Tag Archives: wildlife

Helping Frogs Survive the Winter

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In the winter, frogs might seek refuge in your pond.  Being ectothermic or cold-blooded, frogs regulate their body temperature by exchanging heat with their surroundings.  These surroundings can be mud in a deep plant pocket or a potted plant located in a deep area of the pond, preferably below the frost line.   The soil in the pocket or pot provides the needed warmth to assure a warm overwintering for your amphibious friends.

As with fish, it is equally important to keep an opening in the ice for frogs.  This allows for the release of harmful gases and the replenishment of fresh oxygen.

There are several options to accomplish the opening in the ice:

  • One popular option is a floating pond de-icer.  De-icers are designed to maintain a small hole in the pond ice.  Most are thermostatically controlled to insure a worry-free solution for your pond fish.
  • Another option is to move your existing pond pump close to the water surface to create water movement.  There are pumps that are marketed towards this versatile option.   Aquascape markets their AquaForce® for this very solution.  Depending on the extremity of the weather, this option might be successful.
  • Another option is pond aeration.  You may already have aeration located at the bottom of your pond.  However, winter applications for pond aerators are not recommended to be placed on the bottom of the pond as this can disrupt the natural thermocline of the deeper portions of the pond.  Most successful winter applications involve placing the aeration discs 1 to 1-1/2 feet below the water level.   Always consult your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation of winter applications.

Got Frogs? Toads?

Got Frogs?  How about toads?  These amphibians are considered by many specialists to be excellent indicators of the overall environmental stability of their local ecosystem.  These sensitive creatures are usually the first casualties in an endangered ecosystem.

Their existence is important in both their predator and prey roles.  When traveling to Panama a few years ago to help with golden frog rescue efforts, Zoo Animal Care Supervisor Jeff Landry commented, “I was so surprised at how quiet the rainforest was and how much algae was growing in the ponds, this was due to the lack of frogs in the rainforest and the frog tadpoles that feed off the algae. With no frogs reproducing, there are no tadpoles, which have big consequences on the environment.”

Frogs and toads feed largely on insects, so it’s quite easy to see their importance in our environment.  The frog shown in the above picture is a Bull Frog that visited my pond last Spring.  Their diets differ from other species in the fact that they eat fish, small ducks and other frogs; making them not as desirable in your serene pond environment.  Attracting the insect loving frogs and toads can be done with a few suggestions from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

  • Leave some leaf litter under your trees, shrubs and in the garden.
  • Encourage native ground covers, grasses and wildflowers.
  • Build a burrow for their protection.   This can be as simple as a punching a hole in a flower pot, place the top opening on the ground in a shaded, moist garden area.
  • Ponds with natural vegetation and rocks are welcoming to them as well.
  • Erecting a toad light that is no taller than 3 feet and is located near the border of a garden or rocky area.  This light will attract insects at night, which is when they feed.
  • Discourage children from catching and caging of frogs and toads.
  • Minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

 

 

References for this article:

http://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/conservation/year-of-frog

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12148-35095–,00.html

 

Create Your Own Backyard Bird Sanctuary

Image Complements of ren_041 at stock.schng

Transforming your backyard into a bird haven is a dream of many.  That dream can easily be made a reality by learning the requirements of your feathered friends.  Birds, like humans, have basic needs, which include:  a good source for food, water and shelter.  These needs become scarcer when the climate becomes cold in northern regions.  It increases the importance for maintaining the basic needs all year round.  Here are a few suggestions from the National Audubon Society:

The Basics

Food

Birds will flock to the food that suits them.  To attract a variety of birds, consider these treats help to overwintering:

  • Thistle or Nyjer seed- Attracts chickadees and finches, including goldfinches.  Do not confuse this with the prickly thistle, a pink-flowered weed used by goldfinches to line their nests.
  • Suet Cakes and Bird Pudding Cakes – Attracts insect eating birds, like: nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and others.  Place the suet in specific feeders at least five feet from the ground to keep away from dogs.  This is a cool weather treat as the hot weather can turn it rancid.
  • Nut and Fruit Blend- Attracts cardinals, titmice, woodpeckers, and many more.  Place this treat in a tube-shaped, metal mesh feeder.
  • Sunflower Seed- has several well known varieties.  Striped sunflower seeds are enjoyed by many large-beaked birds.  Black-oil seed is enjoyed by small feeder birds.
  • Millet- is preferred by many small-beaked ground-feeding birds including: quail, doves, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds.
  • Medium Cracked Corn – is popular with the same ground feeding birds that enjoy millet.  Feed on feeding tables off of the ground, as it tends to absorb moisture and will rot rather quickly.
  • Milo, Wheat, Oats – attracts pheasants, quail and doves.  These products are frequently mixed into low-priced birdseed blends.

