@*^#&a;*)Great Blue Heron

     Ever since we installed our pond, I have been waiting for the critters to show up. This summer the deer arrived after four years of absence. They cleaned the yard of every newly planted Hosta.  A possum has dug up the lawn looking for grubs. Squirrels have planted corn seed all about the yard. Slinky the garter snake slithered into the rocks around the water fall.  A red tail hawk often swoops through the yard after a squirrel or dove. The place is a veritable zoo at times. 

      I thought things would quiet down now that the leaves have fallen and the flowers are all gone. Last Sunday morning, I sat having my coffee reading the paper. I could see the window from the corner of my eye when it happened, A huge shadow swooped across the window. At first, I thought is was the hawk. I jumped up to see if he nailed a squirrel. Nope. I looked up at the pond, there he was, Big Bird in person. A great Blue Heron had spotted the goldfish. Before I could say “Peg come see,”  the bird had a bulge moving down it’s long throat. He nailed my largest, fanciest goldfish. He saw me, and took off looking like a prehistoric pterodactyl.

I left to deliver Thanksgiving food baskets with my Lions Club. I got home a couple of hours later. Peggy greeted me with “he’s been back three times already.” Later, I saw him again, but as soon as I made a move for the camera he flew off. It is three days later, and we have spotted him at the pond every day. My friend Al told me he would stay until he has cleaned all the fish from the pond. I hope it freezes tonight so he will migrate south.

Dumb Ass Squirrel #!!&+*^(#?

        Squirrels are amazing animals. They are born in nests  high above the ground. They are accustomed to swinging in the breeze. I have witnessed them traverse a yard from tree to tree by jumping. Almost as if they were flying from one flimsy limb to another. They do it effortlessly. Squirrels are also very curious. They will explore everything they can, to find food. If they identify an object as a food source they will climb, jump, fly, crawl, or dig to get to it. You Tube has some amazing videos of squirrels traversing great obstacle courses to get food.

Corn Bungee on TreeUntouched CornBird Feeder With Squirrell Guard

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

At my previous  home, the squirels were very resourceful. They beat every effort I made to sabotage their attempts to raid my bird feeders. They go to the food easily  in a very short time. At my current home, I am one of the only residents on the block with squirrels. That is because I am one of the few with trees. Every year, in the spring a new crop of babies is born in the trees behind the house. During the year they disappear. Either the adults chase them away, or they are picked off by the Red Tail Hawks who sit and watch our feeders. I believe it to be the latter.

      At Christmas,  knowing the penchant I have for squirrel entertainment, my son presented me with a squirrel bungee.  It is a squirrel feeder attached to end of a bungee cord. I place an ear of corn on one end of the cord and hang the other to a fixed point.  It is simple, and the vision of watching a squirrel bouncing around while having a meal of tasty field corn passed through my mind. I also see myself with a huge grin as I watch him holding on for dear life while I drink my morning coffee.

      The bungee came with a twenty five pound bag of  field corn.  There was no room for it in his car, so  it stayed at home. I couldn’t wait for his next visit to try the new toy. I bought a bag of field corn myself.  Within a day, I had the feeder hanging in front of the kitchen window.  Any self respecting squirrel could get to it by jumping from our stoop to the window sill, and then make a short leap to the corn.  I could see it happen in my mind, except for one thing; it didn’t draw a single squirrel. A week later, I baited the corned-bungee by putting an ear of corn on the ground under it. The next morning the ear was gone;  plumb disappeared. The next day, I baited it again; the same thing happened.

      Meanwhile, everyday, I see the  squirrel sitting in the feeder munching away on sun-flower seeds. He has to jump four feet onto a slippery piece of six inch tubing that is there to thwart him. Next he climbs backwards and upside down  onto the feeder platform.  He performs  this complicated little maneuver in a split second. The corn-bungee hung in full view within five feet; totally ignored.

Plan B. Move the bungee to the tree next to the pond.

Theory: The squirrel will see the corn, climb the tree, and then shimmy down the cord to the prize. Or, he can jump straight up from the ground.

Rationale: The tree is far from the bird feeder, and lazy squirrels will come out of the tree to the corn instead of going to the feeder fifty feet away.

Result: Totally ignored.

Plan C: Ask for help.

Ice Tubes

       A strange and wonderfully magical phenomenon occurs in my pond during the winter. Ice tubes appear from the surface of the frozen water. When I stopped to analyze how these things form, it is not so strange.  In order to keep the fish healthy, I run an aquarium pump into the water below the ice. The pump feeds the air through a plastic tube into an air stone on the bottom of the pond.  The stone breaks the air into billions of tiny bubbles. The net result is the water becomes frothy with air, and the fish have oxygen for survival.

Winter 2009 Ice-Tube on Frozen Pond

     When the temperature goes  below freezing, the bubbles keep an area of the surface open.  As the temperature drops further, nature continues to freeze the surface even against the force of the bubbles. Eventually, the hole in the ice is the size of a quarter. The  tiny bubbles become big bubbles. The hole resembles a kid blowing bubbles through his lips with spit. The difference is that the pond can make bubbles faster than any kid. The bubbles burst in the frigid air and the resulting micro fine spray of water freezes in mid air. At first the bubble  freezes into a  dome with a tiny escape hole. The cycle continues until a cylinder of  frozen water begins to form. The bubble bursting and freezing continues for hours and the cyclinder grows like a stalagmite. The difference is that the ice tube is hollow and continues to let air escape from under the ice.

