Entries to Win Afghan

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Proof of Insanity

Just in case you weren't pretty certain of my insanity already, yes, I've started another blog.

Grazing the Ditches Blog

Here's my rationale. I plan for this one to be mercenary. I have no second thoughts about trying to make some money with this topic. I've decided to blog about wild foods. Since foraging the roadsides and fields is something I do anyway, why not blog about it?

I spent a lot of time hunting down the template I chose. I didn't design it, or even play with it very much yet, but I haven't seen it used on another blog, so it's fairly unique and I think it fits well.

Grazing the Ditches BlogOm helped me take the picture I used to make my banner. I wish the silverware was brighter, but I am content with it for now.

My friend, Ester, also does a lot of things with wild foods, and she says she is interested in doing some of the posts too. That could work out really well, but she only has dial-up at her house, so I'm not sure how often she'll really be able to do it.

I expect that posting will be sporadic- lots to show at certain times, and then stretches without much to say. I've come to terms with the idea that sort of schedule is ok on some blogs.

Anyway, if you are so inclined, take a peek, follow, fav, +1, advertise there, share in any way you want, if you are so inclined.

And for a progress report: I've got seven quarts of crabapple juice in the fridge. Tomorrow I will put it all in canning jars and process them. It's concentrated, so that represents about 14 weeks worth of breakfast juice for me over the winter, and about 25 servings of the crabapple sauce. I also made one batch of jelly. Might do more. It's really, really yummy.

See Grazing the Ditches
if you like this blog, click the +1  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Common Buckeye- Still Making Maggie Happy

This has been quite the insect week. I just keep finding more and more interesting things, and have been able to catch their photos. Today's find is another orange butterfly, so Maggie will be happy to see this.

photo label

This one is fairly common, but even so, I don't see them very often. It's called the common buckeye, Junonia coenia. Those big eyespots on the wings may deter birds from eating them. I learned that they are most likely to be seen in Michigan in the late summer and fall, so that fits. Maybe I'll see one again and be able to get more views.

See Northern Crescent
Common Wood Nymph
if you like this blog, click the +1  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Awesome Crane Fly!

This awesome insect flew in when I opened the door tonight, and then it perched on the speaker front. This makes a great background to show it off. I need to give you a sense of the size. The body (not counting the legs) is about 2.5 inches long!

crane fly

Now, don't run screaming from the room, all you folks who get the willies over large insects. This one doesn't bite at all. It's soft, as insects go. I mean, it doesn't feel scratchy if it lands on you. Even the ever-popular dragonflies feel hard if you hold one. These feel softer. Here's a side view.

crane fly

I think this one is a female. If it were a male I think the tail would have a thickening like a club. Don't quote me on that just yet, though.

Here comes the amazing part. Are you a transformers fan? Look at the back of the thorax (the section behind the head- like shoulders). Couldn't that just be the face of some other robot that was folded differently to make this fly?

crane fly

I've got it posted on bugguide.net to be sure of which crane fly it is. When I get the confirmation I'll add the ID here.

See Robber Fly- Only 7000 cousins

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Maggie Says- "More Orange, Mom"

Have you noticed that Mom hasn't let me tell you anything at all for a long time? Well, today I sniffed out some really important things for you.

dog sniffing ground

What's so important? More orange! After all, I'm an orange dog. Yesterday she showed you an orange butterfly. That was a good start, but not nearly enough, don't you think?

orange honeysuckle berries

How about these beauties? Mom isn't impressed. She says it's just one of the colors of berries on the Tatarian Honeysuckle. According to her it's an alien, worthless bush. Usually the berries are red, but some bushes have orange. The birds like to eat them, I don't know why mom doesn't. I haven't tried them. I don't eat berries. [mom says, "they're bitter"]

blackberry lily

She seems happier about this flower. It's a blackberry lily, but she says it's neither a blackberry or a lily. Huh? Well, it's orange, so who cares.

I knew all along it was MY day. The sunset even agreed to be orange. Hope your day was orange, too!


See Orange
if you like this blog, click the +1

Northen Crescent- Now I'm Sure!

photo label

Last year, in September, I showed you a picture of one of these same butterflies. But at that time I incorrectly identified it. I'm not going to tell you the incorrect ID yet, because it will make you remember the wrong name. I'm now positive that it's a Northern Crescent, Phyciodes cocyta.

photo label

They are found in Michigan, as verified at the Butterfly Site (Although they don't list any blues there, and we know there are several. Hmmm.)

Now that I know what the markings are, I don't think I'll forget this one. Butterfly patterns always seem so random, but they really aren't. This one is actually a male. The females are different, but I haven't gotten a picture of one yet.

In this last picture, you can see its cute little curled proboscis (a snout that it can uncurl and drink nectar through like a straw).

photo label

If you want to take a peek at the one from last year, you will see how exactly alike the markings are with what has to be a different individual. It's linked by my signature.

