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Throwback Thursday: Remember That Hickory Horned Devil?

Thursday, July 27, 2023


I knew it would be a mistake not to write about these photos when I uploaded them. September being what it is, I never found the time. My good readers will recall that much of the summer of 2022 was spent fussing over one enormous worm, protected by a fine mesh sleeve on my open-grown persimmon tree: the HICKORY HORNED DEVIL!! 

I think everybody overloaded on HH Devil last summer, so it's really fun to go back and see them now, when these huge caterpillars aren't even a gleam in their parents' compound eyes. 

Let's shoot back to September, when the orange-striped oakworms were defoliating my beloved little mailbox oak. (They're not gonna do that again! It was TOTAL.)

And I discovered brown-eyed Susans Rudbeckia triloba--blooming long after the classic black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, is done--on a roadside bank--Lawd, how beautiful!

and the Conoclinium coelestinum (Mistflower, wild ageratum) was in full bloom in the orchard.
There's about 3x as much this year, thanks to intelligent mowing! I absolutely adore this spreading native perennial. It can just spread all over the clearing at the orchard's end, as far as I'm concerned. Butterflies and bees love it, and so do I. 

It was September 2, and I found the first wild persimmon on the ground, and it was sweet and edible!

Something not sweet nor edible: the gargantuan frass (poop) of a Very Large Caterpillar.

By Sept. 3, it was very, very  big, as big as it was going to get. 
Click on the photo to enjoy its black silk stockings, and the way the claspers wrap around the twig. 
It feels like a cool, velvety hotdog to hold. 

Sept. 3, Shila came out to photograph this wonder. Don't miss the's right in front of her phone lens, hanging upside down. Huge. YOOOOGE.

I can't span it with my hand. It's 6 3/4" long. 

The worm had become so used to being photographed and moved this way and that, that I had trouble getting it to show me its Ray-Bans any more. 

I literally had to tickle the tubular being into displaying its terrifying false eyes.

More stockings...the caterpillar clings like its life depends on it, and indeed it does. Being so huge and heavy, a fall from high in a tree would spell death; it'd split like a ripe melon. 

We aren't going to let it fall. It's cushioned in its parasitic wasp-proof mesh sleeve, anyway. 
And the custodian comes every few days to empty out handfuls of its frass to keep things 
nice and clean. 

Absolutely fantastic blue. I have a Specialized bike helmet exactly this color. 

Yes, we'd become very fond of our terrifying but utterly harmless Devil, 
and I don't think it minded us one bit. 

Changes soon to come for this creature! I've saved these last few posts from September and October 2022 until I knew what would become of our colorful, horned friend. Stay tuned...

Phoebe is 27!

Monday, July 10, 2023

It's 3 AM in La Gomera, so I'm going to post this at 10 pm Ohio time, so you'll have it when you wake up. 
It’s a time of reflection, Phoebe, as I watch you  beating your wings so hard, taking off. You’re strong enough to fly over the ocean to the Canary Islands, all by yourself. 

 One minute, it seems, I’m watching you clomping your way down the back stairs in pink heels, Mardi Gras beads, and nothing else, announcing, “I yam a pancess!” and the next you and I are talking in a nervous, excited yet tentative way about what actually constitutes a wedding ceremony. Pomp and circumstance, ceremony and ritual. It’s your birthday, my sweet beautiful girl; you’re an ocean away, and I’m feeling verklempt.

The other day  I found a box full of old photos that never made it to the digital realm. Some real doozies in there. Here, when you were still small enough to fit in a backpack, and I was half the woman I am now, and we’d go adventuring through the woods.

 The autumn of this year, we were coming down into the Chute when we put up a ruffed grouse practically from underfoot. GROUSE! I exclaimed, then turned around to see your one-tooth grin, your wet chin, and I heard one of your very first words: “Gowse!

 More adventures, this one at The Wilds, an endangered species breeding facility near Caldwell, Ohio. It was a cold but sunny winter day when Daddy trained the old Kowa scope on a tall metal pole barn far, far away, and a reticulated giraffe stuck its head out of the door. We put you on the eyepiece without saying a word and asked you what you could see. “Gaff!!” you exclaimed. Here's the moment you saw your first live Gaff.

Yep, mai, I saw it. It was a gaff. Now Daddy lookin at it.

  Summer in Granny’s backyard, playing with a sprinkler. 

 Studio fun time, painting your belly bread when Mai wasn't looking.

 And now look at you, and look at sweet Oscar; you’re like staring at twin suns. One hardly knows where to focus, you’re both so beautiful and alive and in love.

 He, barely able to hold the food he’s grown on the small patch of earth high on a terrace above his Canarian home; that boy’s got mangoes and passionfruit, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, eggs and papayas by the armload. There’s nothing he can’t grow, nothing he can’t do. And I'm still trying to figure out what that feather is he's wearing. Sparrowhawk?

 He’s bought a car and learned to drive it; he’s learned English; he’s ready for the big leap, and still we all wait for the US Embassy to catch up and grant him permission to come over. It will happen. And you both have been more than patient, as they took a year to even touch your application. You've made the best of it, seeing each other whenever you can, filling those too-short times with memories for the ages. Oscar is your rock.

And now we're talking weddings. Sometimes I'm grateful for the slowdown. It's all happening so fast, at least for this one who lives like a box turtle, tucked away in an Ohio meadow.


