Monthly Archives: August 2007

It’s been a year!


Our first anniversary at Windhaven was on the 18th of August. It’s hard to believe a year has gone by already. I guess it’s time to sum up what we’ve discovered and accomplished.

The House: After cleaning out all the trash from the property, we set about making changes to the house. Two bathrooms have been completely renovated, and small changes have been made to the third. The electrical work has been completed, along with network and phone wiring to all the rooms. For energy savings, we had four Solatubes installed, two in the hallway, one in each full bath, vastly increasing the amount of light, we changed all non-dimmable light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, we installed our solar laundry dryer (clothes umbrella), we added insulation and two solar fans to the attic, we bought a solar oven and I do a lot of sun cooking to reduce the heat load on the house, and we’re getting ready to change out our furnace and air conditioner for a geothermal heat pump.

We still have a lot of projects left to do, but the main ones are getting the geothermal heat pump installed and getting a solar thermal system installed for hot water.

The Property: We definitely learned one thing in this year of record rains, our house needs to be raised or the land needs to be lowered. Lowering the land is a more feasible option and I’ll probably be spending the next year or so encouraging the flow of runoff in less damaging directions. I did learn a lot about the flow of resources, wind, water, leaves, across the property, and I’m building an ecological landscape plan to capture and use those resources. We didn’t do much in the way of landscaping except build two experimental gardens and plant 350 native trees acquired from the Oklahoma Forestry Department. Some trees fared better than others and that also is an important piece of information. The “temporary” pond has had water for the better part of the year now, and has been a source of wonder. We discovered we have a peach tree (no fruit this year, too wet) and a plum tree (fantastic fruit), we also have two other mystery fruit trees, and three wild pecan trees. We have over 100 mature trees in the front and side yards. I haven’t mapped the ones in the undeveloped portion of the property yet.

The Wildlife: In one year, I have recorded 99 species of birds (2 shy of my 7 year record in Lombard Illinois), 41 species of butterflies, 10 species of dragonflies, 5 frogs, 4 toads, 4 lizards, 3 turtles, and 2 snakes. The mammals aren’t so easy to see, but we’ve had deer, bobcat, coyote, plains pocket gophers, of course, eastern cottontail, raccoon, possum, white-footed deermice, and fox squirrels. We’ve had a veritable cornucopia of insect and spiders, some that I’d rather not have in the house, like scorpions, black widow and brown recluse spiders. So far I’ve managed to identify over 70 species of wildflowers just on our property. There are a few dozen more that I’ve identified in the neighborhood.

The Weather: We can’t have a summary without summing up the weather, since it plays such a huge role in our day to day lives. We started our year at Windhaven in extreme drought. Very little rain fell in Autumn until late November, the first time our pond had water. During the Winter we had a couple of ice storms and one nasty blizzard. Peter had two snow days! When Spring came, so did the rain, and more rain, and more rain. By the end of March we were officially out of drought and on our way to record high rainfall. We’ve had 42.93″ of rain since I started recording in mid-February, including the 8.65″ dump of rain when Tropical Storm Erin passed over us, the annual average is about 35″ of rain.

So, upcoming projects for our second year, besides the solar and geothermal, include fencing the east, west and south sides of the property, the north side will come later, getting new gravel for the driveway (recycled concrete), digging swales to control runoff, start planting a food forest, and building a cob chicken coop. That should keep me busy!

I’ll keep you “posted”.

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Unexpected effects of Erin


When Tropical Storm Erin blasted by, dropping nearly nine inches of rain on us, the obvious effect was heavy runoff and erosion. There were subtle effects that I noticed as well. One effect, which we’ve seen before with heavy rainfall, were these soil eruptions as water burst from shallow gopher tunnels. I didn’t even know there was a tunnel under my melon garden, but there it is!

Another effect, not as pleasant, was the appearance of usually hidden spiders. While drying the carpets, numerous Brown Recluse Spiders had crept out from under the wet walls. Brown Recluses are poisonous, so I didn’t give them free reign of the house. Another visitor was this Black Widow Spider (left). I think it was taking refuge under the grill cover hanging over the porch rail. It eventually crawled into the handle of the grill, a location I did not approve of, so she too was moved. The hourglass red mark on this species is under the abdomen, but if you blow up the picture (click on it), you can see a sequence of red dots on her back.

After the storm passed there was an upswing in the number of dragonflies. Apparently some of the rainpool dragonflies follow low pressure systems then take advantage of the rainpools left behind to breed in. Most of the rainpool dragonflies don’t stop long enough for me to take a picture, but the local dragonflies increased as well. The dragonfly on the tip of the branch is an Eastern Amberwing, the lower dragonfly is a Common Whitetail.

