Thursday, December 31, 2015

Winter's Exuberant Song...

Winter, steamy and damp, proceeds unabated, 
even as Christmas moon wanes, 

and we wonder, 
in the warm and wet,
at the creatures wandering about.

Toad is a welcome visitor, 
though unexpected in late December,

and we chill for a while,
ruminating on the warmth and the wet and the weather;

reflecting together by the light of the moon,
before we go our separate ways.

Days pass.
Warm winter days, laden with rain, 
replenishing the ephemeral ponds and dry woodland streams,

yielding then to long December nights,
filled to overflowing with the frogs
and their exuberant song... 

Here's a sampling of last night's chorus...

Sounds a lot like spring,
here at the dawn of a new year in the heart of Carolina.

Thanks to Jay Randolph and our amphibian friends for the lovely recording.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 7, 2015

December Morn...

Oak leaves clad in frost-fringed scarlet pose in the neighbor's thick fescue as though auditioning for the family Christmas card, on a brisk December morn...

Strangely silent, a solitary mockingbird pauses from its pear-picking,
absorbed in the day's first warm rays,

while northern cardinal, another aspiring star of the greeting card set,
blazes brightly from the nearby brush.

Young sweet gum, reluctant to relinquish its first full complement of well-formed leaves,
bears chilly witness to last night's revelry by little Jack Frost, 
only just departed,

mere minutes ahead of the morning sun, 
now stealing across the pond's still waters, 
relentlessly driving December's chill and damp before it.

Blue is the color of heaven, this bright December morn, 
reflected in the waters,

and framed by the snow-white branches of the mighty riparian sycamores 
and the darker boles of the towering sweet gums, 
bedecked as they are by a bevy of spiny bronze fruit and fuzzy green lichens and
brilliant five-pointed leaf-stars, 
rising high against the blue.

The trees whisper tales of fellow forest dwellers, 
out and about, or safely hidden, 
who can tell?

Few flowers are so indelicate as to flirt with the likes of Jack Frost, 
but this one, at least, 
has done, and lived to tell it! 

Crimson and green, it seems, 
are the colors of choice for the few tenacious leaves still holding fast to their woody stems, 
and lovely, thorny blackberry makes no exception.

Young sandhill crane, majestic flyer from the far, far north,
mysterious stranger,

serenely browsing among the remnants of autumn's corn; 
rare and seldom-seen visitor in these parts, 
casually crossing paths on a chilly and magical December morn.

Taking wing and heading upriver, 
disappearing anon in the distant blue of the heavens,
crane yields its place to a far less graceful flyer,
a furry mammalian forest-dweller,

familiar friend and neighbor, 
gray squirrel. 

Appearing not much bothered by its lack of grace, 
old bushy-tail wastes no time reaching just the intended spot, 
and quickly ducks out of sight.

A magical morning on the water...

Mockingbird, cardinal and crane,
sycamore, walnut and ash,
sweet gum stars and skies impossibly blue;

Shadows of an old truss bridge, ... and you.

Just a few of the wonders of a frosty December morn.

Monday, November 30, 2015

November, Unnoticed

 November arrives on the heels of All Hallow's Eve, but alas, we miss it.

The perennials in the bed out front reinforce our oblivion,
blithely donning the mask of Mays gone by,

while the oaks out back refuse to play "fall"; 
their lovely scales, brittle now and scarlet,
cling tenaciously to limbs another year longer.

The skies try to tell us,  
but the brilliant blues of chilly noons 
 pass over eyes downcast, 
focused on myriad mundane tasks,  

and as dusk steals round earlier and more briskly, 
our busy-ness bids us hurry indoors,
avoiding again November's thrall.

We venture south and east, 
to the very edge of the sea, 
and still October it seems, 
breezy, clear and bright.

November mornings make crunchy music at our feet, 
and yet we hurry on,

past delicate, nearly denuded vines,
barely clad in brilliant hues,

until, at long last, 
we pause to catch our breath
amidst November's bounty,

reflecting on the things that really matter,

and offer thanks...

for November.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gulf Fritillaries' Delight - Emerald Isle

Life slows down on the Island in the fall. 
Traffic jams cease, even on the weekends, 
and the surf shop parking lot is virtually empty.

As a few bargain hunters venture inside to search for late season deals, 
we are drawn to the vacant lot next door, 
occupied by an army of golden asters,  
holding fast their sandy keep, 
despite an onslaught of ocean gusts,
hinting heavily of winter's chill. 

Dune camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris, 
thriving still on the emerald isle, 
in spite of the imminent arrival of November.

Late season larder for the last of the lepidopterans,

gulf fritillaries galore, 

here on the island's leeward shore.

