Friday, October 17, 2008

More Fall Colors

Fall gardening and other business have kept me busy this month--hence, the lack of posts. Meanwhile, Fall continues it relentless march, weaving a quilt of colors and ruffling up piles of leaves along the way. Overnight temperatures recently dipped into the upper 30's and several frost advisories already have been issued. The foliage in this part of the world is outstanding, and our wooded backyard is no exception:

A riot of colors on the ground...

and this glorious sugar maple is a likely suspect.

The red drupes of this Mohawk viburnum begin morphing to blue-black...

while this spring-blooming Dart's Duke viburnum seems confused!

Abelia chinensis is weighed down with honey-scented blooms...

while the glossy abelia's blooms are nearly spent.

This blackhaw viburnum looks hot to the touch!

A red-twigged dogwood has slipped into its winter jammies.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Serpent In The Garden

In the almost four years that we have lived in Southwest Michigan, I have never seen a snake on our property. So you can imagine my excitement when I walked outside this afternoon and came across this on our driveway:

I happen to love snakes and greatly respect the role they play in the eco-system. Just this summer, I had expressed my disappointment to someone that so far snakes hadn't been a part of our wildlife repertoire here at A House In The Woods. Now that one had finally shown up, I was practically tripping over myself with excitement as I ran back inside to grab my camera.

Racing back to the driveway, I was relieved to find my snake exactly where I'd left it. At first, because of its flared head (see below), thick body, sluggish movements and tapering tail, I thought this might be a young Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, Michigan's only venomous snake, and a rare sight indeed. Keeping a respectful distance, I tried to locate the telltale rattles on its tail but couldn't discern any.

After snapping several pics, I stepped back to observe this beautiful creature for some minutes as it made its sluggish way in the direction of the garden. Its middle looked somewhat distended, as if it recently had enjoyed a meal (an unfortunate toad or baby vole, perhaps?) From time to time it flattened its head and curled the tip of its tail, as if warning me to keep clear. Here are some more images:

I finally managed to tear myself away long enough to go inside and look up the Michigan DNR's website. While my snake looked sort of like a Massasauga, it also sort of didn't. The shape and thickness were similar to a young Massasauga's, but the pattern was somewhat off.

Here's a photo of the Eastern Massasauga from the Michigan DNR website:

Since I couldn't decide conclusively that this snake and mine were one and the same, I scrolled down to the list of lookalike snakes and found this:

This is the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. According to the Michigan DNR website, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake also is thick bodied, slow moving and will flare its head, coil and even strike.

Compare the photo of the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake with the photos of my snake and it's obviously a match. A little more about the Eastern Hog-nosed, from the Michigan DNR website:

A snake of open, sandy woodlands - found in the wooded dunes of western Michigan. The upturned snout is used to burrow after toads, a favorite food. When threatened, hognose snakes puff up with air, flatten their necks and bodies, and hiss loudly. (This has led to local names like "puff adder" or "hissing viper.") If this act is unsuccessful, they will writhe about, excrete a foul smelling musk, and then turn over with mouth agape and lie still, as though dead. Despite this intimidating behavior, Hog-nosed snakes are harmless to humans.

"Wooded dunes perfectly describes our backyard habitat and it's almost impossible to walk a few steps without stumbling over a toad, so it looks like my snake has found a perfect Garden of Eden here. Welcome, Mr. Hog-nosed!

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Ham Is Born

Milo recently made his publishing debut in an article I wrote for eHow. He received the standard rate of treats and tummy rubs for hamming it up for the camera.

A Precocious Season

Officially, today is the first day of autumn. Unofficially, harbingers of fall--especially foliage--have been conspicuously visible since mid-August. I can't remember seeing so much color so early in the year (brought on perhaps by weeks of unseasonably cooler nights).

Not that I'm complaining. I love all the seasons--even the harsh, protracted Michigan winters--but fall always has held a special place in my heart.

Below are a few samples of the burgeoning fall colors in our yard:

A viburnum flaunting lustrous purplish-red jewel tones.

A sugar maple already adorned in full autumn splendor.

Another viburnum with leaves gloriously hued in rich wine shades.

This sumac tree has been displaying flaming orange to crimson colors since late August.

The berries of this winterberry shrub (also known as Michigan holly) turned bright red only this past weekend.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

He's Ba-ack!

I miss having the windows open while I work, so Mr. Michigander and I decided that if the ventilation pipe were moved, it might deter Tony Peanut from climbing up to the double windows. Then we could put back the screens and once again enjoy the summertime sounds and smells of our wooded backyard.

Last week, the heating and air conditioning men came out and spent most of the day cutting and removing siding, knocking out holes, disassembling, refitting and then reassembling the ventilation pipe roughly three feet away from its original spot--the maximum distance our local building code allows.

Still, the vent pipe no longer provided easy access to the double windows so we happily popped the window screens back into place.

In spite of all the racket, Tony came around once or twice. Much to the workmen's amusement, he sat on the deck railing munching his peanuts and monitoring their progress.

"That should fix his wagon," I told Mr. Michigander, smug in the knowledge that Kamikaze Tony would finally be grounded for good.

I was wrong.