Posts Tagged American Toad
You’re in luck, loyal blog readers. Wonder Spouse found himself with some time this weekend, and he spent much of it post-processing the backlog of yard and garden photos that he had accumulated. All of the shots in this entry were taken in one morning in early September, as summer plants were fading, and autumn fruits and flowers were starting to appear. Remember that you can click on any photo to see a larger version.
Late summer through early fall is the peak bloom period for one of my favorite moisture-loving wildflowers: Jewelweed. Here’s a clump blooming on our floodplain:
You really need a close view to appreciate the delicate beauty of the flowers:
Late summer is always adorned with lobelias in my yard. Some are planted deliberately, but many randomly pop up without any input from me. I do take the ripe seed pods each fall and walk about the yard sprinkling tiny cinnamon-colored seeds as I go.
Equally breath-taking are the Great Blue Lobelias — same genus as the Cardinals, but a different species.
Seed production was getting serious in early September when Wonder Spouse took these photos. Check out his gorgeous close-up of a Bigleaf Magnolia Seed Cone:
The Jack-in-the-Pulpits in the wetland still held on to their ragged-looking leaves, but they were being pulled down by the weight of their bright red fruits.
One Joe Pye Weed cluster was still blooming just a bit:
While a large one in the front yard was all feathery seed head:
The seeds of these River Oats made a nice resting spot for this little butterfly.
I don’t think I’ve ever written about my Garlic Chives. This easy-to-grow herb sends up lovely flowers every late summer. The leaves have a more assertive onion flavor than Chives.
Pollinators always swarm the Garlic Chive flowers when they open.
As is always the case, we encountered a few animal residents as we wandered our five acres that morning.
And, finally, to close this impressive display of Wonder Spouse’s photographic skills, one of our many dragonflies. This large one was briefly resting on our TV cable line high above us, making for a positively artistic shot.
Just before dawn this morning, thick frost glimmered in the fading light of a full moon. As the sun topped the nearby ridge, surfaces sparkled — walks, benches, lawn, even the trees. The thermometer on my cold hill bottomed out at 26 degrees Fahrenheit before the strengthening Spring sun began its work — Winter cold. Too cold.
The Spring Peepers, which have lustily chorused off and on since late December, have been utterly silent for four days. The American Toads, which had added their exquisite soprano trilling descant to the thrumming of the Peepers two weeks ago, have also gone quiet. The Green Anoles, which sunned themselves on our gutters on warm days all winter, have not ventured from their sleeping chambers in a week. To be sure, our weather has not been fit for cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles.
The plants in my yard agree. Half-open flower buds have opened no further. Some have browned from freeze damage. Others seem suspended in time, waiting for temperatures that match the astronomical calendar, knowing the equinox was last week, wondering like me, I imagine, why March turned so cruel in its waning days.
But while the plants and cold-blooded animals sleep, the warm-blooded ones are scrounging for food. A herd of five pregnant does devours every blade of green from our floodplain at dusk, when they emerge from their hiding places on the other side of the creek. Dark shadows in darkening light, they drift around the trees, more ghosts than flesh in the dimness.
The birds, on the other hand, have refused to concede to Spring’s reluctant arrival. Growing flocks of American Robins patrol the landscape, plucking fat earthworms from rain-moistened soil, muttering in delight at each new-found morsel.
The Red-shouldered Hawks circle the floodplain, then dive at crowded bird feeders in the hopes of pinning a slow-moving Mourning Dove or a greedy Red-winged Blackbird that lingers too long for one more bite. When the birds elude their grasp, they settle for patrolling the ground, pulling back fallen leaves with sharp yellow talons to reveal earthworms, which they greedily devour. When they’ve had their fill, they fly off with more; hungry nestlings must be fed, even while their favorite cold-blooded prey sleep securely in their winter hide-outs.
Flocks of Purple Finches grow daily. I think groups migrating from further south have heard about the snows in their summer homes up north. They linger at my feeders — free food — all you can eat! A pair of Carolina Wrens busily inspect flower pots, deck underpinnings, and an open garage for potential nesting sites. Wood Ducks paddle up and down the creek, preferring water warmer than the air.
A Great Blue Heron stalks from sand bar to sand bar. Rising into the air on massive wings, its majestic flight starkly contrasts with its harsh squawk of frustration at finding nothing tasty.
Suet feeders are perpetually busy from dawn to full darkness. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are feeding nestlings, and insects are difficult to find in the frigid air. They are joined by increasing numbers of warblers, which must be arriving for spring nesting season. Like the woodpeckers, suet is their fall-back food until the insects finally emerge.
