October 20, 2011

Different Galls this Year?

This is the time of year, when the leaves of the oak trees, contain those curious, mysterious, gall formations.  (For those of you not familiar with "galls" you might want to click here to check out last year's posting.) 

Upon arriving home from work yesterday afternoon, I decided to take a walk in the Secret Garden before getting rerady for prayer meeting at the church.  I grabbed my camera and headed out.  The last rain storm had flattened most of the long grasses which had been hiding the creek from view.   The creek was now visible from the bank and full of tiny fish (perhaps tadpoles).  After spending sometime enjoying the new view, I headed over to the grove of Oak trees where last years' pink galls were found and to my surpirse, the leaves were covered with two entirely different types of galls from those found last year.  How fascinating!  Is this difference because a different type of insect is now present in the secret garden?  Or do the trees themselves, change the way in which they protect themselves from the insect eggs that are laid.  Gall formation is still a mystery, even among those who study it for a living.  Anyway, here is what was discovered on my adventures of yesterday afternoon.

August 27, 2011

A Man and His Cat

Today was filled with what seemed like a thousand things and I was not able to work on my art projects.  However, we had a most wonderful day together.  At the end of the day, Michael was tormenting "Monkey" with a long piece of cording that I had discarded on the floor earlier in the week.    While I was checking emails, Michael crawled underneath my work table, grabbed Monkey and put him in (what we call) "lock- down".  That's where he wraps his arms around Monkey, and keeps him from moving.  They were both just 2 feet away, right under my feet; so, I took a few pictures.   What a blessed way to end a day.  What we thought were just a few fun shots, that had come out really blurry, we ended up with a series of black and white art pieces that look more like pencil sketches.  I simply used Microsoft Picture Editor to reduce the color saturation, increase the contrast and lighten the monotones.  

July 29, 2011

Another Visitor

As we were watering the wild flower garden and filling up the humming bird feeders, I glanced down and found that a little, tiny, baby "Praying Mantis" had stopped by to pay a visit.   He was joined by a bright black and red beetle.  The beetle scurried along too quickly for me to take his picture; but, the Praying Mantis, was a real ham.  He hung around for a lengthy photo session.

Everywhere you look (if you pause long enough) are little creatures to delight in.

July 4, 2011

More Wildflowers from our Garden

 Just one of those Unexpected Shots

This is one of those creatures that hatches from a Gall - Research Time

A Magical Morning in the Garden #2

A scene inside one of the wild flowers that bloomed.

A Magical Morning in the Garden #1

Every night, starting in April and running through the hot summer months, you can hear what must be a "one thousand frog symphony" began to play as soon as the sun starts to set in the Secret Garden.  Ever since we moved here, I have wanted to actually see one of those little critters.  I have gone quietly down to the creek bank just before sunset; and crouched down.  I could hear them; but, I have never spotted one.

This morning, right around 5:30 am, I went down stairs to water the wild flower garden before the heat of the day was upon us. (It's going to be in the triple digits all week.) As I started pouring out the water from the first watering can, I saw something jump--a something that was no larger than a cock roach.  Yikes!   Guess what?  It was a teeny, tiny frog!

June 28, 2011

The Attack!

As Michael was edging in for a closer shot, he had to quickly abandoned his mission.  In fact, he moved so quickly, that his sandals stayed put and he kept going--or so I was told upon arriving home for lunch today.  Now that would have been a picture.

Okay, enough suspense.   Michael was on the second story balcony when he spotted a large female turkey walking through the Secret Garden.  Following on her tail where a half dozen or more fur balls scurrying along.  He grabbed the camera and went downstairs to get a closer look and perhaps a picture or two.  That was when the mother turkey decided that he was too close.  Have you ever seen a turkey in attack mode?  They spread their wings, thrust them to the front and move with a stomping quick pace towards the enemy.  That's when Michael lost his shoes.

Needless to say, he was fine.  He didn't even step on any stickers or sharp rocks during his barefoot get away.  After lunch the momma turkey decided to bring her brood back through and Michael was able to get a few pictures, although from a safer distance.

One of the Chicks Hiding in the Tall Grass

If you look closely you can see three little chicks around mom's feet

Two Little Ones Huddling Together Awaiting Safe Passage

The Wild Flower Bed - Week Ten

It's been almost ten weeks since we sowed the seeds.  Remember this at week nine?

