Another Manic Monday


Things were a tad crazy at the swamp today and it only promises to get crazier as the week progresses. I doubt I will have the opportunity to post anything worth reading, so I will just leave you with this picture. The green plant is an orchid called downy rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera pubescens. The dark green leaves, veined with white, are beautiful year round. In late summer the plant will send out a hairy stalk and produce small white flowers.

The 'rattlesnake' part of the name could refer to the pattern the veins make on the leaves. The 'plantain' part is a reference to the way the leaves grow in a basal rosette.
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More Pilfered Pics

I've been sticking close to the house the past few days and thus have no pictures to share...so I pilfered a few from Treebeard's files. I do that from time to time, you know. He has some good pictures but he doesn't blog. Enjoy.

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Are you participating in the 30-day Sit Spot Challenge? I am and today's sit was indeed a challenge. Cold rain was falling and most critters were hunkered down - except for the birds. Birds are optimists. They were out there singing spring songs despite the nasty weather. They were also busy scratching out a living. The downy woodpecker pictured below was intent on pulling delicacies out of the seed pods of trumpet creeper.

Fully-fogged-lens shot...
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Hastily-wiped-off-lens shot with contrast corrected...
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Check out that tail.

(Need something to browse on a rainy day? Check out the Origami Page. I find myself being seriously envious of this guy's paper-folding prowess.)

The Morning After Nifty

Note to self: Chocolate cake and black coffee do NOT make a good breakfast for those of a certain age.

Seems that I'm suffering from a bit of a hangover this morning. No, not from alcohol...I had only one chocolate stout last night. This hangover is from overindulgence in chocolate and coffee. You see, yesterday was my 50th birthday and since it is a well-known fact that I am a chocoholic and coffee addict, I received an abundance of both vices.

Many thanks to Treebeard for the birthday cake he made me. He calculated the number of seconds I had lived as of 1:11 pm (the time I was born) yesterday and recorded the number on the cake. Such a sweetie ;)

Many thanks to the folks at work for their contributions as well. Coffee beans, mocha chocolate squares, and an assortment of chocolate cake squares. I saved the sign that greeted me from my office door yesterday morning: "An Old Toad Works Here" I like that - I stuck it to the wall beside the window in front of my desk.

Now I must recover from the love and hide the rest of the cake...


Makes You Wonder

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Don't you sometimes wish that trees could talk? I'd love to have a chat with this one...

To those of you who have commented recently on posts, thanks. I have been unable to comment back for some reason. Please know that I appreciate your comments and would have answered them if the Blogger gods had so allowed. Perhaps I will be in favor again soon and be permitted to comment on my own blog ;)



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Black vulture takes off...

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Turkey vulture takes off...

Neither wanted to hang around while Treebeard and I poked around looking for whatever had attracted them. We saw about 30 vultures, a mix of both black and turkey, take up from some food source along the edge of an old beaver pond. We never could find what they were feasting upon. It was most likely a deer or perhaps a dog.

Many people don't care for vultures, but I like them. This time of year they are actually pretty...beginning to get all gussied up in their breeding finery.



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Resurrection fern, top and bottom. Yeah, I know, I've posted pictures of this fern before. But hey, whatdya think resurrection means, anyway?

For the purists: Pleopeltis polypodioides

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False Black Widow

Treebeard found this false black widow (Steatoda grossa) hanging out inside the bluebird box in the front yard. I guess if you really didn't like spiders or just couldn't stand to look at them closely, you might mistake this for a black widow. It's a pretty spider, sort of dark purpley-brown instead of black, though. Also, its abdomen is not as round (globose) as a true widow.

According to Spiders of the Eastern United States: A Photographic Guide, it "...is a long-lived species, attaining an age of six years."

Pretty cool, huh?
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Slow Smolder

The fire continues to burn, but it is now a smoldering ground fire. Ah, the joys of peat soils...

Forestry anticipates the fire will burn for some time to come. We continue to keep our fingers crossed that a spark doesn't find its way onto the park.

Spring fire season is just around the corner. Its gonna be a tense one, I'm afraid.


