Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Perspective of a Duck

The pair of humans emerged from their strange transportation device, bringing their offspring with them. The male and the baby approached us, probably looking for some easy entertainment while the female was in the stinky-box. We walked towards them, the opportunity to receive some free food too great to pass up.  

As we drew closer, disappointingly, they had still not thrown us any food.

We decided to stand around for a few minutes in case they finally decided to give us something.

I tugged at the fishing hook that had been stuck in my skin for several days now, since all this waiting had made me notice the itching again.

Soon, the female emerged from the stinky-box and all three of the humans began pointing towards me and conversing noisily. 

The female and the baby went into their machine and came out with a bag of some kind... were they going to finally give me some food? They were!

As my wife and I ate up all the food the humans threw on the ground, I was suddenly attacked by the male. He grabbed me with both of his hands and pushed me firmly against the ground. I struggled at first, but then realized I could do nothing to resist and waited to see what the humans would do to me. 

Then, the female took the male's place, and he began tugging at the hook stuck in my side. I began to wonder if they were actually trying to help me, unlike those loud and immoral humans who put the hook in me in the first place. When he finally removed the hook completely, I immediately flew off to the edge of the lake, unable to thank him. 

The male held the hook out in his hand for the baby, who was holding a strange device, to look at. 

I groomed around the area where the hook was, unfortunately ending up with a mouthful of feathers.

I then resumed my daily routine, chasing off another duck with a chomp on the wingtip.

This is just my interpretation of what one of the ducks may have been thinking throughout the ordeal, we may never know what runs through the minds of animals, or how they feel about encounters with humans throughout their lives. What do you think?


Sunday, June 16, 2013

After the Rain...Hiking Cottonmouth Creek

Andrea's gone. In her wake, we enjoyed a week of mostly cooler temps, with intermittent showers and storms, culminating in a very strong band of storms Thursday which uprooted, snapped or violently pruned hundreds of trees in the area. In the aftermath of severe weather, a quiet walk in the woods around my brother Henry's property seems just the tonic for a storm-tossed soul. 

June is prime time for the butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, and this lovely specimen is living up to its name today, with a variety of nectar-loving arthropods out and about after the rain. 

As with most of the showy wildflowers native to North Carolina, native Americans and early settlers have lent a plethora of common names to A. tuberosa, many of them with origins in folk medicine. You may hear this lovely summer bloomer called pleurisy root, chiggerflower, or orange milkweed, although she lacks the milky sap of most of the other Asclepias.

This hoverfly cleverly mimics a yellow jacket, but lacks a sting and is a nectar feeding aphid killer. It deposits its eggs on the stalks of aphid infested plants, and the larvae actively attack and consume the aphids.  

Henry's creek bank is home to another of our summer blooming true orange wildflowers, Polygala lutea, or orange milkwort. These plants love the boggy area in Henry's ditch which flows down to "Cottonmouth Creek". 

Lurking on the lip of the concrete pipe which transports the spillover from the rain-swollen pond across the road into Henry's creek is a six-spotted fishing spider, one of the largest spiders I'd ever encountered in the wild (until I spotted this one's furry gray cousin lurking in the shadows lower down!) The fishing spider, as I'm sure you guessed, is known to prey on small minnows and tadpoles in addition to the requisite insects. 

Giving the spider a wide berth, I locate the Cottonmouth Creek trailhead, pull back the veil of catbrier and low-hanging limbs and quickly realize my brother's been a bit too busy of late to maintain the trail this year, and possibly last year as well! After a series of spine-tingling encounters with snaky-looking branches and detritus in the gloom of the dense underbrush, I carefully make my way to the bank of the creek and peer down into the tangle of roots and vines near the waterfall for the creek's namesake, the eastern cottonmouth, or water moccasin.  

As I muscle my way through the final wall of dense foliage, I dislodge a 30 inch long pit viper from its perch on the black gum branch just above the creek bank, where it was quietly molting its skin and otherwise minding its own business. Startled, it thrashes through the tangled roots toward the water and briefly flashes the cottony white interior of its mouth for which it is famous.

Then it completes its slithering slide into the swiftly flowing waters of Cottonmouth Creek; pausing ever so briefly on the brink of the falls to peer vainly through blind eyes in the general direction of the intruder.

And I peer back, pulse racing, heart pounding, adrenaline coursing through my veins. 
Fear subsiding with distance, I wonder. 
Does the snake "feel"? If so, what?  
Fear? Anger? Mild annoyance? 

