Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Introducing... Wood Frog!

This is the fourth year my friend Pete and I have been participating in our local frog and toad count, and even though we've done various routes to hear as many different species as we could, some of the frogs, such as wood and leopard, had eluded us. Until Sunday night, that is, when we finally heard the wood frog (Rana sylvatica)!!!!! Good gravy, it's cute — I wish we could see them, not just hear them, but not only is the survey done at night, but they like to stay hidden. (Plus, these frogs are small. Woodies are about 2 inches long, and spring peepers and chorus frogs are only about an inch long.)

Our favorite pond (southwest corner of Stone School and Morgan Roads) was alive and kicking with very loud frogs calls, not only from the wood frog, but also from spring peepers and chorus frogs. This recording really gives a feel for the exuberance and volume! The wood frog's unique call sounds kind of like a chuckling duck or two metal stress-relief balls being rubbed together. The spring peepers sound like high-pitched birds singing, and it's hard to hear the chorus frogs.

In this recording, it's easy to pick out the wood frogs from the spring peepers. We noticed that when a car drove by, the wood frogs stopped calling, but the spring peepers kept right on going. So we waited for a car to pass and then started recording, so that you first hear only spring peepers and then, gradually, a wood frog starts and then they all chime in.

There were also a few chorus frogs (whose call sounds kind of like running your finger down a plastic comb) in the pond, but it was hard to hear them above the peepers and wood frogs. (The peepers were everywhere in the pond, but the woods were concentrated in one fairly small area.) There were, however, two chorus frogs calling in a pond on the other side of the road, which you can distinctly hear here.

As reported last time, wood frogs have "explosive breeding" which means they only call for about two weeks (in late March/early April in southeastern Michigan), whereas most other frogs call/mate for a month or more. Wood frogs hibernate on land and have a glucose-based "antifreeze" in their blood that gets them through the long and harsh Michigan winters.

Wood frogs prefer moist, wooded habitat and breed in vernal pools, flood areas, forested swamps, and still backwaters. Wood frogs lay eggs communally, meaning each female deposits her eggs into one larger grouping. The globular egg mass increases the number of eggs that turn into tadpoles (which takes two months) by helping the eggs stay moist and warm, and reducing predation (the eggs get eaten from the outside in). In general, very few frog eggs ever turn into tadpoles let alone frogs because so many of them are eaten by other animals. Fortunately, frogs lay a LOT of eggs to ensure some survive (spring peepers lay about 750-1,200 eggs each!) This communal egg laying also explains why the woodies we heard were all grouped in one little area.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hooray Spring!

Well, believe it or not, I'm getting a few more spring blooms! And we'll get to them in just a minute. Really. But first I must tell you that (are you ready?!) I have my first winter-sown seedling babies!!!!!!!!! (Please excuse all the exclamation points, but I'm just so excited and I figure they still beat the dreaded all caps!) I am proud to introduce you to catchfly (Silene armeria 'Carmine Pink') and lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus 'Russells Prize Mix'). The former are the eeny beeny, teeny tiny, itsy bitsy seedlings, and the latter is the larger seedling. Noogie noog, they're so cute!

These are both perennials that must be fairly hardy. We haven't had any kind of crazy warm spurts, so they are coming up on their natural schedule. It may snow overnight, but they will be fine in their little winter-sowing containers (they're in the top row, second from left--wave hello!). Nothing else, by the way, is crazy enough to be up yet.

And now on to other treasures blooming in the garden! We have the happy, warm sunshine-yellow of crocus.

We have some more lemon-yellow aconites. Noogie!

Here we have a lovely and vibrant dwarf wild iris (Iris reticulata).

We have one solitary, but oh-so-lovely, snow drop.

And (drum roll, please) we welcome a hellebore into the garden!! Isn't she a beauty? I bought her today at the Ann Arbor farmer's market (which tends to be a bit pricey, but I needed eggs)... so there I was, minding my own business, trying to find the nice egg lady when I pass a bunch of hellebores. This plant has been on my in-the-back-of-my-mind wish list for at least a decade, but I somehow never managed to get one. Then I saw so many gorgeous ones blooming in all your blogs, and I was committed to get one! And here she is, waiting to be planted.

