Posts Tagged Green Anole

Recent Blooms (mostly)

The daffodils with pinkish trumpets were still gorgeous on April 3.

The daffodils with pinkish trumpets were still gorgeous on April 3.

Is it just me, or is Spring flying by even faster than usual this year? I am running from dawn to dark and still my gardening to-do list continues to grow exponentially. In the last few weeks, I have at least been taking a few pictures, which I’d like to share today. All but the latest blooming daffodils are done now, but the one in the above photo was so pretty a couple of weeks ago that I just had to share it.

Cinnamon Fern fiddleheads

Cinnamon Fern fiddleheads

The above photo is also from two weeks ago, when the fern fiddleheads were just beginning to rise out of the swamp. The shiny leaves all around them belong to Atamasco lilies, which last time I checked, were not yet blooming.

Finally!

Finally!

It took a warm spell to finally coax them from their winter hibernation spots, but the Green Anoles have now resumed sunning themselves on my front deck.

Emerging buds of Solomon's Seals

Emerging buds of Solomon’s Seals

The Solomon’s Seals are now well up and blooming profusely, but two weeks ago, their fat reddish buds were just emerging from the soil.

A lingering Bloodroot blossom

A lingering Bloodroot blossom

My Bloodroot flowers were badly damaged by our 18-degree cold spell this spring, but a few late bloomers managed to save themselves for warmer days.

Mayapple mob

Mayapple mob

My patch of Mayapples grows larger every year, as does the patch of Bladdernut shrubs at whose feet these spring ephemeral wildflowers grow.

Sweet gum

Sweet gum

I took this long shot because I liked the way you can see this year’s flower buds emerging above the branches while last year’s fruits still dangle below them.

This trio of Black Vultures has been hanging out in the trees inside my deer-fence-enclosed area. I'm starting to think they're enjoying the flowers too.

This trio of Black Vultures has been hanging out in the trees inside my deer-fence-enclosed area. I’m starting to think they’re enjoying the flowers too.

Mayapple flower bud

Mayapple flower bud

The above photo and those that follow were all taken on April 12. Weather and time constraints have prevented more recent shots, but a promised upcoming dry weekend will once again provide time for photographs, I hope.

Redbud

Redbud

The Redbuds are mostly past their blooming time now, but a week ago they were still spectacular.

Dogwood

Dogwood

The magnificent dogwoods on my property are a bit ragged from recent rains now, but they were perfect a week ago.

An Eastern Columbine flower

An Eastern Columbine flower

The above was an early blossom. Now my yard is covered in the blooming stalks of Eastern Columbines. I’ve long known these are a favorite of hummingbirds, but only this week did I learn just how sweet the nectar is. Sally Heiney, a Horticultural Technician at the NC Botanical Garden, insisted that I taste the nectar hiding in the long spurs of these flowers. It was delightfully sweet! Sally tells me these flowers are a lovely addition to salads, and I hope to try some that way this weekend. Thanks, Sally!

An undamaged blossom of Magnolia 'Elizabeth'

An undamaged blossom of Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

My early-blooming deciduous magnolias were also casualties of the 18-degree cold snap, but like the Bloodroots, a few of this tree’s blossoms opened after the cold had passed, yielding a perfect parchment-colored blossom.

Damaged Magnolia 'Elizabeth' blossom and bud

Damaged Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ blossom and bud

Alas, most of Elizabeth’s blossoms and buds looked like this. So sad.

Florida Anisetree Blossom

Florida Anise-tree Blossom

The Florida Anise-trees are blooming profusely. The yellow flecks are pine pollen. Thankfully, the rains have washed all that away — for now, at least.

Golden Ragwort

Golden Ragwort

The Golden Ragworts continue to spread and bloom. They’re becoming a ground cover in their area, which is fine with me.

Pawpaw flowers

Pawpaw flowers

My thanks to Wonder Spouse for taking the above photo. These flowers are small, and I always have trouble persuading them to pose for me. I love our naturally occurring patch of Pawpaw trees beside our creek. They are the only larval food of our native Zebra Swallowtail butterfly. And I’ve already spotted a fresh Zebra flying around the yard this year! They are gorgeous.

Pinxterbloom Azalea

Pinxterbloom Azalea

My Pinxterbloom Azaleas are in full bloom now. They were just getting started when this shot was taken on April 12.

Bladdernut flowers

Bladdernut flowers

I love this native shrub for its clusters of yellow-green flowers that call to every pollinator for miles, and for their Chinese lantern-like green fruits that form after the flowers are done.

Great White Trillium

Great White Trillium

I am thrilled that the trilliums I added to my north slope garden a few years ago continue to re-emerge and bloom every spring for me. Nothing speaks of spring more eloquently than trilliums.

And that’s enough for today, I think. Next week, I’m planning at least two posts. One will be my annual post in observation of Earth Day (April 22), and I’m hoping to also add one on April 24 for Arbor Day. Until then, I’ll be weeding and digging and planting as fast as my creaky joints will let me. The weather seers have promised me a dry weekend, with heavy rains returning for Sunday night into Monday. That will be perfect timing — assuming all my little green charges are safely tucked into their permanent summer beds by then.

Happy gardening, ya’ll!

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A Bird in the Hand

Ripe fruits of Solomon's Plume

Ripe fruits of Solomon’s Plume

Last week was too hot here, the heat made worse by the fact that most of the summer was unusually mild. Dust clouds rose with the slightest disturbance, lingering long in humid, stagnant air. It was not a week conducive to gardening.

Finally this past Sunday, cooler weather began to creep in, accompanied by clouds that dimmed what had been searing sun. Wonder Spouse immediately charged outdoors to catch up on tasks delayed by the heat, leaving our garage door open as he moved back and forth fetching tools, wheelbarrows, and assorted other necessities. His tasks did not require a second pair of hands, so I grabbed my camera and began acquainting myself with the latest developments on our five-acre jungle.

