Posts Tagged wildlife habitat

Guardian of the Walk and Other Newcomers

Eastern Fence Lizard defends its turf.

In the 23 years that we’ve been tending our five acres of North Carolina Piedmont, we have encountered many native animals. I am happy to report that our greenly chaotic landscape is home to most of the species of reptiles and amphibians that you’d expect to find in such a spot. Lizards are especially welcome because of their bug-eating habits and non-venomous natures, and numerous skinks and anoles have always been all over the yard.

But until the day of the Summer Solstice, I had never seen an Eastern Fence Lizard here. This has always puzzled me, because theses lizards are notoriously arboreal — more so than our other native lizards — and our yard certainly has plenty of trees. Still, no matter what time of day or season I walked our land, I never saw one Eastern Fence Lizard.

Imagine my surprise when I finally encounter one — on my front sidewalk! According to the sources I checked, Eastern Fence Lizards prefer open woods with lots of rotten logs and stumps to hide in. And they are never far from trees, because that’s where they run when they are frightened.

Although I will admit that my front garden is not exactly in garden-magazine-worthy shape, no rotten logs or stumps are to be found there. And the trees near the spot where I found the above lizard are not large — no more than ten or twelve feet high with slender trunks.

We’ve seen this lizard in the same area three days in a row now. It seems to have declared the end of our walk where it meets the driveway as its territory. We see it there every morning a few hours after sunrise. The driveway ends in a rock wall, which our other lizard species adore, so perhaps that’s part of the attraction. And I recently added fresh mulch — shredded wood — to the bed that edges the walk, so it’s nice and moist. Lizards eat spiders and insects, and Eastern Fence Lizards are supposed to be especially fond of beetles. I am certain that end of the front garden is a veritable lizard smorgasbord.

It looks quite ferocious, doesn’t it? It seems unimpressed by the humans who keep taking pictures of it. That close-up above was taken by Ace Photographer Wonder Spouse this morning.  Here’s one I took yesterday:

Eastern Fence Lizard seeking breakfast.

He’s looking at the giant lantanas blooming profusely along the walk. They attract all kinds of pollinators. I’m thinking this creature has noticed.

Later this morning as we returned from picking vegetables in the garden (75 Jade bush beans, 74 Fortex pole beans, 3 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes, 1 Super Marzano paste tomato, 1 Viva Italia paste tomato, 2 Raven zucchinis, and 1 Spineless Perfection zucchini), we discovered the lizard had moved from the walk to the mulch. It was all splayed out, perhaps to maximize its ability to soak up a weak sun obscured by morning clouds. It blends in so well with the mulch that I wouldn’t have seen it if it hadn’t moved just a bit as we approached. See what I mean:

Camouflage expert blends with the mulch.

I’m guessing that passing insects may well have as much difficulty spotting the lizard as I did – perhaps with fatal consequences for them.

We’re delighted to have this new species of lizard move into such a prominent location, where we can observe it often. Odds are its kind has been around all along; this one just may be a bit bolder than its kin.

Two other animal newcomers have shown themselves this week. A juvenile Green Frog has moved into our front pond.

Young Green Frog meditating on a misty morning.

We spot it often sitting on the edge enjoying the mist from our ultrasonic mister. My research says that newly metamorphosed Green Frogs will travel as far as three miles to find a new pond after they emerge from their birth ponds.

I know — it doesn’t look very green, does it? According to the link above, they usually don’t. But that ridge running from its eye down its back is diagnostic for the species according to the link, so I’m fairly certain that’s what it is.

One more newbie animal showed up today — a gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker. This is another species that I’ve always felt should be here, but I’ve only spotted one once before, about ten years ago — and only one time. Although our yard would seem to provide ideal habitat for these woodpeckers, I suspect that the well-established populations of other species of woodpeckers may have something to do with the scarcity of this one. Every other native woodpecker of my region, including the Pileated Woodpecker, routinely nests and feeds in our yard.