Perhaps the cool rushing waters of the stream sooth the old, dry, irritating skin that will soon relent and yield to the smooth shiny scales of a fresh coat of armor for this wild survivor, one of the ancient family of reptiles patrolling the banks of Cottonmouth Creek. Perhaps I've not worn out my welcome just yet, here in brother Henry's woods, along the banks of the cottonmouth's creek.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hoot Owl Hootenanny with the Sandhills Treefrog Chorus

When Tropical Storm Andrea passed through the Carolinas last Friday, she was riding a wave of tropical moisture, a wave which seemed to break right over the Sandhills. The record-setting rainfall in a highly compressed timeframe sent creeks surging over their banks and ponds spilling over their dams, creating temporary ponds of every low place and bottom for miles around.  Some of these little ponds were gone within hours, others a few days.
However, in a few instances, the topography and soil type will conspire to create a more persistent aqueous feature which might last for weeks. These ephemeral ponds are a boon for amphibians, who depend upon heavy spring rains to create brood ponds for the aquatic phase of the next generation's development. As luck would have it, Hunter and Jay and Dad happened upon one of these sites along a rural Moore county roadway just as Andrea was exiting the Sandhills last Friday night. Thanks to heroic efforts by the boys in a pouring rain, and some grueling post-production work by Jay, Hoot Owl Karma brings you this video of the Sandhills treefrog chorus in action.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Treefrog Trio

The rain showers this evening have me thinking treefrogs, so I pulled out a few images from the amphibian archives. When I initially spotted this little leaper, the lack of a distinct white or yellow line down its side led me to the mistaken conclusion that it must be a squirrel treefrog.

Further observation indicates that it is another green treefrog. It is larger than the typical squirrel treefrog and its tympanum is entirely green, rather than the brown or mottled tympanum typical of squirrel treefrogs.

There appear to be a number of small flies in the asters this afternoon as well...perhaps that's what lured us down from the trees.

It's a bit bright here in the sun for this normally nocturnal creature, so I suspect it'll soon completely disappear beneath the verdant foliage for a few hours.

The gray treefrog is more common here in the neighborhood than the green. It's difficult to imagine a more effective camouflage than that of the green treefrog, but I'd have to say this fellow is making a pretty good go of it. On a rainy evening like this, it's not uncommon to encounter dozens of these on the neighborhood streets within a few miles of home.

The barking treefrog is a little less common around here, so I was thrilled to encounter this one up close. There's no need to explain the origins of the barking treefrog's name. In fact, if it has been raining in your neck of the woods today, step out on the porch after dark and you just might hear one sounding off. It is the largest of the local treefrogs, and has much bumpier skin than the other green colored treefrogs in our area. 

You may be wondering why all these "tree" frogs are low enough for me to see them. They do actually live in the tree canopy, but they come down from the trees during spring and summer rains to breed, and this is when we are most likely to cross paths with them. So if you're out and about on a rainy evening, keep your eyes open and watch out for our tree-dwelling brethren. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Home is Where the Fence Lizard Lives

My childhood home is where Hoot Owl Karma was born, and it's always a treat to spend a little time there with Mom and Dad and Robbie. The home place has changed some over the years, but many things remain just as they appear in my earliest memories. The long white sand driveway, the magnificent longleaf pines and the low rock wall my dad built out front from sandstone and quartz still greet us each time we visit. And during all but the coldest months, somewhere along the fence, or on the big longleaf right out front, a tree lizard is basking.

When Jay and I show up for dinner Thursday night, the tree lizard is there, basking on the bark of the longleaf pine. As if to remind me that it's more properly known as the eastern fence lizard, not the "tree lizard" of my rural Harnett County vernacular,  it deliberately makes its way down the trunk and across the straw to take its place on the corner of Dad's rock wall.

The eastern fence lizard is something of a homebody and quite territorial, so it's possible that the lizard we commune with tonight is descended from those individuals I pursued along the length of this same fence as a curious six year old. And perhaps its clan does have a bit more affinity for trees than the usual fence lizard, since the high treetops were their best sanctuary from the pursuit of dogged young hunters named Jimmy and Henry. 

These images of the basking fence lizard were rendered by the new camera and lens, and I love the way the telephoto creates intriguing wallpaper from otherwise distracting background objects like the grille of Robbie's car. The sun-drenched pine straw becomes a muted reddish brown backdrop which helps focus attention on our steadfast subject, the sentinel, scion of an ancient Sandhills clan, the fence lizard.

Her gaze is so intense and unwavering, one wonders whether she's more concerned with maintaining an optimal position relative to the sun, watching for prey, or watching for potential predators. Probably all of the above; in today's fast-paced world, multi-tasking is a must.

Eastern fence lizards spend virtually all their time on or near the objects they use for cover and protection. She will probably lay her eggs nearby, and most likely sleeps beneath the rocks which form the foundation of her basking fence. There are abundant ants, spiders and beetles along and beneath her fence, and even the occasional passing snail for dessert. Birds are major predators, but for all the apparent languor of her sun-induced trance, she can be deep in a crevice in the blink of an eye. All things considered, the old rock fence makes a right nice place to call home.

Coming home means different things to different folks. For me, home is a place where I can be me, for better or for worse, and experience complete and unconditional love and acceptance. When you have a home like that, it's hard not to recognize and appreciate the sacred in all living things; like the little fence lizard that cherishes each of those stones placed by Dad's loving hands just as much, or perhaps even more, than you do. Live long and prosper, little lizard.