Fruits of Halesia diptera will turn light brown when they're fully ripe.

Fruits of Halesia diptera will turn light brown when they’re fully ripe.

Fruit — that was the takeaway message from this walk. Most plants are well into fruit/seed production, clearly aware of dwindling daylight and down-trending temperatures. The Solomon’s Plumes I added to a wildflower bed on the north side of my yard all made numerous berries this year, as you can see in the photo above. The empty stems you see likely tell the tale of a hungry bird or other critter sampling these bright red berries. I think they look especially festive mingling with the evergreen Christmas fern — another native to our region.

Pokeberry fruits

Pokeweed fruits

Giant magenta stalks of Pokeweed — easily 8 feet tall — bend from the weight of purple-black clusters of ripe berries. These are favorites with many of the avian inhabitants of my yard, as evidenced by purple-tinged splats of bird excrement deposited on my walks and decks.

Red Buckeye fruits

Red Buckeye fruits

Branches of the large Red Buckeye on our floodplain are touching the ground, bent from the weight of nearly ripe fruits. Soon the husks will split and the shiny nut-like fruits will tumble to the ground. These nuts are poisonous to people, but some wild inhabitant makes them disappear every year.

Hammocksweet Azalea

Hammocksweet Azalea

The greatest surprise during my walkabout was my Hammocksweet Azalea — in full, overpoweringly fragrant bloom at the base of my north-facing garden, close to the creek. I sited it there, because this deciduous azalea — the last to bloom for me every year — is native to wetland environments. The flowers are pure white, without a hint of ivory, and their fragrance is knock-your-socks-off sweet. If it were any closer to my house, I think the fragrance might be overpowering, especially as this shrub continues to grow.

Greenhead Coneflower

Green-Head Coneflower

September is the month that many large native yellow composite wildflowers adorn every corner of my yard, and many roadsides. I added Green-Head Coneflower to the mix, because I love the prominent seed heads it forms, as do the seed-eating birds that dwell nearby.

Mixed nasturtiums mingle and multiply

Mixed nasturtiums mingle and multiply

My vegetable garden is mostly done for the year. A few peppers linger, and some broccoli plants are struggling to grow beneath the shelter of their Reemay tent. Many of the beds are packed with fresh green sprouts of crimson clover, my winter cover crop of choice. But one bed is dominated by the lovely mix of nasturtiums above. Unimpressed by heat, drought, deluges, or anything else as far as I can tell, they bloom continuously, spreading wandering shoots in all directions, even mingling a bit with adjacent beds full of crimson clover. Their gentle rose-like scent is nothing short of heavenly.

I encountered a bit of wildlife as I made my way around my yard. I think perhaps they’d been hunkering down during the heat wave too. Like me, they were out and about in force during my morning walk. Bird song filled the air. Many toads greeted me in all parts of the yard. I’m always happy to see these insect-eaters. A Green Anole rushed out of a potted plant when I began watering it. It was bright green to blend with the vegetation, and if it hadn’t objected to being watered, I likely would have never noticed it. Five-lined skinks skittered across open ground and up and down trees. A Black Racer darted beneath an aster blooming by my front deck when I got too close; it had been trying to warm itself in the cloud-dimmed sun.

But the highlight of the day came after I had put up my camera and gone back outside to gather some tools in the garage. A frantic bird fluttered at the back windows, too confused to realize that its way out was the other way, through the open garage door.  It was an Eastern Phoebe, a small flycatcher common to my yard, thanks to the woodland creek — its preferred habitat — that borders our land.

I have spent many happy hours watching this beauty hunt from my back deck. Its keen eyes watch for flying insects. When it spots one, it leaps into the air, grabbing the bug on the wing, then returning to its perch to watch for more tidbits. Its aerial acrobatics are impressive, and its squeaky call, sounding more like a child’s squeeze doll than a bird, let’s me know it’s on bug patrol.

So when I discovered this distraught Eastern Phoebe desperately trying to escape our garage, I leapt into action. First, I opened all the other doors. Often this is enough to help a trapped bird find its way out. But this little one was unwilling to venture from the high window at the back of the garage. I next tried using a light-weight rake to reach up toward the bird, in the hopes that it would hop on and let me carry it out. This works surprisingly well with the occasional discombobulated hummingbird.

But not so for this Eastern Phoebe. Instead, it fluttered down the back wall, settling on a piece of plywood leaning against the wall, and mostly hidden by another, taller piece of plywood. I did the only thing I could think of. I quietly asked the little bird if it would allow me to pick it up with my hand and carry it to safety. It didn’t move, probably exhausted from its fruitless escape efforts. I chose to interpret its stillness as permission, gently reaching behind the plywood.

The poor, exhausted creature didn’t even struggle in my gentle grasp. I quietly thanked it for its cooperation as I carried it toward the front of the garage. I could feel its heartbeat thrumming through my fingers, otherwise feeling no movement. But as soon as we were clear of the garage, the soft brown bug hunter in my hand began to push against my grasp. I opened my palm and it immediately flew high into a nearby tree, apparently none the worse for its misadventure.

I closed all the garage doors to prevent further accidents, still feeling the heartbeat of that beautiful wild creature in my hand. Not for the first time, it occurred to me how blessed I am to live among the wild ones on our five acres of green chaos. So many people live their entire lives without ever feeling what it’s like to hold a bird in the hand.

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Preparations

Winterized water feature

Winterized water feature.

Pardon my silence, loyal readers. It’s that time of year, when freeze warnings pop up for my region, and Wonder Spouse and I must scramble to prepare our yard and gardens for their winter sleep.

