Saturday, August 12, 2017

Heavy Lifting - Raising a Large Landscape Rock

I wish I had thought of taking before and during pictures, you will just have to use your imagination as I describe the project my husband and I tackled this morning. The pictures in this post were taken later in the evening after it rained.

We have a large landscape rock in a garden bed at the intersection of our driveway and sidewalk. We had built a bit of a mound before we had the rock yard deliver and place the rock in the garden because of the slope down from the concrete. Sometime after the rock was placed, we used a similar technique as we did today to add a little more fill under it. Possibly in part from the fill settling or just because the garden wall we had built would cause the base of the bed to be higher, I figured out last week that the rock would need to be raised another 3 - 4 inches, in place preferably because I liked its location and orientation. Did I mention it was a big rock?

This was much more than a "Honey would you move the couch over a couple of inches?" request but my husband was game to help me. I had a plan and set out to get everything in place. My car would need to be the anchor for the come along and a nylon strap ratchet wrapped around the rock. I strategically placed the car in the yard and attached the come along to my trailer hitch bumper. I then wrapped the nylon strap around the rock twice and adjusted it so that both hooks would bear the same tension when attached to the other end of the come along. Now it was time to see if I had lined everything up correctly so that the base of the rock nearest the sidewalk would lift instead of the rock being dragged forward. Hopefully when lifted the rock would be stable enough for my husband to add some encouragement if the rock tried to rotate or tip to the side. I cranked on the come along, the attachments tightened and a very small indication of movement appeared. We paused. The rock was still stable. We got out the large pry bars to help ensure that the far side of the base would lift instead of having the whole rock slide forward. With my husband on the pry bar and myself on the come along we achieved the movement we wanted. After lifting the end of the rock up a bit higher than I would eventually need it, I placed and packed a mixture of paver sand and decomposed granite under the raised base of the rock. Thankfully I had managed to nail the direction of forces through the center of mass so that the rock was very stable and no encouragement was needed to keep it from tilting side to side under tension. After packing the material for the raised pad we released the tension on the come along and still had a stable rock. So far so good.

Now we had to move the car onto the driveway and repeat the process from the other side. Luckily the pack job was sufficient that when we winched up the opposite end of the base of the rock, the closest end of the base did not dig in and crush the newly created mound. I did not nail the center of mass and force application quite as perfectly as the first time but it was good enough that my husband was able to apply enough encouragement to keep it from rotating around a vertical axis like it started to. Once I packed more material under the raised end, the rock became stable under tension and still was when we released it.

Physics is fabulous. By using a few simple machines to help us multiply our force several times we were able to safely accomplish our goal of lifting our very large rock in place by 3 - 4 inches so we could install more fill to maintain it at that height. After completing this part of the task I spread chips to level out the surface of the garden bed around the rock.

What led me to wanting to raise my rock? Earlier this week I realized that my silver ironweed I had planted near the newly reset Pavestone wall would need to be raised because I needed to add a full paver height of mulch on that side of the garden and that would be too much for this drought tolerant plant. (It is the gray plant to the left in the second picture and the right in the third one in this post. Click on the images to enlarge.) After lifting my plant I realized I should raise the current edge of my planting bed next to the walkway on the black plastic (second picture) so that the chips were level from the Pavestone wall to the driveway. It became apparent that I would have to bury part of the rock in chips if I leveled out the rest of the bed in that location so the rock had to be raised.

I am so glad that we tackled this portion of the project this morning. With the rain we received today I would not have been able to drive my car through the yard and the bed would probably have been too wet as well. I still have four or five plants seen in the last photo that I will need to lift up before adding more chips. However, that will wait until late fall or winter because those plants have been in place longer than the silver ironweed had been. Transplanting will be easier on the plants in cooler weather.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Blue Jays Mob and Imitate Hawks

I'm guessing an experienced birder can probably tell the difference between a blue jay's imitation of a hawk call and an actual hawk call. I'm not sure I'm there yet but I have observed a blue jay imitating a hawk and have gotten pretty accurate, based on where a call is originating from, deciding if the hawk call I am hearing is real or imitation. I used to go in search of the hawk I was hearing and wonder why I could not find such a big bird in the direction of the call. One day I finally saw a blue jay making the call when I zeroed in on the sound. I knew blue jays were one of the birds that would pester, or mob hawks, but until then I did not realize they also impersonated them.

