Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Stump Meister

I called a stump grinder this morning and by noon we were short three stumps and had three large piles of fine wood chips. It took him just over an hour of work here.


Operated by hydraulics, this monster stump grinder cost $25,000 and is paid for in about 4 months of work. This is the fourth grinder our guy has had.

After driving it into position (he walks along beside it), he begins slowly guiding the blade back and forth and sometimes varying the height to gradually shave down the stump. The wood chips are thrown out. 



This stump is almost done.


This blade is used to neatly pile up the wood chips.


The cutting blade has 32 blade points on it.

Note sign: "Danger"---Duh!


This is looking at the blade head-on.


Here is a close-up on the blade points. We may be getting close to actual size here.


Each blade point costs $15 to replace. They have to be ordered. They need regular sharpening which entails removing each one by way of the giant lug nut and taking it to a bench grinder. So there is considerable upkeep on this monster, in addition to feeding it. But I found it to be an amazing machine and I did not leave my window seat view while the work was going on. It was fascinating. Could my interest have come from reading the "Truck Book" over and over (and over!) to our boys when they were little? While there was no stump grinder in the book, there was  certainly a lot of different kinds of large equipment in it and we were always on the look out for real life examples of what we saw in that book. Maybe the new edition will have a stump grinder.

This evening, we started hauling away the remains of the oak. That was the one that was pushing down the fence with its growth. We took ten trips with a full wheelbarrow to mulch different plants, mostly in the front yard. The effect is nice but more importantly the plants will benefit from the insulation it provides and it will help retain moisture on these hot summer days. As the wood deteriorates, the nutrients will feed the plants and enrich the soil composition. We are recycling part of our trees.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

He Doesn't Have a Prayer

We had just finished the blessing at supper, when I noticed another prayer: B had a small praying mantis on his sleeve. He took it outside to find its own dinner. He had put it on an old tee-shirt on the tailgate of his truck. It was still there later, so I took some pictures. The first one is larger than the mantis actually is.



When we were done, B moved it to the hickory tree, where its camou is amazing.



There are 20 species of mantises that are native to the United States and other non-natives that have been widely introduced for pest control, as they eat all kinds of bugs, both beneficial and those deemed destructive. They are also commonly cannibalistic, particularly with their mates. Around the globe, some species of mantises get very large and are known to eat lizards, mice, snakes, and hummingbirds.

Our little guy is more like gnat-eater. Surprisingly, he has been in the same spot for the last couple of days. We assume, he must have an injury of some kind. To our eyes, his right front leg did not seem to be working properly. He did not move into the characteristic praying position. 


Here's lookin' at you, kid!

Hang in there, little guy.

Monday, July 28, 2008

On a Wing and a Prayer

On our weekend trip down to St. Mark's, we parked by the lighthouse and sat in the truck enjoying the coastal scenery and a breeze that kept out most of the bugs. A little warbler came into the palm in front of the truck. They are usually so hyper that I can't focus my eyes on them, let alone a camera. I think this one is a female Hooded Warbler.


On the way back, there were four Roseate Spoonbills resting in one of the brackish ponds. They were not close to the road and the light was all wrong but I had to try, since I am such a spoonbill fan. You can see the beak on the one on the left that shows the shape that gave it its name. Like flamingos and certain other pink birds, they brighten their feather colors by eating shrimp and crayfish. Flamingos are not native to Florida, but spoonbills are.


St. Mark's really is an amazing place. This last shot made me think of heaven on earth, sort of a heaven and earth sandwich. 100_3670

I pray that gas prices will never make visiting wild places such as this unattainable.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Line, But Not On Target

We made a run to St. Mark's before the heat and the storms built up. We had just passed the visitor's center and crossed the East River bridge, when we saw a doe near where we saw the pair the last time we were down there.


She eased up and crossed in front of us. She had on her "stilletoes".


I had just snapped this shot when B said, "Look!" And sure enough, there was Bambi following. I just barely got this one at all, and it is not in focus, but you can see the baby spots. "Hey, Mom, wait up!"


Now go back and look at the middle shot of Mama. Tell me that white road line doesn't go straight up her chest to her shoulder.  Very odd.

I guess a white line is better than a red Target trademark.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Formosa Lily: the Sunflower of Lilies

The Formosa lilies are blooming. We have one growing here at the house but there are several at school and there used to be many growing along U.S. 27 South until some "improvement project" a few years ago bush-hogged and back-hoed them into apparent extinction. These are sunflower-tall lilies with large white flowers: they are hard to miss. Each bears up to 12 narrow trumpets atop 5-8 foot stalks in mid to late summer. The flowers in this picture are 7 or more inches long.


Formosa lily, Lilium formosum, is also known as the Taiwan Lily. Introduced in our country in 1880 from Taiwan, which was formerly known as Formosa,  it is now endangered there. It didn’t catch on here until it was re-introduced in 1918 by E.H. Wilson, the famous British plant collector who made many expeditions to China. 

