Saturday, April 19, 2014

Passing through the Palmetto State

A brief foray into South Carolina was rewarded with some cool new experiences and a surprise visit with an old friend from Bath and his daughter. 
While touring Clemson with Jay, we were greeted on the steps of the campus visitors' center by this nesting American Robin.

We'd never seen a robin (or any other bird, for that matter) nesting in a palmetto before, but we're guessing that's just how they roll in the Palmetto State.

Bill still coated with red clay from foraging in the lawn out front, our feathered greeter appeared rather smug about its prime nesting site, particularly once the rain began in earnest and the frond above kept bird and the nest completely dry.

After an all-too-brief visit with Bill Zachman and his daughter, we set out for the Old North State in a steady drizzle, hoping to catch a few mountain wildflowers on Saturday before heading for home. If this stand of trillium on a roadside bank is any indication of what awaits, there's an exciting (and wet) day ahead for the Hoot Owl Karma clan...

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Butterfly or the Flower?

Which came first, she wondered?

April is only a few days old, no hint of green in the centipede just yet...

but yesterday the field pansies passed beyond green, an explosion of violet and purple and gold;

and today, perched on the lip of lovely Viola bicolor, drinking deeply of her nectar, a butterfly, falcate orangetip.

Which came first, she pondered half aloud, the flower or the butterfly...

the butterfly or the flower?

Good question. 

And, as with all good questions, the answer is elusive. 


A bit like the year's first butterfly, or the dainty little blossoms of the early wild pansies.

Answers are bit overrated, she decides.

The wondering's the important thing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April Gold

Golden yellow is the color of April in central Carolina. 
Most of the out of doors seems entwined in the glowing golden tendrils of Carolina jessamine, and everything else is coated in the golden yellow pollen of the pines.

Outcrops of shale, utility poles, fenceposts and every available tree become a trellis for this lovely sweet-scented climber, and no milestone passes without a sighting as the travelers make their way north toward Chapel Hill.  

With the golden sunshine comes heat, warmth enough to disrupt the reptiles' winter-induced torpor, and this recently roused northern water snake crosses the travelers' path in rural Chatham County.

After an assist across the blacktop and down to the bank of the stream, it responds with its best cottonmouth imitation,

flattening its head and striking repeatedly, all the while releasing an odiferous musk most foul. 

Taking this poor display of gratitude in stride, the travelers move on toward the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill.

Upon setting out to explore the Garden's nature trails, another reptile encounter, this time a beautiful but retiring female five-lined skink.

The trail entrance is guarded on the other side by a thicket of sweet shrub, whose pollen-dusted blossoms are just beginning to waft their luscious fruity scent onto the breeze.

Just down the slope, closer to the creek, the red buckeye, green leaves sporting their own thin coat of yellow pollen, nears full bloom itself.

Joining the ubiquitous spring beauty in the deep rich soil of the bottomlands, wild blue phlox adds its color to the mix.

And rising from a logjam of debris wedged against the base of a stream-side tree, one of the sessile trilliums, a toadshade, bursts forth too, in bloom.

Casting long shadows in the morning sun, star chickweed rises up on hairy stalks by the trailside,

and a gathering of azure bluets, or quaker ladies, assembles next to an exposed root in the middle of the trail.

A bit further up the slope and a few feet above the forest floor, a singular cluster of pinxster azalea blossoms adds its name to the list of notables on this golden April jaunt.

A less-reticent male skink poses patiently for a picture as we pass his perch on the mossy bark,

and a keen-eyed traveler spots a curiously shaped fungus at the base of the lizard's tree.

First one, then another pollen-dusted yellow morel comes into view, hiding in plain sight among last year's leaves and sweet gum balls.

April gold, indeed...

A Moment in the Sun

A mature deciduous forest canopy is a verdant sunscreen in summer, millions of tiny green solar panels, providing life-giving energy to the very forest itself, oaks and maples and hickories and poplars and beeches and sweet gums, year after year, decade upon decade. At summer's height, the ancient forest floor, over-flown by thousands of thousands of wind-swiveling photosynthesizing sun seekers may see sun only in the interstices, a dappling here and drizzle there.

