Acorn Bombardment

We have a dozen White oak (Quercus alba) trees on our property, several of which are large and overhang the house, patio, and sidewalks. Starting in August, there is a constant staccato of knocks on the roof when the oaks drop their ripe acorns. When the wind gusts, the bombardment from the falling acorns is particularly heavy. And this year, the bombardment has been especially heavy, even on calm days with little wind.

Last year, the oaks produced a very small crop of acorns, so much so that I don’t recall seeing any on the walkways. This year, as if to compensate for last year’s meager output, the oaks produced a copious quantity of acorns. Regardless if we sweep the walkways once or twice a day, by the next morning, they are covered with acorns.

An image of acorns scattered on a sidewalk.
Acorns scattered on a sidewalk.

This morning, the bombardment by the back steps seemed strangely intense and concentrated. Looking out the window, I saw two acorns hit Lizzie in quick succession. When I went to investigate, I saw a gray squirrel up on a branch. It was the cause of the intensified bombardment!

After the squirrel had ran off to a different tree, I ran inside the house to retrieve my phone so I could take photos. Returning with the phone, I squatted to take pictures of the acorns scattered on the sidewalk when I was hit on the head by an acorn! Unbeknownst to me, the squirrel had returned while I was inside and had renewed his bombardment!

An image of acorns scattered on a sidewalk
Acorns scattered on a sidewalk.

Ragweed

It was with dismay that I discovered there was ragweed growing in our front lawn. None of the plants were particularly large but, unfortunately, some had begun to flower. Ragweed pollen is a primary cause of allergic rhinitis, AKA hay fever in late summer and fall for many Midwesterners. While I am not allergic to ragweed, Kat is and, therefore, I have a particular anathema for ragweed.

An image of ragweed growing in our front yard.
Ragweed growing in our front yard

There are three species of ragweed native to Minnesota. Ragweed can be found growing everywhere in the Twin Cities, including along the medians and shoulders of freeways and highways. Because of its widespread prevalence, there is no chance of eradicating it. I just do my small part by removing it from our yard whenever I discover it.

The following are photographs of Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) taken by Katy Chayka of Minnesota Wildflowers.

An image of common ragweed
Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia). Copyright 2007 k. chayka

An image of Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia). Copyright 2007 k. chayka

An image of common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia). Copyright 2007 k. chayka

A point I would like to clear up is that goldenrod does not cause hay fever. Goldenrod and ragweed are completely different species. Both are native to Minnesota, are widespread, bloom in late summer and fall, and grow near each other.

An image of goldenrod in our backyard
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) growing in our backyard.

Goldenrod pollen is spread via pollinating insects whereas ragweed is dispersed via the wind. One clue that indicates goldenrod relies on insects for pollination is that its flowers are bright yellow. Ragweed flowers, not needing pollinating insects, are hardly noticeable. As such, whereas there may not be much goldenrod pollen floating in the air, ragweed needs to release a lot of pollen into the air. It is all the ragweed pollen floating in the air that triggers allergic rhinitis in so many people.

An image of goldenrod
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) growing in our backyard.

While goldenrod can be a nuisance because it can crowd out other species, I much prefer the fields of goldenrod growing in our yard to the stands of ragweed along the highway.

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

This summer we have sighted a numerous American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) in our yard. There have been so many that occasionally it can be difficult to walk through the yard without stepping on one.

An image of an American toad
An American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) in Lizzie’s water bowl.

Whenever Lizzie shows interest in a toad, we tell her to “leave it” because we don’t want her to harm it. However, their prevalence and their using her water bowls to relax in makes that task somewhat difficult.

An image of an American toad.
An American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) in Lizzie’s water bowl.

Cicadas

Every year, starting around mid-July, the cicadas emerge to serenade us. We typically have at any given time, what sounds to my ear, to be two or three cicadas in our yard. This year, however, there have been so many that I am unable to count them by listening. And they emerged earlier than usual, with the first being heard at the tail end of June!

