On a Mission

Yesterday, four of us were sent on a fact-finding mission. Our destination was a small state park in Onslow County, about 3 hours to our south on the coast.

Despite the fact that it poured rain on us the whole way down, we had a good trip and gathered a lot of useful information.

It is always nice when work takes you to one of your favorite places :)

Ferry dock at Hammocks Beach

If you ever find yourself in the area, I highly recommend a trip to Hammocks Beach. For a nominal fee you can take a small ferry from the mainland out to an undeveloped barrier island. Yep, I said undeveloped -- a rare and wonderous thing these days. The trip over to Bear Island takes about 25 minutes. Once you reach the island, a 15 minute walk will take you to the ocean side. It always takes me well over 15 minutes because the ocean is never my main objective when I visit -- there is just too much to explore on the island!

You can also paddle a canoe or kayak out to the island -- but be sure you know which way the tide is flowing because it makes a big difference in the amount of time and effort you will spend getting to your destination (do you detect a hint of personal experience here?).

On the way back, near Edenton, we were treated to a break in the rain and a rainbow. I snapped a picture through the truck window. Doesn't do it justice of course, but it was the best I could manage.


Delights of an Unkempt Lawn

Several years ago we started reducing the amount of lawn area we maintain at our house.

The idea of a monoculture of grass, cut to regulation length just doesn't hold much appeal for us -- partly because of all those years of having to cut grass two or more times a week when we were growing up and partly because we find lawns to be, well, sterile.

We like our weeds and the variety of insects and other beasties they attract. I realize a "jungle" yard isn't for everyone, but it suits us.

One of our favorite things about not cutting the grass is the little surprises we find in the natural sections of the yard...

...like this little orchid, called Ladies'-tresses...

...and these Common Yellowthroat hatchlings in a nest just a few inches off the ground.

Time Flies

Twenty years ago...

...he was a chunky one year old with chubby cheeks and curls.

Yesterday he turned 21. Gone are the chubby cheeks, the curls, and the chunkiness. Now he is a lean, muscular man who, at 6' 3", makes me feel downright dainty :) He's grown into a fine man and we are very proud of him.

Happy Birthday, Flamebrain!! We love you.

(Oh, and to my older son - you can stop laughing now. Your birthday isn't too far off and I have just the picture.)


Around the Yard

Bugs, bugs, and more bugs*! Lots of insect activity around the yard today.

*yes, I know it would be more proper to say Insects, insects, and more insects -- but I don't want to :P

I'm not sure what these little hatchlings are and haven't had time to look them up yet. Whatever they are, they are on a leaf of a black cherry tree (Prunus serotina).

This female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) was more cooperative than the male. He was too busy to have his picture taken.
These dragonflies are tiny -- less than an inch long -- and they have an interesting habit of sometimes mimicking wasps.

This true bug, lying in wait on a blueberry bush, may be one of the wheelbugs (a.k.a. "fire fannies") that hatched out in April. It still has a ways to go before it is fully mature.

Cheater! This bumblebee is taking a shortcut to the nectar of this Japanese honeysuckle by cutting a hole at the base of the flower. Mr. Swamp took this picture -- after a year and a half he finally decided he would learn how to use our camera :)

Another of the many species of dragonflies patrolling the yard, this is a male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).

A flower fly (Eristalis transversa) on a cone flower. (Another by Mr. Swamp!)


Garden Work

I woke up this morning with the intention of getting some gardening done in the cool early hours. My herb garden is in dire need of weeding and I figured I'd spend a couple of hours outside wrestling it into some sort of order before I settled in to get some work done on the computer.

After about 45 minutes of work I was beginning to see some results (I told you, dire need). It was nice out, the birds were singing and the yard was full of hummingbirds coming to the feeders. I found myself thinking, gee, maybe I will actually get everything done...

Alas, twas not to be. I had noticed a pair of Carolina wrens fussing at me from their perch in the apple tree. Didn't think much of it, wrens just seem to like to fuss. It wasn't until my husband stopped by with some moths he wanted me to photograph that we discovered why the wrens were so agitated.

My husband discovered Junior here in the tall grass near where I was weeding.

Wrens may be tiny, but they're fiesty little birds. At first we thought to move the baby out into the yard closer to the adult birds. Junior would have none of that! He scurried and scuttled and pecked at us when we tried to catch him.

So, in the end, I gave up my weeding and came into the house. Baby wrens grow fast and it won't hurt a thing if my garden stays weedy a couple more days :)


A Quick Side Trip

While we were in the neighborhood over the weekend we decided to visit Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. After dipping our toes in the Atlantic along with a zillion other people...

...we headed out on one of the trails through the salt marsh.