First up last weekend was the water feature in our front garden. It was full of murky greenish water. We knew we’d need to catch and relocate the two Green Frogs who lived there most of the summer, but we were surprised to find that about 50 or so tadpoles were still alive and well and not yet ready for metamorphosis. Some had sprouted back legs, but most were still fully tadpole in form. We spent over an hour painstakingly scooping up tadpoles as the pond drained to reveal their hiding spots. I have no idea what species of tadpoles we moved, but they seemed to be at least two different sizes, colors, and shapes.

Frogs and tadpoles were relocated temporarily to a bucket filled with pond water. When we were sure we had all of them, Wonder Spouse carried them down to a small pond on our floodplain, where he gently poured them out. We know it’s tricky for them to make their way into territory already claimed by other amphibians, but we figured at least this way they have some chance to survive.

They can’t stay in the water feature all winter. If we happen to have one of our colder winters, the water would freeze throughout, cracking the pond, and killing anything trying to overwinter in it. When Spring warms the air, we are always surprised at how quickly frogs and toads find the newly re-filled water feature. It is a favored courting and egg-laying spot in our yard, probably because it is more protected from predators than the pond or creek on the floodplain. Nothing says spring like a raucous nighttime serenade by amorous amphibians.

Reptiles in our yard move themselves to their winter homes. Many seem to prepare for winter hibernation by shedding their skins. We found several two-foot-plus-long recently shed skins from our resident Black Racers. One lives in the rock wall holding up the beds around my greenhouse. Another lives somewhere beneath our front deck, and I know several others nest somewhere on or near the floodplain. I encounter them on patrols every few weeks during the warm months.

Suddenly visible in great numbers again are the Green Anoles. About a dozen of these color-changing lizards spent last winter living around the west-facing front of our house and the south-facing wall of our garage. They dispersed when the weather warmed. I’d occasionally meet one hunting among my flowers or vegetables, but otherwise, they seemed to have disappeared. But now, my goodness, they are not only back, they have multiplied.

A number of them seem to also be shedding summer skins, as you can see here on this one I spotted on the corner of the garage:

It took me a minute to realize why this lizard looked so odd.

It took me a minute to realize why this lizard looked so odd.

Another anole seemed interested in the shedding process of his garage-mate.

Another anole seemed interested in the shedding process of his garage-mate.

At least a dozen anoles have reappeared along the west-facing entry to our house. We now must check our screen doors before opening inner doors, lest a dozing anole drop into the house. A recently acquired pot of chrysanthemums by the front entry has been adopted as a favorite resting spot.

Insects attracted to the flowers are likely providing handy snacks for this clever reptile.

Insects attracted to the flowers are likely providing handy snacks for this clever reptile.

Every warm sunny afternoon, they emerge from their hiding spots to catch a few rays.

On the kitchen window screen

On the kitchen window screen.

Checking out the electric meter

Checking out the electric meter.

This year, I’ve spotted a least three anoles enjoying our back deck, which faces south and is protected from west winds. They even seem to be enjoying our deck chairs.

The metal arm of this chair warms in afternoon sunlight.

The metal arm of this chair warms in afternoon sunlight.

Sometimes, they join the squirrels in watching the humans indoors:

What are YOU looking at?

What are YOU looking at?

Of course, freeze warnings mean it’s time to relocate all summering potted plants to their winter quarters in the greenhouse. The pitcher plants and sedges that live in pots inside the water feature all summer get moved into individual trays that hold water. I refill them regularly, so that their favored moisture levels are maintained.

Pond plants don't mind the transition as long as I maintain their moisture levels.

Pond plants don’t mind the transition as long as I maintain their moisture levels.

All the potted plants that spend their summer beneath the shelter of the Southern Magnolia also move into the greenhouse, along with pots of still-flowering annuals on the back deck. By the time we move in the deck plants later today, the greenhouse will be very full.

It'll be a full house after I move in the deck plants later today.

It’ll be a full house after I move in the deck plants later today.

A packed greenhouse is actually better for the plants. Humidity levels are easier to maintain, and any insects or other critters who succeeded in hitching rides on the plants don’t usually cause much trouble. One year, a Cope’s Gray Treefrog snuck in for the winter. He just dozed quietly through the cold months until I moved him and his pot back outside the following spring. I keep my greenhouse cool all winter, so that plants mostly sleep but don’t freeze.

The plants growing on our five acres don’t need any help from me to prepare for winter. The Tulip Poplars have already dropped most of their leaves. Berries on the native dogwoods are almost gone, thanks to flocks of marauding American Robins and hungry Pileated Woodpeckers. They have moved on to the Southern Magnolia. Most of its seed cones are open now, revealing tasty red fruits coveted by wildlife of all kinds. I can lose an hour quickly this time of year just watching birds and other critters argue over magnolia fruits.

Scarlet fruits of the Southern Magnolia are irresistible to wildlife.

Scarlet fruits of the Southern Magnolia are irresistible to wildlife.

Fall color grows more glorious daily, of course. I’ll show you some examples soon. Right now, I’ve got to get the potted plants on the back deck tucked into the greenhouse. The weather seers are calling for a freeze tomorrow night. At my house, that likely means lows in the mid-twenties. Time to break out the extra blanket for the bed, find my cozy winter slippers, and wait for next season’s seed catalogs to start filling my mailbox.

The Pineapple Sages are always in full bloom when the first freeze hits them. But the hummingbirds and I appreciate every scarlet blossom before it is browned by ice.

The Pineapple Sages are always in full bloom when the first freeze hits them. But departing hummingbirds and I appreciate every scarlet blossom before it is browned by ice.

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Aerial acrobats in the garden

Swallowtail butterflies mobbing the Joe Pye Weed.

Swallowtail butterflies mobbing the Joe Pye Weed.

