First Observations of 2019, Part 2

This is a follow up to my First Observations of 2019 post from May.

On Sunday, June 7, around 4 in the afternoon, we heard the first cicadas of 2019. I call cicadas the “hot bugs” because they are the most active when the summer becomes hot. While the temperatures were pleasant on Sunday, I knew we were getting into the hot time of year when I heard the cicadas .

Lizzie Chases Shadows

Lizzie chases shadows. In the morning, when the sun is shining into the living room, she will lay on the floor, waiting for birds to come to the feeders and make shadows on the floor for her. And when a bird does make a shadow for her, she will bite at shadow while animatedly wagging her tail.

In the winter, on sunny days when the snow can be formed into snowballs, we will throw snowballs in the air so that shadows move across the yard. Lizzie happily chases after those shadows, occasionally barking at them. If our timing and aim is right, the snowball will land on her back as she chases its shadow across the yard.

After the snow melted this spring, there was no handy shadow making materials. Kat got the idea of using balls and purchased a bag of cheap plastic balls. The slow-motion video below is of Lizzie chasing the shadow of a ball and then catching the ball.

In the above video, Lizzie is wearing a bandage on her right front paw. She had a torn nail that was causing her some discomfort, so we bandaged it up. She is all healed up now.

Images from the Game Camera, Part 3

Now that the nighttime temperatures are above freezing, I have deployed our game cameras. I bought an additional camera so I could better understand the movement of animals through our yard. I had only deployed the second camera for a week when I observed a raccoon cross our yard from the west fence to the east fence. I’m hoping to make more observations like that because I’m curious how larger animals such as raccoons and fox move through our fence-enclosed yard.

The seemingly ubiquitous Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is the most frequently photographed animal by our game cameras. However, after a red fox was observed in our yard, I noticed there were less rabbit sightings.

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

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) clearly has no issue getting over our fence. I’m hoping to actually capture an image of one jumping our fence.

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

I have mixed thoughts about raccoons. One thought I have is they are just another animal passing through our yard like any other animal and they deserve to do so without harassment. Another I have is they have damaged our property and are a host for a type of intestinal parasite (Baylisascaris procyonis) that can infect humans. Realizing that I cannot keep them from our yard, I only undertake to keep them away from our house by utilizing repellants. Otherwise, I leave them be.

A picture of a raccoon (Procyon lotor)
A raccoon (Procyon lotor) walking in our yard.

This year was the first time a game camera captured an image of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). I have seen them previously during both the day and night. Lizzie even found one in the big brush pile at the bottom of the hill, but, they have been eluding our cameras. However, something was triggering the new camera, which I had placed on the east side of the yard, but the camera was failing to capture any images. After I realized the motion sensor had a wider angle of detection than the camera had for image capture, I placed the camera closer to the ground. The next night, the camera captured images of an opossum.

A picture of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in the backyard.

On Nextdoor, people have reported seeing coyotes (Canis latrans) in nearby neighborhoods. Because of that, I don’t let Lizzie out alone at night. At 55 pounds, Lizzie easily outweighs a male coyote (about 30 pounds) but I don’t want her tangling with one regardless. I would, however, like to find images of one on our game cameras.

First Observations of 2019

This is the first year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:

  1. Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – I heard but didn’t see the first red-winged blackbird in our yard on Sunday, March 31. This was 10 days after others had seen them in the Twin Cities area. I didn’t see or hear a red-winged blackbird again for at least a month. A pair, however, has set up home near us and are regular visitors to our tray feeder.
  2. I saw the first bumblebees on Monday, May 13.
  3. Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) – I saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird flying around our backyard on Wednesday, May 15. A day later I observed a male in our yard. They now visit our feeders numerous times per day.
  4. Kat saw the first monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Thursday, May 16.

Nest Boxes

Three years ago, I bought a nest box and placed it on a tree near our garage. It was a nest box intended for woodpeckers and my hope was that a woodpecker would use it. Despite having plenty of woodpeckers frequenting our yard every day, they didn’t use the nest box. Instead a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in the nest box and raised a clutch of chicks.

Inspired by that family of nuthatches, I bought another nest box and placed it on a tree outside of our dining room. I was hopeful we would watch nuthatches raise a family while we enjoyed our dinner. A pair took up residence in the nest box and laid a clutch of four eggs. Unfortunately, a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) killed all the eggs, threw them from the nest box and claimed the box for itself.

When I discovered this, I was livid. Researching house sparrows, I learned they are an invasive species introduced from England and are known for taking over nest boxes and displacing native birds, in particular, blue birds.

I also learned I simply needed to narrow the opening to the nest box. House sparrows don’t tolerate openings that are 1 ΒΌ-inch in diameter whereas native song birds such as White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have no issue with an opening that small. To displace the unwelcome occupant, I opened the access panel to the nest box, dumped the contents and tilted it at an angle so that the house sparrow could not build a nest in it. It returned daily with nesting materials but all fell out to the ground. I then purchased the appropriate constrictors and attached them to the two nest boxes I had, preventing the house sparrow from entering.

This year, much to our delight, the nuthatches came back to raise a clutch of four chicks in one of the nest boxes. It was a joy to see the chicks following the adults around from tree to tree, learning how to forage for food.

A picture of a nest box containing a nest.
A nest box containing a nest in it.

I have a yearly schedule for the nest boxes. I empty the boxes in the fall on the first of October and fill them with wood shavings every spring on March 1st. Emptying and refilling them annually reduces the parasite load, thus, reducing risk for the birds.

We now have three nest boxes, this year one was occupied a Black-capped Chickadee family and another was used by a nuthatch family. The third was too close to another box, so, it remained unoccupied. I moved it further away this fall, I hope it will to be occupied next summer. If all three boxes are occupied next year, I’ll buy another nest box and place it in the other corner of our yard. With luck, in a year or two, we’ll have four families of song birds living in our yard.

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.


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.


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.