It is now this...

We finally have blooms!  There are three varieties of flowers that seem to comprise the garden.  This particular variety is the first to bloom.  On the same plant there are actually four different colored blooms.  We are hoping to see another variety bloom soon.  It is great fun anticipating what kind and color of flower that will be.  I am thinking it will be yellow or orange.  Below are the other blooms from the same plant above:

June 25, 2011

Talk about Organic Cooking!

When I arrived home on Thursday, I discovered a bowl full of little yellow, red and purple gumballs.  Well, that is actually what they looked like.  Perfect little round balls of shiny color.  Earlier in the day, Michael had taken off across the creek to gather wild plums and had washed them and left them for me to discover.

   Michael had taken the above pictures before I arrived home.  I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed.  Why disappointed?  Simply for having missed the adventure.  However, I was happy that he had gone exploring on his own and had brought home the plunder.

Wild plums are okay to eat right off the tree, however, we had some pork cutlets just waiting for a delicious plum sauce.  So, we decided to look up a recipe for wild plum sauce and guess what?  We found one on a vegetarian from South Carolina's website.  In fact, it was the first website that popped up after I "googled" Wild Plum Sauce".

This meant a trip to the store for me, as the recipe called from minced fresh ginger root, cayenne pepper and soy sauce, of which we had none.  I stopped by Safeway on my way home Friday night to make the purchases.  Once again, the free plums for our homemade wild plum sauce ended up costing us almost $10.00 in the additional ingredients needed.  Oh well, we will have cayenne pepper and ginger root around for probably a year, since I only needed a tablespoon of each for the sauce.

The steps required to make the plum sauce actually took a good hour and a great deal of labor.  While the pork cutlets were baking, I went to work.  After all was said and done, almost 3 pounds of wild plums, made about a cup and a half of plum sauce.  Perhaps, we will rethink this next time.  The cutlets were ready and Michael served up his homemade potatoes salad, as I poured the finished sauce into little bowls.  We didn't want to risk drizzling the sauce on the pork.  We thought dipping would be the way to go, just in case.  I must admit the sauce was delicious.  We sat down and rejoiced as we thanked the Lord for His wonderful provisions and enjoyed the fruits of our labors.

While we are waiting on our Blooms...

While we are waiting on our wild flowers to bloom (eight weeks now and no blooms), the Secret Garden is blooming all over the place!   We do not recall these particular flowers last year, and it is a delight to see how the garden changes with each passing season.  With the crazy storms this winter, the winds and rains must have carried seeds into the Secret Garden from some far off place.  During our walk this morning, we decided to document some of the new flowers that have appeared this year.

June 19, 2011

Finally; a little, tiny bud!

We might actually see flowers!  It's been eight weeks since we sowed the wild flower seed in the little flower box that we constructed at the base of the stairs leading up to our second floor apartment.  Every morning, for eight weeks, we have watered them--sometimes in the late afternoon, as well.   That comes to approximately 82 trips up and down those stairs with a watering can in each hand. 

Here is what we discovered this morning:


June 15, 2011

Week Eight?????

Well, it's week eight for the wild flower garden that we planted from seed.  Upon arriving home, our neighbor, Elliot, commented, "It might help if you got rid of some of the weeds".  WHAT?????  There are no weeds.  Those are the dang wild flowers.  They just have not yet flowered!  I am laughing as I am recounting this.  What if they are weeds?  They are not weeds!  Okay, after 8 weeks and no flowers, even I am starting to wonder.

May 18, 2011

Celebrating One Year in The Garden

I have a truly wonderful husband!  I can't imagine another man putting up with me--and I mean that.  Last night, to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary, we decided to take an "anniversary" picture.  Well, that turned into a project.  I wanted to do something "artistic" which kept evolving as the evening progressed.   My sweet husband, not only put up with the many changes of settings and clothing, but he actually seemed to enjoy it!  Once we hit on capturing our wedding picture in the background of the photo, as the theme for the project, we had to do a great deal of kissing as we changed the tripod location.  I was the serious one-task oriented; setting up the tripod, checking the lighting, etc. and Michael was the one who made the entire experience delightful!  I truly cannot imagine another man actually going through this process, let alone, enjoying it!

