I'm just not too good at this housecleaning stuff. The situation indoors is still dire. Another day of house arrest...


The house is in dire need of cleaning so I have confined myself to the great indoors today. Needless to say, I'm not happy about it. Well, I'd better get hopping -- enjoy your Saturday.


Reassuring Numbers

Way back in May of 1978 I made my first ever trip to the millpond. I didn't know then that it was going to become my home, I was just coming to see that cute guy I had met at the beach that March. You know that cute guy as Treebeard. But I digress...this is not a post about love at first sight :)

This is a post about snakes. Back in May of 1978 there seemed to be a snake in every tree and bush out in pond. I should know, Treebeard canoed me under or by just about every single one of them -- and was greatly pleased when I didn't scream or squeal. He was even more pleased when I wanted to see them up-close (hehe, little did he know his bachelor days were numbered. Whoops, there I go again...)

Anyway, sometime in the 80s we began to notice that the number of snakes we saw on the pond had decreased by quite a bit. To some people this may not seem like anything to worry about, but to us it was cause for concern. It got to the point that it was remarkable if we even saw a snake while we were out on the water. We never were able to determine why our snake populations decreased. No study was ever done.

Over the past three years, however, we have noticed something of a comeback. It is not unusual to see twenty or thirty snakes during a day on the water. Sometimes we see significantly higher numbers. It is very reassuring.

I can offer no valid explanation for the decline and seeming recovery, I'm just glad to see it.

Below are pictures of eight of the 30+ snakes we saw last weekend. The majority of the snakes were brown water snakes, Nerodia taxispilota. You might notice that most of the browns are quite fat. Could be that the majority of snakes we saw were carrying young. Brown water snakes give live birth and can produce from 15 to 60 neonates.

black rat snake

brown water snake

brown water snake 2

brown water snake 3

brown snake 4

brown water snake 5

brown water snake 6

brown water snake 7


You Don't Always Get What You Want

When I headed out to work this morning I had two goals: 1) find some deer scat and take a picture of it, 2) find a toad and get it to leave tracks in some substrate I had prepared. Yes, these were actual work goals. I need the photo and tracks for an exhibit over at the work swamp.

The home swamp is more easily accessible at the moment than the work swamp, deer are everywhere and toads are not scarce, so I figured I would have what I needed in a couple of hours at most. Ha! As a matter of fact, make that a double "Ha!"

Had I been looking for turkey I would have been delighted - I saw two hens and six poults, plenty of fresh droppings, a dust bath, and numerous tracks.

Had I been looking for snakes I would have been happy with the black racer sunning on a stump and the cottonmouth I nearly stepped on.

Had I been looking for raccoon sign things would have been just peachy. I found tracks and fresh scat full of blackberry seeds.

Had I been looking for rabbits I would have been giddy with joy - three adult rabbits and four "teen-age" rabbits.

And then there were the warblers, the herons, the ducks, the spiders, the box turtles, the yellow-bellied sliders, the lizards...you get the idea.

Sure, I found actual deer. Even followed them for a while -- no poop. I pushed my way through some wicked blackberry brambles and found a narrow deer trail. You'd think there would be poop. Nope. I found a spot where deer had bedded down and scouted around. No luck.

As for the toad, the only one I found was about the size of my thumbnail. Not much good for making tracks. (Sunday when we went out walking I found three adult toads within about fifteen minutes - of course I wasn't looking for toads on Sunday).

It was hot, it was muggy, the mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies were out in force, the brambles and briars were full of thorns but there was no poop, and there were no toads. Guess you could say Ranger Swamp got skunked -- but you know what? I had a great morning at work :)

Cottontail on the boardwalk.

Same cottontail in the brush, munching on a piece of grass.


Muskrat Sally...

...or maybe Muskrat Sam. I didn't have a chance to determine gender.