Record amounts of rainfall this growing season continue to create ripple effects throughout my landscape and gardens. For the first time I can remember, I harvested two zucchinis today. Normally by this point in the summer, heat, drought, and insect pests have exterminated my squash crop. Not this year. Zucchini spice bread, anyone?

Likewise, the Fortex pole beans seem to be ramping up for another surge in bean production. The vines have already climbed their six-foot trellis, grown down the other side, and now I’m trying to persuade them to climb back up again.

Tomatoes? Oh yes, we’ve got tomatoes. The plants are fighting fungal diseases, but the fruits are coming in bigtime. Ornamental flowers, which have often surrendered to the heat by now, continue to bloom with abandon. I’ve got sunflowers, zinnias, nasturtiums, and cosmos among the annuals. Perennials like black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, salvias, verbenas, daylilies, and now cardinal flowers have never been happier.

A Spicebush Swallowtail enjoys the ever-blooming Verbena 'Homestead Purple.'

A Spicebush Swallowtail enjoys the ever-blooming Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

The rain has also produced a bumper crop of biting flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, among the aerial pests. But that’s not all bad, because the record abundance of flying insects has also brought record numbers of predators to prey on them. Insect eaters like Eastern Bluebirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Carolina Wrens, and Eastern Phoebes patrol the skies from dawn to dusk. Numerous bats take care of night patrol. And during the heat of the day, when the birds relax in the shade, the sky dragons take over.

A Sky Dragon pauses briefly before resuming its hunt for flying food.

A Sky Dragon pauses briefly before resuming its hunt for flying food.

I have not yet spent the time needed to learn the names of our local dragonflies, but I can tell you our landscape is blessed by quite a number of species, some small, some as large as the hummingbirds with whom they share the sky. Wonder Spouse was so struck by the diversity of dragonflies in our yard last weekend that he spent some time capturing them with his camera. In fact, all the photos in this post were taken by Wonder Spouse.

The butterflies thrust themselves deeply into the throats of the flowers of our Autumn Daffodil daylilies.

The butterflies thrust themselves deeply into the throats of the flowers of our Autumn Daffodil daylilies. See its tongue curling above its head?

Dragonflies are efficient hunters, and yes, they do grab and devour an occasional butterfly on the wing. But they glitter like jewels; their wings appear to be made from delicate lace, yet are strong enough for aerial maneuvers any stunt pilot must envy.

An emerald Sky Dragon pauses on a boulder.

An emerald Sky Dragon pauses on a boulder.

As much as I love the butterflies, this year we can lose a few to the dragonflies. My Chinese Abelia, a massive shrub about 10 feet tall and equally wide, has been blooming since June — and continues to do so. All day long, it is visited simultaneously by at least a hundred butterflies. I’ve never seen so many!

When they fill up on the Chinese Abelia, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails stop by the lantana growing along the front walk.

When they fill up on the Chinese Abelia, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails stop by the lantana growing along the front walk.

Between the drifting flight of butterflies and the zooming quick starts and stops of the dragonflies, I get bumped into on a regular basis as I walk around my yard.

This dragonfly appears to be made of lapis lazuli, or perhaps sapphire.

This dragonfly appears to be made of lapis lazuli, or perhaps sapphire.

Patterns on the wings of the dragonflies are likely diagnostic. I really must learn the names of these hunters.

The white wing bars on this one make it more noticeable in flight.

The white wing bars on this one make it more noticeable in flight.

This one appears to be designed to blend in with the trees.

This one appears to be designed to blend in with the trees.

Butterflies, of course, are silent creatures. If I stand right next to the blooming abelia, I can sometimes hear a gentle fluttering of wings by the Spicebush Swallowtails, which never seem to remain motionless for more than a few seconds. Dragonflies make a bit of a buzzing noise as they zip erratically through the air, snagging snacks on the wing.

But for aerial maneuvers with sound effects, you can’t beat the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. This season has brought a bumper crop of them to the front feeder. The bejeweled beauties visit it from dawn to full dark. It seems to be a pit stop for them when they tire of dashing from coral honeysuckle to cardinal flower to salvia to abelia, all the while chittering as they argue over the rights to a particularly tasty nectar source.

After an early morning harvest session in the vegetable garden, I spend probably too much time sitting in the shade and watching the aerial show. I’m not the only one. I often spy a Green Anole perched on a shrub or vine within grabbing distance of unwary butterflies. And a large Green Frog usually meditates in one of the pots of sedges and pitcher plants sitting in our front water feature. The cicadas thrum, the hummingbirds swoop and squeal; in the distance, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls from the treetops, predicting more rain.

Pesky bugs and all, it’s the best summer we’ve had in years. I reckon I’m not going to feel to guilty for enjoying it as much as possible.

A Sky Jewel grabs a quick drink from the feeder that I keep supplied with fresh fuel.

A Sky Jewel grabs a quick drink from the feeder that I keep supplied with fresh fuel.

 

 

 

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Reptile Rendezvous

My front deck is the reptile rendezvous of choice.

My front deck is the reptile rendezvous of choice.

Early May has brought out the reptiles in abundance at my house. Almost every time I walk anywhere on our five acres these days, I see/almost step on a snake or lizard. Amphibians of numerous species are also ubiquitous. I encountered two very large toads in different parts of the vegetable garden yesterday as I planted my summer squash seedlings.

A week or so ago, early afternoon brought out two lizard species on our front deck. We couldn’t miss them, because they were basking/interacting just outside our front door. Those are Green Anoles on the railing, of course. I’ve written about them several times, including here. They like that railing, and we see them there often.

The new additions were the skinks loitering on the deck below. They are either Five-lined Skinks or Southeastern Five-lined Skinks. The two species are very similar; apparently the experts distinguish between them by examining scales on the undersides of their tails. I wasn’t about to traumatize them or myself by trying to catch them for closer examination.