We saw Six-lined Racerunners, a type of lizard that didn't have time to stop for a picture; a very camera-shy black racer (you knew I would find a snake!); numerous shore bird species, including these oh, so dirty white ibis...yep, right there, those little bitty blobs in the center of the picture - trust me, they're ibis...

...and when we peered over the edge of the boardwalk we were treated to the sight of innumerable fiddler crabs, scurrying about on very important fiddler crab business.

There were also flowers, dragonflies, song birds, grasshoppers...well, you get the idea. All in all a very enjoyable little side trip.


Weekend Wonders

A few of the carnivorous plants we saw when we went to visit our son this weekend down in the southern coastal plain...

Pink Sundew, Drosera capillaris, attracts and captures insects with its leaves.

The trap of a Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula.

The flowers of the Venus Flytrap. Due to the cool spring most of the plants were about 9 days behind in flowering. If it had been a typical spring we would have missed seeing these in bloom.

Purple Pitcher-plant, Sarracenia purpurea or Sarrancenia purpurea ssp. venosa, I'm not sure which one. Insects check in, but they can't check out.

A stand of Yellow Pitcher-plant, Sarracenia flava. I love the little "umbrellas" over the pitchers.

A little closer view of the flower (left) and pitcher of the yellow pitcher-plant. My son said the flowers are bright yellow when they first bloom.

A little surprise inside one of the pitchers. Good thing this pitcher was bent over -- otherwise, the frog may have found itself being the main course of the plant's dinner! This frog appeared to be a squirrel treefrog, Hyla squirella, but I didn't catch him for a closer look so I am not absolutely sure.

Many thanks to our son for a wonderful Father's Day weekend!


But Nothing Rhymes With Orange

Orange and oranger -- it almost hurts my eyes. But the hummingbirds, ants, and butterflies seem to like it.

Here are some of the very orange flowers that are in bloom right now.

Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, a pretty flower that almost seems to glow with its orange-ness.

Candyweed or Yellow Milkwort, Polygala lutea. The brown "bug" hanging on the side of the flower is actually the shed nymphal skin of a dragonfly called a great blue skimmer.

Trumpet-creeper, Campsis radicans, a favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds. I can always tell when this flower begins to bloom -- all the hummers coming to the feeders have little caps of pollen on the tops of their heads.

Orange Daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, an escape that has become naturalized. It is very common along our roadsides.


Last Year At This Time...

...we were in a strange and wonderous place. A place where we had to wear long sleeves and sleep under blankets -- in June!! A place where morning came very early. A place where the woods smelled like Christmas...

East Grand Lake, ME (June 2004)

...and habored odd little red squirrels that ventured out to munch birdseed.

A place where moose chomped on glasswort by the roadside...

...and an unfamiliar frog hunted insects along a creek bank.

Wood Frog, Rana sylvatica

A place that captured our imaginations and our hearts...

Baxter State Park, ME

...and made us feel as if we had found a second home.


A Turtle By Any Other Name...

...would have to smell a heck of a lot sweeter than this one!

Allow me to introduce Sternotherus odoratus, called Common Musk Turtle, or more aptly, Stinkpot.

This adult measured a tad over 4 inches, right in the middle of this species 3 to 5.5 inch size range. Diminutive little fellow, but with a powerful stench! This one smelled sort of like burnt rubber...

...the smell emanating from an odoriferous ooze produced by its "musk" glands. Yep, it's that icky brown stuff on the left, just above the opening for the hind leg. You really have to experience it for yourself to truly appreciate its potency. Of course, it doesn't seem to bother that leech attached to the plastron right along the mid-line.

Despite their odor, stinkpots are pretty cool little turtles. They prefer bodies of water with nice soft bottoms and we have the perfect habitat for them here. Like most turtles, they enjoy basking, but instead of finding them out on a log, you are more likely to find them clinging to a tree trunk or resting on a branch in a bush out over the water. You generally don't expect to find a turtle four or five feet above the water, but stinkpots are agile little climbers!

They are also quite cute when they are babies. We found this little stinker yesterday. Judging by its size, I would say it hatched last year.

As you can see, he fit in the palm of my hand with plenty of room to spare.

Another interesting little tidbit about this species -- the babies are triangular in cross section.

But no matter how cute and tiny, this was one stinky little turtle.



For those of you unfamiliar with the letters in the title: Hazy, Hot, and Humid. A perfect description of today.

By 8:00 a.m. the heat index was above 90, not exactly ideal weather for a hike, but the bloom calendar must be kept up to date! There were several plants I wanted to check on -- if I miss them blooming this year I have to wait til next year...Mother Nature can be so unyielding at times :)

It wasn't too bad out really. I seldom notice the heat as long as I stay away from any and all air conditioning. Sure, I was "glowing" like crazy, but it really wasn't that bad. The fact that I got photos of at least five species I didn't have photos of before made it all bearable. That, and the fact that we found a couple of orchids we didn't know we had. Plus I saw a baby stinkpot and they are just too cute (more on that tomorrow, with photos).

