Sharpshooters In our Woods

P1000184sharpshooters240Some leafhoppers look for all the world like thorns on the side of a twig. Some are remarkably colorful or bizarrely shaped–if you take the time to look very closely. (In this image, the splash of color is the garden shed roof in the distance.)

These three were conspicuous, all lined up in a row on a ragweed stem, I think, up above the garden. But when I attempted to take a picture, they got shy. All of them in unison moved to the opposite side of the stem.

I tried several times with the same result, until I realized I could zoom and avoid getting so close that they hid from me.

It was only later I learned that one name for some leafhoppers is “sharp shooters.” I like it. Like snipers hiding behind trees, they position themselves so they are protected from a would-be threat by the stem or branch they are perched on.

Another feature of these creatures (give a look at the google images page) is their odd, thickened front end. That snout contains their ciborium—a massive and powerful sucking pump with which they feed. And very efficiently, I might add:

“The diet of the majority of sharpshooters consists exclusively of nutrient-poor xylem fluid from a great variety of plant species (Andersen et al. 1989). This fluid is comprised of over 95% water with small amounts of organic and inorganic molecules. Amino acids such as glutamine, arginine and asparagine, as well as organic acids such as citric, malic and oxalic acids are often present but occur in concentrations that are magnitudes lower than the nutrients found in other plant tissues.

Because xylem fluid is under a negative pressure, leafhoppers must extract it with a cibarium pump (sucking apparatus) that is powered by large dilator muscles that have their origins in the bulging front region of the head.”

“To successfully develop and reproduce by feeding solely on nutritionally poor xylem fluid, sharpshooters have high consumption rates coupled with an efficient digestive tract that features a re-circulating loop called a filter chamber. They are extremely efficient at assimilating what they have ingested and their waste is 99% water with small amounts of ammonia.

Sharpshooters have been recorded to consume, process, and excrete 17 ml per day (Tipping unpublished data). That is the equivalent of a person drinking nearly 400 gallons of water! The filter chamber allows for greater efficiency in absorbing nutrients from the dilute xylem fluid.” [link]

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Boredom, Blight and Beauty

Goose Creek

The title here came first as I sat mulling over the possibilities this morning, and so a wildflower closeup or some other oooooh-ahhhhh image would have been more appropriate perhaps, but this is what I selected from the recent Lumix shots now up at Flickr.

This landscape, maybe because I’m spending so much time OUT THERE these days, obligate slave to the grass to be mown and various other vegetative chaos like the overgrown road bank just beyond the corner of the house. Today will be my third go at that, and She is complaining about the clutter to her view out the upstairs window because of the small sassafras, pines and spicebush piled up now on Yucca Flats.

Boredom, from the fact that I have checked off most of the top-priority to-do items and have no great obligations on the event horizon. This time of year, something pops up to fill the speaking calendar, so I’m content to wait. So maybe less boredom than freedom from deadlines.

Blight is the name of garden game. I can’t stand to go out there now, after taking such pleasure in the healthy 7-foot tomatoes  now covered with green fruits mostly gray-brown with late blight. We may get not one vine-ripe tomato this year, and that was such a high priority for canning.

And yet…I go out on my sorties with the clippers, chain saw or mattock–and my camera around my neck—and almost always stop to admire, to immerse, to engage.  One aspect of beauty is very personal, and this creek view holds beauty for me because it holds meaning and story, and in that, significance to more than the eyes.

This clickable view (16 x 9 format set in the camera) is taken from our new beach-front property–a considerably-widened creek front area just below the house. The flash floods of July 3 took several feet of the pasture as we watched from the front porch. We’ve somewhat raked the area flat and clean, and its a nice shady spot to sit in a lawn chair with a cold beverage. Gnats, no extra charge.

But what you should glean from this picture is not just a pleasant landscape view. This five-foot geological cross section is a history lesson as well.

The top two feet of the pasture is sand with small rocks under a layer of plant-supporting top soil. That has taken maybe a thousand years to accumulate.

The bottom strata consists of larger rocks and boulders of various parentage that tell the story of a much more violent ancient era of flooding that carried massive amounts of rock, by way of Nameless Creek’s predecessor, down from the much higher peak of Blue Ridge rock, now largely lying in angular rubble as you see here, or as sand, mixed with mollusk shell fragments on an Atlantic beach.

There will be time enough yet for wildflowers and the insects of Autumn that always seem to take center stage photographically this time of year. It was in 2002 I think that I was identified as the “bugman of the blogosphere.”

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Tom Swift

Fence Swift

I’m not sure I have any other images these 13 years here of a lizard. They just–at least until lately–have not been able to survive winters this far north.

A generation from now, we may have reticulated pythons and Gila Monsters on Goose Creek if the warm moves much farther north.

