Gardening with Deer?

The garden is looking much improved, I think.

There is some colorful groundcover.

Some lovely sping daffodills are scattered around, too.

There is grass mixed in, but it looks better than dirt.

Some of these flowers might be weeds, for allI know.

What do you do when deer show up to eat your garden?

Well, I don't know what other people do, but I let them eat it.

They look so scraggly and raggedy and they are so thin!

Their skin is hanging off their bodies! This was a harsh winter -

and who can resist such a cute, funny little face!


Clay Soil? Not Here!

I dug a hole in my backyard and found clay.

I didn't know clay soil was even in Massachusetts. But I live on it, and so I know it's here! This is what MY CLAY SOIL looks like today.

It looked exactly the same six months ago when I first dug it up. It's WET. It's MOLDABLE. It's MUDDY. It's DIRTY. But mostly it is WET.

Evidently, clay soils can dry up and become as hard as cement in periods of drought. That can be REALLY BAD for grass and plants and flowers. I don't know if Framingham has ever had such a drought, or if it would affect my yard if it did happen. Given the nature of clay, it will take a long, long time for this saturated soil to dry up at all; never mind turning into cement. It could happen, of course. I just can't imagine it being anything but fully saturated around here. I mean, the trees are mossy!

What is clay soil? Well, clay particles are extremely small, with 1,000 times the surface area in a given volume of soil compared with larger sandy soil particles. As a result, clay packs closely and binds water tightly by surface tension preventing it draining away.

Clay particles, bound end to end and side to side in extensive planes, are stacked in a sandwich like matrix and held together by electrochemical forces. This platelike stacking of horizontally arranged clay particles results in a large surface area. When these horizontal aggregations are stacked high and consolidated over time, they can be quite tight and sticky. Clay can hold a lot of nutrients, and some kinds can hold quite a bit of water, but the structure of clay doesn't let air and water move through it well. Most of the water in a clay soil is so tightly bound to the clay particles that plants can't get it loose.

You can't garden very well in clay soil. All the gardens in this yard have plastic laid down and real good soil laid on on top.
All the good dirt is just about gone, now.

Clay can even act like QUICKSAND in some circumstances! My husband remembers going to the "clay flats" in Braintree, and jumping on the clay like a trampoline. Every ten years or so, someone would break through the clay and start to sink to their death! The firetrucks always rescued the victims in time, fortunately.

But there isn't any clay soil within miles of my neighborhood, according to the USGS Soil Survey:

According to the map legend, clay soil would be BLUE. Do you see any blue north of route 9?

I felt cheated to find clay after researching neighborhood soil, but I wasn't being reasonable. The government doesn't sample every inch of soil, and there are pockets of clay soils everywhere.

I had to contact an expert to find out why there are there are pockets of clay soil everywhere. I was lucky enough to find an expert in Professor Lawrence McKenna from Framingham State College. Professor McKenna didn't mind explaining the topic to someone as clueless as I am.

As I understand it, clay soil is a glacial phenomenon in Massachusetts, like virtually all the topography and geology of our state. In some cases, the retreating glaciers left behind small ponds of water not fed by streams or rivers. Over the centuries, the fine dust and light particles carried by the wind would get drawn to the water and trapped there. Layer upon layer of very small particles accumulated over time, and remained when the water was long gone. These layers of infinitesimally small molecules are now known as clay.

Clay is great for pottery and tiles and pipes, and has thousands of other beneficial uses. But clay soil is always a problem to build on. It is bad for gardening, bad for lawns, and very bad for foundations. Clay soil can crack a foundation right down the middle, or keep a foundation so wet that mold grows inside the walls and spreads everywhere. (It can be potentially dangerous if you jump on it, too!)

But that is not all that clay can do. Wait until you hear about how CREEPY clay soil can be!


Great Blue Heron

A lot of birds are special to me, but nothing compares to my passionate and lifelong love for Great Blue Herons. The Great Blue Heron means more to me than just a favorite bird; I feel an almost mystical connection with each and every member of the species. The Great Blue Heron is MY special bird, and I even get jealous when others claim the Great Blue as their favorite.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled up near the one of the reservoirs and saw a Great Blue Heron land right in front of my car yesterday! He had a huge, wriggling fish in his mouth, which he managed to swallow before I could find my camera. He walked right past the front of my car as I frantically shot picture after picture through the windshield.