It is hard to believe that a year has already passed since we were married.  I can honestly say, that we have celebrated each day with equal delight, as we do this day; but, it is nice to mark the day with a few photo memories. 


May 15, 2011

Week Three in the Wild Flower Garden

It's been three weeks now since we sowed the seeds and we had started to see a great deal of growth and promise.  For the first time since we had sown the seeds, I really thought that we might get flowers.  They had survived turkeys scratching, squirrels digging, dogs trampling and maintenance men stomping and even high power blowing  (which Michael was able to stop before they blew all the top soil completely away) and then today it happened.  Something we could have not anticipated.

View from our second-story balcony
 A Hale Storm Came Through

As we enjoyed the excitement of the storm, I suddenly realized that our wild flower garden was being pelted.  I glanced through the bug screen to see the garden covered with a blanket of white.  Just yesterday, I had noticed that the tiny little wild flower plants had just started to really grow.  Some where nearly two inches high and looking very strong.  Once the storm had blown past, I went downstairs to survey the damage.

As I descended the stairs, I could hardly believe how much hale had fallen.  This is California!  Poor little wild flower plants.  Their little leaves were all bruised--some were even torn to shreds.

The storm had also pelted the oak trees and there were oak leaves all over the garden, as well.  Only time will tell if any of our wild flower plants will actually survive this latest onslaught.

May 13, 2011

More Cute Little Creatures?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Upon arriving home today, I spied another one of those little tiny caterpillars (like the one I used to produce the abstract art on a previous blog post). This one was on the front landing at the top of the stairs. It was half the size of the one I photographed on our balcony just a week ago. Just look at this cute little guy!

After taking dozens of shots, I stood up only to discover another one crawling on the siding to the left of the door. I decided to explore a bit further. These little caterpillars could be found almost everywhere I looked. The lamp post had one on the side and one crawling along the bottom of the light fixture. The downstairs apartment had three, as well; one on the wall, one on the front porch, and one near the gas meter.

I then discovered a few small cocoons in various places. It's now time to do a little research and find out exactly what might pop out of these cocoons. I will let you know what I discover.

So much to see, if we only open our eyes!

Wednesday 11, 2011.

I found him, I found him!  He is a Western Tussock Moth Caterpillar and this is what he will look like when he pops out of his cocoon:

During my research I (once again) found myself saying, "How can I have lived 50 years and have not known this?"

Did you know that there are many caterpillars that can cause health problems for humans?  This just happens to be one of them.  The little hairs on this caterpillar can cause severe rash when handled.  In addition, they break off and become air-born, causing upper respiratory inflammation when inhaled.
Well, guess what?  Michael handled one for me, placing it on a white index card on Monday during my lunch hour.  It fell off of the card several times and Michael picked it back up again.  He doesn't have a skin rash, but he does have (what we thought) was a bad head and chest cold.  I took over 160 photo's with my face about 6 inches from both the caterpillar and a cocoon on Tuesday and I now have the exact same symptoms.

Of course, we cannot be sure that what we are experiencing is caused by inhaling this guys little hairs; but, there is a high likelihood, considering the prolonged and close exposure to them.

The more research I did, the more concerned I became.  The bottom line?

Don't touch the caterpillars
Hairy, oak-eating critters may cause rashes, respiratory problems

by Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff

On a sunny spring day, there's nothing like relaxing in the shade of a mighty oak tree, listening to the gentle pitter-pat of ... caterpillar droppings?

The Western tussock moth is having a very good year, and in recent weeks, hairy little tussock moth caterpillars have been so prolific that they've overpopulated oak trees in Menlo Park, Atherton and Portola Valley.

The result? The little buggers are emigrating from their oak trees on silken threads, flying through the air and dropping on the ground in search of new leaves to munch. And under some trees, they are producing an audible rain of tiny brown droppings.

"This is the second year in a row that we've had an extra large infestation," said Kathy Hughes Anderson, Atherton's town arborist. "We had trees that were severely defoliated (last year)."

The caterpillars are notable for their bristling coat of hair, including four distinctive white-gray tufts on their backs. These hairs detach and can cause allergic rashes and respiratory problems, Ms. Hughes Anderson said. Their tan-brown cocoons are also irritating to skin, she said.