In case you are wondering why there are only one or two of many of my blooms, allow me to show you my tulips. As evidence of some kind of nibbling critter. This same pest also ate most of my crocuses, many of my dwarf wild irises, and probably some of the snow drops. Fortunately, it has so far (knock wood/toi toi toi!) left my daffodils and hyacinths alone.

You may recall my sundry travails with the groundhog. I always blamed him/her/them for this yearly destruction, based on the other things I actually caught them in the act of eating. But, as hard as this is to admit, I may have been wrong about that. You see, the groundhog is still hibernating. I always see the groundhog once it's active and I haven't seen it yet this year. So I'm going to guess it may instead be rabbits. Granted, I haven't seen them either, but they're a bit skittish, being lunch for so many other animals. And they don't hibernate and must be pretty hungry for greens this time of year.

Or, it could be squirrels, but they seem to do pretty well at my feeders and they tend to dig. These plants were chewed off and/or yanked out, not dug out.

I'm not going to harm whatever animal it is, I'd just like to know.

And, bananas! Last spring I swore I wouldn't buy any more bulbs and then in fall I promptly forgot and bought a bunch from Old House Gardens. Short memory, must have a short memory...(Yolanda, that's queuing Midnight Oil for you, right? Just re-listened and 26 years later, it's still good and still relevant!).

Added 3/29
: Since yesterday, the tulips have been chewed down even farther, and the culprit had been identified — it was a groundhog! Today as I was looking out my front window while chatting on the phone, something caught my eye while moving along my front walkway. Right in the area of the devastated foliage, I might add. I glanced casually outside, expecting to see Fiona. It wasn't Fiona, but a darker brown animal. At first I thought it was the annoying unneutered cat that comes around from several houses over, but it wasn't. My brain couldn't actually process what I saw right away, because I so very much wanted to see a cat that I was a bit in denial. But, alas, yes. It was the dreaded member of the Sciuridae family, the Marmota monax, the groundhog, which scuttled away by the time I reached my camera.

Banana bites! OK, I know it's hungry after hibernation and bulb foliage is one of the few green things up. Fine. But does it have to rip off the crocus flowers, strewing them across the beds, before eating the crocus foliage? If it doesn't like the flowers, couldn't it at least have the decency to bury the evidence somewhere? I mean, it's one thing to process and accept chewed off foliage, but beheaded crocuses just add insult to injury. I ask you!!!

Thanks also to Mr. McGregor's Daughter and Frances who both pointed out that when I typed "Siberian iris" I really meant "dwarf wild iris" or "Iris reticulata." I do indeed have Siberian irises, but of course they're taller and bloom later, as well as bearded irises, which bloom later still and wouldn't really be confused with either of the former!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Skywatch Friday

On Sunday, I looked out my front door to see a beautiful sunset punctuated with some contrails, and knew I could finally participate in Skywatch Friday. Happy Friday, everyone!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Parkathon 2009

Somehow, I got it into my head that I would visit each of Ann Arbor's parks this year. Even though I've lived in Ann Arbor for well over 20-mumble years, and I'm pretty well acquainted with all its neighborhoods, I certainly have only visited a minority of its parks. I thought it would be a nice way to get outside, get some exercise, and enjoy some plants. This is no minor undertaking as there are about 160 parks in Ann Arbor. Undaunted, several of my friends thought it would be fun to accompany me. Peter has joined me for most of the 52 sites I've visited so far, in three different outings, and Aunita and Carole will accompany me later in the season when we hit more botanically-interesting sites.

I say "about 160" parks because the exact number is kind of hard to pin down. I started with the City of Ann Arbor's official park listing, which contains 157 entries. Some of these, however, are park-owned sites or buildings, but not actual parks, like the Ann Arbor Senior Center, the Bryant Community Center, the Eberbach Cultural Arts Building, and Kempf House Museum (above), a historic home originally occupied by a family of German musicians. I've also volunteered there a few times, decorating the house for Christmas. And isn't the form of that magnolia grand?