An image of a cicada and exoskeleton
A cicada and a shed exoskeleton on a block of wood.

Near a stump in our yard, I counted nine shed exoskeletons and at least one live cicada.

An image of a cicada and cicada exoskeleton.
A cicada and a shed exoskeleton on a block of wood.

While cicadas and crickets aren’t attractive insects like monarch or swallowtail butterflies, I enjoy the buzz of the cicadas and the trill of crickets, especially at night when I have the bedroom windows open.

You Flushed What Down The Toilet?

It is an annual event where our sewer mainline will become plugged, causing sewage to backup into our downstairs bathroom shower and laundry room. It happens with enough regularity that the sewer guy and I are on a first name basis. Starting about three years ago, the frequency increased from once to twice per year. We had the sewer mainline unclogged early in December 2017 and, now, just this week, it clogged again. So, once again, I called up Juve, our sewer guy.

Juve was puzzled by the increased frequency and said, “It is always about 30-40 feet out that it is plugged. Can we look down the manhole in your backyard?” After we had popped the cover off of the manhole, he looked down and said, “Oh no! That is no good!” The city sewer was plugged! It was barely flowing and it was rising up the manhole.

The plugged city sewer would explain the increasing frequency of our mainline being plugged. We determined that probably what was happening is that when Juve would get his cable down 30-40 feet it would be at the point where our mainline entered the city sewer. He would then break loose the clog at that point and our mainline would drain. That would be good for awhile until something else plugged the mainline.

To remedy the plugged city sewer, we found a pole, about 20 feet long, and used that to push and move the sewage around. This broke up the clog in the city sewer, resulting in the sewage draining from the manhole.

After most of the sewage had drained out, we saw various items that had been part of the clog. Using duct tape, we taped a bow rake to the pole and used that to retrieve items from the manhole. We pulled up a corroded metal rod which was about three feet in length, a chunk of asphalt, a mass of tree roots, tampons, “flushable” wipes, plastic wrappers, fibrous pads of some kind, and other items that should never be flushed down a toilet.

A picture of a chunk of asphalt.
A chunk of asphalt pulled from the sewer via the manhole.

I suspect someone dropped the metal rod through the hole in the manhole cover but I’m baffled by the chuck of asphalt. There was no way for it to get in there unless some had removed the manhole cover and then dropped it in.

A picture of a corroded metal rod pulled up from the sewer.
A corroded metal rod pulled from the sewer via the manhole.

Those two items, when combined with other items that do not break down, such as “flushable” wipes and plastic wrappers, were what it took to plug the city sewer. I don’t know where most of that junk came from because we don’t flush anything down the toilet except bodily waste and toilet paper.

A picture of tree roots pulled from the sewer.
A mass of tree roots that were pulled from the manhole.

Taken Out Once Again

Our mailbox was taken out once again. Lizzie and I were relaxing in the living room when we heard a loud bang. She ran barking towards the front door and I was close behind her. When I looked out the front door, all I could do is groan with resignation.

A picture of our knocked over mailbox.
Our knocked over and flattened mailbox and post.
A picture of the mailbox flag on our driveway.
The plastic red mailbox flag was thrown onto our driveway.
A picture of the mailbox door on the street.
The door to the mailbox was thrown onto the street.

Images from the Game Camera, Part 2

Our game camera has captured plenty of daytime images but what interests me the most are the images captured at night. During the daytime, I frequently see the squirrels and birds that frequent our yard during the daylight hours. Below are a few images captured at night.

We occasionally see Eastern cottontails in our yard during the day but I had hoped the presence of Lizzie in our yard would scare off the rabbits. However, the amount of images of rabbits captured by the game camera made me realize the real party is at night!

A picture of an Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)
An Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) investigating a log.

Prior to the erection of our fence, nighttime sightings of raccoons were a regular enough occurrence that I thought nothing of it. After our fence went up and we saw no raccoons during the day, I naively hoped they were not frequenting our yard. The image below informed me that they were still visiting our yard, even if only on an irregular basis.