According to Mammals of the Eastern United States, by Whitaker and Hamilton, c. 1998, muskrats get their name "...because of the musky odor produced by the preputial glands...These glands emit a yellowish, rather pleasant-smelling secretion into the urine...The scented urine is then deposited on lodges, along travel routes, in defecation areas, and at other places throught the home range of the lodge owner, as a means of advertisement."


Up on the Roof

The five inches of rain that Alberto dropped on us caused a substantial rise in the water level in the millpond. When the water rises, the interiors of the beaver lodges that dot the pond and swamp become flooded and the beaver have to climb out onto their rooftops. This family of five was snoozing away until we paddled by and disturbed them. You can see the little ones all lined up in classic nursing position. Sadly, my memory card hit full with this shot. I wish I had had just one more - then you could have seen the startled faces of all five ;) Posted by Picasa


Who Cooks for You?

While we were out paddling on Saturday we heard the cries of immature owls. We did a little squeaking and soon had three young barred owls and their mom peering down at us. (Strix varia)

We often hear barred owls calling in the day time out in the swamp. Their "usual" call sounds like Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all? But they also have what we term the monkey call and a rather hair-raising scream. When several of them get together and start having a conversation it can get pretty loud. Posted by Picasa
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Now That's a Spider

While this Dolomedes tenebrosus was happily munching on some sort of unfortunate bug, I took the opportunity to photograph her. She's a beauty. By the end of the summer she will be even larger and more impressive.

You can click on the picture to enlarge it if you'd like a closer look. I would have preferred to post it using Hello, but the software wouldn't cooperate today.

I put my not-so-petite finger beside her to give some scale to the picture. (Apologies to FloridaCracker for the close proximity - not trying to creep you out, FC.) She was quite calm about the whole thing.

I really need to learn the proper way to pick up one of these spiders - without hurting the spider or getting bitten myself.

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Saturday On the Pond

Treebeard and I spent the morning and early afternoon out on the pond. Below you will find a list of some of the things we saw while we were out. We weren't looking for anything in particular and didn't go to any great lengths to notice things other than whatever was immediately obvious. I'll try to post some pictures later.

Great blue heron
Green heron
Great egret
Common moor hen
Wood duck
Red-shouldered hawk
Black vulture
Turkey vulture
Pileated woodpecker
Red-headed woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Northern flicker
Hairy woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Barred owl
American crow
Fish crow
Northern cardinal
Red-winged blackbird
Great crested flycatcher
Acadian flycatcher
Purple martin
Chimney swift
Carolina chickadee
Tufted titmouse
Chipping sparrow
Field sparrow
Prothonotary warbler
Yellow-throated warbler
Northern parula
Prairie warbler
Pine warbler
Hooded warbler
White-breasted nuthatch
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Yellow-throated vireo
Red-eyed vireo
White-eyed vireo
Eastern bluebird
Summer tanager
American Robin
Orchard oriole
Northern mockingbird
Brown thrasher
Canada goose
Ruby-throated hummer
Yellow-billed cuckoo
Mourning dove
Indigo bunting
Blue grosbeak
American goldfinch

Beaver (16)
Gray squirrel
White-tailed deer
Cotton rat
Cotton-tail rabbit
Feral cat

Brown water snake (23)
Red-bellied water snake (3)
Black rat snake
Yellow-bellied slider (tons)
Eastern Painted turtle
Florida cooter
Musk turtle
Mud turtle

Dolomedes tenebrosus
Dolomedes triton
Long-jawed spider
Grass spider
various Jumping spiders
various Wolf spiders
various orb weavers
Orchard spider

Green frog
Southern leopard frog
Carpenter frog
Green treefrog
Cope’s gray treefrog
Northern cricket frog
Southern cricket frog
Pickerel frog

Eastern Amberwing
Eastern Pondhawk
Prince Baskettail
Great Blue Skimmer
Slaty Skimmer
Blue Corporal
Blue Dasher
Assorted damselflies

Tiger swallowtail
Red admiral
Silver-spotted skipper

assorted wasps
numerous fly species
various beetles

Flowers in Bloom
Swamp rose


Big Bird?