"Last year, there were a number of children sent home from school with rashes that looked like chickenpox," she said.

Last week, Atherton sprayed infected trees at Holbrook-Palmer Park, the train station and around the Town Council Chambers, she said. Atherton used a product called Conserve, a biological insect control that doesn't affect predator insects, Ms. Hughes Anderson said. Another biological control, Bacilius Thuringiensus or BT, can also be used, she said.

Stanford University officials said they will be using predatory spined soldier bugs and nematodes to control the caterpillars.

While the caterpillars will eat leaves on other trees, they primarily feed on oaks, and they find valley oaks and live oaks equally tasty, Ms. Hughes Anderson said. The caterpillars can present a health risk to trees that lose too many of their leaves, especially two years in a row, she said.

Local arborists have been busy responding to caterpillar infestations on private property, although Ms. Hughes Anderson advises homeowners to exercise restraint unless the infestation is severe.

"If it's not a really high (caterpillar) population and it's not in a tree in a patio or somewhere where you're really disturbed by it, a little defoliation is nature's pruning," she said. "On the other hand, there was a tree on the Menlo campus last year that was completely defoliated."

Around Atherton's building department, it's been so bad that maintenance crews have been power washing the front door every day just to clear it of the critters, Ms. Hughes Anderson said. Stanford groundskeepers are reportedly power washing trees to rid them of caterpillars, and plan to do more power washing later this season when eggs are laid.

Find this article at:

It get's worse:

Summary: Caterpillars are brightly colored or camouflaged to protect themselves from their predators. Some caterpillars have hairs or spines that are loaded with poisons that will give you a painful sting if you touch them. Resist the urge. I have been stung myself and it is no fun. Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. They are often brightly colored and they feed on the foliage of many different kinds of trees and shrubs. Caterpillars have developed defense mechanisms that protect them from predators. Their bright colors serve as a warning sign to potential predators telling them to beware of toxic treats. Caterpillars are sometimes covered in hairs or spines that are venomous and can easily break off if you touch them causing joint pain and swelling. Even caterpillar cocoons can be unsafe to touch. Some caterpillars have hairs or spines as that only mimic their more toxic cousins. These caterpillars are not toxic, yet fool their predators by looking like the more toxic variety. Because caterpillars are so good at fooling their predators, it is very difficult to determine whether a caterpillar is or is not toxic just by looking at it. The only way to find out for sure would be to touch it, which is sort of a bad return on investment.

Caterpillar stings can cause welts that last for weeks, and some species of stinging caterpillar can even cause death. Caterpillar venom is not usually considered deadly, although small children might be at serious risk if they pick up a brightly colored caterpillar and eat it, thinking it might taste good.

 Although the great majority of caterpillar species are not toxic I would recommend being cautious by avoiding touching any caterpillar, especially the brightly colored, hairy varieties that look so cute and cuddly. Many caterpillars that do not actually produce venom can still cause an allergic reaction because their fine hairs disperse in the air and can be breathed in or irritate human skin. Even the bristles on the relatively harmless and sometimes domesticated wooly bear caterpillar can cause skin irritation. And, you don't touch a dead or slightly smushed caterpillar, either. They have just as much toxin in their bodies as living caterpillars. Caterpillars will sometimes explode in numbers during certain times of the year, and some years there are more caterpillars than others. Children should be warned about the dangers of touching them if there are a lot of stinging caterpillars outside. When examining for stings look for a row or several rows of red insect bites. They can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks and have varying amounts of pain or soreness. Here are some different types of stinging caterpillars, what they look like, where they are found, what they like to eat, and what you can expect if stung by one.

Saddleback Caterpillars are brown-red in appearance, about 2 cm long. They have fleshy horns with spines on each end of their bodies and shorter horns with spines on each side. They have a distinct green coloring on their midsection that looks like a saddle. There is a brown or purple circle in the middle of the bright green saddle section. Saddlebacks are common across North America and frequently appear in late summer or early fall. They feed on apple, basswood, cherry, chestnut, dogwood, elm, maple, oak, plum, and corn. Gypsy Moth Caterpillars are a blue green color as young caterpillars. Their color fades to a blue-grey as they get older. They are covered in spiny, stinging hairs and have round bumps on each of their body segments. They are blue behind their head, red on their rear, and yellow on the sides.