A picture of a raccoon (Procyon lotor)
A raccoon (Procyon lotor) walking away from the game camera.

Prior to our putting up our fence, a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) made regular rounds through our yard. On one occasion, I saw it lift its leg and piss on our garage. I also found the remains of several rabbits under shrubs and bushes that, I assume, belong to the fox. I thought that maybe the fence would dissuade the fox from entering our yard. Apparently, that is not true. Hopefully, the fox will eat the rabbits that have been frequenting our yard.

A picture of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) hunting in our yard.

Images from the Game Camera, Part 1

I bought a game camera with the hope of recording the coming and going of a nesting pair of White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) that were nesting in one of our nest boxes. For various reasons, that didn’t work out to my satisfaction. Looking for a use for the game camera, I placed it in various locations in our yard to discover what it might record. Below are a few images captured by it.

As expected in east central Minnesota, there are plenty of Eastern Gray Squirrels to be photographed.

A picture of an Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
An Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) looking for lunch on our patio.

Another frequent visitor to our yard is the American robin, often with an eye towards the ground, looking for worms to eat. While gardening, I place any grubs I find on a stump for birds to eat. Robins are usually the first to snatch them up.

A picture of an American robin (Turdus migratorius)
An American robin (Turdus migratorius) foraging in our yard.

The Chipping Sparrow is a regular summer-time resident. I frequently see them hopping through the grass, looking for seeds and insects. They appear to be fairly bold birds, approaching within a few feet of Lizzie. Lizzie, for the most part, ignores them preferring to hunt for rodents.

A picture of a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)
A chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) foraging for insects and seeds.

Raptors

This weekend was a good weekend for observing raptors. On Friday, I noticed a large hawk high up in the branches of an oak tree. Using binoculars, I confirmed it was a rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus). Supposedly the rough-legged hawk winters here in Minnesota but I have only seen it in the spring as they pass through on their way to northern Canada.

The camera on my phone couldn’t do justice to this bird, so I downloaded the image below from Wikipedia.

A picture of a rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus)
A rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus).

I’ve occasionally observed sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus) in our neighborhood and yard, but, last year, a pair of sharp-shinned hawks moved into the neighborhood and they returned again this year. While they are interesting birds to watch, I’m concerned they will scare off the chickadees, nuthatches, and other small birds that have made our yard their home.

Again, I couldn’t get a good photograph of the sharp-shinned hawks with my phone, so I downloaded the photograph below from AnimalSpot.

A picture of a sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)
A sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Later on Saturday, we were relaxing on the patio when a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew over head. When we moved into our current place, we rarely saw bald eagles flying over head. We now regularly see bald eagles flying above us.

The following photograph is from Wikipedia.org because I haven’t got a picture of a bald eagle flying over us.

A picture of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight.
A Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight.

Visitors to Our Bird Feeders

There are two bird feeders hanging under the eaves outside of our living room, one for seed and the other for suet. I placed the feeders there so that we could enjoy the coming and going of birds as fed. I recently installed a game camera to photograph the birds that frequent those feeders. While I was happy for the photographs of the birds, I was disappointed with the quality of said photographs.

Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are year-round visitors to our feeders and a favorite bird of mine. They usually dart in, grab a seed, and dart off as quickly as they came in.

A picture of a Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) on a bird feeder
A black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).

American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) are beautiful summer visitors. Unlike chickadees and nuthatches, goldfinches tend to hang out on the feeder for as long as it takes to eat their fill.

A picture of an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a bird feeder.
An American goldfinch (Spinus tristis).
A picture of an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a bird feeder.
An American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) .
A picture of an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a bird feeder.
An American goldfinch (Spinus tristis).

White-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis), like the black-capped chickadees, are year-round visitors. Also like chickadees, nuthatches dart in for a seed and then quickly fly off. Nuthatches are the upside-down bird. They can frequently be seen walking upside down along tree trunks.

A picture of a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a bird feeder.
A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).
A picture of a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a bird feeder.
A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a suet bird feeder.