We're riding a weather roller-coaster here in the swamp.  One day it's freezing cold, the next it's balmy and bright.  We experienced a couple of warm days in a row last week and of course took the opportunity to get out and see who and what was enjoying the respite along with us.

Our first stop was a hibernacula-rich area just down the road.  For those unfamiliar with the term, hibernacula is the plural form of hibernaculum.  It's a Latin word that translates (at least according to what I've read) as "tent for winter quarters."  So basically, it's just a sheltered place for an organism that is not active in the winter to hang out.  The hibernacula in our case shelter a variety of snakes over the winter.  Many people don't realize that snakes will emerge on warm, sunny days in the winter to do a little basking.  They are usually quite slow in there reactions when they first emerge, making them vulnerable to predation.  When we go looking for them we are careful to maintain our distance so as not to stress them out too much.  Zoom is a wonderful feature for a camera to have!

Okay, enough lecturing!  On to the pictures:


  The snake is a Northern Black Racer, Coluber constrictor constrictor, and behind it you can see the hibernaculum from whence it cameThe shelter was formed by the root ball of a tree that blew over during Hurricane Isabel in 2003.  This particular area is dotted with numerous similar shelters.  One interesting note about Black Racers: they eat other snakes.  Perhaps this one chose its winter shelter with hopes of easy pickings come Spring.

Here's a close up of the Racer's big, beautiful eye.  I don't often have an opportunity to zoom in quite so close on one of these snakes -- they are called "Racers" for a reason!

The Racer was our first snake of the year and the next photo shows our second.

Our old friend, the Cottonmouth (or Water Moccasin, if you prefer),
 Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus 

This is a venomous snake. If you find yourself in our neck of the woods, just be aware and allow this snake enough room for both of you to feel comfortable.  If you get too close, you will find out why they are called "Cottonmouths." If you don't heed their warnings, you may find out what their venom does. But I have discussed this species in numerous other posts so if you are interested, you can search the blog for more information.

As we headed out onto the pond in our canoe, we discovered that snakes weren't the only reptiles out and about on such a fine day in February. There were turtles out by the score.

One little gut that we paddled into was full of Eastern Painted Turtles, Chrysemys picta picta .
I snapped photos of  four of them as they soaked up the rays.

I love the red on the tail of this one.

Draped ever so casually on this log, this male kept a wary eye on us.  I'm pretty sure it's a male because of those long claws on the front feet. If I had seen its tail, I could say with more certainty.

This one was serious about maxing out its surface area to sun ratio.

We also happened upon this busy fellow
 in the same little gut as the Painted Turtles.
It's a muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus.

We saw many other creatures enjoying the respite from the cold but I've run out of time to share them today.  Our break was all too brief and it seems we're back in the deep freeze for the next few days.  When time and Mother Nature allow, I'll head back out to bring you some more images from this place we so love.  If you've enjoyed learning about our little corner, please visit again!


Valentine's Day Sunshine!

Yesterday was Valentine's Day and miracle of miracles, it was sunny and mild out!  Finally, an opportunity for us to take a decent walk in actual sunshine. February is often a month of contrasts in my part of the state. Usually it ranges from gosh darn chilly to downright balmy -- sometimes in the same day. It has been mostly just chilly so far this year, but I was eager to get out and see if there were any early signs of spring.

Despite the cold, some plants have noticed the increase in the length of the daylight and buds are poised to burst.

An American Elm, waiting patiently for warmer weather.

 Catkins and cones of a Brook-side Alder are ready to ensure that there will be seeds for the coming year.

A Red Maple got a jump on its neighbors.  Most are still in bud, but this one has flowers in bloom.

These bees get an early start every year.  This particular species builds tunnels in softer soils.  The males hover over the openings of the tunnels that the females excavate.

 Field Pansies always make me smile.  This one was blooming in a roadside ditch.

 White-throated Sparrows are starting to look dapper.  They will be be around for a couple of more months though.  We usually see them into April, then they will head north to nest.
Hermit Thrushes also winter here.  They are entertaining birds to watch.  Sometimes we are fortunate enough to hear them practicing their territorial songs before they head north.  It's a beautiful song.

I know we have more winter weather ahead but it sure was nice to have a respite, no matter how brief.



We had another snow yesterday.  Two inches fell between about 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.  Then temperatures rose and the snow turned to sleet.  The temps rose more and the sleet turned to rain.  When we woke up this morning, all the snow was gone and the temperature was about 40 degrees.  Now it's just wet and nasty outside.  As a result, I have nothing worthwhile to post.  UGH.


Birding with Friends

We headed for the Outer Banks last Saturday to do a little birding with some friends from the Raleigh/Durham area.  We met them at Alligator River Wildlife Refuge before heading down to the beach.  There was still ice on the roads at Alligator River, but the sun was out so it wasn't too bad.

I am breaking in a new camera.  We aren't on a first name basis yet, I'm afraid.  It's a popular camera and I have been told that I am the only person who doesn't love it.  I'm trying...I'm just not there yet.  So why am I whining about the camera?  Because, I missed several shots of birds Saturday that I could have gotten with my old camera.  That being said, we had fun and got to see lots of good birds.  The only casualty of the day was my lens adapter (with my UV filter) -- it took a dive off the Bonner Bridge into Oregon Inlet.

Here are a few of the birds we saw:

 Northern Shoveler

 A shy Gadwall

Wilson's Snipe

 Ruddy Duck

Band-tailed Pigeon - a western species paying a visit

Harlequin Duck - another unusual visitor

Purple Sandpiper

It was cloudy, windy, and pretty darn chilly on the Banks, but we stayed until we lost the light.

My birding buddies' backs.


Avian Snow Angel

I know everyone is snow-weary, but I have one more picture I'd like to share.  This was in my front yard.

My nephew dubbed it the "avian snow angel."


Snow Walk

The booger bear of a winter storm that dropped ice and snow in the deep south slid up our way, too.  We got 8 inches of very dry, fluffy snow Tuesday night.  It was our second round of snow this month.  We were expecting temperatures in the teens last night but Mother Nature had a different plan.  We dipped below zero - so despite the sunshine today, it looks as if the snow cover is going to stick around for a day or two longer.

Treebeard and I headed out for a walk during the mid-afternoon yesterday.  We covered about a mile and a half, looking for tracks and such.  Signs of wildlife were few and far between, though.  We saw plenty of birds and bird tracks but the other critters were hanging tight it seemed.  After checking out several low areas we finally happened upon some deer sign.

We entered an area of young woods and found some criss-crossing trails.

Some of the trails offered up a little something extra.

A closer look revealed what that "extra" was.

We were surprised by the number of piles of droppings that we found in a relatively small area.  Guess the deer had been eating well prior to the snowfall.

As we followed the trails, we came upon an area where the deer had bedded down on either side of a large downed tree.  One of the deer must have been anti-social or else there just wasn't room for one more on the other side.
 Three beds on this side of the log.

Hope they cuddled up last night.  -3 degrees F is chilly for these parts.


Bee Ready

Sunday was sunny with temperatures in the mid-50s.  Monday was mostly sunny with a high of 60.  Our honey bees were delighted and wasted no time in heading out of the hive.  I was rinsing road salt off our car when I noticed the bees were checking out the drops of water on the car's roof.  I walked over to the hive to see what the industrious little critters were up to.  Some were cleaning house and others were striking off to find water and even a little pollen from the henbit and dandelions that seem to bloom no matter what.

We're expecting another wintery blast today with a possibility of up to a foot of snow.  Hang tough, little girls!  We are supposed to be back up in the 50s by the weekend.


Still Icy

Yep, still icy cold outside.  I'm afraid this white stuff is going to stick around.  The weather folks are already saying we may be in for more snow next week.  Ugh.



We don't get snow often and we certainly don't get temperatures in the teens very often.  We got both last night.  We awoke to a dazzlingly bright morning with a whopping 1.7 inches of snow on the ground.  Wind chills were below zero.  Chilly willy, for sure. 

 Roux, our foster dog, sporting her purple 'Walk Your Dog with Love' harness.  I don't often endorse products, but I will give two thumbs up for this harness.  If you have a dog that pulls, you might want to check out the walkyourdogwithlove.com site.

It's an odd perspective, but look back to the right, behind the wind chimes.  That's our lone bee hive.  It's crazy to think that just yesterday morning the bees were out working like crazy.  Today they were tucked in tight.  This is the second round of really cold weather we have had this month.  Bet the bees are over it and ready for spring!

I found angel tracks under the redbud tree in the front yard :)

The brush pile next to the snow covered limb is where a bunch of those angels hang out.  I bet there were over 80 birds in there this morning.  It is a popular place for the feathered critters in the yard.

The weather folks say it's going to be cold for the next few days.  I guess that means that some of this white stuff is going to hang around for a while.  Sure hope all of it is melted away before seven days have passed.  My grandmother always said if snow stays on the ground for seven days, it's waiting for more to come...


Winter's Revelation

Sometimes you just don't know who's living right next to you.  Such was the case for us this year.  We had no idea that bald-faced hornets had set up housekeeping in the edge of our woods.  It was well after leaf fall that we discovered this large nest, just head-high in a small beech tree.

Such industrious workers, those hornets.


One From the Files

The weather has not been camera friendly the last few times I've ventured out for a walk or a paddle.  As a result, I have very few current pictures to share.  What I do have are some shots from this past summer and fall that I can share.  So let me reach into the files and pull out a few I think you might like.  (And a note to those of you who are on my friends list on Facebook...you've seen these pictures.)

Way back in April, when I was still relatively newly retired, we spent a great deal of time out and about hiking and paddling.  In an effort to expand our knowledge of local waters, we struck out into nearby counties to see what they had to offer in the way of navigable streams.  We revisited a creek we had paddled briefly on a VERY windy day about two years ago.  It is called Dillard Creek. It is in Chowan County and empties into the Chowan River.  The river is pretty wide where the creek flows into it - probably about 1.5 to 1.75 miles across.  We paddled a short distance out into the river to take a look around.  I won't bore you with a whole slew of pictures, but I think you might find the following at least mildly interesting:

Take a look at the tree to your left.  Yeah, the taller one.  See anything out of the ordinary?

Okay, how about now?  Way up there near the top where the tree starts to lean off to the left. Could that be an osprey nest?  No, wait, that's a live tree and ospreys are partial to dead trees.  Eagles build in live trees but that nest isn't nearly large enough.  Hmmm...maybe a closer look is in order.

Well now, that's a surprise.  It's a Canada Goose!  I have seen many a goose nest in my life, but this was a first.  Never have I seen a goose nesting so high in a tree.  Prior to this, the highest I had ever seen a nest was about six feet off the water in an old cypress stump.
  Wonder what the goslings thought about that first step into the wild blue?


Anybody Out There?

My goodness, it's been a while.  Pablo from over at Roundrock Journal suggested it was about time that I post something here.  Perhaps he's right.  Things certainly have changed since I posted last - it may take a bit to learn my way around the "new" Blogger!

I'll ease back into the whole blogging thing by sharing a photo of our current house guest, a stray we are calling Roux:

She is a mastiff mix or as we prefer to call her, a muttstiff.  On January 4th, she magically appeared on the front porch and made herself at home.  She is one to two years old and ridiculously friendly.  We have been fattening her up - she was about 20 pounds underweight and sporting quite a load of intestinal parasites when she first came to us.  Now she's on meds for the worms and is gaining weight at an acceptable rate.  (The vet seems to think she needs to carry around 80 to 85 pounds.)  We are planning on having her spayed.  From the looks of things, she has had at least one litter of puppies in her life.

We have put up posters, notified the vets in the area, called the pound and animal control to get the word out that we have her.  We don't hold out any real hope that her owners will show up though.   Seems like dogs with mysterious pasts show up regularly out here in the sticks - sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose.

Well, this wasn't a planned post, it was just a response to Pablo's prompting.  I'll try to put together something a little better next time.  Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by.