Monday, August 30, 2010

Colors of summer - a memoir

I've been obsessed with color lately. The fact that paint colors need to be determined for the rooms in the guestudio could have something to do with that. I think I made my final decisions tonight, though. To celebrate, here's a sampling of some colors I captured during our vacation to northern Michigan in early July. Nature's palette can't be beat.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A bird's labor (or: Anatomy of a Nest)

When construction of the guestudio was still in the early stages, a wonderful thing happened. As soon as the "bones" of the porch were up, a bird nest began to take shape in the rafters. I could not think of a more lovely christening of the building than that. It wasn't long before we found out that it was American Robins that chose this as their nesting area. I was quite surprised, actually, because I don't normally hear or see Robins up in our woods, at least not with much frequency.

Mama Robin, incubating eggs

Four eggs were laid in that nest, and as far as I could tell, 4 birds hatched. Unfortunately, we were gone on vacation during the time they were due to fledge, so I can only cross my fingers and hope that all 4 of them made it out successfully.

Mama Robin in a nearby Redbud tree, fluffing up a bit and asking me to kindly move away from her nest.

Fast-forward to mid-August. Construction has resumed on the guestudio after a hiatus, and the roof of the porch is finished with beadboard, closing off the space where the nest once was. Thank goodness our builders had a good enough sense about me to know that they shouldn't just toss that nest on the ground. Instead, they carefully removed it and placed it inside the building so I could have a look at it when I got home. Shortly after they relocated it I took it back outside and examined it. The architecture blew me away. For an animal with no opposable thumbs, this structure is nothing short of a miracle.

The nest, turned 180 degrees from its original orientation and settled on the porch railing so I could have a better look.

The following information about American Robin nest construction comes from the Cornell University's All About Birds website:
Females build the nest from the inside out, pressing dead grass and twigs into a cup shape using the wrist of one wing. Other materials include paper, feathers, rootlets, or moss in addition to grass and twigs. Once the cup is formed, she reinforces the nest using soft mud gathered from worm castings to make a heavy, sturdy nest. She then lines the nest with fine dry grass. The finished nest is 6-8 inches across and 3-6 inches high.

Dead grass - check

Rootlets - check

Twigs - check

Other material (part of a vining plant) - check

More "other material," strands of plastic, probably from the building construction - check

Lined with fine dry grass - check

"...soft mud gathered from worm castings to make a heavy, sturdy nest" - check

A strong, secure home in which to rear young - check. A beautiful sight to behold - you better believe it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Killdeer Plains grab bag

There are still a few more images I want to share from the Killdeer Plains OCVN workshop that I attended last month.

I arrived in Upper Sandusky late Friday afternoon, where I met up with Nina to do a little exploring before the workshop got under way. Nina had attended the workshop last year, so she already knew all the hot spots and graciously shared them with me. We checked out several lovely areas at Killdeer that Friday night, and one of those areas brought me my first glimpse of Blue Dasher dragonflies. They assume an interesting posture from time to time that is know as the obelisk. It doesn't look unlike a gymnast doing a handstand on a pommel horse! It is thought to be a territory display, but it is also hypothesized to be a mechanism for regulating body temperature (both males and females will adopt this pose).

Male Blue Dasher dragonfly in obelisk pose atop a cattail.

Fast-forward to Sunday morning, when we awoke to a foggy, humid morning. There was a slight breeze, which is what I assume helped the fog to recede much earlier than I would have expected (we all met up at 7am that morning, and the fog was all but gone by 7:30, which is uncharacteristically early for fog burn-off in my experience). Luckily there was a little time for photography before our first session got under way that morning, as the dew made everything sparkly and beautiful beyond compare.

Squirrel-tail Grass, accentuated by the morning dew

Spiders often aren't on most of our radars unless we happen to cross paths with them, but just because we don't see them doesn't mean they aren't out there. The conditions that morning were just right to betray their presence... everywhere!

A cobweb festival! How many do you count?

Dueling webs?


It really was a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Singular focus

I watch butterflies flutter past...
listen to birds sing...
note that there's a cuckoo calling far off in the distance...
peek in on a snake that is slowly choking the life out of a small rodent body...
respond to the hummingbird that hovers in front of my kitchen window asking where the heck her sugar water is...

But every observation is hurried - greedily gulped down during breaks from the work we have been doing. The weather is hot and the butterfly sightings are good. The ironweed stands tall and quietly reminds me that it is still my favorite wildflower, despite that I lack the time to properly savor it.