But in winter and early spring, the forest floor is a brighter spot, with life-giving light splashing down through barren branches and around towering trunks, so that spring-blooming wildflowers can have their moment in the sun . These impressive trout lilies are a month behind their San Lee Park sisters, but still thriving in the few remaining weeks of open canopy in the forest where they live.

All along the woodland path, trodden clear by the deer and yesterday's traveler, the spring beauty and rue anemone reflect the sun's warm rays from delicate blossoms of white and pink.

A chilly April breeze percolates through the still leafless boughs of the forest giants, animating these lovely splashes of light in a gently swaying celebration of life. 

A solitary foamflower runs its ivory tipped standard up the mast, with another not far behind; 

This is spring beauty's show, without a doubt, but she's a most gracious star, sharing the stage with a host of understudies.

These delicate twins say all that needs saying with regards to the etymology of Claytonia's common name...

As our path brings us closer to wood's far margins, we bid the flowers adieu; 

not knowing whether our journey will bring us nigh again this spring, 

but content with this brief communion, immersed again in our nature;

fellow creatures, sharing a moment in the sun.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Eight-legged Bird

While the casual observer might think it a bit early in the year for baby birds to be about, these precocial killdeer chicks beg to differ. Their remarkable invisibility cloaks would work as well on a mound of empty oyster shells in the sound, among the low dunes of a wind-swept barrier island or in the tall grasses of the mid-western plains, but tonight both the texture and color of their downy plumage take on the tone of stone as this flightless trio hunkers motionless in the middle of a gravel parking lot. 

Nearby, a clever parent, quite handsomely clad, calls loudly and mimics a nesting adult to draw attention away from the young ones. 

After drawing the curious photographer in close, sly abandons its nesting ruse in favor of a slow, limping walk directly away from the gravel lot.

A quick glance back at the chicks reveals a dispersal underway; three chicks move briefly in three different directions, then quietly and swiftly re-orient themselves in the general direction of the other calling parent.

To look away is to lose sight of the chicks for a second while the eyes struggle to pry the little balls of feathers loose from the tableau of crushed stone...

Locked in on their destination now, their pace increases, and the cover-up begins in earnest.

With one chick sheltered in place and another nearly there, the parent calls frantically for the lone straggler to join them; the watcher casts a fruitless glance all about the field of stone, 

then returns to alight on a strikingly patterned eight-legged shorebird standing alone in the middle of a warm gravel parking lot early of an April evening in Tramway. 
Will wonders never cease?!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

River and Forest and Sky

The early spring flood recedes for now, affording fresh access to the old riparian byway. 
Youthful pines command the ridge on this side of the river, but on the channel's brink dwell the elders, too gnarled or brittle or bowed for the ax and saw; 
stolid old creatures fulfilling their best and highest use; tokens,
 reminders of what trees once were and yet may be...
towering ashes and gums, and the splendid, sprawling smooth-skinned sycamores.

High above the restless eddies, ragged brown blotches mar heaven's somber pall, 
a raucous tangle of branches, roots and vines; 
and just there, another; 
four jumbled nests in an ancient arbor's embrace. 

Before the question is uttered, the answer appears; resplendent reply!

A rookery.

Seated here on high, at the junction of river, forest and sky; 
crude, disheveled cribs, constructed by the aerobat, water walker, winged stalker, 

                                                                            Great Blue Heron.

Wandering wader; solitary seeker of the shallows; 

Denizen of ditch and drain, master of mudflat and marsh, hunter and haunt of lake and pond and river and stream.

Nest builder, food finder, silent sentinel, 

watcher by moonlight and piercer of noonday shadows, 
repeller of cormorant, coon and eagle.

For ages their kin have lived and thrived, born and bred and died, within this boundless realm
of river and forest and sky.

On the brink of tomorrow the river dwellers still are standing;

 standing still, at the junction of river and forest and sky.