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.