Not so grand were a bunch of tree trunks near the Eberbach Center, which had been adorned in rainbow colors. I couldn't tell if it was chalk or paint, but trees don't need to be painted on—they are beautiful on their own, people!

But I digress. In any case, I decided to in fact visit each of those 157 sites, even those not technically parks. And I'll also add Ann Arbor parks and nature areas that are maintained by groups other than the city, such as the county (County Farm Park, Parker Mill, and Goodrich Preserve), schools (Eberwhite Woods Park), and universities (Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum). I may even hit a few township parks near where I live (Lillie Park, Montibeller Memorial Park, etc.). I guess I'll know the final count when I'm done!

A vast majority of the parks are for recreational use; most all have a playground (like the one at Allmendinger shown above) and some also have other amenities such as basketball or tennis courts, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds. A few even have a swimming pool and an ice rink. The playgrounds were very well maintained: They all looked like they had some equipment installed in the last few years and there was very little trash or graffiti. The exception was Arbor Oaks Park, where there was broken glass under an arbor (not directly where kids play). Also, the basketball courts in this park had the most worn surface of any I've seen so far. The irony is, there were many kids using this park, even in early March, while many of the nicer, more updated parks we visited that day were empty.

Playground equipment has changed since I was a kid. Most everything is plastic, not metal, and games are incorporated into play structures. (I was happy to spy a few remaining metal merry-go-rounds and those "rocking horse" animals on springs, integrated into the newer structures.)

Many parks had this kind of game, where you turned rotating disks to make pictures. I just love the kangaroo and especially the cow! Others had different animals, math problems, or tic-tac-toe games. One had many smaller tiles, black on one side and blank on the other, so kids can make their own picture (kind of like two-tone Lite-Brite).

There were "hand mazes" at a lot of playgrounds, with a panel about the size of the one that shows the animals, with a maze design indented into it, where kids presumably use their fingers to trace how to get from one end to the other. In The Ponds Park, however, there was an actual three-dimensional maze with a marble! You had to tilt it to get the marble to roll, as Peter demonstrates.

At Turnberry Park, we were both amused to find an abacus, even though neither of us knows how to count on one! (I can plead ignorance as a word person, but Pete is an astronomy instructor with a math minor!)

There were also a few animal figures in the parks. I particularly liked this dolphin at West Park (I was sitting on a marry-go-round when taking the shot and the metal bar to the bottom left is supposed to be artsy)...

...and this hippo at Virginia Park (check out its tongue buried in sand--priceless!). It reminded me of that Hungry Hungry Hippos game that the kids I used to babysit played.

There are other recreational facilities, as well. Buhr Park has an ice rink. I snapped this photo through a chain link fence and even caught the Zamboni in action! Cool! I also like how trees reflect off the Plexiglas.

There are even two parks especially for the recreation of our four-legged canine friends. Here is Swift Run, where dogs did in fact run swiftly.

A feature I wasn't expecting, but really should have known about, is a band shell at West Park. Apparently the Ann Arbor Civic Band performs there in the summer, which I'll have to check out. I like this shot of the back of the shell, with its gleaming copper roof.

There weren't too many flowers to photograph in any of the parks this time of year, except these cute snow drops at Postmans Rest Park (yes, I'd put an apostrophe in there too, but the city doesn't).

I also found some moss, photographed extremely close up, at Southeast Area park (which is incidentally also the location of my annual plant swap, this year on May 16).

I also like this macro of a rock and some bonus algae (fungus? lichen?) at Winewood Thaler.

Even though blooms were lacking, there were lots and lots of nice trees. It's especially cool seeing them before they leaf out, because you can really appreciate their form. These are aspens lining the street on the way to Frisinger Park. Note the cool, smooth, somewhat birchy white bark at the top of the tree and standard rougher brown bark below. I'll have to wait for leaves to tell if it's Populus grandidentata or P. tremuloides (thanks to Aunita for IDing it!).

Also, check out this magnificent chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), estimated to be 350 years old, in Wurster Park. Even I don't look so wide in comparison (I'm liking this tree a lot!).

And isn't this shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) in Allmendinger Park a treat?