If you really want to know the very similar one (if you are learning enough to want to separate the look-alikes), shhhh.... it's the silvery checkerspot. I haven't taken a picture of one of those yet.

See Corrected to Northern Crescent

Friday, August 26, 2011

Red, Lovely Crabapples

crabapple tree in fruit

Our crabapple tree is just loaded with fruit this year. This is an old-fashioned crabapple that has fruits about the size of a ping-pong ball, not one of the ornamental trees that have fruits the size of a dime. This year they seem to taste extra good, so I'm going to try to make significant use of the bounty.

crabapples in sink

I'm not a big fan of pickled crabapples. Well, I like 'em, but we've proved by experience that I just don't eat them up fast enough to bother. But I decided to try some juice. If I worked at it a little harder, I really could make a lot of the juice I drink for breakfast. As you've heard about before, I often make juice a really easy way, right in the jars. I want to try that too, but decided I better do some the traditional way, because I know that will work.

So that started with washing them, removing the blossom ends and stems, cutting in quarters and boiling them. You don't have to peel or remove the cores. Once they are boiled and mashed up then you let it strain in a jelly bag to get the juice out.

I forgot to take a picture of that, but except for the color it looks just like when I strained the mulberry juice

crabapple pulb in food mill

One of the good parts of this is that you at least get two products for all that work. You get juice, and if you put the pulp through a food mill you get crabapple sauce.

crabapple juice and sauce

So here's what I got for my work. This started with a half-basket of fruit (making NO dent at all in the potential), and when cut up was about 1.5 gallons of cut-up fruit.

I ended up with two quarts of concentrated juice. It can be diluted for drinking, or used to make jelly or syrup. I wasn't going to do any of that, but Om is making noises about jelly. I told him he's got to help with another batch for that to happen. It's a lot of work to cut up all those hard little fruits. And I also got about two cups of really yummy pink applesauce. I added just a little bit of sweetener. The dish on the left is for my evening snack, the rest is for another day.

The flavor of the crabapples this year is exceptional- it's as good as cranberry. I really would like to make a lot of juice, but, WOW, it's a chunk of time. I wonder if I could just trim the blossom end and not worry about the stems, since the food mill would catch them.

If I can the juice for drinking (those jars aren't sealed), I like that it's concentrated. It will take less storage room that way.

See Remember the Juice?

Funky Internet

Our internet is being funky so I'm not sure if I'll be able to do a good post. I hope so... I have something red and lovely to show you, but I'm not quite ready to post it yet. Come back later, and hopefully we'll have access and I'll have pix and the story.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I was sitting at my desk this morning when I heard a bird out on the deck. I knew just what it was, but wondered if I'd be able to get any pictures. This is a little bird that says its name, Phoebe.

eastern Phoebe

If you are at all familiar with the northeastern birds you know that the little chickadees also say "Phoebe." But once you know the secret, you'll never mix up the sounds. The chickadee almost whistles the word; it's very clear and smooth.

The eastern Phoebe says "Phoebe," but it's a harsh, raspy voice, like the bird has a very bad sore throat.

eastern Phoebe

Isn't it cute? The wind is not just ruffling its feathers, they really do have a tiny bit of a crest, like a flycatcher. I was also lucky enough to catch this behavior, which the bird book even mentions- it spreads it's tail to show off.

This one may be a juvenile since the wing bars show so clearly.

eastern Phoebe

What was it showing off for? The next thing it did was to fly off with another Phoebe. Seems a little late in the season to me to be starting a new family, but they sure seemed to be romantically inclined- just teenage hormones?

I had to take the pictures through the window again, so they aren't as clear as I'd like.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

American Toad

Today was a really busy day. I had a lot of work assignments to do, and I didn't get them all done. I'll have to go out again tomorrow.

There were a lot of neat moments, seeing small lakes that are entirely private, hearing a loon (the eerie laughing sound that really defines the northern experience),rivers and creeks, lovely wooded roads, noticing that the trees are drying- looking fall-like, and birds are flocking.

But the only pictures I really got in detail are the humble American Toad. I nearly stepped on it!

American Toad

Toads and frogs are amphibians, and you can easily tell toads from frogs because their skin is generally drier. Of course there are some exceptions, but it's a good place to start.

They won't give you warts if you pick them up, but they may pee on you!

American Toad

See Guess What- More Rain for a green frog

Vicky and Joan go Frogging

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Yellow-Legged Meadowhawk?