At first, I thought the Green Anoles were engaging in courtship behavior, but the longer I watched, the more I thought that perhaps it was a slow-motion reptilian territorial dispute. The most action occurred when one of them caught a small butterfly that was visiting one of the white salvia flowers growing beside the railing. Just as one anole caught its prey, the other rushed it, jostling it, so that it released the fluttering victim, which flew away as the two anoles settled in for more slow motion space wars.

The nose-to-nose glare-off lasted for many minutes.

The nose-to-nose staring contest lasted for many minutes.

One was clearing shedding the skin off its tail. Maybe this makes it extra grouchy?

One was clearly shedding the skin off its tail. Maybe this makes it extra grouchy?

One did occasionally inflate his throat pouch. The other never did, which is why I suspected it might be female.

One occasionally inflated his throat pouch. The other never did, which is why I suspected it might be female.

The skinks were much less active than their green friends. They seemed content to stay nearly immobile, soaking up sun and ignoring me as I moved around trying to get better camera angles on them without startling them.

Those are White Texas Sage flowers.

Those are White Texas Sage flowers.

This one was larger and wider and had no blue on its tail, which I think means it is older than the other one.

This one was larger and wider and had no blue on its tail, which I think means it is older than the other one.

The one was more shy, hugging the edge of the deck for a quicker escape. Note the blue tinge to its tail.

This one was more shy, hugging the edge of the deck for a quicker escape. Note the blue tinge to its tail.

Skinks and Green Anoles are all welcome in my yard and garden, of course. Any critter that eats some of the ten gazillion bugs that occupy my garden is welcome. For every butterfly they devour, they almost certainly eat more unwelcome insect pests. I’ve read they eat spiders, too, and I’ve noticed fewer of the eight-legged creatures lingering around my front deck. Perhaps the lizards have reduced their numbers somewhat?

At least one large snake also occupies the area around our front deck, although it is not audacious enough to sun itself on the deck with the lizards (thank goodness!) I suspect it is the same Black Rat Snake I wrote about here, because of its size, but I can’t be certain. I almost stepped on it the other day as I was weeding around a daylily, and last week, it left me a present coiled around the large Spanish Lavender bush that thrives against the front of my house:

A freshly shed skin.

A freshly shed skin.

It’s a little hard to see in the above shot, but the shed skin is quite long. I got out a yard stick, gently eased the skin away from the lavender, and laid them side-by-side on a garden bench for comparison:

Four feet long, give or take a few inches.

Four feet long, give or take a few inches.

Here’s a slightly different angle:

You can tell the former owner of this skin was not only long, but relatively thick.

You can tell the former owner of this skin was not only long, but relatively thick.

I’m happy to report that it’s not just the cold-blooded clan that love the habitat-rich environments we’ve created for them. Bird song by many species begins before the sun has done more than hint at the arrival of a new day. All the summer visitors are here now: Summer Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and too many warblers to ever distinguish. The Red-breasted Nuthatches finally left for their northern breeding grounds. I’ll miss their bold visits to the suet feeders as I tried to re-fill them.

And don’t get me started on the summer weeds. My knees may never forgive me for the relentless torture I’ve subjected them to as I’ve tried to plant vegetables amid predictions of wildly varying temperatures.

Reptiles have it far easier in that regard. I suspect that knee pain is rarely, if ever, an issue for them.

 

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While they sleep …

Swelling flower bud of Magnolia 'Elizabeth'

Swelling flower bud of Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

Just before dawn this morning, thick frost glimmered in the fading light of a full moon. As the sun topped the nearby ridge, surfaces sparkled — walks, benches, lawn, even the trees. The thermometer on my cold hill bottomed out at 26 degrees Fahrenheit before the strengthening Spring sun began its work — Winter cold. Too cold.

The Spring Peepers, which have lustily chorused off and on since late December, have been utterly silent for four days. The American Toads, which had added their exquisite soprano trilling descant to the thrumming of the Peepers two weeks ago, have also gone quiet. The Green Anoles, which sunned themselves on our gutters on warm days all winter, have not ventured from their sleeping chambers in a week. To be sure, our weather has not been fit for cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles.

The plants in my yard agree. Half-open flower buds have opened no further. Some have browned from freeze damage. Others seem suspended in time, waiting for temperatures that match the astronomical calendar, knowing the equinox was last week, wondering like me, I imagine, why March turned so cruel in its waning days.

But while the plants and cold-blooded animals sleep, the warm-blooded ones are scrounging for food. A herd of five pregnant does devours every blade of green from our floodplain at dusk, when they emerge from their hiding places on the other side of the creek. Dark shadows in darkening light, they drift around the trees, more ghosts than flesh in the dimness.

The birds, on the other hand, have refused to concede to Spring’s reluctant arrival. Growing flocks of American Robins patrol the landscape, plucking fat earthworms from rain-moistened soil, muttering in delight at each new-found morsel.

The Red-shouldered Hawks circle the floodplain, then dive at crowded bird feeders in the hopes of pinning a slow-moving Mourning Dove or a greedy Red-winged Blackbird that lingers too long for one more bite. When the birds elude their grasp, they settle for patrolling the ground, pulling back fallen leaves with sharp yellow talons to reveal earthworms, which they greedily devour. When they’ve had their fill, they fly off with more; hungry nestlings must be fed, even while their favorite cold-blooded prey sleep securely in their winter hide-outs.

Nestlings must eat regardless of weather.

Nestlings must eat regardless of weather.

Flocks of Purple Finches grow daily. I think groups migrating from further south have heard about the snows in their summer homes up north. They linger at my feeders — free food — all you can eat! A pair of Carolina Wrens busily inspect flower pots, deck underpinnings, and an open garage for potential nesting sites. Wood Ducks paddle up and down the creek, preferring water warmer than the air.

A Great Blue Heron stalks from sand bar to sand bar. Rising into the air on massive wings, its majestic flight starkly contrasts with its harsh squawk of frustration at finding nothing tasty.

Alert for anything that moves, the hungry Great Blue Heron remains statue still.

Alert for anything that moves, the hungry Great Blue Heron remains statue still.

Suet feeders are perpetually busy from dawn to full darkness. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are feeding nestlings, and insects are difficult to find in the frigid air. They are joined by increasing numbers of warblers, which must be arriving for spring nesting season. Like the woodpeckers, suet is their fall-back food until the insects finally emerge.

This morning as I filled the feeders, I heard the characteristic melodic gurgling call of Brown-headed Cowbirds. They usually arrive a few days after the warblers, lingering at my feeders until they pair off, and egg-heavy females deposit their eggs in the nests of unwary warblers.

Warm-blooded life does not seem to have the luxury of waiting for Spring to assert itself. Somehow it must carry on despite the dearth of natural food and warming nights. I keep my feeders filled and birdhouses clean, in the hopes that this eases their struggle a bit — for my local population anyway.

The weather forecasters predict that our perseverance will be rewarded. Warmer days are promised soon. I think perhaps they might be right. I spotted a bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this afternoon struggling to make headway against a gusty northwest wind.

Any minute now, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be arriving for their spring nesting season. I’d best dust off their feeders ASAP, because their usual early food sources — blooms of Red Buckeye and Eastern Columbine — remain tightly closed against the unseasonable chill.

Not even a flower bud is yet in evidence on the native Coral Honeysuckle beloved by the hummingbirds.

Not even a flower bud is yet in evidence on the native Coral Honeysuckle beloved by the hummingbirds.

Like the warm-blooded life surrounding me, my garden and I must persevere. Lettuce transplants huddle beneath garden fabric in the vegetable garden. I’ve been afraid to check on them, fearing that lifting the fabric might chill them more. And the tomato and pepper seeds I sowed a week ago have mostly germinated in the greenhouse. I’ve raised the thermostat to reduce the chances of cold air being fanned onto new-born seedlings.

Gardening is always an act of faith. This season, however, is requiring a bit more of it than usual. Believe, my friends. Soon we’ll be up to our knees in tall grass, mosquitoes, and summer squash.

But don’t blink. I have a feeling we’re mostly skipping Spring this year.

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Autumn’s Fruits and Nuts

Autumn is only a few weeks along, but the occupants of my yard and gardens are progressing toward readying themselves for winter. For example, the lovely mushrooms in the above photo are sprouting up beside my driveway in growing numbers. As they grow from button stage (far left) to middle age (far right) and full ripeness (center), zillions of mushroom spores are readying themselves for release from the gills under the caps. Many colors and shapes of fungi are currently taking advantage of the cooler, damp weather here.

The Black Walnut had a very productive year. Hard hats to defend against falling nuts are no longer required when walking beneath it, but now one must watch every step to avoid slipping on the yellow-green orbs hiding in the grass.

The squirrels wait for the outer green husks to soften before they start working on these nuts.

The Red Buckeye had another bumper crop year. These nuts are poisonous, but the squirrels can’t resist carrying them all over the yard and burying them.

The outer husks crack open and drop the buckeyes to the ground. Some folks think these fruits are good luck.

The Beautyberry shrub and the big Hearts-a-burstin’ flourishing on the upper floodplain both had very productive years.

Even in deep shade, these colorful berries glow like Christmas ornaments.

Breaking hearts abound.

The Asian kousa dogwoods were also very fruitful. The evergreen one tended to produce fewer, fatter red globes like this:

The deciduous kousa dogwood must have been very thoroughly pollinated this year — yet another autumn beauty that seems to be vying for Christmas tree status.

This Cornus kousa dwells beside our back deck. Its leaves are just beginning to turn lovely shades of orange.

This recent visitor below was neither a fruit nor a nut, but it was so gorgeous that Wonder Spouse felt obliged to take its picture, and I’m glad he did. This was a new insect for us, a showy member of the dung beetle clan. Truly, if someone made a jeweled pin based on this creature, I would proudly wear it.

Meet a male Rainbow Scarab. The “horn” denotes its gender.

And here’s more of a side view:

Note the bit of spider web tangled in its horn.

This fellow was walking around our back deck. We suspect it stunned itself on one of our windows, staggering about just long enough for Wonder Spouse to document his visit. He flew off ten minutes later.

I’ll close today with a few more nuts — the animal kind. We seem to have a bumper crop of Green Anoles this year, perhaps the result of behavior like what I documented here. The front of our house faces west. Warmth from late afternoon sun combined with a flourishing front garden seem to have produced ideal anole habitat. One afternoon last week, I caught four basking on various parts of the front of my house — some large, some quite small.

The first one I saw was a large brown lizard that had trapped itself between my front door and the outer storm door. When I opened the inner door to go out, it frantically beat itself against the storm door until I could get it open. Here it is glowering at me as it recovers from its self-inflicted trauma.

Undamaged, but unhappy.

After taking that one’s picture, I noticed a small one basking on the front wall.

It was about six inches long, but quite skinny.

Then I spotted this green one hanging out around my bedroom window. It actually climbed the glass and seemed to be trying to peer inside.

I tried to persuade it that it will be far happier outdoors.

Finally that day, I spotted another green one below the bedroom window on the wall behind an overgrown rosemary shrub. It was more shy than the other three.

This rosemary started blooming last winter and only stopped during the July heat wave.

These anoles were all out on a very warm day. We had a string of 80+-degree days ahead of a cold front. I think perhaps they were all trying to soak up as much heat as they could before retiring to their winter slumber spots. I’m wondering if perhaps their abundance is making it difficult for them to all find cozy winter quarters, because of what I observed yesterday.

Yesterday was the last warm day before the arrival of a cold front that has dropped our temperatures about thirty degrees. And it was yesterday that Wonder Spouse noticed that a brown anole was actually on the inside of the window beside our front door. It must have slipped inside when one of us opened the door. It may well have been the same one that I caught between the two doors the day before.

Fortunately, it was quite cooperative about its relocation to the outdoors. We used a butterfly net, intending to scoop it up gently. But it chose to perch quietly on the rim long enough for us to escort it back outside to the garden, none the worse for its adventure.

Late yesterday as the sun was setting, one of the anoles did something even more unexpected — nuttier, if you will. I always leave my hummingbird feeder filled until the second week of October, or until I don’t see any hummers for a week or so. Yesterday when I checked the feeder before going inside, I saw this:

Yes, that’s an anole head peeking out from the middle. It’s curled up in the center cup where one can put water to deter ants.

I imagine the surrounding sugar water was quite warm from the late afternoon sun, and this little one thought it had found an ideal hangout. Of course, the water doesn’t stay warm at night, and any hummers trying to drop by wouldn’t know what to think, so we gently lifted down the feeder and encouraged the anole to return to the garden.

It really didn’t want to leave its cozy spot, but I think it was probably for the best.

I checked the front wall today without expecting to see any anoles. One brown one stuck its head out from behind a gutter for just a moment, then disappeared. Given our drizzly, chilly day, I was surprised to see an anole at all. I hope they are all settling down for a long winter’s sleep, along with all the other plants and animals that share our five acres of North Carolina Piedmont.

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Residents and Visitors

Common Buckeye enjoying Joe Pye Weed.

My five-acre patch of Piedmont is positively bustling with animal life these days. Perhaps the creatures have noticed the sun’s later risings and settings, and have begun their preparations for winter. Whatever their reasons, every day we seem to stumble upon an interesting resident or visitor.

Wonder Spouse spotted this Common Buckeye nectaring on the abundant blooms still perfuming the yard.  We see them off and on throughout the growing season, but it had been a while since we’d seen one. Here’s what it looked like with its wings folded:

Earlier that same day, I spotted a Red Admiral hanging around the front flowerbeds:

Red Admiral enjoying Seven-Sons Flower Tree blooms.

Here’s another angle:

The Seven-Sons Flower Tree blooms attract pollinators of all kinds.

I’ve been spotting a small anole hunting in the pineapple sage and lantanas for about a month now. It is only about three inches long, and I suspect it may be the result of an encounter I documented here. But it is too small and too shy for me to catch with my camera. However, the same day that I saw the Red Admiral, I also spotted a large, Green Anole climbing in the warm sun on the south side of my house. I saw no evidence of a throat patch, so it might have been a large female, but I’m not sure. See for yourself:

See how the end of her(?) tail is brown? I wonder if she injured it.

She was reasonably patient with me, but eventually turned to face me, as if to say, “Enough already!”

The Writing Spiders continue to flourish. Some are growing faster than others. I call this one Big Bertha, because she is by far the largest:

Big Bertha has claimed a prime location, where many unsuspecting pollinators become her  victims.

Wonder Spouse continues to document some of the numerous dragonflies currently patrolling our gardens, like this one:

Check out the head on this predator.

This one was posing on some Coneflower seed heads:

Dragonflies are more cooperative models than butterflies, which tend to flutter from flower to flower too frequently for optimal photo ops.

The creepiest photo Wonder Spouse took that day was this fly. I don’t know its species, but I do know it is big, mean, and aggressive. This fly and its kin are the reason we do not wear shorts in our yard. The bites of these monsters hurt for weeks.

I’m sure it has a place in the ecosystem, but its kin are not my friends.

Today is has rained much of the day, so we didn’t expect to see as many critters going about their business as we usually do. Imagine my astonishment this morning when I looked out my window onto the floodplain and spotted two dark shapes. I soon realized they were too small to be deer. When I decided they were birds, my first thought was vultures, because we have a group that sometimes hangs out around our creek. However, these birds were walking around in a very un-vulture-like manner. A thought occurred: “Could these be Wild Turkeys?”

They were walking in the mowed area at the far end of the floodplain, strutting about in the rain, one often chasing the other. Once we got the birding scope on them, we were able to confirm these were indeed Wild Turkeys. Over the years, we’ve seen a few not far from here, but never in our yard. As we watched, they gradually wandered closer to us, but never closer than the large Red Buckeye that grows near the creek. In fact, when the rain grew heavier, they both huddled beneath the thick canopy provided by that Red Buckeye. We could just make out their dark shapes through the driving rain.

When the rain let up, the Turkeys wandered back out into the grassy area, so Wonder Spouse grabbed his tripod and set up his camera — with telephoto lens —  in front of the sliding glass door overlooking the floodplain. It was still raining too hard to take the camera outdoors, the light was dim, and the Turkeys never stayed in one place long enough for a decent shot. But these photos at least confirm a visit from two Wild Turkeys — females, we think.

The only shot of both birds together.

Yup, it’s really a Wild Turkey.

Despite the off-and-on hard rain, the Turkeys wandered around the floodplain for about 45 minutes, until something caused them to dash out of sight for good. We thought we were done with visitors for the day, until we spotted what had caused the Turkeys to flee: a large Common Snapping Turtle! We don’t think she was after the Turkeys, but we don’t blame them for erring on the side of caution when dealing with this species of reptile.

When the rain paused for a bit, Wonder Spouse and I went out for a closer look at the Snapper slowly lumbering across the floodplain. We see Snappers and River Cooters every once in a while; they are always females in search of the soft sandbars they prefer for nesting sites.

