For Your Consideration

 Okay, I didn't make it back when I promised...sorry about that.  The mystery item is a seed from American Mistletoe.  Congratulations to Tom for identifying it correctly in the comments!

A little something to ponder this Friday evening... I found this on a rain-soaked boardwalk in the swamp forest following a bit of a blow this morning. Do you know what it is? (And yes, I do know and I will tell you tomorrow.)

Okay, it's tomorrow.  So far no one has guessed the identity of my mystery item.  Would it help if I told you it came out of one of these?
See how much faith I have in you?  I'll be back tomorrow to give another clue or relent and post the answer.


Out of Sync

This winter has been warm and drier than usual.  As a result, things have been a bit out of sync.  Take these little fellows, for instance.  They should be snug in their ootheca for a while yet.  Instead, they have emerged in the middle of January. 

I wish you good luck little mantids, you're going to need it.



During the course of the day, numerous things will catch my eye.  Sometimes they are things that others may find interesting and other times, not so much.  Trouble is, I never know which it will be...

For instance, here we have a supple-jack vine growing up a tree and through a hole in the tree.  It goes in on one side,

and comes out on the other.  I find myself wondering what's going to happen when that hole eventually closes as the tree grows.  It is going to be very odd looking, don't you think?

And then there are the little unexpected treasures like this empty swallowtail chrysalis on the underside of a holly leaf.  I love happening upon things like this. 

Some things that I happen upon may be considered gruesome by some folks.  Take this particular find...

Yep, it's a opossum head that has been liberated from its body.  It was just sitting along the edge of the trail.  Don't you wonder what lucky predator went to bed with a full belly on a cold night as a result?  Sure, the outcome was probably not one the 'possum wanted, but that's the way it goes in the swamp.

Besides, it gave me a great look at the unfortunate critter's hind foot.

Some things that catch my eye just make me mad.  I spotted a bit of unnaturally bright color on the forest floor and I knew immediately what it was.

See it there in the center of the photo?   Arrgghh...another balloon!

I HATE BALLOONS!  Or, perhaps more accurately, I hate the fact that some people don't think twice about letting go of helium-filled balloons.  People, what goes up, must come down.  When it comes down it is no longer a festive party decoration, it's litter.  And dangerous litter, too, particularly if it lands in the ocean - and the ocean is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.  Please, please, please do not release helium-filled balloons!!!!!!!
(This concludes my rant - at least until I find another balloon miles out in the swamp.)


Poke It With a Stick

Walking down the trail with Treebeard on Sunday, I spied a little pile of fur in the middle of the trail...

...hmmm, a portion of scat or perhaps a pellet?

 Being nature nerds of the first water, we paused to investigate.
A quick sniff test from a safe distance revealed no odor so it was more likely a pellet than a bit of scat.
Next step in our investigative technique:  poke it with a stick.

 Ah ha!  A curved claw of  decent size revealed itself.

A little more stick work and two incisors of the rodent persuasion appeared.
Our conclusion?  An owl pellet containing the remains of an unfortunate gray squirrel.
Isn't being outside fun?


Color-themed Hike

Another Sunday off, another Sunday walk.  Today's walk had an unexpected color theme - burgundy.  I didn't even notice until I got home and downloaded my photos...

 Brook-side alder (Alnus serrulata)
Sporting spiffy reproductive structures.  The long structures are the male bits, the smaller parts up top are the female bits.  If you want to figure out the proper botanical terms, go for it :)

A fern, probably in the family Ophioglossaceae.  
The rest we saw were green, but this one was growing right out in the trail and had its burgundy on.
 Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) bud waiting patiently for spring.

 A cricket frog (Acris sp.), either an Eastern or a Coastal Plain.  
Both live here. When this little fellow hopped, I surprised myself by catching it with a blind grab into the water.  I handed it off to Treebread so I could get a picture of how tiny it was.

Such a cutie.  Nothing beats a frog to put a smile on my face.

I have a few other images to share, but they will have to wait for another post.  They didn't conform to the color theme.


The Right Kind of Fire

You'd think after the summer we had, the last thing we would be interested in doing would be setting fires.  You'd be wrong though.  Conditions were just right for a controlled burn at the pond so we suited up and let her roll.  We started along the shore line and worked our way into the woods.

Here you can see two lines of flame coming together.  That's what you want to see on a burn.  The flames weren't too hot or too high and we got good coverage on the forest floor.

We did get a hot spot or two that we had to keep an eye on.  The flames above are from an old long-leaf pine stump that caught up.  Old pine stumps like this are just about pure "fat" wood and when they burn, they burn hot.

You can see by the scooped scar on this stump that this tree was used to provide pitch back in the day.  You can also see that the openings around the base made for near perfect chimney conditions, adding to the intensity of the blaze.  I sort of hated to see this one burn.  It was a little piece of history.  But it's is probably best that it burned while we were there to monitor it rather than during an actual wildfire.

Hope everyone has had a great start to 2012 - I can't believe we are already a full week into the new year.


First Walk 2012

Happy New Year to one and all!  Yesterday was a fine day to be out taking a first-of-the-year walk.  I had the day off so we headed into the woods for a ramble.  Below are just a few of the things we saw...

 Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus

Treebeard and I started our bird lists out with different birds this year.  His first bird of the year was an eastern bluebird and mine was a cedar waxwing.  We aren't avid list-keepers, we do it more as a way to compare species present from year to year.  We enjoy birding as a part of any walk but we seldom bird as an end unto itself -- there is just too much other stuff to see out there :)

We flipped a log or two as we walked and were rewarded with a variety of things.  Some logs sheltered salamanders.  We found a total of four and they were gracious enough to pose for photos.  If you flip, please remember to put the log (or whatever) back the way you found it.  It is, after all, something's home.

 Eastern Red-backed Salamander, Plethodon cinereus

 Marbled Salamander, Ambystoma opacum
This one is reflecting blue sky.

 Our second marbled...

 ...and our third.  Each one's pattern is different.

While it is not unusual to find aquatic turtles out basking on mild winter days, we seldom ever find a box turtle out in winter.  It was a surprise to spot this fellow out enjoying the day.  I poked around a bit and found the hole he had emerged from just a foot or two from where he was sunning.  Hopefully he boogied back into that hole as the sun went down.  It's supposed to be cold the next few days.

 Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina

 It's a boy!  Note the concave plastron.

 He had a little age on him.  I'll have to count his "rings" sometime.  I will also go back and check my catalog of box turtle photos.  There is a strong possibility that I've seen this turtle before.

A rustle in the leaf litter drew my attention at one point.  My first thought was that I had startled a ground skink, but upon closer examination I discovered the noise was created by a horntail.  Horntails belong to the same group of insects as wasps, bees, and ants.  They lay their eggs in dead and dying trees and the larvae eat the wood.  They are also known to transmit white-rot fungus.  You could think of them as clean-up crews.

 Best guess... Asian Horntail, Eriotremex formosanus, but don't hold me to that.

 Sitting on Treebeard's finger to give a since of scale.
  This one is a female.  The longer "tail" is an ovipositor.

Our last log flip of the day yielded a cute little surprise.  Tucked safely under the log, this anthill was a perfect little dome.  We often see ants working under dead logs, but this is the first time we have found such a tidy little hill.

Species unknown.  I wish E. O. Wilson would stop by and ID the builders for us!

Thanks for joining us on our first walk.  I hope this new year will be better than the last!