I was awestruck and elated to be so close to him. He didn't know there was a human nearby, and he was unafraid as and unconcerned as he walked slowly and regally by the car. He was magnificent. I caught one last picture through the window of the passenger door before he disappeared behind one of the famous DONT EAT THE FISH signs.

The tragic irony of the last shot didn't hit me until I was reviewing the pictures. I had just watched him toss down a poison fish. Every time he eats, he eats poison. The new signs are written in four or five different languages - but not in Great Blue Heronese. Herons and hawks, eagles and seagulls; they are all equally affected. Every living thing that shares our world is affected.

So sad. We can fix all this if we make it a priority.

Or we could just get more signs.


Kestrel Craziness at Callahan State Park

I visited Callahan State Park today. It's not the first time I've been here, but it is the first time I took the trail on the left of the Millwood parking lot.

I have to say it is an odd looking landscape from that direction! I will have to do some research to figure out why there is a raised path with gravel on one side and water on the other.

I thought it was an aqueduct, but it's not.

Then I thought it must be an esker (another glacial landform), but it's not. According to the trail map, it's an "earthen dam".

The problem is, it doesn't dam anything. The brooks run under it.

It is very wet on both sides. (Don't sit on the grass or you'll regret it.) And for some reason there is a half fenced-in rocky outcrop at the end that is leaking water through the stones.

But the park is still a lovely place, espescially in the Spring. The birches were pretty, as always.

I saw a mallard that hid from me when it heard the camera; obviously adept at avoiding the paparazzi!

I saw a Turkey Vulture that swooped across the path not 30 feet away from me, and a Red Tailed Hawk was circling most of the day, at times being harassed by crows. Of course, I didn't get pictures of those birds. I still am miles away from capturing flying birds with my new lens, but I did get a picture of what might be a female Kestrel:

Better yet, I got lots of shots of the male Kestrel. Kestrels are the most beautiful and elusive raptors you will ever see! These pictures don't begin to do him justice.

In real life he is small and beautifully colored, with a gorgeous blue head, striped face. dark wings, and a brown speckled underbody.

Just seeing him was a thrill, but seeing what he did after leaving the tree was mind blowing! He flew into the air, then stopped and hovered like a helicopter suspended in mid air for two minutes or more!! He was looking down at the ground, but his wings were the only things moving. He was motionless, otherwise. This isn't my photo, but he looked like this:

He stayed in the air like that for so long I thought I was losing it. I didn't know what the heck he was doing. I finally decided he must be catching bugs, because there were lots of bugs flying around there. I only found out later that that is how Kestrels stalk their prey; from above. He probably was eyeing a field mouse or a mole or something, but he never actually dove after anything, so I guess his dinner managed to escape this time. But what an incredible sight!

I've always loved Kestrels. I love their small size and beautiful colors, and they have the most awesomely handsome faces and are perfectly shaped, too. But after today, Kestrels have moved way up on my list of favorites!

Once you've seen a Kestrel hoverng in space like a helicopter, you'll fall for them, too! I guarantee it!


Earth Day in my Backyard

This doesn't even look like a brown headed cowbird, but it is! These two are a first sighting for me. Too bad the pics are so bad!
Kissing Cowbirds!

I didn't know the males were so different from the females of this species.

Next is one of our cute little Red Squirrels:

This is not a good representation of him, but I do love my Blue Jays.
blue jay

Although I have far too many cardinal images, I'm still showing more of them. This one's hiding from the Mockingbird in the thornbushes:
cardinal thorns

cardinal thorns2

I like this one - too bad I chopped his head off!
turning cardinal

Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal in the Cedar tree:
female cardinal cedar

male cardinal cedar

Can anyone identify this mystery bird? I was shooting for a hawk on a limb above him, and only saw him after I took the picture.

Maybe a size comparison with the hawk will help.

Actually, I'm not sure about the hawk, either. I think it is a Broad Winged Hawk, because I saw it flying and it's very small and thick. But maybe not!

This is a picture I took of a poor broken bird last fall. His face has been halfway eaten away, and I thought he was doomed.

But he survived!!! He is just fine! I saw him this winter and again in early spring. Pretty good, huh?

Finally, my flock of winter robins:

Aren't they cool? They stayed until mid-January or later.

And a little titmouse puffed up against the cold: