An Unexpected Visitor

Virginia Opossum Posted by Hello

I really didn't anticipate having anything to post today as we are experiencing the heavy rains and winds of a nor'easter. But it just so happens that during the lunch hour we had a break in the rain and an unexpected visit from a 'possum. My husband glanced out the window of our den and spied this lovely critter helping itself to some goodies from the compost pile. Opossums are generally most active at night but are sometimes seen during the day, especially in winter.

While they can't be considered pretty by any means, there is something endearing about a 'possum -- maybe it's those cute little pink feet. This one showed me his teeth (they have 50) and tried to strike a pose that would inspire me to go away. It didn't work. 'Possums will defend themselves when they have to, but most prefer flight to fight and will even play dead when threatened. We noticed that this one had been in some sort of scrape that had cost him the end of his prehinsile tail. The exposed vertebrae looked a little gruesome but the opossum seemed to be doing okay otherwise.

I snapped a few pictures and then left him to his 'possum business. Hope he finds a snug place to hole up in this afternoon and wait out the storm.


Woody Woodpecker, Perhaps?

Pileated Power Posted by Hello

Pileated woodpeckers have been hard at work on this log. They chip away at deadwood in search of beetles, grubs, and carpenter ants. It is quite a sight to see them pounding away, flinging large pieces of wood to the side as they work. They are impressive birds, crow-sized with a crazy red crest.

Come March, they will be busy excavating a nesting cavity in either a dead or live tree. They tend to build from 10 to 75 feet above ground. Eggs will be laid in mid-April and hatch after incubating for about 18 days.

I tried to sneak up on a pair of pileateds one day last week. It was another of those cases of my photo subject cooperating -- up until the time I pressed the button. To make matters worse, I could swear they were laughing at me as they flew away...wuck-a-wuck-a-wuck-a

The Eye of the Beholder

Spotted Dead Nettle Posted by Hello

Late winter has begun to offer up a bouquet of blooms. Sure, they are small and to some, insignificant, but to us they are a delight to the eye. Cress, dandelions, henbit, bluets, field pansies...they're out there blooming away. So, even if you think they are weeds and choose to banish them from your yard, take a moment to appreciate their beauty before you pluck or poison them.
Johnny Jump-Ups and Bluets Posted by Hello

Another Blogger Told Me To

As I was cruising through the blogs that I read regularly, I ran across these instructions posted on ~Butterfly Wings~ :

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

I followed the instructions faithfully, so here goes...

"The latest is November 27, when another was exposed under the loose bark of a rotten stump in Wake County. On February 2, a dead five-lined skink was found in a stump that also sheltered a hibernating southeastern five-lined skink (Moore County).
The food habits of this lizard in North Carolina have not been studied."
from Reptiles of North Carolina by William Palmer and Alvin Braswell

Guess it's no surprise that the book closest to hand here at the computer deals with wildlife. I have other interests, really I do, but I was trying to follow the instructions to the letter :)


Wednesday Was a Busy Day

Carrying the torch. Posted by Hello

Wednesday was a good day for a burn. The wind was right, the humidity was right, and smoke dispersal was good. Excellent conditions are a must for these particular burn units as they have proved tricky in the past. The area is a large field surrounded on three sides by woodland and on the fourth by the highway. It tends to burn hot and fast and we have to be on our toes the whole time. The burn boss has divided the area into six separate units. We burned three of the units.

The man in the picture above is using a drip torch to draw a line of fire across the field. It is the job of the rest of the crew to make sure the fire stays where it is supposed to. You can see where we have put out the flames along the edge. It is hot work and you have to be on constant guard for spot fires that can be ignited outside the assigned unit by flying sparks.
Not as scary as it looks... Posted by Hello

This shot looks like a raging fire heading toward a mature woodland...it isn't though. There is a fireline between the small trees and the mature woods behind them. The trees in the foreground are young loblolly pines, one of the first trees to invade a field during succession. Part of the goal of this particular burn is to maintain this field in a certain stage of succession -- one without loblolly pines. Since the pines aren't a fire tolerant species they will die off after a few years of successive burns.
A nice finish to a long day. Posted by Hello

When we left the burn unit on Wednesday evening we were treated to a beautiful moon just above the horizon. All the fires were out, the spring peepers and chorus frogs were already back to singing in the semi-permanent wet spots in the fields we had just burned off. Overhead we saw the silhouette of a woodcock performing its distinctive display flight. The owls were sure to have good hunting once we left -- these fields are home to a large number of cotton rats. Life, in all its forms is a wonder...take the time to appreciate it.


A Serious Beetle

Pilot to bombardier Posted by Hello

Although the picture isn't too good, I thought this beetle deserved an entry. I believe it is one of the bombardier beetles of the genus Brachinus. We found it under an old cast iron pot that was out in the woods. When we lifted the pot, it scurried to find cover and seemed determined not to have its picture taken. So determined, in fact, that it "shot" at us. When we tried to slow it down, it released an explosive cloud of some pretty foul-smelling chemicals from its back-end. We could hear a muffled pop and actually see the puff of the gas. Pretty impressive stuff. After taking a few pictures we lowered the pot back down and let the beetle get back to whatever it was doing before we so rudely interrupted it.


Life on the Run

Lost, but not alone Posted by Hello

Not every creature we see out in the woods is wild. My husband found this little guy way out in the back of beyond. The dog has a collar, but no tags. Guess we'll be foster parents while we try to locate the owner. Folks around here use beagles to hunt rabbits, as well as run deer, so there is no telling how much ground this fellow could have covered if he was hot on the trail of something. Right now he is enjoying life in our backyard and seems to have made himself right at home. Our dog doesn't seem to mind having him around -- as long as he stays outside!


Our Second Ecological Burn

Fire behaving nicely Posted by Hello

Our second burn of 2005 went very well yesterday. A lot of planning goes into these burns -- weather, winds (upper and lower level), fuel type and load, topography, and a host of other things have to be considered before a burn can take place. Our goal is to have a contained, controlled burn that we more or less shepherd -- not a raging, out of control wildfire that we have to fight.
Why mop-up can take a while Posted by Hello

When the main fire has burned itself out, we move in to do mop-up. Mop-up involves making sure that anything that is still burning is well within the blackened area and presents no risk of spreading the fire outside of the designated burn unit. This year mopping up is a little more time consuming thanks to the tremendous number of trees Hurricane Isabel dropped back in 2003. It is a little tricky manuvering over and under fallen trees carrying a backpack pumper with 5 gallons of water in it and a fire rake. I would hate to have to be fighting a fire under these conditions -- all those western wildland firefighters have my utmost respect. We can move slowly and work at a less than break-neck pace, they can't.
Don't worry - the cottontail escaped unharmed Posted by Hello

This eastern cottontail got rousted out before the flames reached its brushpile. We shooed it over the fireline and into a safe zone. Since our fires cover small areas and burn through them fairly quickly, there is relatively little major impact to most of the woodland residents. Most of the people I work with will go out of their way to move even the smallest critters out of harm's way whenever possible.
Who cooks for you? Posted by Hello

I am fairly certain this is the same barred owl I tried to capture on "film" back in January. Could it be that this beastie is just toying with me? We have a fairly high population of these owls and they can often be heard during the day. Their call has been described as "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" They also have an indescribable screeching scream that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck.


Love Songs

Spring peeper Posted by Hello

Just stuck my head out the door and heard a chorus of spring peepers singing away. They sound like bells from a distance.

Southern leopard frog Posted by Hello

I could also hear these guys calling from the pond. They sort of grunt and cluck -- not nearly as melodious as the peepers, but I guess it gets the job done.

