Frog Foray: Fish frantic.

August 22, 2009

Last night brought tumultuous weather—winds, rain, thunder, lightening.  Early this morning, the clouds began to dissolve in the bright sun.  The air was still thick on my skin though, a lingering reminder of the tempest of the previous night.  It’s been a stormy summer, but the storms typically don’t have much impact on the behavior patterns of our frogs.  They are creatures of habit.  But this morning, everything was confused.

The only female bullfrog moved from the Ponderosa to the People Pond

Female bullfrog sitting on water lettuce in the People Pond

First of all, the green frog that sits at the edge of the Ponderosa while we have coffee was nowhere to be seen.  Hopefully he’s ok.  The female frog, who we have never seen venture out of the Ponderosa, was sitting prominently in the middle of a water lettuce patch in the shallows of the People Pond.  Ed, the largest bullfrog, was sitting in the spot that Tommy sits in every day.  And that brings me to Tommy, the second largest bullfrog.  He is about six inches from nose to butt.

Tommy sits underneath the pickerel rush plants, next to the water lily, in the People Pond.  He has been there every single morning this summer.  We see him there every evening when we return from work.  This morning, we found he had migrated to the Ponderosa.  We have never seen him in the Ponderosa before.

Tommy the Bullfrog, camouflaged by water lettuce, stalks fish.

Tommy the Bullfrog, camouflaged by water lettuce, stalks fish.

While we enjoyed our morning coffee, Tommy stayed for a while in the plants at the side of the Ponderosa, but then he moved over to the shallow end (about a foot from our feet).  He scoped out the area for a few minutes, then emerged from the water, camouflaged by some small water lettuce plants.

He sat there for a brief period, waiting.  Then, a decent-sized goldfish (perhaps 4 inches or so) swam by.  Before we knew it, Tommy pounced, grabbing the fish headfirst.  He emerged from the water with that fish half in/half out of his mouth.

Tommy the Bullfrog with goldfish tail hanging out of mouth.

Tommy the Bullfrog with goldfish tail hanging out of mouth.

We had seen him go for the small mosquitofish before, but this was a huge eat.  We were worried that he would spit the fish out (after killing it), realizing that it was too big to eat.  He took that fish, swam a little farther away, and gradually choked down that fish over a period of about 15 minutes.  What a show!

Tommy as he digests the goldlish, the tips of the goldfish tail hanging out of his mouth.

Tommy as he digests the goldlish, the tips of the goldfish tail hanging out of his mouth.

The fish were not amused by this display of frog-gression (ha!).  They fled the scene, disappearing into the depths.

Note:  The quality of these pictures is far from optimal.  The humidity caused the lens of the camera to continually fog up, making it very difficult to focus.

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Female and male goldfinch eating from sunflower plants

Female and male goldfinch eating from sunflower plants

A family of goldfinches has taken over the sunflower patch.  Luckily, the bees don’t seem to mind.  The birds flit from flower to flower, nibbling on the sunflower seed hearts.  There is usually at least one male and one female present.  Sometimes they bring Junior, who waits patiently on the top-most flower for mom or dad to feed him.  They have made quite a mess, leaving the seed shells all over the deck, but the show is worth the mess.  They seem to be the only birds interested in the sunflowers, but the squirrels enjoy them too.  This morning I found a half-eaten sunflower on the deck railing.

Between the bees and the goldfinches, I’ve found that the sunflowers are a good bang for your buck in the garden!

Click here for more information about attracting goldfinches!

Fledgling Cardinal

Fledgling Cardinal

“We should all do what, in the long run, give us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”

E. B. White

The grapevines at Dragonwyck Sanctuary were heavy with sweet, white grapes.  As such, we spent much of today picking (and eating) grapes.  And we were not alone.  In the early hours of the morning, a family of cardinals flew into the trees above the grapevines.  They stayed there all day long.  (In fact, it is 7:30 pm, and I can still hear those baby cardinals chirping away!)  The mother and father took turns joining us in the grapevines, taking grapes, and bringing them back to their offspring waiting in the nearby trees.  There were two fledgling cardinals—old enough to fly independently, but young enough to require assistance feeding.  We only saw them several times during the day, but we heard their continuous chirping throughout the day.  It was a big cardinal family event.

