Posts tagged pond life

Alder Creepshow

If you let nature alone for a while, it will erase all evidence of mankind. Books and movies have endlessly explored this fact but there is nothing quite like seeing it happen before your own eyes. We have only been tenants of the Queendom for a handful of months but we have begun to notice the ever-creeping, never-sleeping growth of nature.  It is enough to keep you awake at night for fear of being taken over by some strange moss or strangled by a vine (note the reference to ‘the lonesome death of jordy verrill’)

Here is the case in point.  The first photo was taken in April on the day we moved in. The second I took today from approximately the same spot.

April – grassy shoreline and clear view of the house.

October – treed shoreline and slightly obscured view of the house.

You may see a sunny spring day in the first or the range of colours that autumn brings in the second.  You may see that a tree has replaced pensive-looking FM as he surveys the Queendom – but I see ALDERS.  In six months, the alders have grown as if priming up for the London Olympics, as high as seven feet tall in places.  They surround the pond and have taken up residence in a few other  places. In the second photo, you can’t even see the kitchen door or the back porch!

They are called a pioneer species since they are the first tree to take hold after soil disruption. They are ‘nitrogen fixers’ meaning that they are able to create nitrogen and improve the soil for successive plants. Our pond was dug out less than two years ago so it is a prime example of disturbed soil that needs more nutrients. I knew all this in theory but it is truly something else to see them grow right before your eyes.

April – no alders

October – plenty o’ alders, all leafed out along the island’s edge

These two are taken from our bedroom balcony (yes – we  have a balcony off our bedroom! Shakespeare is fairly common place around here) The noteworthy thing about these photos is the LACK of alders on the near side of the pond. Guess why…

You’re right.  We have hand dug them all out. It is no easy task either. Firstly the soil is heavy on the clay content, making it like hardened cement all summer long. Also, alders tend to snap off right where the stem meets the roots, but the root will continue to grow new stems if the main one is broken off.

So with my favourite tool – the asymmetrical tree-planting staff – I have been diligently digging up the whole root system of each and every alder. So far I have made it around about 1/8th of the pond edge and that doesn’t include the worst offender – the island.

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Gremlin Sighting

Ol’ FM doesn’t miss a thing. His observation skills are finely tuned. He senses changes in wind direction and temperature without any instruments. He can spot a small rearrangement of furniture and even knows when I have used his carefully placed tools. Since moving to the Queendom, he has shown an amazing ability to spot wildlife and get the camera out before I can even say “where??”.

“Look!  What is that?”  he asks, as we sit enjoying our lunch on the sunny porch.

He has indicated something across the pond. He hasn’t given me much to go on so I look for ripples in the water and look farther across to the opposite shore. He leaps up, locates the camera and gets ready to take a photo before I have found the mysterious creature.

Zoomed in pretty close here so it”s a bit blurry. He sure looks like a small beaver to me.

He was fast and he didn’t stay around for a photo shoot, but we had a good look.

It doesn’t stay for long but we both saw enough to identify it. It is a sleek black furry mammal who swam and dove elegantly. As he exited the water, he was smooth and had a shape similar to a ferret. He was small – about the length of a cat – but low to the ground. We guessed ferret, weasel, ermine, river otter, mink and wolverine.

photo credit to http://kaweahoaks.com

What he would have looked like if we’d staged a photo shoot.

What did people ever do before google image searches?  We hauled out the laptop and determined that we had seen an American Mink. We know they are common around here because so many chicken farmers dread the damage that they can quickly do to a flock. Our neighbour told us that in one night, mink killed 16 of her 25 chickens, by puncturing their jugular veins and flinging them around wildly. In the morning, the chicken coop was a bloody mess of carcasses and feathers.

But this little guy hardly seems capable of such atrocities. He is as cute as a button – until the fangs come out! Kind of reminds me of those adorable creatures in the 1984 movie hit “Gremlins”

Cuteness with fangs!

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Would the real Kit Kat please stand up!

Upon taking possession of our new abode, we found a note from Mike, the previous owner. He gave a few details about the house, some contact information for him and a vague mention of a lost cat. He said that his outdoor cat, Kit Kat, had been on a walk-about for a few weeks and would eventually turn up. Please call him (Mike) when Kit Kat came back and he would drive right over to collect him.