Also check out the fantabulous chunky bark, whose plates form triangular points, of what I think is a red oak (Quercus rubra), but for which I'm awaiting confirmation. The tree is in Devonshire Park, where we also heard the loud tap tap tapping sounds of a downy woodpecker. I get these in my backyard, but they're mainly eating suet, which doesn't make the same loud echoing sound.

And this winding row of sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) near Virginia Park is pretty nice, too. I especially like the teeter-totter park sign!

Despite all these wonderful trees, it didn't dawn on me until visiting Allmendinger Park (number 45 on my list), that every other park I'd visited so far had trees on the periphery of the park only, with the playgrounds out in the open. I really like how Allmendinger has trees throughout the park itself. A shaded picnic table or bench is just such a relaxing place!

On the other hand, a few parks are essentially small areas of lawn. The quintessential "corner lot" park was Redwood, which for years consisted of a park sign and lawn on a corner lot in a residential area. When I visited the site, I was surprised to see that a bench, circular sidewalk, an island of trees, and a trash can had been added.

Another park that's a triangle of grass is George Washington, but it also has an enormous rock that college students have painted (over and over and over again) for decades. In fact, I didn't realize the park was called anything other than The Rock. I got this shot of the bottom of the rock, where paint has dripped, over and over again for years and years, so much so that the drips look (and feel) like metal or an extension of the very rock itself.

There are a few other corner-lot type parks, primarily in student areas near the University, and many of them had a bit of litter in them (papers, food wrappers, etc.) I assume they will be cleaned up in spring.

Other parks aren't obvious or easy to access, and are marked ("no improvements") on the city's list. Mill Creek is one such park, which you wouldn't even know is a park if you weren't doing this project! It doesn't have a sign and is essentially a small triangular nature area, heavily populated with invasive buckthorn shrubs. Mallets Creek flows through the middle of the little area, which you can see from two different apartment complexes. The drop-off from the edge of the road (where I took the photo) makes it difficult to enter from that end, and while you can wander in from the other end (the flat area in the photo), it's very dense and difficult to traverse.

Malletts Creek nature area is another such example. It runs behind an apartment complex and isn't really accessible due to the dense trees and invasive shrubs. I did see a lot of native trees along the perimeter as well, though, plus several dead ash trees that had been cut down, but left on the site. They died due to being invaded by emerald ash borer (EAB), a shiny green insect that lays its eggs on the ash bark. The larvae tunnel into the inner bark and feed on it, creating the serpentine trails you see in the photo (the outer bark has been removed). The adults chew their way out, leaving D-shaped exit holes. By the time you notice any symptoms (die back of leaves at very top of tree, vertical splits in the bark, and dense sprouting of new shoots around the base of the tree), the beetles have already eaten too much of the tree to save it. There are soil and trunk injections that can save the tree, if administered regularly and before infection starts. EAB was first discovered in Wayne County (which borders on Washtenaw, my county) in 2002. We have lost pretty much all (over ten million) of our mature ashes in southeastern Michigan, but young ones are still growing as their bark isn't wide enough to provide nourishment for the beetles. EAB has also spread in Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Don't move firewood!

Another example of a wild park is Stone School. Unlike Mill Creek and Malletts Creek parks, it does actually have an obvious entry point and somewhat clear paths. It is also fairly thicketed with buckthorn. Someone had dumped a large roller (the thingamadoey that flattens out lawn, soil, etc.) in this area. It's hard to tell in the photo, but while the metal is slow to decay, some lichens had started growing on the roller. And as a wise friend once said many years ago, "When the works of nature cover over the works of man, isn't that progress?"

One of the most interesting parks was Terhune, which is also the site of a small pioneer cemetery, founded in 1825. At the time, Ann Arbor, which was founded in 1824, had no other cemetery, so Luke Whitmore created the first plot when his daughter Emily died at age 18. The cemetery was renamed Terhune at some point due to one of its more famous occupants, John Terhune, an American Revolutionary War veteran who died in Ann Arbor in 1839.

A few grave stones still remain and the cemetery is maintained by the local branch of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

But the most intriguing sight I encountered at all 52 parks visited so far was this alien on the playground at Esch Park. Can you guess what it is?