Wonder Spouse was able to get a few close shots of what we think is an old female during a pause in the rain.

We are guessing she is old because of the significant wear evident on her shell; the characteristic ridges seem to have been eroded.

She froze in mid-step when Wonder Spouse stepped, respectfully, in front of her for a head shot.

In this close-up, you can see what looks like green algae growing on the top of her head:

She looks almost as if she were carved from local stone, or perhaps a cypress knee.

We didn’t bother her for long. A quick online search revealed that these turtles often come out to lay eggs in weather like today’s, probably because the ground is softer, I imagine. We have a healthy respect for the Snapping Turtles that share our property. We leave them to their business, and they don’t bite off our toes or fingers. Seems a fair deal to me.

I’ll be keeping watch for another visit by the Wild Turkeys. We found a Web site that included recordings of their various calls. When I listened to them, I realized I’ve been hearing these calls all summer. I think Wild Turkeys probably nested in the floodplain woodland across the creek from our property. I had been hearing bird calls I couldn’t identify, and had decided they must be a neighbors’ poultry. But now I realize that the Wild Turkeys have been talking in the adjacent woods all summer.

What a great day this has turned out to be. Not only did the plants get a much-appreciated dose of moisture, but the Snapping Turtles got a chance to multiply themselves, and a new bird species stopped by — in the pouring rain!

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An Amorous Anole Afternoon

Bright green male displaying pinkish throat fan

Yesterday afternoon about four, I was returning to my front door after closing my greenhouse against an impending cold night when I spotted two Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) — one green and one brown — moving about in one of my White Texas Sage plants near my front water feature. One of the lizards displayed his dewlap — that reddish throat pouch you see above — and I realized I was watching some kind of anole-anole encounter. I ran inside to grab my camera, hoping they might still be there when I returned.

By the time I got back out, the dark brown anole had vanished into the greenery near the base of my little pond. But the bright green male in the picture above was still there, now on the low railing of my front deck beside the White Texas Sage. He obligingly posed for the shot above. I was only sitting about two feet from him.

These lizards are common in my yard, but I had never seen them so docile about my presence. At first I attributed their slowness to the cool day, but as I continued to watch — for almost an hour and a half — I realized that although this fellow wasn’t thrilled about my presence, he was vastly more interested in the female lurking below him.

I sat on the edge of the deck beside the White Texas Sage for the first hour, until I finally realized that the male was not happy with my proximity. I then moved to a bench just above the area about six feet away. It was only after I moved that the female relaxed enough to join the male.

I watched the male change color repeatedly from bright green to greenish brown to brown to deep gray and back to green. At the time, I thought perhaps the color show — along with many throat pouch displays — were designed to impress the female. But after researching these animals a bit, I now think my proximity was stressing the poor little guy. He eventually got through to me — looking straight at me and opening his mouth wide at me — a silent roar, if you will. That’s when I finally got a clue and moved further away.

I took almost 200 photos. Here’s a photo synopsis of what I watched, beginning with the photo above. After that display, the male jumped back to my White Texas Sage and began changing to a greenish brown color:

A short time later, he began reverting to a greener shade:

When he was fully green, he inflated his throat patch again:

After his pouch deflated, he went back to brown:

He then jumped back to the low rail surrounding my front deck, where he lounged for a bit, then turned and glared at me:

At least, I thought he was glaring at me. Turns out he had spotted the female. My research tells me these lizards have keen vision. I finally spotted her too, lurking deep within the new foliage of a daylily:

The female’s color never changed, and her gender lacks the throat fans the males possess.

The male jumped back onto the White Texas Sage, turned green, and inflated his throat fan:

Turning toward the female and going a little browner, he displayed again:

Failing to achieve his desired result, and likely stressed by my intrusive camera, the male darkened to a deep brown:

Note the ridge along the back of his neck. He may have raised this in an attempt to look larger and scare me off.

When I didn’t react, he shifted priorities back to the female and returned to green:

Yes, he might have been glaring at me. I suspect the female retreated, because the male moved back to the deck. Here he has jumped to the side board framing the deck floor:

Check out those pads on his feet. Green Anoles are mostly arboreal, although they can be found in many suburban and even urban environments at any level from ground to rooftop. Those pads allow him to stick to vertical surfaces.

He climbed back on to the narrow low rail and once again displayed his dewlap:

It was at this point that I realized I was too close, so I moved to a bench about six feet away. The male appeared to relax a bit, remaining green, and soaking up some afternoon sun:

He jumped up abruptly and turned to look down into the greenery below. He must have spotted the female again, although I couldn’t see her no matter how hard I looked.

Determined to impress the object of his desire, he puffed out his throat pouch again:

This one did the trick. As I watched him leap back down to the White Texas Sage, the female suddenly appeared on the same plant. The male made his move:

Mating was achieved:

I read that mating can continue for 30-45 minutes. After about five, I moved in for one last close-up and then gave them their privacy:

I read that females only lay one egg at a time, and may lay one a week for a number of weeks. Dominant males keep harems of up to six females, but I saw no evidence of that in my front garden yesterday.

Green Anoles eat insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. When I had pet cats lounging on this front deck, I rarely saw lizards, but I had an abundance of Praying Mantises. With no cats to plague them, the Green Anoles and skinks now rule my decks, and I almost never see a Mantis in my front garden anymore.

These changing population dynamics, and the encounter I was lucky enough to observe yesterday, remind me that my Piedmont garden is always first a habitat for the natives with whom I share this space. That’s why I don’t use poisons, and why my yard will always look less groomed than many others. My gardens and yard are as integrated into the native landscape as I can manage. After all, the plants and animals here are as much Piedmonters as I am.

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