We had our suspicions. We'd fill the platform feeder at sunset so the early birds would have breakfast waiting the next morning - but we'd noticed over the past couple of days that the seed mysteriously disappeared overnight.

Now, our dog has been known to clean off the feeder - the dog is nuts for seeds. And of course there is that opossum that visits the feeder from time to time...

Today, as the afternoon waned, the truth was revealed...

Bambi's mom has been helping herself to our birdseed...

Is she sticking her tongue out at me? What nerve! (Those lumps at the base of her left ear are engorged ticks - Yikes!)

Fat and Sassy

Phidippus otiosus, Canopy Jumping Spider, enjoying a tasty caterpillar. She never took her eyes off me as I moved around to take her picture. Jumping spiders have so much personality, you just gotta love 'em.


After Alberto

Eumorpha pandorus visiting the back porch light.

The back porch was a busy place yesterday as several critters sought refuge from the rains of Alberto.

Out in the yard the frogs were singing - happy with the 5.1 inches of rain we received yesterday. We heard Cope's Gray Treefrogs, Little Grass Frogs, and Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toads. Off in the distance, singing from the pond, we heard Green Treefrogs and Cricket Frogs. Had we traveled down the road about a half mile or so, we probably would have heard Eastern Spadefoot Toads.

Yep, everybody was feeling froggy yesterday. Posted by Picasa


We Don't Know

Treebeard will pick up anything.

When he handed this little blob to me I thought he was handing me caterpillar frass. When I looked at it a little more closely, I realized it was an insect - some sort of beetle. It was quite small, about 4 mm long, and was found on a blackberry bramble.

So my question is, do you know what it is? If so, would you be so kind as to tell us?

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Feeding Frenzy

Lunchtime lunacy! Treebeard came home to find the feeders low on juice and the hummers frantic. We have five feeders out and all of them were down to mere dribbles. Testy little hummers were expressing their displeasure with the situation. Treebeard mixed up the magic brew they craved and soon had them sipping away in a somewhat less crazed fashion. They are such little tyrants! Posted by Picasa


Little Victories

I told you in my last post that I had finally found and photographed my holy grail frog. Today, over in the work swamp, I managed to get a photo of another species that has been eluding me -- the Little Grass Frog. Hop on over and check it out.

...and Little Defeats...
I tried to provide a link to the Little Grass Frog but Blogger had other ideas. I'll just provide the URL the old fashioned way:



Saturday Paddle

It's Saturday, it's Saturday...ha na na-nee and a ha cha cha...

There is nothing quite so wonderful as a little pond time on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning. The air was clear, the sky was blue, and the critters were active. Positively glorious. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I love where I live.

Beaver may be amazing little engineers, but they don't always get what they want. A beaver has been working on this particular tree for a couple of weeks. He finally got it chewed all the way through only to find that it wouldn't fall. Don't you know that's got to be frustrating.

Cypress knees at the water's edge... for only the most discriminating palate. This young squirrel seems to have a taste for the tops of cypress knees. We watched it hop from one to the next, nibbling a little on the top of each.

We watched this great blue heron stalking a meal. He moved carefully and stealthily for several minutes, never taking his eye off his prize...

and his patience paid off. With a quick plunge he came up with a mouthful of fish. It appeared to be a warmouth, known locally as a chub robin or goggle-eye. For the more scientific among you, it is known as a Lepomis gulosus. For the heron, it was known simply as lunch.

But for me, the prize of the day was this male carpenter frog, Rana virgatipes. We hear them all the time - a loud ba-dack, ba-dack, ba-dack, that sounds like someone hammering a nail - but we almost never see them. And until today I had never been able to get a picture of one. You might say that this little frog has been my personal holy grail and after several seasons of searching today I found it.

Like I said, a positively glorious morning!