I should mention right away that FM is no fan of cats, being highly allergic to them. If ever we visit a home with a cat, the cat will undoubtedly make a beeline for FM, attempting to wind between his legs, and FM will make a beeline for the door. It was news to us to hear that a cat had lived in this house and instantly told us that we would have to be even more diligent in our cleaning before we settled in.

After a few days, we spotted the cat on the island in our pond. It was a grey long-haired cat with a black face. It sat ever so still making it easy to mistake it for a stump. The mystery of how it got onto the island continues to puzzle us but there it was. We didn’t contact Mike right away because, with no bridge, there is no way for a human (or a cat) to get to the island without getting soaked.

Who are you anyways?

Who are you anyway?

One afternoon, I spotted the cat near the kitchen porch. Thinking I could lure it nearer, I stepped outside and made tsk tsking sounds, believing that this is cat talk for ‘come here and get some lovin’. I know very little about cats myself, having been attacked at a young age by “Friendly” and wisely keeping my distance ever since. Well, my presence made this cat move at lightning speed across our property and through a fence. Kit Kat was playing hard-to-get and didn’t seem too interested in the fact that his family had relocated.

A few weeks passed with daily sightings of Kit Kat on the island but no progress in getting him to his rightful owner. One evening we had some friends over (cat people!) and, as they pulled up the driveway, a cat met them at their car door and made all the mewing sounds typical of a pet. But this cat was not the black-faced cat that we had been monitoring. This was a tabby with tortoise-coloured fur. As they entered the house, it took a concerted effort to keep this new cat outside. After we closed the door on him, he proceeded to caterwaul and throw himself at the windows. He launched himself at the window screens, tearing them as he fell to the ground. It became evident that this new cat was the missing Kit Kat, who had just returned from a long journey and was very keen on getting some lovin’ and some food. Sadly, he found no warm reception with us in the house and was obviously pissed off at the lack of attention.

After a long night of listening to Kit Kat wail and cry (despite the bucket of water), I emailed Mike in the early morning, saying “Kit Kat is back. Come at once!” Mike responded right away and arrived within 15 minutes. As I stood back and watched in awe, he somehow managed to grab this feisty pet, get it into his pick-up truck and drive away, dodging scratches all the while.

That was the last we saw of Kit Kat. I guess he figured that we aren’t worth visiting. But the other cat, the long-haired grey with the black face, can still be seen every so often, wandering on the far side of the property. We don’t know who he is but we know he isn’t Kit Kat.

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The Song of 10,000 Frogs

When you buy a house, you know only a tiny bit about your new environment before you jump in.   High emotions cause you to overlook some aspects and to completely ignore others.  Luckily, we have discovered few surprises since moving in, and the surprises we have come across have not been insurmountable.

One discovery was made on our first evening in the new home – before the moving truck had even arrived.  It was March 31 and the evening was dark and cool.  It started at 7:45 pm – the first rib-bit.  We looked at each other and laughed since neither of us had realized that the large pond contained any life at all.  Soon the first call was answered by another rib-it and within 10 minutes, the air was thick with the croaking, cricking and creaking of frogs.  There must have been hundreds and hundreds of them.  We stood out on the balcony and took it all in.  I am not exaggerating when I say that we had to raise our voices to hear each other above the sound of the frogs.

[audio http://www.californiaherps.com/sounds/pregilladn306short.mp3]

As the evening wore on, the sound remained constant and I began to wonder if I would be able to sleep through it, but their sounds blended into a pleasant white noise that easily lulled us both to sleep.  In fact, when the frogs stop singing, about an hour before sunrise, the lack of singing wakes me up.

A little research around our pond and on the internet taught us that our pond is host to the Pacific Chorus Frog (or Pacific Tree Frog).  They are tiny little fellows, around 5 cm long, who can be vivid green or brownish-gold.  Their presence speaks volumes of the health of our pond water.  We have read that they will move on once the early spring mating seasons ends, but their tadpoles will grow here and they will return each spring.  Yahoo!

Pacific Chorus Frog

Pacific Chorus Frog – introducing ourselves to our neighbours

Pacific Chorus Frog#2

I’m with the band

Pacific Chorus Frog #3

Basking in the sunlight after a wild night

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