Black-capped night heron waiting for pond access.

Black-crowned night heron waiting for pond access.

He’s baaaaack!

This morning, about 6:30 a.m., we crept outside to see if we could spy some very tiny frogs that we have been glimpsing as they dart away from us in a flash.  As we approached the Ponderosa, our friend the night heron flew into this tree.  He just sat there, staring down at us.  He was rather skittish during his last visit.  I am assuming he was waiting for us to leave so he could sample more of our wares.  After about ten minutes we waved our arms and chased him away.

We were able to get much closer to him this time.  I hadn’t appreciated the enormity of this bird until now.  He is huge!  It is hard to convey this in the photos.

I’m pretty sure that he arrived only when we were outside.  I didn’t see any evidence that he had been there earlier.  Last time all the fish were huddled at the far end of the pond.  Also, Tommy (one of our two large bullfrog residents of the People Pond) was sitting by the thalia plant, as he does most mornings at that time.  We didn’t see any other frogs, but that is pretty common for the early morning.

Meet Pete the Toad

July 26, 2009

Newly emerged toad hiding under the deck.

Newly emerged toad hiding under the deck.

“I’m not sure that’s Pete.”

“Of course it’s Pete.  Look at him!”

O Brother Where Art Thou

This is the little guy we found on Friday.  He is very tiny–he would easily fit on the surface of a dime.  We caught a glimpse of him zipping through the flowers.  At first we thought he was a grasshopper, but on closer inspection we realized he was a newly emerged toad.  A Fowler’s toad, perhaps?  He spent most of the evening in this little area underneath the deck, but we’ve not seen him there since that time so I don’t know if it is his home.

We’ve not had much luck with toads at Dragonwyck Sanctuary.  Two summers ago, our next door neighbor brought one over, thinking it was a frog that had “escaped” from the pond.  That one was, in fact, a Fowler’s toad.  We released him at the water’s edge.  Later that week, we heard a crazy sound coming from the back of the Ponderosa.  We were inside the house when we heard him. He was loud enough to easily hear over the sound of the air conditioner.  After some research we discovered it was our new toad calling.  Unfortunately, that was the last time we heard him.  He was making such a racket back there, I think he must have drawn the attention of a predator.  We have many raccoons and an opossum or two roaming about each night.   This was our one and only toad experience until now.

Our natural swimming pool--a work in progress.

Our natural swimming pool--a work in progress.

Great news!  We found the two frogs that were missing and feared eaten by the night heron.  The female frog was finally spotted in the Ponderosa (picture at very top of page), and the male apparently emigrated to the People Pond (picture directly above in post).  So frog count today=3 large bullfrogs, 2 medium bullfrogs, 2 small green frogs, and one froglet.

About the People Pond

One day last June, during our vacation-at-home, we woke to find slaughtered goldfish strewn about the yard.  It was a ghastly sight.  For some of them, all that remained were entrails.  For others, they were intact with either a bite out of them or worse–just a puncture.   Both our upper and lower deck were covered with little fish-oily raccoon footprints.  We found evidence of at least 30 goldfish bodies, including Pig–one of our original (and our favorite) goldfish.  It was heartbreaking.

This was the first time we had ever seen any sign that raccoons had been targeting the fish, but that morning it looked as if a grenade had been thrown into the Ponderosa.  After cleaning up the extensive mess, we sat by the Ponderosa–and yes, I’m going to say it–we pondered.  I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but at some point we were comparing the lovely Ponderosa with the hideous old aluminum above-ground pool that came with the house.  (They were located about 20 feet apart from one another.)  We had tried to hide it with bamboo, but once we added the upper deck, it was all too visible.  At that moment, we decided we could not tolerate that hideosity any longer.  We tore down that awful pool and replaced it with a natural swimming pool. We braved merciless mocking and teasing by our friends and co-workers, but we persevered.  One of the women at work, who had aways been interested in the Ponderosa, began calling it the People Pond.  The name stuck, and we haven’t changed it yet.