Here's another lovely dragonfly! It seems to have all the characteristics of the yellow-legged meadowhawk, Sympetrum vicinum, but my dragonfly book says, "the red meadowhawks of North America present an intractable field problem...The taxonomy of this complex is unclear, and the exact number of species uncertain."

yellow-legged meadowhawk dragonfly

So, do you think that I am about to suggest that I'm certain of this ID? Not on your life. This one was smaller than the Ruby Meadowhawk I featured before, and this one does have yellow legs. However, the yellow-legged ones only have yellowish to brown legs when they are young.

yellow-legged meadowhawk dragonfly

Well, I am just pleased to be able to get some additional good pictures of dragonflies. Leaving the science behind, they really are like flying jewels.

See Ruby Meadowhawk

Monday, August 22, 2011

Om Says Seven

photo label

My new computer got attacked by a worm tonight, and I've learned that Windows 7 doesn't let you do ANYTHING until it runs a full scan. So I'm back on the desktop which is refusing to recognize any USB ports tonight. So I asked Om for a number. He said 7. I did the old 7th folder, 7th picture thingie, and it came up with this map.

This is from my West Michigan quiet recreation website, and is the route of a Volksmarch walk you can do in Ludington, and receive a patch. I'd show you the patch, but the whole problem is that I can't get pics from any exterior sources... wait, maybe I can scan it.

photo label There it is! This is not a particularly scenic walk given the many beautiful choices there are in the Ludington area, but of course, I did it.

Volksmarching is an international activity. There are walking courses all over the world. You simply go to the locations, sign in, do the required walk and receive some sort of small reward, usually a pin or a patch. There is usually also a small fee. I haven't done any others. Maybe now that my big quest is finished I should try to do some- except that they are all about six miles, and there is lots of driving involved once you start doing a lot of them.

Guess I'll go see how the scan is doing. Part of having a quality day means that you can't get bent out of shape even if you have to go to plan B.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Golden Morning

golden light

This was actually a couple of days ago, but I just have to share this picture! I can't figure out if it has some deep meaning with that empty clothesline and unmowed lawn, but who cares? It's pure gold!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

So Slow, But Undaunted

{EAV_BLOG_VER:8616ac8a1f32aaa0} just ignore this- it's a verification code for Empire Avenue.

This could get long... but I just have to tell you about it. Today was the swim for the Hamlin Lake Preservation Society. The weather was looking iffy with gray skies. We checked in, got our t-shirts and waited around for 9 am. Of course it started raining. No one cared much about that, but then some thunder rolled in and there were even a few flashes of lightning. Nobody was very excited about being in the water with that scenario. But in about 10 minutes the storm moved off.

Hamlin Lake Preservation Society 2011 swimmers

They lined us all up for a group picture. Eleven people were waiting to hop into the water. At least the water was quite warm- someone said 74 degrees.

Where were we going? Yes that far shore looks rather distant. Yes, it really was that dark, even after the storm passed.

Hamlin Lake Preservation Society 2011 swim

They only gave us some vague instructions about where the finish was. As it turned out, I was headed quite a bit too far north for about half of the swim until one of the escort boat people told me that I needed to veer to the left.

Om came out to see me off. He got a few pictures to prove that I was actually a swimmer.

Hamlin Lake Preservation Society 2011 swim

That's me on the left. You'll have to take my word for it that I continued to swim... Om wasn't in a boat, so no pics till I came back.

swimmers in water

I'm not in this picture, but this shows the swimmers heading out, and one of the escort boats. It became obvious within ten strokes that I was going to finish last. That's what comes of swimming alone- I had no way to gauge myself against anyone else before this swim.

But, I was certain that I could do the swim. I've been practicing right? The water was, indeed, a comfortable temperature. Near the shore the water was pretty clear, but soon we had to swim through a big patch of the spiral eelgrass. That was kinda nasty, just because it kept draping over my arms and being annoying, and it was a long patch. I don't really feel weird about that kind of stuff, but I was surprised because it wasn't too near the shore.

I have been counting my strokes the last couple of practice days. I thought that way I could estimate how much farther I had to swim. So I began to count. I easily made 250 and thought that was about a quarter of the way, but I didn't want to be too optimistic, just in case my map-measured practice course was a bit off. I made it to 500 and was still feeling good.

At 1000 strokes I was trying to guess how much farther I had to go. Somewhere around then, the lady in the boat told me to change course. I kept swimming. At 1700 stokes my back was starting to hurt, and that sand dune still wasn't very close. Hmmm.

About then, I figured that either the planners or I had made some serious miscalculations on distances. I switched to side stroke for a while, and realized that I'm also not very good at keeping a straight course while swimming. Now that I knew where I was supposed to go, I was having trouble heading there. I kept swimming.

I did some side stroke, and then I switched to breast stroke. Then I did some more crawl for a couple hundred more strokes. A couple of waves of chop washed over me and I had to stop and cough both times since I'd swallowed a serious portion of the lake both times. Nothing serious, but I realized that when swimming distances in open water, one doesn't worry too much about form- just turning your head the minimal amount to take in air- it's more important to take in air than water!