I have read a few thoughts as to why they do this, such as alerting other birds to an actual hawk danger or scaring off other birds. I have not been able to tell exactly what my blue jay impersonators are trying to accomplish. I have heard several of them go into extreme blue jay alarm call, but not a hawk imitation, when there has been a small hawk around. I found this example of a clever blue jay doing a hawk call to scare off other birds, thus reducing competition at the bird feeder.

While I have seen a half a dozen or more blue jays sounding the alarm and mobbing a hawk perched in a tree in my pasture, I have also noted a single blue jay making an alarm call and mobbing a hawk as seen in my photographic art images of this post (click to enlarge). The hawk seems mighty calm or even unimpressed at the antics of the blue jay. These images were taken in early May so it is possible that the red-shouldered hawk perched on the light pole was too close to the blue jay's nest for comfort. Or perhaps some blue jays just enjoy picking on the raptors and getting away with it.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pasture Perches Round 2

I previously wrote about leaving some perches in my pasture for bluebirds to hunt from. Today I learned that dragonflies also use perches, albeit shorter ones, to hunt from as well.

This morning I was out doing some work in my pasture when I spied, what I affectionately call, a pink lemonade dragonfly far from a water source. It was perching on about a foot high piece of stubble left after we recently mowed the pasture. I watched the dragonfly for a bit and it looked like it was contentedly hanging out so I took off for the house to grab my camera. Happily it was still there when I got back. Occasionally it would fly off but returned fairly quickly to the same perch. One time when the dragonfly flew off, it was replaced immediately by a grasshopper like there was a game of king of the hill in progress. The grasshopper decided not to hang out so quickly though that I only got one shot of it.

While I took my first series of images of the dragonfly, from essentially a rear, side view, I noticed it was chewing and grooming every now and then. I have observed the grooming behavior before but don't remember noticing chewing. After taking several images I went back to work. Once I finished what I was working on, I approached the perch from the other direction and decided to take more pictures from the side and a somewhat front view.

I was surprised by what happened next. After one trip flying off the perch and landing again I was able to capture the dragonfly chowing down on a small flying insect. That explained the chewing motions I noticed previously. I got lucky enough to capture it eating a different small flying insect too. The second insect was a tad larger and I suspect a bit tougher as it took the dragonfly longer to finish its second catch.

I take a lot of pictures of dragonflies and sometimes I wonder if I really need any more dragonfly images. However I really enjoy the challenge of trying to capture a great image and today I was reminded that you never know what surprises you will see when observing nature, so dragonflies are still on my list of subjects to be photographed.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

New Visitor - Can You ID This Frog?

A couple of times this year I have scared up a frog that I did not recognize while mowing. It always disappeared too quickly for me to get a good look and be able to tell for sure. Finally about a week ago I got lucky and one stopped in an open area when I paused the riding mower to try to get a good look at it. It was quit a bit bigger than the cricket frogs and definitely a frog and not one of the Gulf Coast toads that hang around. I have never seen a bullfrog with stripes down the sides so I ruled out it possibly being a very small bullfrog.

Luckily my other half was home and I was able to phone inside and ask him to bring out my camera. I got lucky and the frog hung around during this process. It got skittish when my camera was handed to me, but I did manage to get one shot of it after it hopped through the chainlink fence.

This brings me to another curious thing about this new visitor. I had only seen this frog while mowing various areas of my property but never very close to water. I don't know if I have seen one well travelled frog or if I have several of them hanging around.

A couple of days ago I finally spotted one in my pond. I would love to know what species this frog is. I've not had a chance to look it up since I got pictures. Please leave a comment if you think you know who my new visitor is.

