Thursday, May 28, 2015

Orchids in the Emerald Wood

For the first third of my life, summer was synonymous with blissful, carefree days exploring the intracoastal waterway between Cape Carteret and Emerald Isle.
Roaming the islands and estuaries of Bogue Sound and hanging out at the Point (of Emerald Isle) as a child created powerful connections to the natural wonders of North Carolina's sounds and beaches;
lifelong connections which draw me back each year.

Judging from the Memorial Day weekend traffic on the Highway 58 bridge, many thousands of others feel a similar attraction, although most of the attention seems centered on the pristine white sand beaches rather than the relatively quiet backwaters of the sound.

So after we inch our way across the bridge and safely deposit the boys and their cousins near the Point at the public beach access on Channel Drive,
I leave the beach to the sanderlings and the masses and wander into the wild at Emerald Isle Woods to discover what wonders await...

On a knoll overlooking the tidal flats with their hordes of fidgety fiddler crabs scurrying about amidst the spartina and the mud and the periwinkles,
a gnarled old sweet bay offers her most perfect white blossom to the infinite blue sky;

and sunlight peers through the bronze and green lens of newborn grape leaves, 
as the mother vine's clasping crimson tendrils strive for new heights this year...

Just a few meters away, deep in the shadows of the maritime wood, 
where Spanish moss dangles from every available branch, 
mini-leaved duckweed disguises the still, dark waters of a woodland pool,

like a glossy green slip cover, 
penetrated only here and there by a few larger aquatic herbs, 
convenient landing pad for the steely-eyed ultralight insect drones known to frequent these maritime hammocks.

Up again from the slough and onto the tree-lined ridge of the ancient dunes,

we're greeted by a small stand of spring-blooming native orchids.

Alert now to their presence, another look around reveals a healthy smattering of Spiranthes praecox, perhaps, or sylvatica
petals fused into fuzzy green-veined tubes, silently spiraling t'ward the sun; 

secure in the shadows of their little island,
where none but a few of the sun's most subtle and persistent rays will ever alight 
on the lily white blossoms of these orchids in the Emerald Wood.

And we, entranced by these delicate floral spires, 
pointing as it were, straight to heaven,
feel the inexorable tug of this remnant of the wild and wonder-filled coastal woodlands, 
and know that we'll be back again soon. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May Flowers

Spring is in full swing by mid-May in Central Carolina, and at this frenzied pace, she seemingly brings new sights and sounds and scents by the hour.
An ill-timed week-long business trip to New Jersey prevented us from bringing you the in-depth play by play we would prefer, but Hunter and I did manage to carve out a few hours for a brief backroad tour... 

It's hard to miss the glorious white southern magnolia blossoms dotting the suburban landscape at every turn this week, but not quite as abundant or obvious are her gorgeous wild cousins. This umbrella tree, Magnolia tripetala, with its parasol-like arrangement of glossy over-sized leaves, greeted us from the roadside forest near San Lee Park. 

A little closer to the ground in the sunny wide open spaces, our native prickly pear cactus, the eastern prickly pear, Opuntia sp., blazes bright yellow with the abundant sunshine of May's lengthening days;
and judging from the plethora of buds on the neighboring pads, this show won't be over anytime soon.

Down by the pond another sun-lover, our carnivorous friend sundew, Drosera sp., has captured a curious winged creature in its sticky embrace.

While this Drosera won't bloom until summer, the plant itself is so beautiful we couldn't resist including it in our May flower review...

Vivid stands of purple-blossomed Venus' looking glass, Triodanis sp. , populate the roadsides and field margins throughout the area, and they're certainly worth slowing down for a closer look.

Gazing into the still, dark waters of Duncan's Creek, the bright and cheerful blossoms of blue flag, Iris virginica, stand in stark contrast to the brooding pool below.

We'd heard rumors of a remnant population of these lovely wild iris near the heart of our childhood haunts in Harnett County,

and this marvelous day in May brought glorious confirmation of their persistence.

As we swung back to west and headed toward home, we chanced upon an impressive colony of wild Carolina roses, Rosa carolina (or perhaps a close cousin), 

wilting just a bit in the heat of mid-afternoon, but lovely nonetheless.

A bit farther along we encounter the false indigo bush a.k.a. indigo bush, Amorpha fruticosa,

another old friend, hanging out with its crew on the banks of a woodland stream.

Not merely a thing of beauty, 

the distinctive blossoms attract a variety of pollinators and pollinator predators alike.

A lush herbaceous forest forms in the clearing left by a now not-so-recent timber harvest; 
long dormant seeds freed from the shadows of the pines, 
germinate and rise to splendid weedy heights, 
none higher than this tall meadow rue, Thalictrum sp.

We wind up our journey, refreshed and renewed by our all too brief excursion on the back roads of Central Carolina, 
inspired, enlightened and determined to come back soon...

We hope you'll join us!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tree Frogs Dream of Rainy Nights...

Barking tree frog stealthily makes its way up the shady north face  
of the mossy brownstone boulder,

hiding in plain sight on the flanks of its mid-stream retreat,

until the swaying branches of the dense overhead canopy
part to admit the golden rays of the early morning sun.