Those darn sand dunes kept playing keepaway. I wasn't worried about finishing, but that stitch in my lower back was getting very uncomfortable.

After a bit, another boat came near and the reporter from the paper who was watching the swim from that easy location teased me, saying that he hoped I could hike straighter than I could swim. But he also said that the good news was that I was more ready for my Finger Lakes swim (he'd asked about that earlier) than I knew, since this swim had now been measured at 1.8 miles, and I'd done even more than that.

I kept swimming. While I was still about 50 feet from shore my strokes began hitting the bottom of the lake! It had suddenly become really shallow, and there wasn't much choice but to stand up and walk the rest of the way.

As it turned out, three people had finished only a few minutes before I did, and one of the 11 who started had bailed out early, so only ten of us finished, and I wasn't way far behind.

person in boat

There is no way to drive to those dunes, so the only people waiting for us were some boat owners. They had brought across our towel, sweatshirts, etc. and a cooler full of bottles of water to drink, and I really appreciated that. Very shortly we were brought back to North Bayou Resort, which had also been our starting place.

Time in the water: about 2 hours 15 minutes. Wow... my longest practice swim was an hour.

Things learned for next summer: 1) with some more training, I should have no trouble doing my Cayuga Lake swim.
2) I need to do some exercises to strengthen my lower back. That was really the only thing that was sore, but it was really hurting.
3) I'm not fast... ok... I can live with that. I'm not planning to race, I just want to do it.
4) I need better goggles. I had to take mine off because they were making my eye sockets sore.
5) I need to learn how to travel in a straight line.
6) The distance I've been training is only about 0.8 mile.

When I got home I realized that I really smelled like algae. I got out of my wet suit and enjoyed a nice hot shower. Then I discovered that the inside of my swim suit was bright green with algae that I had "picked up" on my way across. I wonder if this is one of the problems that the Preservation Society is working on.

I'll admit it... I'm tired. I didn't do a lot else today. I finished reading a book, and did some internet surfing, but I don't expect any lingering fatigue tomorrow. All in all... it was worth doing for the things I learned.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Common Wood Nymph

I guess this is a week for LBBs. If you are a birder you know the joke. LBB is "little brown bird," always a safe name for those unknowns in the shadows. But, it could also be "little brown butterfly." Here's a really common one, but I learned some things by looking it up.

common wood nymph butterfly

I already knew it was a Satyr Butterfly (now a sub-family of the Nymphalidae- brush-footed butterflies- the taxonomy is probably evolving as you read these words- DNA has changed everything). As a group they are brown butterflies with eyespots on their wings. The field is just filled with them right now. And it's no wonder, because they really like the nectar of the Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot), which are in full bloom.

Of course, I was hoping it might be something a bit unusual, but it's just the Common Wood Nymph, Cercyonis pegala. Other common names are Grayling, Blue-eyed Grayling, and the Goggle Eye. What I didn't know is that there is a lot of variation, even in this one species. But the two spots on the fore-wing with none on the back side (dorsal surface) of the hind wing is usual.

I also didn't know that there are about 15 species of Satyrs in North America, and a lot of regional variation in those. So, although I'm not surprised that this is the commonest, I suppose that I might see another kind some day.

I didn't get a good picture of the ventral side. I'll keep trying.

Tomorrow morning is the swim, unless it gets rained out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

House Wrens Courtship?

I love the little house wrens. Some people say they don't want them near their houses because they are so loud. They are loud, but I don't care. I'm always happy when one shows up. I say "one," because the male arrives first and builds a nest. Then he begins to sing and twitter his fool head off trying to attract a female and convince her that he's built a nice nest.

I've been hearing one off and on all week. Today, he and his fiance gave me quite a show. The only issue is that I had to take the pictures through a dirty window and a screen, so they may look a bit hazy.

house wrens

Mr. Wren is on the right, and he was chasing Miss W around and around the corner post of the deck. I need to tell you that I'm not absolutely sure this was a courtship "thing," but I don't know what else it would be.

house wrens

Miss Wren was being coy. She spent a lot of time hunkering down on the far side of the post and fluffing her feathers. The position she most often took was the one shown below, which I found very odd. I was lucky enough to get one picture of it.

house wrens

She would flatten herself out against the railing, and lay that one wing over the edge. This was actually the behavior that first attracted me. I thought maybe she was hurt, but later she proved that she was fine.

Every so often she would spread her wings and tail. See how her tail is forced downward? Wren tails are naturally pert and have an upward tilt, so she's doing that on purpose.

house wrens

They gave me several minutes of entertainment, and then with a great deal of twittering they flew off together. Some other years, there has been a nest under the deck, but I haven't heard enough noise nearby to indicate that this year, I don't think. I'll have to try to find their nest of choice. That is, if Miss W. approves and agrees to become Mrs. W.