Natural events, July 2015

We recorded 8.79″ of rain in July, making it a soggy month overall, but for the first time since early May we finally had dry spells longer than 3 days. We welcomed the return of hoe-able ground. The heat and humidity were rather oppressive, but we managed to take a wide variety of photos when we ventured into the outdoors.


Geomorphic change! The left photo is from April 2013. That boulder fell apart recently, now appearing as shown in the photo at right. This is the work of one of the high flow events from the especially intense rain at the beginning of July.


Wildflowers provided nice color to the landscape in July, with especially vibrant displays of Tall Bellflower, Brown-eyed Susan, and Purple Coneflower.


Odonates of the month. The dragonfly on the left is probably a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). On the right is one of the confusing damselflies that doesn’t hold its wings upright, as most damselflies do, but sensibly named a spreadwing (Lestes sp.).


Beetles! Upper left: Red-legged Buprestis (Buprestis rufipes) that Eric found on our house door. Upper right: We found this beetle (subfamily Lamiinae) in the orchard; though we do not know its exact ID, it is from a group notorious for boring into wood. As such, we did not release it back into the orchard. Lower left: Weevil (Rhodobaenus sp.), observed on Giant Ragweed. Lower right: American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana) eating a dead Sylvilagus floridanus on our porch; please don’t ask why. Also observed but not photographed: Early in the month, Joanna saw a beautiful blue and gold beetle crawling on a volunteer elderberry. Unfortunately, this tuned out to be the Elderberry Borer (Desmocerus palliatus).


A discussion of July 2015 beetles wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Japanese Beetles. These annoying invasives seem to be in outbreak mode this year, with the highest populations we’ve seen in our nine years here. They’ve especially attacked our fruit trees, our first year grape vines (bad year to get those going!), our pole beans (they prefer Kentucky Wonder over Rattlesnake Snap), some kind of weedy polygonum, and various other plants. The only redeeming factor is that they’re easy to knock off into a bucket of water (no soap needed) in the morning, and our chickens eat them like candy. If chickens have a satiation point on beetles, we haven’t encountered it yet. And here’s to hoping we never do!


This Black Rat Snake got itself into a little trouble, by getting tangled in bird netting that we were using over the blueberries. We had the unused end bundled and tied, but anyone who has worked with the stuff knows it can be a little unruly. When I went to put the netting away, I noticed the bundle twitching. Uh oh. We managed to disentangle the snake from the netting, but only by putting quite a few holes in the netting in the process. We released the snake just after the photo, and it seemed little worse for the wear.

We had a couple of other July “incidents” that were likely Black Rat Snake related. Early in the month, our garage was housing a hen with four recently hatched chicks. Until there were only two very young chicks. Uh oh. And we also had a number of eggs disappear from our mobile chicken shed. Normally, it’s hard to say whether hot weather slowed down laying, or whether something actually stole eggs. But this time we know we had an egg thief, as our two ceramic eggs (used to encourage laying in the nest box) disappeared, one each on two different occasions. Uh oh for us. Bigger uh oh for the snake (assuming it was a snake) with an indigestible ceramic egg in its belly. Are our egg yields better than usual for July because of all that Japanese Beetle protein, or because we inadvertently incapacitated some egg predators? july_natural_slugs

Some kind of spotted slugs, maybe of the genus Limax, were more abundant than we’ve ever seen. In fact, I don’t remember seeing even one of these until last year. Whatever they are, box turtles seem to consider them a worthy breakfast. They’re also capable of shorting out an electric fence by jumping power from an electric line to a metal post; fried slug is among the rare treats we don’t eat here.


Earlier this year, in late May/early June, we dabbled in harvesting a small amount of clover/alfalfa hay with our European-style scythe. The hay dried reasonably for about two days, but it being 2015, rain threatened and we brought it under cover, stashing it in a cart in one of our sheds. It was dry enough to not be a fire hazard, but we thought we would spread it in the sun for another day when conditions dried out, which they never really did. Eventually, we needed the cart, so the hay needed to move. It was infested by a large population of moths and presumably their larval caterpillars, shown above. (The caterpillar on the right is about 1/2″ in length.) I thought a pest that would eat hay this voraciously would be easy to identify with a few search terms in Google, but the best we can say so far is that it is probably a moth in the family Noctuidae. Reader input?


This is the first year our apples and Asian pears have set a meaningful amount of fruit, and we figured the year would be an educational one, teaching us what pest problems we were up against if we’re going to raise tree fruit in Missouri. We thought we’d mostly be trying to identify various larval insects in the fruit. And it’s not that they don’t exist, but it turns out that birds and raccoons have been our bigger problems so far. The damage in the photos above is primarily from birds, as we wrote about here. And then the raccoons hit. We finally set up temporary electric fences around all of the remaining trees with fruit, but not before losing a depressingly large percentage of the crop. Nevertheless, we’ve been eating a slow but steady supply of slightly damaged apples.


After a long wait, we finally found some chanterelles in the deep woods on the more remote eastern half of our property starting on July 18. One of our previous chanterelle hotspots, shown at right, has not yielded a single chanterelle for our basket this year, and it is not for want of looking. What’s disconcerting is that this spot is close to the zone of tested & confirmed fungicide drift from 2014. Our shiitake logs, too, have been as unproductive as we’ve ever seen them. If any readers are chanterelle hunters or shiitake growers in the region, we’d love to hear from you about your mushroom experiences this year.


False Hellebore, Veratrum woodii. This is a common plant in our woods, especially on north facing slopes, and its rosettes of elegant leaves are quite noticeable in April, which is when the photo at right was taken. However, its identity has been a mystery, because we’ve never seen it flower…until this year. Has it really not flowered until this year, or have we missed its flowering because we haven’t ventured deep enough into the woods often enough in July to see it? We don’t know. The photo on the left shows the flowers, and the photo in the middle shows the full stalk, from the basal rosette of leaves to the ~5′ tall stalk.


Unidentified spiders, left on Purple Coneflower, right on Sunn Hemp (a leguminous cover crop that we’re trying out this year for the first time).

In other news, the Northern Bobwhite that we routinely enjoyed listening to through June and early July stopped singing immediately after the commodity crop fields across Silver Fork Creek to our north were worked & planted, on July 14. That area had been fallow longer than usual due to heavy rainfall, allowing the quail to temporarily start using it. July 14 is, of course, the one-year anniversary of the crop-duster drift from the same fields.

One thought on “Natural events, July 2015

  1. Thank you for the photograph of the Weevil (Rhodobaenus sp.). They are reproducing on my Common Milkweed plants; they are really attracted to the seedpods. I hadn’t taken the time to identify them, but you helped take care of that. Curious if they are eating the Monarch Butterfly eggs.

    Also, I appreciated the commentary about the Japanese Beetles, especially the idea of knocking them into a bucket of water. Really great idea.

    Keep up the great blog.