Exposed for one brief moment, then shifting again to the shadows,
camouflaged so well as to play momentary landing pad to a passing arthropod, 
just out of tongue's reach on tree frog's dark-dotted dorsum.

No raindrops this morning, but they're on the way...

perhaps as soon as tonight.

And down with the rains come the others,

down the trunks and the branches and the vines, 
to gather and sing by the pool, 
perchance a mate to entice. 

'Til then, however, 
it's time to hop a limb and climb,

back to the darkness of the leaf-shrouded heights, 
where we'll while away the hours
with dreams of love and rainy nights.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sanford's Wild Sandhill Cranes

Sanford residents and visitors alike have experienced a rare treat for the past few weeks, a visiting pair of adult sandhill cranes. They have been frequenting several large cleared areas in Tramway, centered around the Bojangles on Tramway Road. Numerous accounts of sightings and encounters with the pair have appeared on social media, with varying degrees of accuracy regarding the true nature of these spectacular animals. 

Sandhill cranes are very large birds, with mature adults reaching a height of four feet or more, so they're pretty hard to miss, particularly when they stand on the parking lot curb or meander across the asphalt and join the restaurant patrons in the drive thru lane.

They are larger than the superficially similar great blue herons which are a very common and frequently seen wading bird native to our area. To the casual observer, the most obvious difference between the two is the bright red forehead of the sandhill crane.

Various birding websites and publications report a few sightings of sandhill cranes in North Carolina each year, most of which are observed migrating across the extreme southwestern counties of North Carolina on their way to breeding grounds in the Upper Midwest and Canada during the early spring. 

It is highly unusual, if not downright rare, for a pair of these magnificent creatures to appear in the veritable heart of North Carolina, much less hang around for weeks as this pair has.

There has been considerable speculation online among the area population generally, as well as knowledgeable birders, regarding the origins of Sanford's rare avian visitors and their possible fate. 

The nearest year-round resident population of sandhill cranes is in Florida. While most of North America's sandhill cranes migrate far to the north each spring to breed, the Florida sandhill cranes are a non-migratory resident population. Due to habitat loss in their historical Florida range, this population has been given threatened status and offered special protections under Florida law. Aside from habitat loss and degradation, one of the greatest threats to these birds comes from well-meaning humans. 

These large, attractive birds readily accept offerings of food from humans, and can become quite tame in the face of frequent feedings. Although such interaction might appear to be positive for all parties, it actually represents a significant danger to the birds by attracting them to areas with high automobile traffic and significant numbers of overhead utility lines, two of the most common causes of death for these amazing birds.

The threat of unintended harm as a result of feeding has resulted in a Florida law specifically banning the feeding of Florida sandhill cranes. Coincidentally, the home range of the Florida sandhill crane population encompasses the city of Sanford, located in Seminole County, Florida, and the website of their local newspaper features several photos of their local sandhill cranes.

Which raises the possibility that maybe our visitors are simply ambassadors from a sister city in the Sunshine State..., or maybe not.

While we may never know the full story behind these remarkable birds and their odyssey before they arrived in our fair town, perhaps we can learn from the experiences of residents in another Sanford further south, and honor the wildness of these wonderful creatures by admiring them from afar. 

 If we allow them to forage naturally, they can sustain themselves on the bounty of food available to them in the nearby fields and lawns and waterways, and we can avoid the potentially dire unintended consequences of our well-intentioned efforts to feed them. 
And who knows? 
Maybe they'll decide to stick around and raise a family; 
or at the very least, come back to see us again next year.

Mom's Mock Orange...

Over at Mom and Jim's last week, we managed to catch the mock orange near the peak of its blooming, and the floral feast brought back wonderful childhood memories, many of which reside in that tiny little spot of sandy ground just out in front of my childhood home where the mock orange still stands sentinel today.  

For my three siblings and me, this tiny little front yard was our portal to the great outdoors,
where we conspired to spend as much time as possible,
growing up wild as we did in the Sandhills. 

And Spring was the best of times "out front," 
playing amidst a wonderful assortment of traditional Southern flora, 
some native and some introduced.

The show started in early to mid-February with the sweet-breath-of-spring, 
Lonicera fragrantissima, 
which had indirectly travelled all the way from China to grace one front corner of the house. Practically all our friends and neighbors had at least one old sweet-breath-of-spring somewhere on their property, and the fragrance was downright delicious!

Right next door, immediately outside my parents' bedroom window, 
stood the mock orange, 
which graciously bloomed a good bit later, 
so as not to outshine its fragrant, but less showy, neighbor.

Alongside and overhead climbed the wisteria vine, another Asian visitor, 
but one which was already more prevalent in the Southern landscape than many native species during my childhood.

Shading the sandy front walk, which later became brick, 
there stood a handsome dogwood, 
and at the other front corner stood a rather scraggly but productive red rosebush;

while a couple or three oaks, a hickory and a long leaf pine 
spread their protective branches over the lot of them.

I didn't realize how good I had it, then;

but today the old mock orange reminds me...

what a priceless Spring 

are those perfect, blue-skied, little boy and little girl days, 
whiled away
beneath mock orange's glorious sunshiny gaze...