Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lazy, Hazy Summer Days

THERE'S nothing better than a camping trip to immerse you in nature, especially when it's pushing 100 degrees and the nature is a nearby lake. Phew - let the immersion begin! Actually the heat wasn't as oppressive as we had feared, but it did make us slow down and spend a lot more time in and around the campground than we usually do. This was a wonderful opportunity to watch the children at play together - all fourteen of them - many of whom didn't know each other well or at all. That didn't stop them becoming best buddies by the end of the weekend, sharing everything down to the last toasted marshmallow.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Garden Update

HOORAY! Our first harvest from our own vegetable patch! We have three varieties of tomato growing, two types of bean, carrots, Swiss chard, kabocha squash, cucumber, courgette (zucchini) and red bell pepper. The tomatoes and kabocha are growing like crazy, while the others are lagging a little. Every day we inspect the plants, and the first cherry tomato was an exciting event! We also have a little raspberry bush (thank you Forest). It looks somewhat puny, but we have had a few fruits from it and they were oh so sweet. Mmmmhhh...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


ON one of our weekend jaunts to a little-used river beach, we noticed tadpoles milling around in the shallows of a feeder stream. On an impulse, we decided to take some home to watch them develop. I later regretted this, thinking we were dooming the poor creatures to an early demise. But caught up in the moment, we improvised with available equipment and had great fun trying to catch some of the wiggly little swimmers. At home we set to work creating a home for our new friends. (The adventure of collecting additional streamwater from a nearby creek is a story for another day.) Apparently tadpoles like to eat lettuce, so that is what we've been feeding them for over two weeks, and to my surprise and delight, they are still alive and seem to be a little bigger, though no sign of legs yet.

While researching books on the topic of tadpoles and frogs, I came across the 19th century author Katharine Pyle and her collection of stories and verses: Prose and Verse for Children. It includes a lovely story about a tadpole who wants to sing, called More Ways Than One. With the help of a lizard the tadpole tries all kinds of things to become a bird so that he can sing, until finally the wise old crawfish tells him he is a frog and he hops off to join the chorus. After all, there's more than one way to sing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bug Life

EVERYONE's been busy with nests in our back garden. First, we noticed two little piles of sawdust underneath Emma's balance beam. When we flipped it over, we found two neatly carved holes, about 1/2" in diameter. A stick gently poked in the hole disappeared about 10". After watching the holes for several days, we finally saw the inhabitants, and have identified them as carpenter bees. While I can see how they could wreak havoc on a nice pine deck, fortunately they are not doing any harm where they are so we are free to observe their activity. The bees are large and furry, like bumble bees, and sit guarding their holes, which are used as nest chambers. The eggs are laid at the end, with food placed next to them. Sometimes the mama bees are out looking for food, but most often we see them lurking just inside their holes.

More exciting discoveries were made in our insect box. Here, some kind of solitary wasp is hard at work building a paper nest. It is suspended from the ceiling and is about 2" long. It's tucked right into the back corner and we've not been able to get a close enough look at the builder to identify it, though it is there perched on the outside of the nest most of the time.

In the centre of the box, an egg mass sits in the middle of a feathery web. It was only when I gently blew on the web to try to get the spider to move that we realised the eggs had already hatched. Hundreds - really hundreds - of tiny transluscent spiders began their hurricane evacuation drill and scuttled out of harm's way in a matter of minutes. Now a week later, all the babies have flown the nest, presumably off to make their mark on the world.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Those Great Big Beautiful Eyes

THIS afternoon I found an enormous beetle on Emma's bed. She said it had been there a while and apparently didn't think it was worth mentioning. This thing was about an inch and a half long with two eyespots and a black speckled back. After a while scrolling through the beetle listings on http://www.whatsthatbug.com/ and http://www.bugguide.net/, we discovered the identity of our winged friend. It was an Eyed Elator click beetle. Click beetles are so called because when turned on their backs, they quickly flex their body making a clicking sound and flipping in the air to right themselves. It demonstrated this acrobatic feat several times, and it was quite impressive. The eyespots are to discourage predators, to fool birds into thinking they are looking at a much larger creature. It has two sets of wings - the top set are hard covers to protect the softer flying wings. Another interesting thing we discovered was that it appeared to fold its antenna under its body (the left one is not yet unfolded in the first picture). It was quite a beauty, but we did think it deserved a bed of its own.