he sounds very loud and his song has a fantastic echo! Smart frog.
Once the lightening bugs were out and the crickets started making noise I went looking for him in the bog garden and found him perched on a low Joe Pye leaf – he must have just come out of his daytime hiding spot to hunt for bugs. Bev at Burning Silo had a great post a few weeks back about gray treefrogs called What do you see? – neat pics and her blog is always a good read.
I spent too long this evening trying to get pics of the water striders on the pond, before deciding I don’t have the right equipment or enough patience, or both. I found this pic on an invasive species website (click on pic for link).
Water striders, also called Jesus bugs or pond skaters, are true bugs that can run across the surface of the pond because of lots of microscopic non-wetting hairs on their legs. The short front legs are used for grasping prey (of what type I’m not sure), the long middle legs are used like paddles to skate across the water, and the rear legs are used for steering and braking. I’ve read that they’re sensitive to vibrations on the water’s surface and use that skill to locate their prey. Fish and birds will dine on them, catching them because these bugs aren’t able to detect motion from above or below the surface of the water. My trying to photograph them caused them to leap onto a lily leaf or amongst the water lettuce; I suspect because my being so near the water attracted the interest of the fish looking for a handout.
If you’re interested in reading more about how water striders use surface tension to walk on water, an article describing a study by MIT researchers is available here. Neat pics from the study, done using dye, are available here.
The science behind it all is interesting, yet I’d much rather just watch and wonder, enjoy their skating and the dimples they make on the pond’s surface when still. Wonder and curiosity about the natural world need not be satisfied or lost because of knowledge. For me, it seems that learning only leads to more questions and an even greater curiosity.
The pond is overflowing with color now that warmer temps have set in. Daylilies, bee balm, hostas, and ladybells blooming on the margins all try to distract my attention from the water and fish. Mint is creeping from every wet rock edge. Last night’s tree frog is calling again from somewhere in the bog garden; maybe high up on one of the Joe Pye stems, ready to decend for another evening spent advertising his new-found territory. The Parrot’s Feather is spreading across the surface of the water and creating shade and cover for the fish as it grows. Last weekend I bought this beautiful purple waterlily; it’s a tropical, so I’ll have to try and overwinter it indoors somehow.
Beautiful! Three flowers were open today, but I focused on just this one.
This is one of the white butterfly koi that was hiding the last time I was out taking pics.
One of many volunteer Floating Hearts (Nymphoides peltata) – visible in the opening photo along the left edges of the pond – the small leaves are heart-shaped and resemble a waterlily. Not sure where it came from, but it sure is pretty! And free!
The other white butterfly koi who is turning more yellow as the days pass – beautiful, hungry fish!
I love late afternoons by the pond – less glare from the sun lets me see the fish beneath the water and the neighborhhood is quiet. If it weren’t for the mosquitos, I think I could spend hours out there. It mesmerizes me somehow; the ever-changing patterns of fish and leaf and moving water.