Baby Grackle Watching Cardinal Family

Baby Grackle Watching Cardinal Family

The cardinals were not the only birds partaking in the feast of grapes.  A catbird and a robin stopped by several times as well.  We also had a baby grackle come for a visit.  He seemed a little out of sorts.  He watched the cardinal family for a while, almost as if he wanted to join them.  Like the cardinals, the grackle was old enough to fly independently, but he was not very graceful.  He fell off a branch once, and later got tangled in a cluster of leaves.  He flew over to the People Pond for a swim, but one of the frogs jumped at him, and he immediately left with a squawk.  We never did see a grackle parent, but he didn’t seem injured or in any danger.

Overall, there was a lot of activity around the grapes today, but nobody seemed to mind that we were underneath those grapevines.  The birds enjoyed them so much that we ended up leaving half of them on the vines.

We picked over three gallons of grapes.  Tomorrow--jam!

We picked over three gallons of grapes. Tomorrow--jam!

Honeybee on Mammoth Sunflower

Honeybee on Mammoth Sunflower

Another BEE-autiful Day!  (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist!)  No signs of bee depopulation at Dragonwyck. The sun was bright throughout most of the day, and a light breeze blew through the trees.  Once again, bees were all over  Dragonwyck Sanctuary.  The bumblebees seemed to prefer the pond plants, specifically the purple flowers of the pickerel rush plants.  The honeybees far outnumbered the bumbles today.  They congregated around the sunflowers and the corn.  (Both types visited the black-eyed susan flowers from time to time.)

We are pleased to see the vast numbers of bees in our garden this year.  Bees are an essential element of a healthy and productive garden.  In addition to pollinating ornamental flowers, they are important pollinators of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Last year, we had noticeably fewer bees.  There has been widespread reporting of a decline in feral bee populations as well as commercial honeybee colonies. Science Daily noted that such a decline constituted a global “pollination crisis”.

Honeybees are sensitive to a variety of pathogens, including parasites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and chemicals.  They also suffer from loss of habitat.  You can positively impact your native bee population, at least on a small scale, by creating an environment that is safe from harmful chemicals and provides for their basic needs.

The first step in creating a bee-friendly environment is to determine what to plant.

1.  Include as many native plants as possible in your garden.  It makes sense that native bees like native plants.  Bees may be up to four times more attracted to native plants than they are to exotics.  You may wish to go to your local nursery or extension service for advice.

2.  Whenever possible, select heirloom varieties instead of hybrids.  Hybrids tend to produce less pollen and nectar than heirlooms.

3.  Plant a variety of plants that flower at different times.  Bees will need pollen and nectar during all of the growing season.  Be sure that at least one type of flower is blooming at all times in the spring, summer, and fall.  Don’t forget to plant flowers for the early spring and late fall.  If you have to, get out your calendar and write down the bloom time for each flower in your garden to make sure you have no gaps.

4.  Plant flowers of different colors.  Bees can easily discriminate color and are particularly fond of yellow, white, blue, and purple flowers.

5.  Plant flowers of different shapes.  There are thousands of different types of bees, varying in size, shape, and preference for flower shape.  The greater variety of plants you have, the greater of variety of bee you can attract.

Two Honeybees on Crimson Sunflower

Two Honeybees on Crimson Sunflower

Once you have selected your plants, you need to determine where to plant them.

6.  Bees like sunny places, so your garden should be located in a sunny area.  (Be sure you have checked the growing conditions required for the plant.  Not all plants like sun!)

7.  If possible, place plants of one type in clusters instead of mixing the different plants together.  If you have the space, plant clusters should be approximately four feet in diameter.

8.  Try to select a garden location that is free from wind.  Bees like to fly from flower to flower without being swept away by a breeze.  If you don’t have such a location, consider constructing something to protect from the wind, like a trellis or fence.

A few years ago we ran into a unique problem with the placement of plants.  We planted two scotch broom shrubs next to the Ponderosa.  In the late spring, these shrubs burst forth with small, lemon-yellow flowers.  The bees loved these shrubs!  Our placement of the shrubs, however, was unfortunate.  Cartwright, the main bullfrog at the time, would spend all of his day sitting underneath those two shrubs and just devour every bee that came by.  We are smarter now.  The majority of flowering plants in or near the pond have very long stems!  Problem solved.

Once your garden is established, the bees have their food source.  They will also need water and shelter.

Honeybee on Black-Eyed Susan Flower

Honeybee on Black-Eyed Susan Flower

9.   Be sure you have a water source in your garden.  It doesn’t have to be large.  At Dragonwyck Sanctuary, we have two ponds, one dog pool, and a birdbath.  Bees do not need this much water, however.  Birdbaths are a great water source for bees, but you can even just keep a pie plate with water in your garden.

10.  Many wild bees do not live in hives.  Instead they burrow into the ground.  So, if you mulch your garden, leave some space uncovered for the bees to live.  You can also leave a pile of dirt or sand nearby for this purpose.