Mingled among the asters are other hardy sand-lovers, 
forb and graminoid alike.
Maypops and sandspurs, 
both right at home here in the dunes,

but passionflower claims the most credit for the fritillaries' abundance.

As host plant for the gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, caterpillar, 
the myriad maypop vines explain why a dozen or more brilliant orange butterflies patrol this particular patch of golden asters in a late fall frenzy of nectaring.

Among the Southeast's most striking nectarers, 
this fritillary is not as frequent back home in the Sandhills, 

and our lens is quickly addicted to the remarkably beautiful pattern 
of silvery white underwing markings.

The sun, passing lower now in the autumn sky, 

flirts with flowers and flyers and photographers alike,

none of us in any hurry to part company just yet...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pine Barrens Blues...

Remnants of the old forest still exist, 
here on the silent straw-strewn ridge,
ancient thick-skinned trunks blackened by last season's fire, 
perfect backdrop for the tender green buds of autumn gentian, Gentiana autumnalis.

The seeker might find solace in this singular place,
strolling in solitude among the stately pines and glorious herbs,

soothed by the sympathetic sighs of the forest giants,
ever-so-slightly under the influence 
of the cool autumn breeze, 

and the solitary blossoms of exquisite azure.

Solitude and silence
and breath-taking beauty
bring a measure of peace to the world-weary soul; 

here in the flickering shade of the pines,
where the pine-barren gentian gently unfurls in hues of heavenly blue.

Pinus palustris, 
scion of the Sandhills;

mighty longleaf,
noblest of the Southern trees;

born of poor sandy soil and daunting summer heat, 
scoured by flames of fire so wild, 
and watered at nature's whim,

sentinel species,

ruler of a precious and dwindling domain,

and here at their feet,

we pay homage

'long side the pine barrens blues...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Down An Old Gravel Road...

Nature loves ground newly broken, 
laid open to the sunlight and the moonlight and the rain,
long dormant seeds exposed,

The old gravel road winds gently up and over a sandy ridge, 
then meanders with much dust and crunching and other ado 
into the swampy bottom beyond, 
a reliable old country byway,
but not much traveled  
since the logging trucks left for good last summer.

And where the stately pines once shrouded the humble highway in shadows, 
denuded shoulders now luxuriate in the sun's warm gaze, 
and herbs long asleep rise briskly from the broken ground in the no longer shade...

Leader of this riotous uprising of green and gold?

None other than our old friend,
Bidens spp., polylepis or aristosa,

Carolina autumn's ubiquitous "ditch daisy" or "tickseed sunflower".

Accompanied by an eager and extensive entourage of herbs and arthropods alike,

tickseed has engineered an herbaceous explosion,
a village of ten thousand bright nodding faces
here along an old gravel road in the country
where once there were none.  

Here along the narrow weed-filled ditch, 
a meager stream makes its way in and out of the roots of a few scraggly gum trees 
before moving on through a dense tangle of cat brier and blackberries and clematis and poison ivy and cow itch vines.

It is here that Streamside Lobelia, Lobelia elongata,
poses proudly for a picture with the golden girls of the old gravel road garden,

just as a golden gossamer-winged glider appears on the scene, 
accompanied by yet another fawning fan of the bright yellow flowers, 
veritable fountains of life-giving nectar.

Literally lighter than a feather, 
eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus,
still elicits a courtly bow from the gently bobbing blossoms 
on their sylphlike stems.  

Lovely lobelia looks on, 
perhaps a little slighted at the lepidopterans' apparent indifference 
to her brilliant blossoms so blue.

And everywhere the sun's rays fall, bold Bidens shines brightly, 
a beacon of plenty for late summer sippers and foliage nibblers alike.

This perfectly camouflaged tickseed moth, Cirrhophanus triangulifer, 
commonly known as the goldenrod stowaway moth,
will mate and deposit its eggs somewhere in the mass of fresh green tickseed salad,
ensuring its young an opportunity to continue a mutually beneficial relationship 
with the showy roadside weed.  

At a glance, the tickseed blossoms are flowers of a feather, 
uniform in appearance but for some age-related variations in size; 

a closer look reveals the occasional non-conformist, 
such as this lovely gem with white tipped petals, 
not at all fazed by the singularity of its brief moment in the sun.

Perhaps attracted by the unique petal pattern,
this handsome female mason wasp, Monobia quadridens, 
tough to overlook with its bold black and white markings, 
drops in for a drink at the white tipped tickseed blossom,
another happy nectar lover by the side of a little country lane.

She has other less glamorous purposes here in the roadside garden as well, 
potentially beneficial to her nectar supplier.