Edited 7/30/17: Thanks to those of you who contacted me off blog and let me know you thought this was a leopard frog. I looked it up and agree that it looks like the Southern leopard frog or possibly the Plains leopard frog. Mystery pretty much solved but if you have a thought as to which type of leopard frog it is, please let me know.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Decorated Agate Night Lights

While I have talked about my agate slice and nature charm night lights online in other places, I was surprised to see I have never devoted a blog post to them. They have been seen on my blog but only as part of my retired "Thanks for the Treasuries" feature, when they were included in an Etsy treasury. I first tested this product by providing nature charm night lights wholesale to the Arlington Museum of Art's gift shop in the summer of 2014 when they featured an Ansel Adams photography exhibit. The agate night lights were well received and because they sold well, I decided to add some to my EDCCollective Etsy shop after the Ansel Adams exhibit closed.

It is fun to pick an agate slice and figure out what type of scene can be created on it with the various nature charms I have acquired. Some slices have what looks like a horizon line and are fun to add trees and shrubs or critters running across the landscape. Others are less specific and work well with a variety of critters flying across their face. Once I've made the charms suitable for mounting, I fix them on their slice. The agate is then attached to a bracket that then is fixed to a switchable night light base.

These night lights add a decorative touch to any room by day and a welcome low light to navigate by at night when switched on. Keep one in a guest bath or bedroom to make it easy for guests to navigate when they come to visit. I use one in my house whose light can be seen from my front door so that I can leave a small, low energy using light on when I know I will be home after dark. It is nice to have that bit of light to welcome me home without making the electric meter spin as much as a larger light left on would.

Since I started making my nature charm night lights, I have found some more wonderful silhouettes to attach and have added these to both of my Etsy shops. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you have already seen them. If not, you can check out my night light listings at EDCCollective and EclecticSkeptic. I will tell their stories in a later blog post.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New Science Geek Gifts

Being a science geek myself, I am always on the lookout for ideas or supplies to inspire new goodies for my science geekery section of my EclecticSkeptic Etsy shop. I was excited to receive a new shipment last week that included items I could use to create math, mythology and science themed items for EclecticSkeptic.

The science themed items will thrill dinosaur buffs. I have already added two new listings. The first item I made and listed was a pair of gold plated ceratopsian dinosaur post earrings with a lapis lazuli dangle. I also have silver plated available and lots of different gemstones that I can make dangles with. Contact me if you have a specific gemstone or pearl request.

The second item I listed was a sauropod necklace. I love the colorful dino teardrop pendants. The teardrop bezels are antiqued brass plated and I thought a thin, black satin cord necklace finished off with the same color findings would be a perfect pairing. If you prefer a different length necklace, contact me to create a custom length piece for you.

Stay tuned for T. rex earrings or contact me about them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Artist Spotlight - Ecuadorian Artisan Coop

Recently several entities in Arlington teamed up with the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market to bring the concept to Arlington. The Arlington show was held on the Green at College Park on the UTA campus earlier this month. Almost three dozen artisans from around the world had a chance to showcase their creations to North Texans and anyone else who showed up for the event. I had a chance to check it out a couple of hours before the market was due to close. I went out of curiosity, not with the intention of buying anything.

That changed when I saw the lovely seed bead work at the booth of La Mega Cooperativa Artesanal de los Saraguros. One necklace in particular caught my eye. It was a collar necklace beaded to look like it was made up of many peacock feather eyes. I decided to look around the rest of the market before determining whether to purchase the necklace or not. It was still there when I got back to the booth so I tried it on. I really liked it but I needed to think if I already had at least one thing in my wardrobe I could pair it with. I decided the necklace should look stunning over a black mock turtle neck of mine. I was happy to make the purchase and help support this artisan coop.

When I got home I tried it on with the shirt I was thinking of and had my husband take a picture of it so I could share it with my readers. When I took it off and was deciding where to store it, I was thinking it was a shame not to have it on display somehow to be able to enjoy it even when I was not wearing it. We have a large red blown glass vase that I thought of as a possible support. I draped the necklace over the vase and they complimented each other wonderfully. We both enjoy getting to see this wearable art more often by displaying it this way.

The original Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is coming up the middle of July in, where else, Santa Fe, New Mexico. They will have many more international artisans there. If you happen to be in the area, it should be a fun event to attend.