Added March 27:
Congratulations to Frances, who braved inclement Blogger conditions resulting in her first comment mysteriously disappearing, to correctly guess that the alien shadow was part Pete and part basketball hoop. Several of the parks had a plastic kind of hoop with three or four holes through which the ball could come out, some with numbers (points), some with colors. (The one pictured isn't the one at the park where the alien photo was taken, but similar.) Congratulations, Frances (though the only prize is smugness)!

I'll post more photos and updates as I visit more parks throughout the year.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


My friend Peter and I headed out Tuesday evening for our first frog run in southeast Ann Arbor (map of our route is here.) It had reached a high of nearly 70F and it was still in the 60s in the evening. So even though it was a little windier than ideal, we hoped frogs would be calling for one of the first times in the season. And we were right!

We heard western chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata triseriata) at all but one location, and they were accompanied by spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) in one spot.

Western chorus frogs remain at their breeding sites all year, liking to hide under logs, rocks, leaves, or soil when not in the water mating. Chorus frogs are fairly abundant in Ann Arbor-area marshes, meadows, swales, damp woods, and swamps. All sites on our route are ponds (vernal and permanent) on the edges of woods or small wooded areas. Even in the ponds, they prefer dead grasses and reeds for camouflage.

Peter made sound recordings of the frogs at two locations using his spiffy silver music recorder doohickeythingamabob. The first recording is of chorus frogs at a pond on the northwest corner of Stone School and Morgan Roads in southern Ann Arbor. The frog calls sound a bit louder than I remember, probably because the location is on a dirt road with few traffic/background noise distractions. The second recording is of a chorus of chorus frogs and a few spring peepers at a detention pond in Turnberry subdivision, at Turnberry Lane and Ca Canny Court (I'm not making that name up; all streets in that sub are named after golf courses in Scotland). The frogs actually sounded much louder in real life, even over the traffic noise from nearby US-23; I actually had to raise my voice so Pete could hear me! It was awesome, though of course it makes perfect scientific sense that frogs in detention would be more rowdy!

I had hoped we might hear a wood frog (Ranus sylvatica) as well, as I've never heard this species in my five years of doing the frog and toad survey. They are "explosive breeders," which brings all kinds of unsavory images to mind, but which means they mate early in the season and only for about two weeks. I hope I haven't missed them.

For more photos and another sound recording of chorus frogs, jump on over to Gerry Wykes of Naturespeak .

Western chorus frog photo by Jim Harding

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

As reported in my last post, nothing is blooming outside, so we'll have to be a bit creative. My amaryllis, which I bought after Christmas, is blooming! One bud has three flowers and the other two. The flowers are such a vibrant red, they make me smile. And see the little Easter rabbit decorations that look like chocolate (but are resin, so please don't try nibbling the ears!)? Yes, dear blogging friends, that proves I finally took down my indoor Christmas decorations in mid March! Ahem. It's just that I love them so! And, well, OK, I've been lazy about it.

Here are the blooms up close, just so you feel you get true GBBD impact.

And there real blooms end, but let's use the trick of light and shadow to create more blooms.

Presto! Here's a cute light I got at Ikea. The cord is green and I just happened to have paper in a very close color, so I made some leaves.

And here's a shadow bloom of my amaryllis that I noticed the other day... I just moved a cute new (well, new to me anyway) orange flower pot to look like its pot!

Happy bloom day, everyone, and thanks to May Dreams Gardens for hosting it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Houston, we have green!

It has been a long winter. A very long winter. Even for Michigan, where winter seems to last almost six months, from November through April, at least as far as puttering in the garden is concerned. But we Michigan gardeners are hardy stock. We know patience. We like snow for insulating our babies. We accept our shorter bloom times with quiet resignation, and try to curb our envy when seeing pretty spring bulbs and blooms in the blogs of our dear friends in warmer climes (you know who you are!).

But by March, even we get giddy. We try to check our enthusiasm, of course, because we still have a while to go. Forsythia and daffodils won't be blooming until mid April, and we'll certainly get a few more snowfalls, and maybe even a major snowstorm. But as the temperatures slowly rise (it's 45F today!) and the snow melts away, our hope slowly starts to awaken and is looking for any excuse to soar. So we walk all around the garden, hoping to see the glimpse of green, any green, whether the leaf of a bulb or some basal foliage of a perennial.

