backyarchaeology


A small chrysalis found in the backyard dirt a couple weeks ago developed in the safety of our old frogquarium where I placed it, and when I checked it this afternoon found the moth within had emerged:

moth

So I popped the top and just managed to catch it on camera before it lifted off.

This is not to be confused with the giant chrysalis found March 6 that’s also in the frogquarium still a work-in-progress.

Winter always freaks me out when it comes to our Russian tortoise, Buster. Why? Hibernation. She doesn’t eat at all during that season and instead literally hunkers down and “sleeps” through the short days and cold weather. Even though I know it’s what tortoise are awesome at doing for the 250 million years they’ve been around, I still worry about her on a daily basis — especially when those days turn into months.

Well, the worry’s over as of this Friday morning. The warmer-than-normal temps we’re having in Los Angeles got Buster stirring and today I set out some food and the cam to timelapse what I hoped would be her first meal since at least December. And I got it. As you can see it wasn’t an extended stay at the buffet, but it was enough to have me breath a sigh of relief and let out a silent cheer that spring is almost here.

One of the most splendiferous bonuses of having a backyard to walk out into is those times when I do so in the midst of a visit by any number of creatures. Though some are more welcome than others (I’m holding my nose and looking at you skunks), all are wondrous reminders that even at our most city-fied and urbanized, nature finds a way.

This morning’s encounter involved a very healthy and huge juvenile red-tailed hawk who I found perched high in the tallest of our twin palms.

It obliged me just long enough to run inside and return with my camera to get the following sloppy series as it made its exit northward to less paparazzi-rich environs (click them for the bigger pictures):

Number of seeds: Five

Planted: July 4

Sprouted: July 8-11

Patched (as seen below): July 12

The good news is that — as planned — I got an earlier start with my pumpkin patch than last year. The bad news is that — not as planned — juuust like last year instead of planting pumpkin seeds I may very well have planted completely similar looking butternut squash seeds. Again.

Basically what happened last year is that I mixed up seed sets of the two veggies because I just left them sitting on the sill unidentified. When I planted them last summer I did an eenie-meaney-miney-mo and thought I’d planted pumpkin. It didn’t take long to be shown my error and we wound up with a nice 11-pound crop of butternuts.

To remedy that fail I vowed not to repeat it, but once again the batch of seeds left on the sill in a shot glass went unlabeled and now I’m not sure if they’re one or the other. But whatever they are they have happily sprouted and been transferred to the patch.

PS. It wouldn’t be a proper day of digging in the backyard if I didn’t unearth something (however minor) to add to the Backyarchaelogy Museum:

An awesome neighbor spearheaded an informal July 4th block party yesterday, and Susan and I were one of a bunch of residents who participated. Susan made a cheesecake to share with anyone who dropped by to say hey, and I had semi-grand plans of displaying some of the finds that I’ve dug up over the years and accumulated together as my Museum of Backyarchaeology.

Susan was much more successful with her dessert than I was with my exhibit. But eventually I did dive into the box where most of the collection is kept and for the first time physically paired up the spent and deformed bullet I unearthed several years ago with a .38 caliber casing that the earth rather surprisingly regurgitated to its surface earlier this year in the same section of soil (click it for the bigger picture):

Of all the strange things that I’ve dug up out back over the years, this duo yields perhaps the greatest intrigue. What happened that necessitated the gun being fired, to whom or what might the bullet have been meant… and if so was it a shot that found its target?

Kinda creepy. So here’s hoping that target was simply a tree or a bottle and the shot was fired neither in anger nor defense, but perhaps in practice.

Assuming that the casing and bullet once were one, the brittleness of the brass seems to indicate they were divorced of each other many, many years ago.

Found this mystery insect patiently perched on one of our backyard hibiscus blooms in the full light of yesterday’s morning sun (click it for the bigger picture):

Yesterday morning, our internet connection was very much fouled up. All systems were nominal but to say pages were glacial in how they loaded would be almost complimentary. So in the grip of such stagnancy I did the best thing I could and stepped away from the desk to work out my frustrations on a particularly overgrown corner of the backyard.

Suffice it to say the grass-infested section has been severely stripped of its mean green, with me doing the denuding job old-school, grabbing handfuls of the weeds and pulling until there was pretty much nothing left to pull. I don’t have a before shot, but here’s the after, with the rockfall looking pretty much like it hasn’t since shortly after I created it in 2005 beneath our strange section of stacked back wall:

In the aftermath of my endeavor, I founds me some kritterz, and got out my cam to document them.

This first one is a terrifically small bluish snail of unknown species:

In the course of my excavations over the years I can count on coming across semi-fossilized shells of this type, but never before have I actually found one occupied and on the move.

Next up is this family of fungusesses, previously hidden almost completely behind a thick patch of grass:

The relatively wide gaps between significant rains this season has limited their appearance — coupled with the fact that they are very, very short-lived. Literally here today, gone tomorrow.

Next up is a relatively common find, a mystery chrysalis I’ve encountered often over the years. Unlike those creatures who’ll metamorph between their terrestrial and airborne stages whilst suspended from branches and such, these prefer just laying about on the bare ground.

And they react to being touched:

Finally, I saved the best — or let’s say beast — for last. I’ll spare those of you with potato bug issues by putting the image after the after jump. If it’s any consolation, time wasn’t too long ago when the only thing I could do when encountering these gigantic glistening beady-eyed bastards was run as fast away from them as I could while screaming like a little girl. I’m talking serious phobia. But then something happened back in 2004 on Santa Cruz Island, when not only could I manage to be in their presence without trembling in fear, but I also held one (albeit in thickly begloved hands).

Since then, I’ve come to appreciate how awesome they are. Still entirely creepy and unreal. But awesome.

One of the most curious things is that despite all my diggings in the yards over the years, I had never ever unearthed a potato bug on our property, and still haven’t. Today’s specimen is no exception to that trend. It was Susan who found it upside down on the sidewalk in front of our garage when she got home from work. And after alerting me to its presence I wasted no time going down and marveling at it for a while, noting that while not obviously injured, it’s mobility was strictly limited. So I relocated all 2.5″ inches of it to the backyard, where it could recover or expire in more natural surroundings (rather than get shmushed under someone’s shoe). This morning it indeed had done the latter.

See for yourself if you dare.

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