Smoke Out

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Monday I stopped on my way into work to take this picture. The smoke is from a fire about nine miles away -- the distance I was from my workplace. When I got back in the truck and continued on my way, I entered the smoke bank about five miles down the road. Have you ever been in smoke from a peat fire? It's a rough go...acrid, stinging smoke that irritates the eyes and burns the throat.

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Above is a shot of the sky that greeted me at work. I went out to check our boundaries to see if any of the fire had managed to cross the highway and enter the park. Luckily for us, it hadn't jumped the road.

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As the day progressed, the wind shifted and blew the smoke to our east. This shot was taken from our bridge as I was closing up.

The fire started on Sunday, fanned by high winds. As of today, it has burned a total of 1700 acres. The highway, a major artery between VA and NC was closed today after a five-car wreck early this morning. Apparently a driver was blinded by the smoke and stopped in the road. Not a good thing... The smoke shifted north today and made the road too dangerous for traffic.

The weatherman says we should get rain tonight and most of tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Peat fires are notoriously hard to put out -- we need a lot of rain.


Winter Blue

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Skies are bluer here in winter. The air is clear, the humidity is low, and the blue is brilliant. But don't you dare call it Carolina blue...them's fightin' words in our household...Treebeard is an NC State man and I am an East Carolina Pirate. We don't tolerate any reference to UNC in this house ;)


Moss Berries?

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Nah, Spanish moss doesn't have berries. These little rubies are the fruits of red chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia. The red looks nice against the gray though.


February Baskers

When we have warm days in the winter something alerts the basking turtles and up to the pond's surface they come. It always amazes me -- exactly what triggers the behavior? Water temperature changes slowly so I don't think that alerts them. So what, then? I must find a herpetologist and ask.

If you know, please leave a comment...

The turtle above is a male yellowbelly slider (Trachemys scripta scripta). Sliders are very common here.
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A log full of basking turtles. If we could have gotten close enough, you would see that the backs of many of these turtles are covered with mud and algae, signs of where they are spending most of their winter days.


The Evil Eye

Another, less desirable, critter was on the pond Sunday. The beastie giving you the evil eye in the photo above is a nutria or coypu, Myocastor coypus. These are not native to our area and they compete with our native muskrats. Not an animal that I like to see when I'm out on the pond.
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Here's a shot of nutria scat. In Mammals of the Eastern United States, by John O. Whitaker and William J. Hamilton, the droppings are described as "...oblong, about 5 cm (2 inches) long, and finely grooved longitudinally."
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Sometimes there are gruesome little surprises tucked in unusual places out on the pond. Yesterday we saw an unfortunate turtle that had become trapped in some cypress knees and died just inches from the water. Further up the pond a Canada goose was floating on the pond's surface, head back over its shoulder(?). Very peaceful looking and also very dead. No signs of trauma, guess its time had just come.

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Perhaps the most startling find yesterday was this fish out of water. It is (was) a blackfish, Amia calva. In your neck of the woods it might be called a bowfin or grinnel or mudfish or even swamp trout. They are notorious lure-snatching line breakers with lots of sharp teeth. And, they get big -- 15 pounds plus. Otters love 'em. This particular blackfish provided a feast to some lucky otter.


A Mink Tale

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Sunday found us on the millpond. We had no particular goal in mind other than to spend some time together and enjoy the pond. The day was beautiful, the pond was beautiful, and we were in no hurry. Birds kept us company. We recorded a total of 54 species - everything from brown creepers and green winged teal to bald eagles. (Have I mentioned lately that I love this place?)

But birds weren't our only companions. There were mammals out and about as well. As we were poking around behind an island in the pond, trying to get a closer look at a green-winged teal, I spied something swimming in the water heading for the shoreline of the island. Treebeard eased the canoe around and I got the camera out. It was a mink! (Mustela vison) I see their tracks and scat quite often, but have never gotten a really good look at one in the wild. Once the little fellow got out of the water, he scurried along the shoreline. Mink are high energy critters - he wouldn't stay still. Fifteen pictures later we lost his trail -- the photo above is the only one that came out half-way decent.