This small “fence swift” (I have named him Tom) was down around the garden this morning, and the macro format of the Lumix LX7 handled it quite well.  The iPhone and the D200 would not have done as well in the low light. This image was taken with the digital zoom (7X) and produced a perfectly acceptable image–at least for computer monitor viewing.

I’m having issues (you can yawn now) with taking the raw files (RW2) to work them in Photoshop 5. Adobe and Panasonic are not playing well together. Maybe there’s a fix that’s not too onerous. DNG converter may qualify as unacceptable.

Where Moth Doth Corrupt

This Yrs Garden and Weed Farm

…and slugs do slither under the bare feet of the wicked. I’m serious. Somehow, more than once, orange (yet again!) slugs have appeared–or been found underfoot–on the hardwood floor of the greatroom.

This is not an experience that leaves one’s psyche untrodden. It’s bad enough that they compete (with a host of other potential invertebrate herbivores) for the garden produce. But mucoid muscular mollusks do not belong between one’s toes.

Forgive me, but I am whining the buggy blues this morning, driven in from the increasingly-verdant garden (as you can see in the picture–click to enlarge) by pests previously unknown to Goose Creek.

Once, the first summer we were here (2000) I looked down to see a trickle of blood weeping down my calf while I picked suckers off the tomatoes. This year, it happens every time I go out to work within the gulag garden-fence. We have black flies.

And we have no-see-ums. Occasionally  in past summers when the winds bring them from the coast, we’ve had a few. We have more than a few. They make me break out in welts. They love to graze my scalp, breaching the boundary of my widebrimmed hat, kicking while bitting like a cat with their spikey little feet, especially when I am helpless to swat, what with wet grass and mulch on my fingers.

The plain old ordinary gnats I used to complain about are still doing their part, to be sure–diving for ear drums and conjunctiva, with the occasional kamikaze strike to nasal or oral targets. PatttoooWeee!

Even so, the tomatoes are setting fruit, none ripe quite yet. The beans are almost all to the top of the cattle panels (8 feet) and flowering. We may, after all, replenish the canning we have depleted, and come September, be done with the Climate Chaos Critters that may be the new regulars of summer.

And oh, BTW, for you heathens, the title is from the Bible.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. Matthew 6:19

Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor

My wife, God bless her, will take into her care whatever needy creature happens to fall into her space. She came home a few months ago with various tomato plants because she took pity on the local gal selling them at the farmers market.

“They’re heirlooms” she said, as if to vindicate the leggy plants purchased well before they would survive the garden nights.

“What kinds?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Whatever.”

I don’t plant WHATEVER in my garden as a rule, taking a bit more forethought about what occupies space in our limited garden fortress.

But there they grow–a brandywine tomato, and two other unknowns whose names quickly washed off their labels–a sure sign the seller was sorta new at this game. But she was selling plants that needed a good home. And my guess is the wife gave her a few bucks extra “because she was a nice person.” I’ll say no more.

Except: she’s done the same thing with livestock. Somebody at the Wednesday night church service “got a few chickens need a good home.”

Bingo: you guessed it. Sight unseen, we have them over in the quagmire that is the barn-roof-runoff saturated chicken pen. (And therein lies another story.) Herself had no idea as to the age, breed or other qualities of said orphaned birds, and she went up maybe two months back and fetched them home: two look-alike fowl of potential chickenhood, and a much smaller genetically modified chickenoid organism.

The birds are of an age that we might expect the two actual chickens to start laying along about October before they stop laying during the shorter days of November. So we’ll get–what–a dozen eggs, each requiring by then a total of two miles and 10 hours of work a piece. Oy!

As if that were not bad enough, insult has been added to injury.

It was a few days back, sitting here peacefully reading on the front porch around 7 in the morning. What’s that! Sounded like maybe a coyote far off. I cupped my hands behind my ears to hear it better. Strange. Repeated a couple of times a minute. Not a howl exactly. Not musical at all like a bird call. Not the bellow of a cow on a distant hilltop pasture. Just very odd.

Then the next morning heading over on poultry duty, adding another chicken mile to the cost-benefit ledger, I heard the sound again–muffled, not unfamiliar, but I couldn’t quite remember where I’d heard this sound before. It was coming from the henhouse, still at that hour closed for the night before.

It was the pitiful adolescent croak of a young rooster. And with that announcement, our pathetic miles per egg ratio just doubled.

The GMO bird will likely begin growing a third wing soon, an obvious grotesquery of diabolical genetic whimsy that we (or at least I) never would have intentionally gathered into our overindulgent fold for orphan plants and animals. So we have a chimera, a hen, and a he-chicken.

After witnessing the beating our couple of hens suffered at the, er, hand of the rooster we inherited from another neighbor a few years back, I can say with certainty he won’t live here long enough to perfect his crow into anything that says rooster to the world.

Free to a good home. To any home. CockaDoodle won’t do a’tall.

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