Water

Clean, fresh water is an important aspect in controlling the spread of disease among birds.  It is recommended to replace water daily in birdbaths.

Shelter

  • Avoid using pesticides on lawns and gardens
  • Reduce the amount of lawn surrounding your home by planting native trees and shrubs, which will provide food for the insects birds eat.
  • Pile up brush and fallen branches to create shelter for birds.
  • Rake leaves so they are under the shrubs to provide habitat for insects, a necessary food for chicks and adults.
  • Put up birdhouses for more permanent shelter.
  • Locate feeders within 3 feet of windows, or better yet, more than 30 feet away, so birds taking off from feeders are less likely to mistake reflections for open sky.
  • Keep cats indoors, where they and the birds are safer.

 

References:

http://birds.audubon.org/bird-feeding-basics

http://birds.audubon.org/selecting-seeds

Wildlife Nest Boxes

If you are interested in attracting certain wildlife species to your property, the addition of nesting boxes can encourage certain species to take up residence to fulfill several of their basic needs-nesting and shelter.  Whether you plan to construct your own nest boxes or buy them, there are several important factors will help assure for a successful happy nester.

Each wildlife species has specific needs pertaining to their nesting box internal cavity size, as well as, the entrance hole size into that nesting box.  These dimensions will help determine what species can inhabit the box and which ones are excluded.

In addition to nesting dimensions, it’s equally as important to install the nesting box at the correct height and location most suited for your target species.

Below is a list of common wildlife species found in the Midwest region of the United States.

 

Happy Nesting to you and your friends!

References for this article:

http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-246-W.pdf

http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/fnr/wildlife/PDFfiles/NCR338.pdf

My Pond Mistake

Well, I made a mistake last fall.  You know, the kind of mistake that is the result of saying, “Ehh, I’ll worry about it later.”   My procrastination, or should I say mistake, caused me a lot more work this spring because this pond is located directly under a huge oak tree.  To say I had a lot of leaves in the pond was an understatement.  Had I taken the time to buy a net to place over the pond last fall, I could’ve prevented a lot of work for myself. 

All winter long, the leaves sat in the pond.  The resulting smell alone from the decaying leaves, worms and the newly established algae was enough to knock you down from a standing position.  I didn’t house any fish in the pond which is why my negligence for this situation happened.  If I had fish in the pond, I would’ve taken the time to clean it.  I do value their little lives. 

What’s the moral to this story?  Maybe this will motivate all of you to not procrastinate like I did.  But in the meantime, if you’re faced with this same situation, here’s some food for thought:

  1. Skim out as many leaves as you can with a net.  I actually purchased a pool net from a local hardware store.  This made the job a lot easier. 
  2. I then proceeded to drain the pond with a pump.  I actually don’t have a sump pump so I used the actual pond pump and just attached an old hose to the top of the outlet.  It’s not the best scenario, but the pump is strong enough to pump out the water at a decent rate. 
  3. Clean/replace your filters and proceed to refill your pond.  It’s wise to check and clean your filter more periodically than normal because of the extra contaminates in the pond.  Don’t forget to add any supplemental watering treatments to your water before are adding fish to your pond.

And by the way, I don’t plan do that again this fall!  Because, I do plan to add fish to the pond this season.  Hopefully I will have some beautiful pictures of fish to show you throughout the year.  Happy spring cleaning to all of you!

Attracting Hummingbirds

These tiny creatures, most of them weighing in around 3 grams, bring huge joy to many of us in the summer.  If you’re like me, then you want to continue to attract these creatures.  To accomplish this, you should not only provide them an ample food source but also you should consider their shelter and nesting needs as well.

Food sources are very important to hummingbirds.  With a high metabolism, the ability to flap their wings up to 53 times per second and their flight speed of 27 mph are all reasons why they eat their body weight in nectar daily and can eat up to 2,000 insects a day.  That’s quite an appetite!  So, let’s look at a few ways to assure they can obtain their two main food sources:

Two Food Sources:


  1. Nectar

Hummingbirds have two main sources for receiving their nectar nourishment: through flowers and nectar feeders.

Flowers-Planting native flowers, shrubs and vines that are colored orange, pink or red with tubular flowers are most popular as a nectar source.  Plant for constant blooming all season as this will give an uninterrupted nectar source for the hummingbirds.