She will capture a plump little caterpillar or two from the plants' delicate stems and leaves 
and take them back to fill the larder of her nesting cavity, 
so that another generation of wasps may continue their relationship 
with these humble but remarkable plants. 

The black-striped golden swallowtails continue to feed with gusto,
here in the old gravel road garden,

where goldenrod, 
(another leading player in the fall flower scene) 
is just beginning to blossom.

Also an aster, though with ray flowers more unkempt and much less regularly arranged, 
this may be Streamhead Goldenrod, Solidago patula, 
or perhaps another of its many fall-blooming Carolina kin.

And lest passersby forget nature has colors in her palette other than gold, 
this trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans
with her blossoms of deepest crimson-orange, 
sprawls directly in the roadway proper, 
having traversed the tricky stone-paved terrain just to delight the visitor with her colors so bold; 

as well, perhaps, to lure the busy carpenter bees down from the nearby tickseed, 
where the delicate ditch daisy's stems can hardly bear their weight.

Among the tangle of vines beyond the ditch, 
there is evidence of the blossoms of the blooming season just now past,
where the hirsute and showy seeds of the native leather flower, Clematis sp.,
awaits the ideal moment to disperse.

That simple seeds should assume such spectacular forms 
is another of nature's wonderful mysteries on display somewhere down an old gravel road.

A bit farther along, a mass of lobelia demands attention, 

but, alas, a most interesting arthropod quickly steals the show.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe
gives its best impression of a bird, 
with specialized scales evolved to give the appearance of feathers, 
right down to the flaring plumes of its "tail".

Its ruby and emerald colors likewise enhance the illusion of a tiny ruby-throated hummingbird, 
as does the buzzing generated by its rapid wingbeats.

Nature's wonders abound on the ditch banks of this humble country road, 

an abundance of biodiversity revolving around a profusion of roadside weeds.

Travelers might well expect to see butterflies among the mass of radiant blossoms, 

and a lovely Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, ensures that expectations are met.

Just a plant or two away a silver-spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus,
serenely prepares to dine in the shade of a perfectly positioned sun screen...

Uncommonly beautiful Common Buckeye is around as well, 
flightiest of the gathered throng, 

pausing just long enough for a quick sip, 
then it's up and on the way again...

Another wasp wings in; 
this time it's Blue Winged Wasp, Scolia dubia, friend to turf lovers everywhere. 
When not grabbing a quick shot of nectar in the roadside garden, 
and serving as a highly effective pollinator, 
this red-tailed digging wasp locates the grubs of June bugs and Japanese beetles. 
After immobilizing the grub with a sting, 
it lays an egg on each one, 
providing its own developing larvae with a reliable source of food.

With so many cool critters on the move among the flowers, 
time melts away,
absorbed completely into the place and the experience and life as it is in nature...

and now appears another clearwing moth, 
this time the Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis.

Behaving very much like its cousin thysbe, 
yet a slight bit smaller and colored like a black and yellow bumblebee, 
it might best be dubbed a Bumblebee Moth.

Next up along the roadside, 
blue Streamside Lobelia has a cousin, too, and she is clad in brilliant scarlet!

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis, 
another lovely North Carolina native, right at home in the streamside thicket. 

Here on the flanks of the old gravel road, 
more exciting encounters await at every turn, 
like this diminutive skipper, 
entirely unconcerned by the proximity of the lens,

and, as if to affirm the timelessness of nature, 
a tiny chrysalis, 
dangling unobtrusively in the afternoon breeze, 
a butterfly in waiting, 
perhaps a common buckeye,
soon to join the late summer frenzy in this natural garden by the side of a country road, 
metamorphosis complete.

Up around the next curve, in the midst of a scattered smattering of Bidens and Solidago
there rises an impressive dark green stand of New York Ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis
with its distinctive purple blossoms just beginning to open fully.

More than two meters in height, these "weeds" provide ample room for any number of nectarers,

and dozens of lepidoptera are on hand to partake of the bounty,  
most of them familiar old friends, 
the tiger swallowtails and the silver-spotted skippers.

The lens quickly becomes preoccupied with three female swallowtails, 
two of brilliant gold,

the other black, 

all three sporting the powdery dusting of iridescent blue on their hind wings
that distinguishes them from otherwise similar males of their kind.

Somewhere down an old gravel road in central North Carolina,
in the perfect light of a late summer afternoon,
for a few fleeting moments,

all that is alive in nature comes together,
 into something larger, unified, complete...   

Timeless, enduring, ever active, ever changing.

Especially in the disturbed places, the newly broken ground...

Somewhere down an old gravel road in the country, 
nature awaits,

and your presence is needed...