I walk among the wildflowers, thinking about which week in the summer would be best for a wedding of two people I love so much. This one. No, this one. Wait. Mid-August is so special. But mid-July...I just don't know. Could we bottle this July, please, and uncork it in a couple of years?


I walk toward home and tears begin to fall, thinking about it, the enormity and the beauty of it, the big

 and the very, very small of it.

I think about how we got here and all that has happened, all that will happen and then the tears come again. And the rosinweed blossoms nod, knowing. 

                   Happy birthday, my beautiful bird.  The endless waiting to begin your real, true life is almost over. It's flying toward us even now.

How to Find Box Turtle Nests

Saturday, July 1, 2023


Even on July 1, these hen box turtles are looking to enlarge the local population, and I applaud them. Black raspberry stains on the beak of the top female. The lower photo shows a female turtle backed into a possible nest site. I took both these from my mower on the evening of June 30.

Mowing the paths about every ten days has the primary purpose of keeping the forest from encroaching on my open meadow. Second and just as important is giving us access to the meadow for our daily walks.  Third, the mown grass provides good foraging for birds. And fourth, this is where the box turtles come to dig their nests in June. They look for little open patches of soil and go from there, digging with their incredibly strong hind legs almost 3" down, making a narrow-necked, ovoid chamber to receive their snow-white, leathery eggs.  

In the pano, you can see the central path, and the left and right paths that mark the field's perimeter. It takes me more than three hours to get the yard, paths, driveway and oil well road mowed, but it makes a big difference to us and the wildlife. Box turtles need sun on their nests if the eggs are to develop properly. And they can't dig through dense meadow grass roots. So they gravitate to these paths. 

The first nest I found was in the middle path.  Just a little digging revealed what I was looking for: white gold.

I love the end of this, my excitement as I run to grab the cage, post and block I set aside just for this moment. So magnificently nerdy.
I'm not about to let any mammal but me dig down to find those eggs!

Thinking about what I look for when hunting box turtle nests, it's muddy vegetation. Things seem to be generally undisturbed, but you can see that there's been excavation here, because the grass around the nest site is sandy and muddy. It's had dirt on top of it recently. The hen turtle has carefully replaced and tamped back all the tailings (amazing to think about the thought and intent that goes into this process). But she can't clean the grass, so I look for dirty grass. 

I dig down...and hit gold again.

It was quite a morning. I found a nest in each of the two paths I walked. Finally I made it to the third, lower path, and there was a slam-dunk fresh nest there. No reveal video this time, but I hit eggs!

I'd never found three turtle nests in a single morning. Well, I'd found three that had been dug out by skunks or raccoons, but never fresh, intact nests. HalleluJAH!! It's been a week now, and I haven't found a digout yet! Box turtles 3, skunks 0!

I had to walk back to the house to grab a mallet and a screwdriver and another cage. By the back door, I found a Protean Shieldback, a new (huge) katydid for me and the place. A very, very cool bug. That would be quite a find for a hungry bird. It looked somehow unfinished, but it assured me it was done.

 Then I found a Brown Rove Beetle scurrying down the sidewalk. Another large, cool, uncommon bug for the iNaturalist list. 

With my finding streak so hot, I trotted over to peek in the patio crack. Yep, the Faks are back!
A pair of adult copperheads cuddle in the morning sun. 
They are very placid, peaceful snakes who don't seem to mind our peeking in at them a few times a day.

We don't bother them, and they don't bother us, but we do use a flashlight if we need to go down to the patio at night. The Fak Crack is to the right of Curtis, between the poured cement and the sandstone block. 

Back out to the meadow I went. By noon, I had all three nests protected with wire caging and secure stakes holding the cages down. 
I looped the little tabs on the stake over the cage wire so nothing could force its way under the cage.

Here's the nest on the lower path. I put two stakes in to make sure that one was secure.

In case you're wondering, the mesh of the cages is plenty large to let the baby turtles out once they hatch. I don't want to impede them in any way. I just want these precious eggs to become box turtles, not skunk chow. 

It was a fine morning, June 21, the solstice morning! for finding gold in the dirt.

When you find digging attempts, where she's dug down and hit a root or a rock, you can assume she'll try again in the same general area. I am taking careful note of where I find these, and it seems that sun exposure is key. They do not dig nests under shady boughs, but try to get out in the open. I think about a female turtle plodding around, finding a likely spot, then sitting quietly, watching a prospective nest site all day to see what kind of sun exposure it gets. Isn't that an image?
As I look, I like to think about the thoughts turtles might have. As I find nests, I think about what each site has in common with the next. Good sun exposure has a lot to do with nest site selection, so I concentrate my search in mown paths that get all-day sun.

I was heartbroken to find on the morning of June 30 that a cursed chipmunk had dug out one of my protected nests. It went right through the wire, dug the eggs up, and carried them off cleanly. Only a chipmunk will do that; coons and possums and skunks eat them on the spot and leave the curled up eggshells as evidence.  It's that squirrel thing, the storing and cacheing.

Double-caged, with a stick wedged in to keep animals from getting under the fine-mesh cage. You do what you have to. Have I mentioned how much I hate chipmunks? A chipmunk, a member of an abundant species, is not worth a clutch of box turtle eggs, in my opinion. But my opinion has nothing to do with what actually rolls out on nature's stage, unless I make the effort to act on that bias.

And now you know a little more about how to find, confirm and protect box turtle nests. 

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