This dragonfly is a Blue Dasher. I recorded three new species of dragonflies after the storm including a PINK one!

It’s amazing what you’ll find when you really pay attention to your surroundings.

Gopher strangler

In Arkansas, we’d occasionally hear the expression “toad strangler” to describe a really heavy rainfall. Well the rain we had last Sunday morning, the “remnants” of tropical storm Erin, was a gopher strangler, literally.
lake

While I was deepening the trenches in the backyard to divert the flow of runoff, Peter checked on the front of the house. The entire front yard was inundated and flowing towards the pond. In that flow, just a few feet out from the house, Peter found a gopher floating by, nose just barely out of the water. Being kind hearted, he carefully scooped the critter up with the shovel and laid it on a dry patch of the front porch.

wet rat

Once we were confident we had the flow under control we went to check on the gopher and found this wet shivering creature. I carefully wrapped it in a towel to keep the wind off it and dry some of its fur. I could feel it shivering through the towel. There wasn’t much more we could do for it, so we left it wrapped in the towel out of the wind on the porch.

Our neighbors showed up later with fans to help dry out the carpets and we checked on the gopher. It was having a grand old time chewing holes in the towel, and it looked much better. I must point out that I’m not sure this Plains Pocket-Gopher is full grown.

towel

We left it to its chewing, and within an hour it was gone, leaving the chewed up towel as evidence, sacrificed for a humane cause.

Wildflowers (Late July and August)

sunflower
Late summer is the time for sunflowers. I’ve been collecting photos for some time because I was having trouble identifying them all. The sunflower to the right is the Ashy Sunflower. This is a plant I’ve been watching for months, waiting for it to flower so I can identify it. They’re quite common and also quite variable in size. Most of the plants I’ve found were hip height, but this patch was well over eight feet.

coreopsis

I found two specimens of Plains Coreopsis when I was mowing a patch of our front “lawn”. I mowed around them of course so the flowers would have a chance to go to seed. When left to their own devices these lovely flowers create great swaths of color.

crownbeard

Golden Crownbeard is a favorite of the Bordered Patch butterfly. I had one plant last year, but had several this year.

saw-toothed daisy

This was another plant that seemed to take forever to bloom. the Saw-toothed Daisy. The anticipation was killing me. It turned out to be a pretty cool looking flower despite the spittle bugs populating the stems.

liatris

This Liatris or Gayfeather was rescued from the County mower last fall. I wasn’t sure it would survive, but it did (I guess all the rain helped). I did find one other specimen on our land as well.

ironweed

This is Baldwin’s Ironweed, a butterfly favorite. I didn’t find many specimens but hopefully my method of benign neglect will allow their population to increase. Believe it or not all the previous flowers were from the same family, the aster family.

bundleflower

Another plant family that’s well represented in our area is the pea family. This is Illinois Bundleflower, given that name because the seed pods that form little bundles (below).

bundle

bush clover

Slender Bush Clover is a native loose shrub with small leaves and even smaller flowers. I also found Chinese Bush Clover (cream and purple flowers with smaller leaves), an invasive, that I’ll have to keep an eye on. The Chinese Bush Clover was introduced for erosion control and escaped cultivation.

rattlebox

This little flower is Rattlebox. I’m presuming the seed pods rattle, but I lost the plant and was not able to find it after it flowered.

milkpea

Milkpea, one of several pea vines creeping across our landscape. Another, below, is one of two trailing Wild Bean species. The pods really do look like young green beans.

wild bean

sand bur

Not a flower, but I had to include it. This is Sand Bur, an insidious grass that clings to clothes and painfully to skin. The tips are barbed for extra grip. A light brush against them will leave them clinging to your clothes; step on them and they’re hard to extract. It’s a native, and I probably won’t be able to get rid of it, but I have started an eradication program (pulling the plants) in areas of frequent use.

Snake cotton

I thought I’d have trouble with this one but it’s common enough and unusual enough to be in the Peterson Field Guide. This is called Snake Cotton. It’s rather pretty when the cottony spikes are clustered across the meadow.

liriope

This was a surprise. Not a wildflower, but an ornamental called Liriope, or turf-lily. I came across it while surveying runoff damage after the tropical storm, surrounding an oak tree at the edge of our back yard.

comet

I found this Green Comet Milkweed earlier in the season off the property, but found another specimen at the south end of our property recently.

fenceline

I thought I’d include this photo to demonstrate the difference between an unmowed lot and our neighbors’ lot. I’m not sure why he insists on mowing all the way to the back corner, well away from his house but, that’s his land, and his choice. I’m personally grateful to have full soil coverage, especially since we’ve had so much rain.