Ice-Tube-Up Close, approx 8 inches tall

     There have been times when my pond had as many as six of these ice tubes protruding from the ice. All, at least six inches tall, and twisted into various shapes. The wind blowing across the ice will push the bursting bubble mist into different directions before it freezes. The results are amazing. This year, the pond never had more than one ice tube at a time. With spring around the corner, I don’t expect to see too many more of these delightful structures this year.

Join My Little World

New Pond Looking NorthWest

New Pond Looking NorthWest

Happy Birthday Barb! Today Peggy and I went to mass at Saint Anthony’s. The mass was said for you. You would have been seventy years old today, and officially older than me. Remember when I’d joke about it, and tell the kids that you were older than me?  Remember when I used this three week period to refer to you as the “Old Battle Axe?”  Now that I think about it, it wasn’t very funny, was it?  I miss our birthdays together so much. Because we were born in the best part of the year, it made for some really fun celebrations. The celebrations are no more. They exist only in my mind.

After mass, we drove to Pets Mart to pick up some fish food. The goldies in the pond are beginning to respond to being fed. We bought two koi. Immediately, they became Peggy and Joe. We don’t know what sex they are, probably never will either. We’ll know if they are a pair if the pond over populates with little koi.

We came home, and I placed the plastic bag into the stream to equalize in temperature. I left it there for an hour. As I did this, the flash appeared again. This time I saw the landing. It is a frog. Freddie has been verified. Peggy was distraught to learn that there was a fish eating frog in the pond. She asked me to net him and put him back in the swamp. I gave her a lecture on nature and the importance of predators to keep balance. She ain’t buying it. This is going to be an interesting summer.

When I let Peggy and Joe out of the bag, the current of the stream carried them into the big pool. Immediately they got lost in the school of goldies. The koi are three inches long while the goldies are six. Eventually, they will grow larger than the goldies. They will be obvious because they are 80% white with a touch of gold and black too.

The pond and the fish have become a mjor source of enjoyment for us. I often sit at the table and watch the action in the yard. Fish jumping, birds flying in to feeders, the squirrels jumping on the patio furniture, and the rabbit eating my precious tender plants. Occasionally, the yard becomes totally empty, not a bird or squirrel in sight, then it appears, the hawk. He observes the yard from a perch high in a cottonwood tree. When he leaves, frustrated, the action begins all over again.

A few evenings ago, I was riding my bike home from a meeting in town. As I approached the bridge crossing the wetland (swamp), a red tail fox crossed the road in front of me. Another natural predator has joined the eco-system. I love it!

Freddie the Frog Wins!

A few days ago, in my post titled Fish “Fry,” I asked myself which would be first to show up at the pond, a frog or a heron.  The question was answered today. It is a frog. I spent time on the patio this afternoon, repairing the gas grill. When I finished, I knelt at the edge of the pond in the shade. I was looking for some of the baby fish or “fry.” Suddenly on my right, I saw a streak arc into the water with a splash. I didn’t really see it well enough to identify it as a frog, but my fifteen years of experience as a pond owner says, “it is a frog.” Where did he come from? Our yard is on the edge of a wetland, or “swamp,” as I refer to it. This year there is plenty of water in it too. The swamp also has plenty of food for the frogs. Why did Freddie pick my pond over the swamp?

This moment verified that the pond is one step closer to ecological balance. Now, I await the villan. When will Bruce, the Great Blue Heron, show up?

Fish “Fry”

The pond in June 2008

The pond in June 2008

One of the goals for the garden is to create a pond that is totally natural. An eco-system that is completely self supporting. Well this morning I had another “Fuzzy Moment.”  I was planting some new water lillies that I got from my friend Kay. To plant them, I first placed a piece of root stock into a perforated pot in soil, then I covered the soil with stones.  I layed an extension ladder on the ground across the pond, and layed a board over the rungs. With this set up I could walk across the pond over the ladder. Instead, I chose to lay on the board and lower the new water plants to the bottom. This was the first time I lay over the top of this pond. As I peered into the water, hundreds of very tiny transparent fish swam beneath me. Wow! I have babies. The eco-system is working.

Peg has noticed that the larger fish are very hungry lately. They are becoming less shy, and will break water to grab a food pellet when she tosses them in. Most likely it is because they are now in competition with the babies for the larva that  had satisfied them before.

The simplest things in life amuse, and bring me joy. The sight of baby fish was exciting, and brought me a great feeling of satisfaction. Nature is at its best. Things are working.

The next milestone will be the arrival of the frogs.

Monet Vision

Grumpa Joe Looks at FlowerMy vision of the new garden is a Monet painting. Lots of soft muted colors with textures, and rooms galore. The vision began as a single idea. I won’t afford a house on a lake, so I built the lake in my backyard. The lake is a pond. By making a pond, I can look at water views all year long. Right now the pond is still void of plantings. A large baby step occurred this week,  I went shopping for plant materials with my garden club.  Yesterday another baby step, I dug out a few Rose of Sharon shrubs from a friends yard. Together we unearthed a ten foot tall shrub. It was a joy to stuff the root ball into the trunk of my meticulous Avalon, the shrub hanging out over the end of the bumper. Yesterday’s baby step also included planting the shrubs into their new home around the pond. Today, the baby step was to spot the 13 perennials that I bought on Wednesday. I also planted a miniature  spruce that my deceased wife bought over ten years ago. I planted it into the pot for her. The tiny tree had a place on our patio. Today, It became a permanent part of the pond-scape. Slowly, ever so slowly, the vision becomes more of a reality.

As I place things into the ground, new details of the vision emerge from the depths of my sub-conscious and the garden expands. I will continue  to purchase plant materials all summer. Each plant will find a proper place in the vision.  Eventually, with many baby steps, the garden will evolve into a mature picture of beauty, and solitude.

 

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