The Red-headed Woodpecker I saw today was moving from tree to tree on our floodplain. It did not wish to cooperate with me and my camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it that I saw it. Wonder Spouse saw it too, which helped to assure me that I wasn’t imagining this beauty.

I hope all the newcomers will stick around. It has always been my hope that by increasing the native plant species diversity in our yard, we would also increase wildlife species diversity. I’m happy to report that our efforts seem to be paying off. As we continue to create ideal nesting and foraging habitats — and provide additional native food — the critters keep on coming.

As the woodlands all around us are replaced by the botanical monotony of new suburbs, I expect even more wildlife will find our yard a welcome haven in the years to come. Here’s hoping I can make room for all the wild ones.

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New arrivals

The heat is stimulating plants and animals — at least that’s the way it seems in my yard this morning. First, I’m happy to announce that I spotted a half dozen sugar snap peas emerging this morning from the bed where I planted them. I always worry that something has gone wrong until I see their deep green growing tips pushing through to sunlight. No signs of the lettuces, spinach, carrots, or beets yet, but I am hopeful.

The heat has also caused my Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ to begin opening its fuzzy buds at the top of the tree. It’s about 12 feet tall after 15 years of growing, and when it’s fully open, it is stunning. I planted mine beneath the shelter of some mature pines. This protects the delicate petals from frost damage and shades the little tree from the worst of our summer sun.

During my early morning walk along the floodplain, I unintentionally disturbed the Wood Duck couple I told you about a few days ago. However, I got a further surprise as I continued on my creek inspection. Four more wood ducks took to the air, the female shrieking as usual. If my ears didn’t deceive me, I think I only heard one female, which means the other three birds pursuing her were males. I was too far away to visually identify their genders.

On the one hand, I am excited that more Wood Ducks are nearby. However, I fear that their presence indicates competition for limited local resources among their species. Much deforestation has happened around me in the last few years. Without forest cover, the creeks and ponds that dot my area have dried up considerably under our unrelenting high summer temperatures and persistent drought conditions. I worry that the ducks showed up at my creek, because their old nesting sites have been destroyed.

I haven’t researched how much territory a pair of nesting Wood Ducks prefers. I hope it isn’t much. My stretch of creek is only a few hundred yards long. However, if they can find a way to manage among themselves, these beautiful native birds will always be welcome in my yard.

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Brush Pile Mountain

Today was another yard clean-up day. We focused on the area where the new deer fence will soon go around the vegetable garden. After yanking up all the old fencing and fence posts, we concentrated on clearing tree and shrub growth further back from the area, so that the new fence, which will be about 8 feet tall, can be erected without banging into anything. We’ll store the old posts and fencing material for reuse later.  Large piles of limbs now surround the garden area.

Tomorrow, we will carry them all down to Brush Pile Mountain. That’s what I call the giant pile of organic debris — mostly tree limbs, but also pulled weeds — that sits in the middle of the floodplain. One advantage of not living in a suburb with HOA rules is that we can do things like this — build humungous piles of brush without offending the neighbors. I’m pretty sure our neighbors can’t even see the pile — the advantage of living on five acres.

Lovers of wildlife know that brush piles are excellent habitat for all kinds of critters. Raccoons, groundhogs, and possums have all called the pile home at various times. I’ve accidentally disturbed sleeping salamanders under logs as I’ve added new material.

But the creatures I notice most often are birds, especially in winter. White-throated sparrows and slate-colored juncos seem especially fond of the shelter. When we know snow is coming, we usually manage to place a few evergreen boughs over the top of the pile to create air pockets beneath for creatures to huddle in.

Brush Pile Mountain usually peaks in height and width during winter clean-up season. Right now, I’m guessing it tops out at about 15 feet high and maybe 25 or 30 feet in diameter, maybe more. Summer heat and humidity will shrink the pile as the wood decays. And we’ll build it back up next winter.

Building up Brush Pile Mountain is satisfying labor. You feel like you’ve accomplished something tangible when all that organic material looms high overhead. Knowing that wildlife can use it, and that natural processes will break it all down eventually to enrich the soil adds to that satisfaction.

 

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