A USDA site showed these lilies only naturalized in Louisiana and Florida, but there was a disclaimer at the bottom, so it is not a definitive map. Many websites are selling the bulbs. It has become an invasive, exotic species in parts of Australia.

it is considered an herb and is a monocot. Grass and corn are monocots, emerging from the ground as a blade, instead of the preleaves (cotyledons) of, say, a bean, which is a dicot. There are other differences between monocots and dicots, but this is one of the more obvious.


They freeze back in the winter, but return from a bulb each summer. The flowers produce large seedpods containing many seeds, each of which is capable of growing a blooming plant the next summer. The Australia pages even speak of the leaves being able to form new plants, thus brush piles were a contributing factor to their spread.

In Europe, the lily was considered protective against witchcraft and was hung on the door for that purpose. With its sweet fragrance and impressive size, I'd say, the Formosa lily is, itself, bewitching.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Silent Witness


This large moth was on a hurricane shutter that "graces" one of my elementary school windows. I believe from its wrinkled appearance that it is newly hatched from its cocoon. It was there when I arrived this morning and in the same spot when I left later and took this picture. I have to wonder if it was there when the two teenagers broke into my classroom (and other places) after midnight. They were caught and arrested on campus in the wee hours. They admitted to breaking into the school a couple of weeks ago and taking some items then. While my office had only some disorder--things removed from a cabinet, I only noticed missing  a hammer and a large container of sanitizer, that they may have been planning to use to start a fire. It was with them when they were apprehended. I don't know the fate of the hammer and if the moth knows, it wasn't talking. But after all, it's a moth-- not a stool pigeon, I guess.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Pack Rat Confessions

In preparation for the tree work, we found we needed to move a lot of things that would either be in the workers' way or might get damaged in the process. These items included a canoe, a jon-boat, a glass-topped table, an umbrella-type clothesline, a pole-type bird feeder, a birdbath,  and more things. This brought to our attention other items that were no longer useful, including lots of decaying wood in the form of mostly boards and a few tables. We filled the pick-up twice and took it to the landfill.


Another load was mostly metal stuff, including broken lawn equipment that had collected over the years, rusting metal chairs, a weight bench set, a couple of tired wagons (that were actually tire-less and rusted through), and part of a Mo-ped a son once thought might be useful.

We will both admit to being trash pile rubberneckers: we are compelled to look it over, even if we don't stop. B spends more time on the road and has the pick-up to throw it in. It is his nature to see the glass half full: there is potential in the stuff brought home. A peek in and around the shed in back will show that through the years, a lot of potential has come in, but the make-overs have not happened yet. So there is more to do. But a good start has been made and it is a good feeling to have worked toward de-cluttering our yard.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Sweet Sound of Chainsaws

We have a lot of trees on our property. And we love trees. In some places, the shade is dense. But we needed to have four trees taken down. There were three sweetgums that were close to the house in the backyard and one water oak that was pushing in the fence from the front yard. Apparently when the fence was put up by an earlier owner, no growth was expected from the oak. That proved to be unrealistic.



The tree service arrived at 8:30 this morning and by 3 this afternoon, the work had been accomplished. They started with the 85 foot oak.



Below is the main trunk---about 16 feet of it. My shoe serves to show the diameter.




The big truck had a grappler to load the branches and logs.




At the end of the day, we had 4 new stumps, a lot more sun, and will be able to reclaim our fence.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dazzling Dung Beetles: Sun-gods in Disguise

100_3594crop I was out walking this week and almost stepped on this brilliant scarab beetle that was in the road. On my way back, it was still there, a bit to my surprise since cars had been by. So I scooped it up on this piece of rotting bark and brought it home to photograph.

If you can get past the gross factor of what they do for a living, dung beetles are some of the most amazing insects. If you are not familiar with their work, they are sewer workers of the most basic kind. They scout out animal dung and roll it into balls larger than themselves. They take it to a place they think looks right and then dig a hole under it and allow it to drop. Once below ground, they reshape it and feed on it. A female will also lay eggs on it and then the larvae will also feed on it. Any leftovers become fertilizer for the surrounding plants. It is an important job.

Dung Beetles belong to the large family of scarab beetles. About 35,000 species of scarabs have been formally described by scientists, worldwide.


The ancient Egyptians  worshipped dung beetles. They believed that the scarab was one of the forms under which their sun-god appeared. When the brightly colored beetles rolled the ball of dung along the ground, the ancient Egyptians thought it was like the sun crossing over the earth during each day. Scarab figures were carved into stones and  worn as charms for good luck and protection from evil. Dung beetles were also seen as symbols of immortality, when they went into holes in the ground and returned to the surface.

Look at the way the colors change at different angles. Also, notice the golden clubs on the ends of the antennae. They were actually quite fuzzy. And what a horn!! Some scarab beetles are called rhinoceros beetles.


I let it go after I had taken pictures of it: keep on rollin', little guy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bubble Bugs

As I have walked around our neighborhood, I have noticed the spittle bugs are active in most yards. This morning, to make the twice-daily walk more interesting, I counted the bubble blobs in the grass as I went. I counted two short of fifty. They will only be noticeable for a few weeks.

