Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Mysterious Milkweed Pods

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Green Milkweed Pods with the pod carpel seam intact.

The seam dries first and separates.
Milkweed has a specialized pollination system. The pollen is not distributed in particles but rather small sacs of pollen are tethered to the stamens and when large insects such as wasps visit the flower, the sacs catch on their feet ready to be transported to a place of fertilization.

Getting ready, very neatly packed in a drying pod. The silk begins to liberate itself.

As the pod dries it contracts slowly exposing the seeds with their wind catching fibers.

It can take several weeks before the pod dries sufficiently to expose all the seeds to their chance to catch a lift on the moving air. Thus distributing seeds over time and varying weather conditions.

The center carpel membrane is finally completely exposed and the pod is down to it's last seed. The first serious frost is forecast for tonight.

Donegal Browne

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bears in Anchorage, Alaska.

Imagine a mom's surprise when the morning after assembling the kid's new play set, she looked out the upstairs bedroom window and saw the neighbors trying it out.

There isn't one position that does not mimic that of human children at play. Though, admittedly, travelling on all fours happens less often with Homo sapiens.

Sent in by Julie Anderson-Wade and Marian Anderson.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Treats of Autumn

The chlorophyll is passing away, ceasing production of sugars, and the other pigments show through the leaves which will soon drift off, on the way to deciduous tree dormancy.

The Dark-eyed Juncos are back in force. The flash of their contrasting white and black tail feathers flit across meadows and into the Spruce trees.

In Hillside Cemetery today, the Bluebird House that during the breeding season, hosted a pair of interloping Tree Swallows, has for tonight become the roost box of a family of five Bluebirds. I watched them hunt among the stones and then slip into the small round door of the box one by one. Five Bluebirds at dusk, all at once, is a definite treat.

I'm told that when the air is crisp and the vines dry, it's the time to dig the potatoes out of the garden. Though the vines have not dried yet, I thought I'd dig in just a little and see how the potatoes were doing. I went to the garage, took my shovel out, set me foot to it, turned the soil under a potato vine, and came up with a potato.

This is my potato. And in case you think it's a smallish potato on a very large plate. See the photo below.

It's a teeny potato on a small plate. It took 22 seconds to microwave, and was a delicious bite of butter and salt. The skin so tender it skims off with the touch of a finger nail. Now I just have to hope that the other potatoes are bigger or that there are a whole lot of them. But even if there aren't, its very existence in my garden delighted me--another treat of Autumn.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What Happened to My Crows?

You know the old refrain often repeated by a parent whose child has suddenly done a complete about face in regards to behavior, as in, "This isn't my child. Where did my child go?"

That's the feeling I'm getting from the local crows. Hey, where did my crows go? Okay, very funny; who switched them? My crows don't act like this at all

For months, I went to grand lengths in an attempt lure them closer so I could watch their behavior. My efforts didn't make a dent in their propensity at the slightest movement of a curtain to take off and not come down again until they were 100 yards away.

Now suddenly, there are crows all over the back yard, and in about the same numbers as I've seen at a distance. What happened?

Now don't get me wrong, they still don't come and eat out of my hand but rather currently when suspicious, the first hop away is in the 10 to 20 yard range not the 100.

My first inkling of the change came when, as I posted earlier, three crows were having an interaction in a tree six feet from the house. Two crows then took off in some sort of disagreement, while the third though seeing me at the window, hunkered down to watch the show the other two were putting on.

Next, after hearing another crow cacophony right outside, I pulled the curtain and the four crows cawing their little viscera out , just sat in their very close perches and kept calling while looking pointedly below them.

What? They aren't taking off as if Lucifer himself were after them? I looked down and the object of their focus, one of the neighborhood cats was attempting to slink away while hugging the house. After running the cat out, of what I am beginning to suspect has become an extension of their territory, they leisurely then went back to normal foraging--in the backyard while I looked on.

Have new crows replaced the previous ones? Not likely. I'd have noticed a crow war, wouldn't I?

Big Ears watches crows after his daily hummingbird nectar treat.

Whatever happened, I decided I should take advantage of it. I trotted down and started cleaning out the basement freezer of aged packages of extremely freezer burned mystery meat for possible crow goodies. Before you get distressed, this meat hasn't gone bad, it's still perfectly good to eat but there is no doubt that flavor and texture have long gone by the wayside. Considering that crows do trash pick, I figured that the freezer burned meat was well within their continuum of palatable if not downright yummy food. Besides if it isn't, they're smart, they won't eat it.

First to the goodie stump went large chunks of turkey from some past Thanksgiving. By the next day the chunks had migrated to the grass and two crows were circling them. I've seen crows circling a raptor with prey in order to reappropriate it in much the same way. They darted in towards the chunks, and in the beginning then darted back without a mouthful. Sometimes jerking back with a few inches of air space from the ground

Did they think that the aged turkey meat might react negatively in the way an about-to-be-robbed raptor would? They wouldn't say much for their vaunted intelligence.

The circle the two crows were making grew smaller. Darting in, leaping, and darting out. Silver and I stood watching through the window from the darkened kitchen, his feet on the sill, my feet on the floor, riveted---and completely mystified.

Finally Crow One grabbed a chunk about the size of his head and went off a few feet to consume it. Crow Two nabbed a piece and ate it in place. Interesting. He didn't leap back.

Crow One returned to the turkey, made a grab, and came up empty, though he didn't leap/dart back the usual several feet. Crow Two comes in for another bite. BAM, Crow One jumps on Crow Two's back, squashing him flat to the ground. Two doesn't struggle; He's flattened and utterly still. Crow One flaps his wings, and his posture, head up, chest out, reminds me of a rooster crowing. He calls loudlyand repeatedly, while still standing on squashed Two. Silver and I look at each other horrified; we look back. One has finished squashing Two. Who has jumped back up, looks fine, and has gone off five or so feet while One selects some turkey.

Two waits patiently at the required distance. After a few minutes when One takes a large chunk away from the pile, Two slowly goes to the turkey, takes a small chunk and goes back to the five foot spot. This seems acceptable to one.

Silver says, "Want some dinner." We look at each other again.

We seem to have just observed a dominance display. No damage done, except to the ego.

Donegal Browne