This morning as I filled the feeders, I heard the characteristic melodic gurgling call of Brown-headed Cowbirds. They usually arrive a few days after the warblers, lingering at my feeders until they pair off, and egg-heavy females deposit their eggs in the nests of unwary warblers.
Warm-blooded life does not seem to have the luxury of waiting for Spring to assert itself. Somehow it must carry on despite the dearth of natural food and warming nights. I keep my feeders filled and birdhouses clean, in the hopes that this eases their struggle a bit — for my local population anyway.
The weather forecasters predict that our perseverance will be rewarded. Warmer days are promised soon. I think perhaps they might be right. I spotted a bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this afternoon struggling to make headway against a gusty northwest wind.
Any minute now, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be arriving for their spring nesting season. I’d best dust off their feeders ASAP, because their usual early food sources — blooms of Red Buckeye and Eastern Columbine — remain tightly closed against the unseasonable chill.
Like the warm-blooded life surrounding me, my garden and I must persevere. Lettuce transplants huddle beneath garden fabric in the vegetable garden. I’ve been afraid to check on them, fearing that lifting the fabric might chill them more. And the tomato and pepper seeds I sowed a week ago have mostly germinated in the greenhouse. I’ve raised the thermostat to reduce the chances of cold air being fanned onto new-born seedlings.
Gardening is always an act of faith. This season, however, is requiring a bit more of it than usual. Believe, my friends. Soon we’ll be up to our knees in tall grass, mosquitoes, and summer squash.
But don’t blink. I have a feeling we’re mostly skipping Spring this year.
I’ve mentioned before that the five acres I’ve shared with Wonder Spouse (and myriad critters and plants) for the last 22 years started out pretty bare. The previous owner kept the huge canopy trees (thank goodness!), but eradicated every understory tree except dogwood. There was no shrub layer, and no herbaceous layer characteristic of Piedmont woodlands, except in the swampy parts of the floodplain and on a rocky north slope that he couldn’t mow.
For two decades, we’ve been adding understory tree and shrub species, slowly building the vegetation layers needed to create a rich woodland floor. Finally, in the last few years, I’m starting to see my dream realized. Inside the acre or so enclosed by deer fencing on the north side of our property, I’ve been planting choice wildflower specimens, nestling them beneath flourishing deciduous azaleas, viburnums, and vacciniums. This spring, I decided the time was right to add some of my favorite spring ephemeral wildflowers: trilliums.
Of course, I turned to my favorite local nursery that specializes in natives and choice non-natives. They are just a fifteen-minute drive from my house, and thus pose a constant temptation, which I have learned to — mostly — resist. I almost never impulsively buy a plant now. My yard is starting to fill out. Room for choice additions is becoming limited, so I plan my new acquisitions carefully.
I have always thought trilliums were especially lovely spring wildflowers. The three-leaved and three-petaledl beauties can be breathtaking when massed on a cool, moist hill. I bought one of each of the four species my local nursery sells: Trillium erectum (Purple Trillium), T. flexipes (White Nodding Trillium), T. grandiflorum (Great White Trillium), and T. luteum (Yellow Trillium). When I transplanted them two days ago, all four plants had impressively healthy root systems and multiple growing shoots. I am psyched.
According to the North Carolina Native Plant Society‘s handy dandy Web site, only the Great White Trillium occurs naturally in the Piedmont of my state. The other three are natives of the NC mountains. But as with any plant, if I can sufficiently emulate the conditions under which my mountain trillium acquisitions occur, I should be able to help them flourish in my yard.
The north side of my yard stays cooler — more like the mountains, I’m hoping. And the deciduous shade layers under which my just-planted trilliums are planted should encourage them to settle in and adapt to their new homes. They are buried in rich, loamy soil and surrounded by leaf mulch. My big challenge will be keeping them adequately watered. I am determined that they will not just survive, but flourish. These four treasures will get water no matter how much the drought deepens.
While I planted my new babies, I realized that the constant droning of the Spring Peepers was now enhanced by the soprano descant trilling of American Toads. They are singing three weeks earlier than last year. I know because I wrote about the arrival of their songs here. Perhaps early egg-laying will improve the chances that their birth puddles remain full long enough for tadpoles to become new toads — if a late freeze doesn’t zap them. Fingers crossed for my amphibian serenaders.
