Helping your elders across the road

I helped this gentleman across the road today. I don’t actually know how old this particular fella is, but even a quick google will confirm that turtles as a species have been on earth waaaaaaaaa*breath*aaaaaaaay longer than homo sapiens have. Think hundreds of millions of years. Compared to turtles, humans are but whippersnappers.

I can assure you there is a turtle tucked away in that shell, because when I spotted it, its head and front limbs were out, and it was headed across the road. It was a fairly quiet road, but I still pulled over and helped it finish its crossing. Always in the direction the turtle is already headed. Though it can be tempting, don’t second guess the turtle… they know where they want to go. If folks try to reset them, or aim them somewhere “better”, the turtle will just do the turtle equivalent of a beleaguered sigh (do turtles sigh?) and slowly head back to exactly where they were going the first time. Only this time, from further away.

The reason I say this turtle is a mister is a pretty excellent turtle fun fact. Male painted turtles have extra long claws on their front feet. They use them to stroke the female’s face during courting. And this young man had claws for miles. Were I a lady turtle, I might be blushing.


Turtles always strike me as devastatingly serious. If turtles could talk, I’d believe everything they said.

Erin O’Brien
chickens fauna homestead

Scrappy and the Wyandottes

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the narrated version of this blog entry.

This is Scrappy. A wild eastern cottontail rabbit who has been visiting our property most evenings, all spring and summer. We can tell Scrappy is Scrappy and not other rabbits because Scrappy is missing a chunk of one ear. Which is how Scrappy got his name.

(We think Scrappy is a he, though we don’t know for sure. And however Scrappy rolls is alright by us.)

Lately we’ve noticed that while Scrappy frequents all parts of our yard, he seems to favour the clover-y grass near the chickens. And since there is clover-y grass all over our yard, we finally started to wonder: perhaps it’s not the clover that’s the reason Scrappy is there, but… the chickens?

Scrappy and our Wyandotte chickens tend to be in the yard at the same time. Our chickens live in coops that are attached to enclosed and reasonably spacious runs. We open the doors from the runs to their yard area — currently quite a bit more exposed to predators — only when one of us is outside. We try make time for this, even on busy days. The “old guys”, sometimes also known as “the little guys”, tend to come out in the morning. They’re the bantams from our original flock, and they’re much more advanced in years, so they like to go to bed early. (Our little 9 year old silkie SooZee in particular keeps a tight 4PM or earlier bedtime.) The chickens that make up the younger flock, all Wyandottes, stay up much later, closer to an 8PM or later bedtime.

Our Wyandottes are fond of rummaging around in and trimming the long grass, so we often refer to their yard time as “running the lawnmowers”. As in “do you have time to run the lawnmowers today?” The lawnmowers usually get run first thing in the morning, and again in the later evening. And Scrappy fairly consistently shows up somewhere in the yard right at Wyandotte o’clock. Not only that, but though he has his run of the yard, Scrappy also tends to work the clover on whichever side of the fence happens to be nearest the Wyandottes.

The other night, Neil and I had our last work meeting of the day outside, so the chickens (and us) could enjoy the beautiful evening. The chickens, and us… and Scrappy. Who not only appeared out of nowhere when we let the chickens out, but also went to the yard nearest them and settled down in the grass for a nap.

I think our flock might have an honorary member. If he lays eggs… do you think they are chocolate?


poetry QoTD

To make a prairie (1755)

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Emily Dickinson
insects and arachnids

Emerald ash borer

Emerald ash borer “EAB” beetle
(Agrilus planipennis)

Just had my first sighting of emerald ash borer. We knew our ash were infested, but I’d never seen the actual beetle before.

I looked down while I was in the garden and noticed a shiny bug on my shirt. Did a little googling to confirm and sure enough, it was an emerald ash borer. It was much smaller than I’d pictured. Only about half an inch long.

I know I’m on the tall side, but I don’t think I’ve been mistaken for a tree before…

Though it’s no fault of the beetle that it was transported here and is now wreaking havoc on Ontario’s ash, I did squish it. Sorry about that, my shiny friend.


insects and arachnids QoTD

When two become one

No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.