The real purpose of this post is to give a Swampy Salute to Mr. Bloggerific. Several days ago he suggested that I try a dryer sheet in my pocket to keep biting insects at bay. I was skeptical -- sweet scents tend to attract rather that repel all those biters and stingers. But, I was curious and decided to perform a little experiment. Thus, we set out on our flower monitoring trek today armed with dryer sheets. I put mine in my hat and my partner went without (at least initially). I monitored the number of yellowflies and horseflies swarming around his head and he monitored the number swirling about my head.

Much to my surprise, the dryer sheet did seem to help cut down on the number of nasty biters landing on me. It did not deter all of them by any means, but it did deter them somewhat -- and somewhat beats none-what any day! Needless to say, before long we were both sporting dryer sheets in our hats. Of course, they aren't exactly uniform code...but we'll worry about that later ;)

Anyway, I just wanted to thank Bloggy for a helpful suggestion -- now if only the dryer sheets worked against ticks...

I must add that the sheets do not work if you are running. When I did my workout late this afternoon I finished up with a run. The flies merely laughed at my attempts to repel them. Oh well, can't have everything.

The Softer Side

The swamp isn't just about biting flies and slithery snakes. It has its softer side.

So, in the interest of balance, I bring you a butterfly and a bunny. How sweet is that? :)

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis), nectaring on Cat's-ear (Hypochoeris radicata).

Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), blending in with the scenery next to the boardwalk.

This particular rabbit looks to be a "teenager" and still has some growing to do. Cottontails in North Carolina average about 3 to 3.5 pounds (roughly 1.4 to 1.6 kg) when fully grown.


Snake Daze

I realized I hadn't posted any snake pictures in a while. So, with apologies to Keith, here are some photos of some slithery creatures we have seen recently...

(Keith, I'm giving you time to change your mind about scrolling down to the picture...the first one is of a venomous snake...)

(Last chance! I won't be responsible for adverse reactions...)

My husband found this very cooperative Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) on the road to his office this morning. He didn't want the snake to get hit and he knew I needed a picture of a copperhead, so he brought it to me for a photo session before he returned it to its home.

(DO NOT handle venomous snakes unless you are trained to do so!!! They can inflict painful bites that can make you quite ill.)

Notice the vertical pupil and the little pit in front of the eye. Cooperheads are our most numerous venomous snake.

I happen to think they are one of our prettiest snakes as well.

This one was a bit dinged-up for some reason. It will look a little better after it sheds.

Another snake we encountered during a recent walk was this Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platyrhinos). Hognose snakes vary greatly in their color patterns. This one was almost completely black.

You can't see it in the picture, but the hognose has a cute little up-turned snout.

When provoked, this snake can put on an elaborate act. Generally it starts with loud hissing and a flattening of the head. If you keep on pestering it, it will usually roll over onto its back, stick out its tongue and pretend to be dead. Despite all of its show, the hognose (a.k.a. "spreading adder" or "blowing viper") rarely even attempts to bite. Toads are one of its favorite foods.

Here is a view of the flattened head. Some of the snake's pattern is visible with the scales spread out.

Many snakes put on quite a show when they feel threatened. My dog got this rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta) all riled up one day last week. It was coiling and vibrating its tail against the ground. Very impressive. Rat snakes will strike if you push them too far.

The rat snake is non-venomous and is perhaps our most common snake. They can grow to about 85 inches in length.

Last, but not least, I would like to share a picture of one of my favorite snakes, the black racer (Coluber constrictor). We have quite a few of these snakes around our house. They seem to slide effortlessly through the grass -- often you only get a glimpse of their tails as they race off. But when cornered, they are very aggressive. They will lunge at you and vibrate their tails against the leaves -- a display designed to get you back off. Usually works. Racers are non-venomous.

(You still with me, Keith? Yeah, I knew you'd look. Remember, it's exposure therapy. Breathe. Snakes really are such amazing animals...I hope you can one day overcome your aversion to them.)


Snippets From My Day

On a sandy road along a ditch we happened upon an interesting set of tracks. No pad imprints, just claw-tips.

They gave evidence that some creature had meandered up and down the road, seemingly at a leisurely pace.

We weren't surprised when we happened upon the track-maker...

...a snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina.

Along the same road we saw hundreds of zebra swallowtail butterflies (Eurytides marcellus).

The larvae of the zebra swallowtail feed on the leaves of the pawpaw (Asimina triloba).

Many other animals, including some people, enjoy the fruits of the pawpaw. Perhaps when these ripen, we'll come back, pick 'em up, and put 'em in our basket...

Somewhere along the way today I picked up an univited guest,

a female American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis). Luckily I spotted her before she had time to attach.