Meanwhile, my little greenhouse is fast becoming Veggie Central. I had hoped to have the spring veggie starts transplanted into the garden by now, but weather and an uninvited virus that invaded our household have thrown off my timetable. Note the size of the lettuces that I photographed two days ago:
I mentioned that I also started the Super Marzano tomatoes a few weeks ago. They all germinated and are growing with enthusiasm on the greenhouse shelf beside the peppers which also recently exited the germination chamber. Here they are two days ago:
The tomatoes are top left; the peppers to the right. The germination chamber is now full of seeds I sowed two days ago. They include all the remaining tomato varieties, three basil varieties, and two flower varieties. As of this morning, nothing had germinated, but it’s early. I’m betting I’ll have newly emerged seedlings by next week.
It’s an exciting time in the garden. As evidenced by the toad trilling, plants and animals all seem to be two to three weeks ahead of where they were last year. Will their gamble on early spring pay off? Or will late-breaking winter weather destroy their chances of reproductive success? I have no idea, but I can tell you that after the frightening weather currently heading my way passes by tomorrow, the forecast calls for below-normal temperatures for next week.
In truth, the success or failure of my plantings seems completely unimportant right now. My thoughts and prayers are with the folks living on the other side of the NC mountains, where killer tornadoes continue to ravage their landscape.
It’s the last full day of Spring, if you measure that season’s departure by the arrival of the Summer Solstice. Of course, it hasn’t felt like Spring for a month now. My area is on track for another record high number of 90+ degree days, and the moderate drought is visibly taking its toll on the vegetation, tall and small.
All Spring, we’ve been watching the cottontail rabbits grow. Here’s one of the teenager bunnies. I call her Betty, but she may be a he, in which case I’ll call him Benny.
The bunnies are fenced out of the vegetable garden. They are free to hop about the yard dining on clover and plantains, which seem to be their favorite food groups. They follow me to the vegetable garden in the morning, watching with what I imagine to be longing as I slam the gate tight behind me, their noses wiggling at the smell of well-watered vegetables. I have no sympathy. They seem to be growing quite fat on the greens I have ceded to them. Why the hawks and owls haven’t found them, I cannot say. These bold bunnies dine openly on the hillside, often accompanied by the calls of Red-Shouldered Hawks.
My neighbor’s pond has yielded a bumper crop of newly emerged toads — both American Toads and Fowlers Toads. For two days, you couldn’t walk in parts of our yard without nearly stepping on a frantically hopping tiny toad. For reasons known only to toad minds, they loitered in our driveway. To avoid a squished toad disaster, I spent a morning scooping them into a bucket and carting them into the vegetable garden. I moved over two dozen, and I think most of them are enjoying their new digs. I spot them resting under squash leaves and beneath basil when I conduct my daily vegetable inspections.
Our little ornamental pond up front is also yielding newly metamorphosed amphibians. The Copes Gray Tree Frogs have been emerging in small groups every few days. Early this final Spring morning I spotted this newly emerged amphibian getting its bearings atop one of our daylilies — Brocaded Gown.
And here’s another froglet — apologies for the fuzzy picture — that shows it still has a bit of its tadpole tail. That’s not unusual on these newly emerged frogs; about a third of them often sport at least a bit of tail when they first leave their birth ponds.
The new life that surrounds me — be it bunnies, amphibians, or acorns — salutes Spring’s boundless enthusiasms. As searing Summer settles upon us, that enthusiasm will become endurance — if we’re lucky. If Summer’s dry grip is too tight, death counts will rise, and we will all be left panting in the dust, begging clouds for raindrops.
The nearly full moon last night brought the Barred Owls closer than they’ve been in a while. They were hooting back and forth to each other in the trees on the north side of the house.
It’s been way too hot here — unrelenting sunshine with no deciduous shade to hide in, because the trees aren’t leafing out yet. And no precipitation — well, not enough to talk about. In fact, I’ve given up saying or writing the R word until (please not if) we ever get inch-plus, thirst-quenching precipitation here again.
All that heat combined with dry ground and a potent moon is likely bringing out the night-prowling critters — mice, voles, rats, rabbits — all potential tasty meals for owls. I welcome owl voices to the wetland chorus that grows louder each night as new frog species waken and begin to sing amphibian love songs. Now my favorite amphibian voice has joined the chorus — the American Toad.
I spent years singing in choirs and choruses, which may make me more sensitive to the harmonic qualities of frog and toad song. Some species — like Spring Peepers — are back-up singers. They provide a constant droning sound against which soloists — Southern Leopard Frogs, for example — can punctuate the night with their stronger, more diverse voices.
But my favorite moment is now, when the high, pure descant of the American Toad joins the nightly serenade. Their song is an uncomplicated trill; the pure soprano beauty of the tone makes my heart beat faster. To my ears, the toadly trills complete the chorus.
Now the harmonies are full, round, and rich. Now the night firmly belongs to spring.