Aldo Leopold
chickens gardening Uncategorized

Who says kale isn’t fun?

Here’s Lin enjoying a kale and borage piñata. One of the summertime treats we put out to feed the chooks/enrich the runs. And the kale comes complete with complimentary cabbage white caterpillar topping!

I know she looks skeptical, but that’s kinda just how Lin always looks (she is a very sweet chicken). That piñata will be annihilated by day’s end.


flora QoTD thinking big

Quote of the Day (QotD): Aldo Leopold

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree – and there will be one.”

~Aldo Leopold
flora foraging

A berry on the bush and a few in the hand

The first of this year’s wild raspberries. The vines were partially defoliated by the LDD caterpillars, but the caterpillar population collapsed and died en masse just in time for the raspberry to still produce this year.

We’ve had a bumper crop of mulberries this year, possibly in part thanks to the LDD moth. Our mulberry bush is usually partially shaded by red oaks, and this year they were bare for much of June, giving the mulberry bush lots of extra sun — though the beautiful old oaks are beginning to grow their leaves back now. One tree’s struggle is another’s boom.

Like the mulberries, the raspberries here are a rolling harvest. Usually a small handful each day once it gets going. A berry perfect after dinner treat.


fauna insects and arachnids thinking big

All creatures great and small

Sometimes we glimpse the pure volume of life here and it’s nearly overwhelming.

We were watching the woods flickering with fireflies this evening, and began talking about the other nearby critters, just the ones we know about, who were also going about their evenings, on the ground and on the plants and in the trees around us.

The phoebe sitting on her eggs, in her nest on one of the logs that make up our house. Who periodically cliff-dives down past the living room window, to catch a bug or have a sip of water.

The robin, on her own clutch, sitting on top of the nest box by the wood’s edge.

The hawk who flew over the yard today, carrying a snake.

The four swallowtail caterpillars in the carrot patch.

The flying squirrels, whose day begins as ours ends. Who take off from our roof, each evening at twilight.

“Scrappy”, the eastern cottontail missing a chunk from his ear, who visits the yard every evening, and who seems to have developed a taste for milkweed as well as the other forage.

The eastern grey squirrel we saw building a new drey today in one of the junipers.

The monarch babies on the milkweeds, some of which are evading Scrappy.

The cabbage white eggs on the kale.

The bat who has been using the roof’s overhang as a sometime roost. Leaving little bat poop “I was here” sign on the deck.

The hummingbird who buzzed my head today, intent on getting a drink from the red flowers of the scarlet runner beans.

The tiny bees in the yard’s clover.

The wolf spider carrying her egg sac.

The mystery russet-coloured bird who flushed from the ground up into the trees, when I rode past on my bike.

The veerys, singing their pan-flute songs as dark sets in.

The barred owl, whose call drifts through the night and in the bedroom window.

Just a few of the critters we happened to notice today. Just the ones whose paths crossed ours.

Each one of them living their lives, coming and going and breeding and eating and resting.


Goodnight moon, goodnight birds and bees and bugs and beasts. Goodnight all.

fauna insects and arachnids

Black swallowtail catersnake

“All swallowtail larvae have an eversible horn-like organ behind the head known as the osmeterium (osmeteria, plural) that looks like a forked snake tongue. It is a bright yellow-orange color on the black swallowtail. When the caterpillar is disturbed it rears up and the organ is extended for a short period of time. When everted it it releases a chemical repellent with a foul smell to repel predators. It is harmless to humans, however.”

From Wisconsin Horticulture

One of several black swallowtail caterpillars (all different instars — a younger one pictured below) found munching away on the carrot tops. I wasn’t trying to alarm it into pretending to be a snake, but just my looming presence in the carrot patch was probably a bit alarming.

It would be better for our crisper if the caterpillars were on the usually abundant Queen Anne’s Lace instead of our domestic carrots, but until the wild food gets going, I don’t mind sharing. The veg patch can be a pop-up pollinator garden.


Earlier instar, same species. Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)