Inside this collection of bubbles below is one bug.


There are thousands of species of spittle bugs. They go through 7 stages from egg to maturity. Eggs are laid in the late summer and remain through the winter, hatching the next spring. They have five stages, called instars, as a nymph. It is while in the nymph stages that the spittle bubbles are produced.

This is accomplished by a body excretion and the bug uses it back feet to work the bubbles around itself. The bubbles provide cover from predators, help to control their temperature and keep their soft bodies from drying out. I have only seen them in the grass in places where it is full sun or nearly so.

The adults have hard shells and do not need the bubbles. They have strong spines on their hind legs giving them amazing jumping ability.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

I looked out the kitchen window this morning and startled part of a large flock of black birds. No, I was not startling starlings, they were Brewers blackbirds. 8^)


They were everywhere: in the bird feeder, on the ground, in the bushes and trees, on the pavement and flying from one of these to another. They were noisy, too.

And they were skittish. I had to be sneaky to get even a few of them in a shot.


Brewer's blackbirds are named for the 19th-century ornithologist, Thomas M. Brewer of Boston. I love their iridescence and their fierce appearance.

Paul McCartney wrote and recorded a blackbird song....though it probably wasn't about birds.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free....


Within thirty minutes---or perhaps it was only four and twenty, they were gone.

But it was a moment that I am glad I did not miss.

Bye, bye blackbird!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Skink Tale in Five Lines or More


One afternoon, recently, there was a lovely visitor on the deck. Now I don't often think of reptiles as lovely, but the coloring of this five-lined skink cannot be described as anything else. The fact that he/she so nicely matched the flower pot was delightful. Look at his wonderful, feathery, blue toes on his back feet. The full-size (screen-size) picture shows them so well that it is disappointing to see the reduced effect here. Try clicking on the picture above to enlarge it.


These guys are big bug eaters, preferring grasshoppers, but I had to wonder if its tiny brain might be considering the dragonfly on the pot. Or perhaps it was just a blue camouflage attempt. I doubt that many opportunities like this come along for blue lizards.

He/she hung around a bit, allowing me to take pictures through the glass door. Then, with a whip of a blue tail, it was  gone.

Many years ago, shortly after we were married, I was visiting at home when my dad showed me a large Australian pine that had come down in a windstorm. In the rotting wood in a hole in the trunk was a nest of skink eggs. I brought them back to Tallahassee and took them to the preschool where I taught. We kept them in a jar until they hatched. That is one of the more unusual animals I have kept at school.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shroom Sculptures


We have had a wet couple of weeks and as I have walked around our neighborhood over the past few days, I have been struck by the wide variety of mushrooms that pop up and then decline in the yards I pass. So this morning, I took my camera with me. All of these pictures were taken without trespassing. I am sure there are many, many more interesting ones further into yards.

I will start with some of my favorite ones. There are lots of these tiny, oh-so-delicate umbrellas growing close to the pavement. They must need the heat from the road.


The colors! Just look at the variety of colors!



Georgia Red:


Egg yolk:


These were true peach, but hard to photograph.




And burnt toast:


B has a yard where he works that has mushrooms that bruise bright blue when he hits them with the mower. That will get your attention.

This one was an icky mess. It seems to have gone to the Dark Side. The dark part was wet and slimy looking. The white had a powdery look to it.


I regularly see squirrels eating mushrooms--it may explain their erratic behavior! Yesterday, I saw a small grasshopper sculpting the gnarly face on this mushroom.


The form and texture of this one is amazing and it was huge.


These are growing around a stump in our yard.


I had an uncle who knew all kinds of interesting things and one of his skills was knowing which mushrooms were edible. As far as I am concerned, the edible ones are the ones bought in Publix: I have no idea in the wild ---and apparently it is a very difficult and risky skill to learn. There is a mushroom farm in nearby Gadsden county. The compost that they must replace regularly is some of the best gardening material there is.

Some observations I made this morning:

The mushrooms were not growing in the areas that are not regularly mown and where the grass was knee-deep (county maintained). I also see few on lawns where fertilizer and, possibly, weed-and-feed had been applied. The more colorful mushrooms were not in full-sun. Some of the neighborhood mushrooms are so malodorous that you notice it just walking down the street and wonder what smells so BAD before you remember. There are a few fairy rings but none were really distinct, so I did not try to photograph them. I'll save that for another entry.

Some interesting things I learned from reading:

Though the mushrooms are short-lived, the underground part of these organisms can be huge and ancient. In Oregon, there is a colony believed to cover 2,200 ACRES and be at least 2,400 years old. Unbelievable!

Mushrooms have long been used for dying wool and can impart many bright and lasting colors.

Flies and beetles feed and lay eggs on mushrooms. Mushrooms are the principle food of southern flying squirrels. Mice also eat mushrooms.

"Shrooms" is the name used for the hallucinogenic mushrooms but sometimes is generalized for any mushrooms.