Farewell to a Friend

In the summer of 1994 I spied an eastern box turtle crossing our yard making a beeline for the garden. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. The turtle was a mature female. Beautiful carapace and plastron, very colorful head and legs. She was not timid -- never tried to close her shell. I took her picture, set her down and watched as she headed back toward the garden. Over the years I saw her numerous times. She ate tomatoes in the garden and fallen apples from the tree in the side yard. One year she accompanied me to a turtle program for pre-schoolers. Each summer I looked for her and each time I saw her she brought a smile to my face. It was nice to know such an agreeable creature shared our space.

Sadly, I took her picture for the last time today. Apparently, probably sometime in the late fall, she reached the end of her journey. I found her remains this morning while I was out looking for chorus frogs. So today I say farewell to a friend. She will be missed.

I'll miss this face Posted by Hello

A shot from this summer Posted by Hello

Her signature scute Posted by Hello


A Fine Day in the Forest

It was positively glorious out today...warm and sunny as days sometimes are in mid-February in North Carolina. I headed out with a mission in mind: I wanted to see if I could find some northern cricket frogs. We have both northern and southern cricket frogs and I can't tell them apart without catching them and looking at their little frog butts. Success! I caught and examined three cricket frogs -- all of them northerns. How do I know? Why, it was the presence of the infamous subanal tubercles.

Cricket frogs weren't the only amphibians out and about today. There were southern leopard frogs calling, a pickerel frog just waking up, some sort of young frog that may have been a green frog, and of course, lots of salamanders.

I had more fun than a grown woman should, chasing down and catching these frogs. (Of course, it wasn't until after I saw the pictures that I realized I really could use a manicure.) Anyway, if it has been a while since you grabbed (gently, of course) a wriggly little frog, I highly recommend it. Just be sure your hands are wet and chemical free when you do. All creatures deserve our respect.

Froggy high-five, uh, four Posted by Hello

Not sure what species this little frog is. It is a young frog and they are sometimes difficult to ID. I think it may be a green frog.

Infamous subanal tubercles Posted by Hello

The two little white projections on this frog's posterior lead me to believe....

Northern Cricket Frog Posted by Hello

...it's a northern cricket frog.


Treks to Town

Thursday...Day 1 of treks to town. I went shopping, I survived shopping and came away with two acceptable outfits. However, UGLY clothes abound and whoever designed women's fitting rooms needs to be taken out, stripped, and mocked! Isn't the point to make you want to buy something? But, I digress...

Friday...Day 2 of treks to town. Climb into a car with four other folks and head to a convention center in Chesapeake, VA. Traffic, as usual, is heavy and we are following another car containing the one individual who actually knows where we are going. By some miracle we arrive intact and on time. The luncheon was enjoyable, I looked reasonably well put together and behaved myself -- used the right fork for the right course, etc. Hopefully I didn't do or say anything to put myself out of the running for the job I so desperately want. Following the luncheon we pile back into the car and head back to NC, to my sane little county with its one little stoplight. That's right, you heard me -- one stoplight in the entire county.

Saturday...Day 3 of treks to town. My husband and I headed to Suffolk, VA to see a movie (no theaters here in the county). The company was good, the movie was funny. Afterward we headed out to buy some groceries (aren't we just SO romantic). The traffic in Chesapeake was horrific. People were blocking intersections and it was bumper to bumper. How do people stand it? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad some people thrive on it -- leaves more room for us out here in the sticks.

Going into town three days in a row is a bit much. I was very glad to stay home today. I did my stream monitoring and then my husband and I took the dog for a long walk and a swim. Sure, I appreciate the amenities that life in the city provides -- I grew up with them -- but now, as an adult, I much prefer my swamps and woods.

Soaking Up the Rays

Tiny little ground skink Posted by Hello

This little lizard was out enjoying the warm sunshine this morning. He was a bit more cooperative than most ground skinks when it came to having his picture taken.

Inconspicuous, But Pretty

Bright little cinquefoil Posted by Hello

Winged elm flowers Posted by Hello

Red maple in bloom Posted by Hello