Maintaining your bee-friendly garden.  Go organic!

11.   Avoid using pesticides in your garden.  Pesticides are designed to poison insects.  Bees are insects.  There are other options for pest control.  Try some of them!

12.  Do not use herbicides in your garden.  Herbicides are designed to poison plants.  Bees are very sensitive to poison.  Instead of herbicides, try using mulch to cut down on invasive weeds.  You can hand-weed any weeds that do get through the mulch.

Note:  Sometimes bees really enjoy some of the weeds that grow, such as dandelions.  You may consider keeping them, at least until the flowers are gone.  Just a suggestion!

Finally,

13.  Be careful with deadheading.  Don’t pull off those flower blooms until they are crunchy and hard.  Bees may still be enjoying the fruits of a withered flower, even if you aren’t.

If you follow these suggestions (or even some of these suggestions) you should find that your garden will be healthier and full of bees! Please let us know if you have any more bee-friendly tricks!

For Further Information

The 10 Best Plants for Bees

Join the hunt for Bees! The Great Sunflower Project.

References

Mader, E.  (2009, March, 23).  Conserving Pollinators:  A Primer for Gardeners.  Cornell University Cooperative Extension.  Retrieved August 7, 2009, from  http://www.extension.org/pages/Conserving_Pollinators:_A_Primer_for_Gardeners

Urban Bee Gardens: A Practical Guide to Introducing the World’s Most Prolific Pollinators Into Your Garden. University of Berkeley, Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/general_nativevexotic.html

USDA/Agricultural Research Service (2009, May 29). Honey Bee Colony Losses In U.S. Almost 30 Percent From All Causes From September 2008 To April 2009. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/05/090522180642.htm

Bumblebee on Flowering Rush

Bumblebee on Pickerel Rush

Oh hey, y’all best be careful or I’m gonna sting you with my stinger.  Oh, no!  But then I’se gon’ die if I sting you.  You know what?  I’m not gonna sting y’all after all, and that’s my choice.  Y’all ain’t worth it.  I’m just gonna head on over to that flower and suck on that stamen like there’s no tomorrow.

Mayor Bee, Family Guy

Bee-witched.

Bees everywhere today–at least three different kinds.  There have been about 15-20 bumblebees congregating around the pickerel rush flowers at any given time this morning.  The flowers are high enough from the water that the bees are relatively safe from the frogs.  We haven’t even seen any attempts at bumblebee eats.  Some of a smaller type of bee, a honey bee, have been visiting the black-eyed susan flowers en masse.  We have also seen many very tiny bees, about the size of mosquitoes, hovering around all of the flower types.

Bothered.

We continue to be bothered by the mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis) .  Once we discovered their love for tadpoles, we tried to relocate them from the People Pond to the Ponderosa.  The Ponderosa already has many goldfish so tadpoles have little hope of surviving there anyway.  There are three other problems with mosquitofish.

  1. They are very quick, swimming to the the deepest section of the far side of the pond whenever they see us.
  2. They are very observant.  They see us as soon as we even begin to approach the pond.
  3. They are live bearers so there are constantly what seems like millions of fry in the pond.

We have managed to catch most of the really large ones, but those that remain (about 15) swim together in a school and are even more cautious than the others.  They continue to elude us, despite daily attempts with the big net.  Sometimes we go out at night with a flashlight and try to catch them.  That seemed to work for a while but then they got wise to us.

Bewildered.

The dragonfly larva we found in the pond.

The dragonfly larva we found in the pond.

This morning during one of our fishing attempts, instead of mosquitofish, we found something completely unexpected in our net.  (Picture right).  It was approximately two – three inches long and writhed around, very displeased at being disturbed.  After inspecting it, we decided that it bore a strong resemblance to the dragonflies that enjoy the pond.  We decided it must be a dragonfly larva. Later in the day we found another one.  Perhaps they are also contributing to the decline of the tadpoles.  We don’t want to relocate them, however.  Some of the goldfish are large enough to be dangerous to our young dragonfly friends.

A quick internet search yielded the following information about dragonflies.  Dragonflies are predatory from birth.  They live underwater in their larval stage, eating mosquito larvae, small fish, and yes–tadpoles.  Dragonfly larvae (i.e., nymphs) have a special appendage on their heads that they use as a spear to catch small fish.   (We didn’t notice this appendage, but it sounds quite frightening.) When they have matured to airborne insects, they catch mosquitoes and gnats in mid-air before devouring them.  Hats off to dragonflies!