Nectar Feeders– Proper care of nectar feeders is needed to assure for a healthy nectar source for the hummingbirds.  Be prepared to clean the feeder every 2-3 days by discarding old nectar and disassembling the feeder.  Scrub with hot water and a bottle brush to remove deadly fungus.  Do not use honey in the feeder as this creates a deadly virus for hummingbirds.  You can buy nectar just about anywhere you purchase your feeder.  You can also make your own sugar water solution.  The National Audubon Society recommends a recipe of boiling a mixture of 1 part sugar with 3 parts water.  Microwave boiling isn’t recommended because it molecularly alters the nutritional value.  Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.  Adding red food coloring is not recommended.

Location is important for the nectar feeders.  They should be placed in a shady, open area to prevent the premature spoiling of the nectar and ease of access for our feathered friends.

       2.    Insects

Providing a natural environment for insects to congregate is way of assuring a food source for the hummingbirds.  In a natural setting, weed patches are native habitat for insects.  Obviously if you live in a subdivision or other areas where this is unacceptable, consider planting native plants that insects are attracted to, such as: purple coneflower and bee balm.  They are also visually appealing, and butterflies love them as well.   Trees that bear fruit are another way to attract insects.  It might be practical to hang a nectar feeder from this fruit tree to further increase your chances of attracting more hummingbirds.

Nesting/Shelter

Hummingbirds build nests using soft-lined plants such as pussy willow flowers and the fluffy seeds from dandelion and thistle, among others.  They take shelter in trees.

Predators

Just like any other creature, hummingbirds have predators including: housecats, preying mantis, snakes, to name a few.

Other Considerations
  • Avoid Pesticides which can be ingested by the hummingbirds that eat infested insects.  Instead, encourage the hummingbirds to be your natural insect control.
  • Provide a water source for bathing.  Just like other birds, hummingbirds like to bathe in shallow water, a water mister or a small waterfall.
  • Know your region’s migratory dates for native hummingbirds.  This will allow you to provide your feathered friends a welcoming nectar source after their long journey.  There are several hummingbird migration maps available.  Here is a website that has several such maps for the ruby-throated and the rufous hummingbird.  These maps, which are updated weekly, give the dates of when the hummingbirds were spotted.

Attracting Butterflies

 

Attracting butterflies to your yard can be a very rewarding experience.  I enjoy seeing their presence in my yard every year.  I actually snapped the above picture in one of my gardens.  Understanding a butterfly’s transformational stages will help you to successfully attract these beautiful creatures.  In order to create an environment that will attract and encourage the reproduction of butterflies, you should include plants that serve both their food and shelter needs for all of the four stages of the butterfly’s life. 

For starters, adult butterflies need the proper native plants to lay their eggs upon, as this plant usually serves as the food source for the emerging caterpillar.   When the caterpillar is full grown, it will transition into a pupa or chrysalis.  This cocoon-like stage requires some sort of protection (depending on the species) in the form of a branch, leaves or even underground.  After emerging from this state, the adult butterfly will need nourishment in the form of nectar-providing native plants as it prepares for reproduction. 

Important Details:

  • Feeding the butterfly caterpillars-Since there are very few native species of plants that caterpillars will eat, it’s important to provide their preferred plants (host plants) for the particular species of caterpillar in your area.  Native plants are very important because the caterpillars in your area have evolved with these plants over many years.
  • Feeding the butterflies-These nectar-bearing plants should receive full sun as most butterflies feed in the sun.  Additionally, butterflies are most generally attracted to red, yellow, purple, orange and pink flowers.  Be sure to research the plants that are native to your area.
  • Plant for constant blooming all season- Plant your natives so that there is a continuous, uninterrupted nectar source for the butterflies.  This assures nourishment all season long.
  • Avoid insecticides- These poisons are specifically made to kill insects.
  • Proper shelter in the form of trees and bushes can satisfy several needs for the butterfly.  The first being is that it can provide a place for the pupa’s transitional stage.  This shelter can also serve as a safe place of rest for the butterfly at night, as they tend to sleep on the underside of leaves, in trees, etc.
  • Provide a sunny area with flat rocks for a resting spot.  Butterflies are cold-blooded insects and rely on their environment for their warming needs.
  • Provide water for their “puddling” needs- The activity of puddling is believed to be a way for butterflies to drink water, and it turn, receive nutrients from the water.  You can simulate this environment by having a damp sandy area located in the sun, or by placing a container filled with wet sand in the ground.  Remember to keep the sand moist.