That's why my little love in a mist leaves are so friendly to me--they are evergreen over winter and look so friendly and green against the otherwise brown, drab backdrop of March.

Today I walked all around my garden beds hoping to find some other green, hopefully even some brave bulbs. Disappointed, I headed back to the front door and noticed Fiona sitting up near the house in the area protected by the overhang. And then I thought I glimpsed some green... could it be... yes, yes, it was!... of, yes, one, and then two and then three and then a dozen hyacinth leaves about an inch above the soil. HYACINTHS!!!!! Oh, glory day, spring will come this year, after all! I have them planted near my front door because I love their smell and because the bulbs like it dry over summer, and that's about the driest area in my garden.

Did I mention, I have HYACINTHS?!?!?!?!?!?!?! (In case you're wondering, that's a branch of purpleleaf sand cherry Prunus x cistena, to the left, and Russian sage to the right.)

In other news, my friend Aunita and I went to an antiques mall in Howell yesterday, and I found the following loot:

I just love 1950s/60s retro kitchen gear, and the cherry blossom glass in particular just tickles my fancy. And I've wanted one of these plastic Santas for ages--usually he's on skis, but I like this version, esp. the pinecone tree with mercury bead ornaments. I think he was once holding a bottlebrush tree in his hand, but I can fix that. And the sweet little chicks are salt and pepper shakers, perfect for spring/Easter decorating!!!

Oh, spring, my heart sings for you.

Added March 11:
A comment about day lilies from MrBrownThumb reminded me that, yes, my tiger lilies are up, too. In fact, they're in a very sheltered location and they beat the hyacinths!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Frog and Toad Survey

Pretty soon the weather will warm up and frogs and toads will start their mating calls, and I'll get to listen! Um, not in a weird fetish kind of way, but as a volunteer for an annual frog and toad survey through the city of Ann Arbor's Natural Area Preservation.

The word survey always makes me feel like I should be asking the little critters about their TV preferences and views on the global economic situation, but instead I am monitoring their populations in Ann Arbor parks and natural areas. The survey is in its 15th year and the data volunteers collect is used to track populations over time (click for a species richness map).

You sign up for a route, which consists of several sites, where you go to listen at least once a month from March through June, for the types and amounts of frog and toad species calling. Temperatures have to be at least 45 degrees, without extreme wind or rain, or the anurans won't be calling. The survey is done after dark, based solely on sound. (The calls are unique and easily distinguishable, and they give you a CD to listen to ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the calls, but it's a shame I don't also see the cute froggies as well.) Since frogs (many of which are only the size of a thumbnail) have many diurnal predators, they wait to call until night.

Only male frogs call, as they are trying to attract a mate. You don't try to count the exact number of individuals calling, but assign a frequency code to each species you hear: 0=no calls, 1=more than one individual calling, but with no overlap in calls, 2=multiple individuals calling with overlap, or 3=a whole chorus calling so individual voices are not distinguishable.

Wood frogs and spring peepers are the earliest frogs calling in my area, and they both have a kind of "antifreeze" in their blood glucose that keeps them from freezing over winter. The wood frog only calls for maybe one to two weeks, whereas the spring peeper can continue through summer.

The frogs and toads in my area, in order from early to late calling, are:
  • Wood frog (Rana sylvatica)
  • Northern spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
  • Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata triseriata)
  • Blanchard's cricket frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi, rare)
  • Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens)
  • Pickerel frog (Rana palustris)
  • Gray tree frog (Eastern-Hyla versicolor and Cope's-Hyla chrysoscelis)
  • Green frog (Rana clamitans melanota, one of my favorite calls, banjo-like)
  • Bull frog (Rana catesbeiana)
  • Eastern American toad (Bufo americanus, also present in a vernal pond outside my yard)
I'll post updates after each run, and possibly put up sound files of the frogs calling. Ribbit ribbit, as it were.

Thanks also for your well wishes in response to my previous post. I'm happy to say I'm feeling better and more alert now! Zog good! :)