Weekly Homestead Report 6: September 19, 2016

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I’ve been on Nantucket for most of the past week, so I’m relying on Charley to provide much of the fodder for this post. I work in the natural science museum at the Maria Mitchell Association; this week I had the honor of meeting our new Natural Science Director, Dr. Emily Goldstein, as well as seeing off my good friend and previous Director, Andrew Mckenna-Foster. Just before catching the ferry home this morning, I went out with them to check American Burying Beetle pitfall traps (evaluating a long-term reintroduction project). I’ll write more on that first insect love of mine another day, but that’s what is going on in the photos below. I’ve included photos of the endangered ABB (Nicrophorus americanus), as well as its more common cousins N. marginatus, N. orbicollis, and N. tomentosus. 

Anyway, before I left home on Wednesday, I finished blocking in the raised beds in the hoop house and planted some lettuce in the bed that I’d already filled with compost.

Charley has continued tracking the development of the monarch caterpillars that hatched last week. They’re getting bigger. We’ve also been seeing several fresh-looking adult monarchs on the butterfly bush and wildflowers in the yard.

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Both the wild fox grapes and our cultivated Concord grapes are ripening and smell delicious. I sense grape juice and jelly in our immediate future.

A bear left its calling card on the path between the chicken coop and the shed. It had obviously been enjoying the grapes as well. In fact, seeing this is what reminded Charley that it was time to check on the local grapes.

About once a week, we think we’re eating the last mulberry, but then we spot a green one. This time around, when Charley ate the one ripe mulberry, he discovered two additional flowers! I’d be surprised if these ripen before the frost, but we’ll see.

Charley also noticed this millipede while he was mowing some grass by the pawpaw patch. It’s a Narceus sp.  People often confuse millipedes and centipedes. Centipedes have just one pair of legs per segment and are somewhat flattened; millipedes have two pairs of legs per segment and a rounded body. (I remember that millipedes have more legs than centipedes because a million is more than a hundred).

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Charley found some other fun bugs munching on the birch in our woods on Friday morning. You can read about it and enjoy his fantastic photographs on BugTracks.

There are still lots of veggies in the garden. Charley picked an oddly deformed tomato, and I remembered that I’d found one like it a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what’s going on with these.

On Nantucket, in addition to preparing lots of birds as specimens for the museum, I had the opportunity to witness the beautiful spectacle of a tree swallow tornado. At dusk, around 50,000 swallows began swirling around our hilltop perch in Sanford Farm. They flew all around us in a disorganized flurry for about half an hour, wowing me with the sound of their wing beats as hundreds flew past at once.  Finally, when it was just too dark to get a decent photo, the whole flock rose up quite high above Hummock Pond, forming a murmuration like a school of fish that bent one direction, then another, and then down, down, in a ribbon to roost in the phragmites and cattails in the marsh. It was a graceful tornado, a ribbon with a curl. Finally, they were all down and out of sight. Less than a minute later, a strikingly large and orange full moon rose in the east.

The following day, about 20 birders walked out to witness the beautiful event together. David Policansky got some nice video footage. You may be able to view it here (on his Facebook page).

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