The gypsy moths usually exist in low numbers, but outbreaks can be major factors in the defoliation of trees so they are considered a pest beyond their stinging potential. During times of outbreak, the gypsy moth caterpillar droppings and the sound of their chewing is also an annoyance. They were brought to America in the mid 19th century to begin a silk industry that never materialized. They are now entrenched as one of the most harmful pest to hardwood trees in North America.

Hag Moth Hag Moth Caterpillars are brown or red-brown and only a centimeter or two in length. They are covered in hairs and have nine pairs of spines running down their back. Some of the spines become twisted together so the caterpillar looks like it has locks of dirty, tangled hair, earning them the name Hag. They deliver a painful sting similar to the saddleback caterpillar. They are found in the Eastern and Southern US, prominent in August and September, and feed on apple, birch, chestnut, dogwood, hickory, oak, sassafras, and willow.

Tussock Moth Caterpillars in their many varieties, are hairy and brightly colored with long hairs on both of their ends. These hairs are often in clumps, or tufts, giving the caterpillar its name. The hairs break off very easily and cause skin irritation. There are many varieties of tussock moth caterpillars that feed on a wide range of plants. One example is the aptly named toothbrush caterpillar, which has several venomous, toothbrush-like bristles on its back.

Puss Puss Caterpillars are pear shaped and covered in long, shaggy looking hair that is dirty white to a yellowish brown in color. They are found throughout North and South America. The hair on their back ends looks like a tail but hides venomous spines. These caterpillars look very soft, like a tiny Persian cat, which is probably how they got the name “Puss”. However, despite their fluffy appearance these caterpillars give a particularly nasty sting that often develops into a persistent rash. They are communal feeders on apple, elm, hackberry, maple, pecan, oak, sycamore, and citrus trees. They sometimes fall from trees and land on people, giving them sharp stings on their necks or arms. Sometimes a severe reaction can occur from a puss caterpillar sting. Symptoms might include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, respiratory distress and in extreme cases seizure and abdominal pain. Their stings have a grid-like pattern that can last for several weeks.

Browntail Moth Caterpillars are hairy brown caterpillars 2 or 3 cm in length with red spots on its back and white hairs on its sides. Their hairs can easily break off and cause irritation to the skin... They are distributed worldwide and feed on blackthorndeveloped defense mechanisms that protect them from predators.
For Immediate Release
Local caterpillars cause skin rashes, respiratory problems

By Jennifer Walsh Cary,
BMEDDAC Public Affairs VILSECK, Germany – If the average person was to list the health risks in their neighborhood, caterpillars probably wouldn’t make the cut. But if you’re living in Bavaria, maybe they should. The Oak Processionary and Pine Processionary Caterpillars that are common to the Bavaria footprint – and potentially your backyard - carry a toxin in their hairs that could cause an allergic reaction in some people, especially children. “Exposure to the hairs may result in rash-like symptoms indicated by small red spots on the skin which itch and are sometimes painful,” Staff Sgt. Frederick Beck, Preventive Medicine NCOIC, said. “Other symptoms include skin and eye irritations and occasional respiratory symptoms.”

The reaction occurs when there is direct contact with the hairs either by touching the caterpillar itself or from an airborne hair that lands on the skin. According to Beck, the hairs are environmentally stable and can exist outside a former nesting area for up to a year.

With each caterpillar sporting approximately 63,000 hairs, it can quickly become a “hairy” situation when there is a nest containing hundreds to thousands of caterpillars in a neighborhood. “If you see a small nest, there’s probably quite a few of them in that area. The first thing you should do is go to housing and notify them that you have a nest of caterpillars in your neighborhood,” Beck said. “The Directorate of Public Works will come in with a team that will spray down the nest with a bonding agent to keep the hairs from flying from the nest. Then they’ll take it away and burn it.”