It was the first day of our week-long vacation, so we had planned to spend the rest of the week constructing the natural swimming pool  The removal of the old pool was by far the easiest step.  Then we had to dig out bamboo.  The rhizomes were like an extensive underground steel cable network.  It was a grueling task, but after three days working in 90-degree weather, we got it out.  (By the way, we have learned our lesson with bamboo–never again.)  Our big mistake with the pool construction was to to dig by hand and not rent a machine.  The digging ended up taking months, and then we had a driveway filled with dirt, much of which is still there.

We dug a hole the diameter and depth of the swimming pool.  We also added a very shallow area, about half the surface area of the swimming hole, for the biofilter.  Note the picture above:  biofilter is comprised of the water plants that you see.  The round area behind that (underneath the tall bamboo) is the swimming hole.

Once the hole was dug, we had to purchase a liner.  We wanted the thickest rubber available, but the size of the roll we needed weighed in excess of 1000 pounds, so we opted for the second thickest rubber (a mere 750 pounds). We had difficulty with delivery, because the delivery men weren’t able to get the roll of rubber off the truck due to the weight.  Luckily our neighbors took pity on us and helped us all load that roll of rubber onto the driveway.  Several days later, a group of friends came over to move the roll of rubber from the driveway to the edge of the pond hole.  Unfortunately, there were only two of us to actually lay that monstrosity in place.  It took hours of rolling and pulling and scrambling to get it situated.  The biofilter was not in place yet, but we decided to fill that large pond.  We left the hose on all evening, through the night, and by morning it was nearly full.  It also had one frog (from the Ponderosa) swimming all alone in his glory.

We discovered bamboo rhizomes shooting through the thick rubber liner shortly thereafter.  This was particularly troubling because it wasn’t even the big grow season for the bamboo.  We couldn’t imagine how bad it would get.  So we patched the holes in the liner then dug a trench around the entire pond and installed a PVC barrier.  This was not complete until the spring.

In the spring of this year, we were finally able to plant the plants for the biofilter.  We planted bogbean, marsh marigold, cardinal flower, pennywort, watercress, water lily, flowering rush, horsetail, variegated glyceria, pickerel rush, thalia, cat tails, and several oxygenating plants.  They are still young (as you can see from the picture above), but they are growing well.  The biofilter is working well also.  The water in the swimming area is crystal clear.  You can see down to the bottom (nearly 5 feet in the middle).  We went for our first swim two days ago, as the frogs looked on from the perimeter.  A success–clean, refreshing, and beautiful!

This is the big gaping dirt pit that was in the yard for months.

This is the big gaping dirt pit that was in the yard for months.

Two medium bullfrogs sit together at the edge of the pond.

Two medium bullfrogs sit together at the edge of the pond.

We are a bit concerned about the status of the frogs in the Ponderosa.  We have been consistently counting at least one large and two medium bullfrogs.  We also have one froglet.  Since the night heron appeared, we have only been able to spot one frog and the froglet.  We are hopeful that the others are hiding.  This is a picture of the two missing frogs.

Thankfully, there appears to be no change in the large pond.  The frog count there remains at two large bullfrogs and one, possibly two,  small green frogs.

The night heron had a good meal at Dragonwyck Sanctuary yesterday morning, so we are expecting that he may return.  We checked periodically throughout the night, but we didn’t see him.  We don’t have enough fish and frogs to sustain that big boy for long!

A Morning Surprise

July 12, 2009

Black-Crowned Night Heron

black-crowned night heron hunting for goldfish

This morning we awoke to find this guy hunting in the Ponderosa.  He had just caught a fish and flew up to a nearby tree branch.  We stayed inside watching from the window, and he stayed on his branch watching us.  He finally came back down and slowly made his way over to the edge of the pond.  Even though we knew he was hunting our fish, we couldn’t bring ourselves to chase him away.   He stood at the edge for a few minutes, motionless.  Then in two quick strides, he walked into the pond and plucked out our largest goldfish!  At that point we ran outside, hoping that we could startle him into dropping it.  He just flew off, screaming at us with the fish in his mouth.  He landed on the roof of the house across the street and watched us as he choked down the fish.

We were able to identify the bird as a black-crowned night heron.  Apparently, they prefer to hunt at night.  Hopefully he wasn’t hunting in the Ponderosa all night long!