We are building. Creating another special space in our woods. A space for me to work, a space for guests to stay when they come visit. A guest house, a studio. Or, as I have affectionately named it, the "guestudio."

The beginnings...

... of a shell...

... of a special place.

The construction has gone in phases, with the main framing being under contract to a local builder, then plumbing and electric handled by Dave and myself, and now shifting back to our builder for exterior and interior finish work. Then it will be back to Dave and me to finish up with painting, flooring, trim, fixture installation, etc.

The porch, already my favorite part of the whole structure.

Inside, there are materials everywhere! Emmett likes to keep us company while we work

Oh look, some of those materials are going into and onto the wall studs!

After working ourselves like crazy for 3 weeks, we are finally able to take a little bit of a break, but within a week or so we'll be back at it again when the pendulum swings back our way and we have to start painting. So while I have power back to my laptop, time is still a precious commodity. I have lots of cool photos to share, though, so I'll be back sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

To be continued...

I know I'm not obligated to provide an explanation for a blogging absence, but I feel like I had finally gotten back into a groove, and now it's been sidetracked. The main issue is that my laptop is temporarily without power, and since that's where all my pictures live, well, it's kind of hard for me to do a blog post without pictures. Durn AC adapter! I've got a new one on order, but it might not arrive until next week.

In addition to that, Dave and I have a time-consuming construction project under way that has been eating a lot of our time, and leaving me with little time for composing posts, or hanging out in nature, for that matter. So, as much as I hate it, the blogging powers are conspiring against me for the time being. Or we could just blame it on the heat and humidity!

Longing for cooler days, like when this photo was taken in October 2009

I'll be back as soon as I'm able.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mystery insect - friend or foe?

Alright, astute blog readers, I've got a mystery, and I need your help in solving it.  It involves a bug that I have been trying to identify for 2 years, going on 3 years now.  For the first few years I was convinced it was some kind of flying, biting ant, but someone suggested to me that it might actually be a wasp.  Here's a specimen of our mystery insect:

Now that I have my handy-dandy Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, I am ready to make a more educated guess as to just who this might be.  The closest thing I can match it to according to the pictures and size key given in the book is a wasp, species Podium luctuosum (no common name that I can find).  According to the field guide, these are wasps of the woods, and they "scour the ground and logs for prey," their prey being wood roaches.

If my guess is correct, and this is indeed a wasp that should be scouring the ground and logs for roaches, what is it doing flying around in my house (and in my car, even!) and landing in my kitchen and on my furniture? Why must it intercept my arm on its path from the sink to the stove? Why must it dare me to sit down on the couch and rest my back on the spot where it is frantically darting about on the cushion?

The business end

Aside from not having a positive ID for this critter, I have another dilemma.  I am not fond of this wasp, and am leery every time I see one flying around.  I have been stung by them on numerous occasions (although not at all so far this year).  The pain at the time of the sting is sharp and pronounced, and feels like a harsh pinch more than anything (just up until this year I was convinced it was a bite I was receiving, not a sting).  The pain subsides rather quickly, but it leaves a tiny welt, and the whole experience is one that is not easily forgotten.  Leave it to Nature to put me on the investigative trail of something because it has caused me injury.  Is it her sly way of luring me closer, encouraging me to get a better look so that I may, in some way, become more accepting of this creature?

Another view. Look at the colors on that armor-like plating! Such beauty commands respect, don't you think?

When I managed to trap this specimen, I felt bad because I injured it in the process of capturing it, and its death was probably slow and painful.  After it had... "expired"... I took the requisite photos.  The act of holding the wasp in my hand, and of studying the photos up close, certainly pushed me to have a greater respect for this creature, despite the differences we have had in the past.

My relationship with insects has changed over the last few years as I have started to REALLY look at them.  For example, spiders (for the most part, unless they are big and hairy and resemble a Wolf spider) have free reign in our house.  I even found myself in a position one day to be holding a live captive of the mystery wasp, basically grasping it by the antennae, and watching the stinger protrude and retract.  Does this mean I won't kill the next one I see?  No.  However, I am finding that, more and more, my curiosity is starting to take over when normally I would feel fear of some animal that would usually be viewed as intimidating, such as a wasp or a snake (no, I'm not handling snakes... yet!).

Even the antennae are a delicate work of art

Rest in peace, unknown one. May my quest for getting to know you help me to make my peace with you.

If anyone out there can confirm or correct my ID of this wasp, it would be much appreciated.