 Beck stressed that the hair itself isn’t the problem. Rather it’s the toxin that is contained within the hair that could cause an asthmatic reaction in people. Much like having an allergy to bee stings, having an allergy to caterpillars is hit or miss. “Some people could go swimming in a sea of caterpillars and they’re fine,” Beck said. “Other people are really sensitive to these particular caterpillars and could have an allergic reaction.” M

ost reactions, such as skin rashes, go away on their own or can be treated using hydrocortisone cream or Benadryl, according to Beck. He said if the reaction is more severe to make an appointment at the local health clinic. Children usually have worse allergic reactions than adults and are also more likely to come in direct contact with the caterpillars.

Not all caterpillars pose a health risk, but if a child is playing with a hairy, brown caterpillar Beck recommends parents take it away and monitor their child for an allergic reaction. “Unless your child has a reaction, they should be fine,” Beck said. “I would say it takes anywhere from one to three hours for your basic type of reaction to occur.” The best way to avoid caterpillars and their hairs is to wear long-sleeved clothing when hiking or playing in the woods; to shower immediately after coming in from outdoors; and to wash outerwear, such as jackets, on a frequent basis.

A lot of people wear the same jacket every time they go outside, but they don’t wash it,” Beck said. “They put it on later and wonder why they’re itchy. It’s because things like these hairs get stuck to your clothing and can cause problems later.” Ultimately, the best defense is a good offense. These caterpillars are not only a health risk, but they’re also an environmental risk because of how quickly they devour full-grown trees. If you see a caterpillar nest in your neighborhood, report it to housing right away. “Their goal is to feed and transition to the next stage of life,” Beck said. “If there’s not a control in place, they will take over everything.”

Plague of hairy caterpillars which cause rashes, headaches and breathing problems invades Britain
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:44 PM on 30th May 2009

 A plague of hairy super caterpillars that can cause breathing problems, severe skin irritations and headaches is sparking health alerts across Britain. Brown tail moth caterpillars each have up to two million brown hairs which can break off into the air and cause severe allergic reactions. Previously only found on the south-east coast the insects have been swarming north over the last few years thanks to Britain's increasingly warm weather. Look out: The brown tail moth caterpillar has hairs which can cause painful rashes and severe allergic reactions Thousands of the moths have invaded a housing estate near Trowbridge, Wiltshire, where worried residents and their children are coming out in itchy rashes.

Other sightings have been made throughout Essex, Sussex and Kent, with a family restaurant near Folkstone forced to close part of its car park over health fears. Julie Payne, 35, who is 25-weeks pregnant and lives on the affected housing estate in Hilperton, Wilts., said yesterday that the caterpillars were 'everywhere'. She said: 'Every time we went into the garden we found caterpillars everywhere. Then we noticed there were thousands of what looked like cobwebs in our cherry tree. 'We now know they are the moths' nests or tents. The children started coming out in spots and they couldn't stop scratching. 'Because I'm pregnant there are certain medications to help with the itching that I can't take. 'We had a tree surgeon who came out and cut out the tents and he couldn't believe what he saw - he said he hadn't seen anything like it in his life. It was a mass of caterpillars.' Neighbour Tracey Jones added: 'My husband and my eight-year-old daughter look like they've been pricked with a pin.

'People need to know what's out there and the potential risks - this has the potential to put people in hospital.' The caterpillars of the brown tail moth, which began hatching in late March, are covered in millions of hairs that can break off as barbs into the air.

Anyone who inhales or comes into contact with the tiny bristles can develop severe breathing problems, headaches, rashes and even conjunctivitis. The caterpillars will continue to be a hazard for another four weeks until the pupation finishes when, as moths, they will pose no threat. However, in the meantime councils across the country are warning people to avoid contact with the insects and asking asthmatics to carry their medication with them. It is believed that our warm spring weather has aided the spread of the caterpillar, which have never been seen before in Wiltshire. Graham Steady, Wiltshire Council's environmental protection manager, admitted they have 'no experience' of dealing with the insects. He said: 'The moths are visitors from overseas that started coming into the country in the south east of England and have been spreading. 'We've not come across it at all in Wiltshire before and none of us here has any experience in dealing with it.

'We have taken a sample caterpillar from one of the families affected and have sent it off for analysis but we are pretty sure it is a brown tail moth caterpillar.' The Health Protection Agency are warning anyone who comes into contact with the hairs to wash their hands and eyes, and use calamine lotion if they develop a rash.

Who would have thunk? Needless to Say:  These little guys are NOT so cute to me anymore.  Yikes!