Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rainy Day in the Blue Ridge...

Julie and I and the boys headed west for the weekend to celebrate another wonderful year together. 

Woke up in the morning to the sound of thunder, with a wealth of warblers in the lead.

Headed up the parkway in spite of the rain, and found a "trail" that was not maintained. Deptford pinks and daisies were a few of the flowers that served as guides.

Looking back down the "trail" at the rest of the crew...

Thanks to the little locust tree, Jay's discovered that more things than blackberries have thorns!

From locusts to lichens to lilies, life abounds in the mountain rain. 

Gorgeous from any angle, the many lovely faces of Michaux's lilies and the taller Turk's Caps present a composition challenge for the photographer. We hope you get the idea...

Trillium's blossoms have faded along with spring, but the fruit remain.

A few crushed leaves confirm this is one of the several mountain mints, but we're left to wonder which...

Pale jewel-weed, or touch-me-not, abounds along both trail and roadside, equaled in abundance only by its orange sister.

Arriving on top of the world, Jay enjoys a bevy of blueberries while Hunter ponders the view (or perhaps catches up on a few texts!)

Multiple varieties of blueberries were approaching their peak. 

Foraging at its best.

More tasty treats for the tired hikers.

A quick breather, while the rain regroups...

More cool natives; the sight and scent of wintergreen conjures memories of countless packs of childhood chewing gum.

More lovely blossoms to lift the soul. Lovely as she looks, this is most likely the very scarce and poisonous "Death Camas," Stenanthium leimanthoides, which is found in these mountaintop heath balds in only two North Carolina counties, Avery and Watauga.

The view from here is simply awe-inspiring (and the mountains are lovely as well)!

More fascinating flora, fiercely forging a fragile foothold from tiny fragments of the mountain itself.

Here, high atop North Carolina, dozens of species thrive in the face of every challenge the elements can mount.

Speaking of the elements, more rain is on the way, so we less-hardy souls begin to plot our exit route.

More encounters with cool flora in the understory of the forested slopes as we descend...

More fruit ripen where spring's flowers once danced.

And summer's flowers gently sway in the misty breeze.

Hunter and his phone pay homage to the towering Turk's caps along with the chest-high milkweed, as the day draws to a close.  

Woke up this morning to the sound of thunder...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stranger Than Fiction...

Trying to practice what we preach, Hoot Owl Karma spotted this critter down by the pond. 

A closer look...

Can't recall encountering one of these before.
How bizarre, how bizarre... 
Once again the utility of nature's design exceeds the creative capacity of our imagination.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

From Sandhills to Sand Dunes, Wildflower Surprises

On a recent ramble through the Sandhills, we paused to ponder this pastoral panorama from a rural roadside. As our focus shifted from the vast vistas to the verdant vegetation at our feet, we spied a pair of fantastic flowering plants.

A mass of bright pink petals rose a foot or more above the berry-laden blackberry bushes lining the ditch.

 And just a few steps farther along, a dazzling white counterpart. Breathtakingly beautiful; unnamed yet not altogether unfamiliar; the not-phlox, not-soapwort, not-meadow beauty posed patiently for picture after picture.

As the glorious pink and white petals flashed like bee and butterfly beacons in the bright midday sun, the flowers' reproductive organs thrust upward and outward, eager to embrace the pollinators upon their arrival. Such striking and distinctive flowers should not be too difficult to identify. 

 One of the joys of Hoot Owl Karma is the quest for additional knowledge which follows the time in the field. Perusing field guides, comparing notes with kindred spirits, or perhaps cutting corners when a deadline looms and consulting the oracle of Google Images can greatly expand the amateur naturalist's vocabulary and familiarity with the natural world.  In this case, the oracle suggested that our mystery plants belonged to the Gentian family, genus Sabatia. Our lovely ladies closely resembled a couple of the dozen or more species of Sabatia referred to variously as rose pinks or rose gentians. 

Alas, the quest for more definitive solutions to our mystery went by the wayside as more the more pedestrian concerns of earning a living encroached once again upon our limited time...

Fast forward to a brief getaway to the coast on the weekend just past, about three hours east of our abode near the fall line in central North Carolina. As Hunter and I stood by the boat ramp and admired the rapid advance of a squall across Bogue Sound in Carteret County, we spied somewhat familiar petals of pink in the edge of the salt marsh, right along the high tide line.

Rose gentians, perhaps?! Much less densely flowering than their piedmont kin and a much hotter pink, but the greatest distinction lay in the unnaturally bright star-like pattern at the heart of the flower.

Such a distinctive flower should be a cinch to identify to species; but that can wait. For now, we're content to ponder how it is that we've stood in this very same spot dozens of times over the years and never before noticed these nameless natural treasures.

Do yourself a favor. Go outside. Take a look around. 

Nature might just show you something new...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew?

Came upon this little brown land snail in Weymouth Woods. 
Apparently ordinary little brown land snail, lolling alongside the remnants of a rather large toadstool.

Wait just a cotton-picking minute! This is atrocious!
What kind of beast rips off hunks of food the size of its own body?!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ephemera - The Black Swallowtail

At the pond the day winds down. Along the bank, a mass of tender greens, lush beneath delicate parasols of lacy white. A member of the family Apiaceae, first cousin to the wild carrots and dills and parsleys, 

and the universe of the larval Black Swallowtail.

Eggs laid and hatched, and few weeks worth of delicate foliage devoured, the larvae are nearly prepared to depart this little world.

Such exquisite ephemera. 

What do we make of a life so beautifully brief? 
Three generations elapsed in a single passage of our little globe around its sun. 

One fleeting moment. To be born, to live, to die.

Time perhaps for an acquaintance or two.



Then, sunset.

Another day nearly done.

So Soon?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Beauty in the Mud...

Meandering along the margins of a small municipal pond, Hunter's eyes were drawn to the muddy shallows by a bevy of brilliant butterflies, then a perfect pair of papillon apparently mining minerals from the miry muck.

 Allowing his eyes to linger, he spotted movement - another life, cooling it here in the sunlit mud. It took a moment, but soon it separated itself from the surrounding sameness and became a frog. A bumby, jumpy little northern cricket of a frog. 
Do you see it? 
There, just below and to the left of the leafy green weed in the center!

Once it wants to be seen, it's hard not to see it.

Then others appear. Brothers, sisters, a cousin perhaps? 

The once-barren mud flats are becoming downright crowded... 

Ah, here's yet another! Similar, but unique;  sharing the mud on a Saturday morn...

Thanks, winged spirits, for opening our eyes to the beauty in the mud.