Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Croatan National Forest Delight

I had the delight over Christmas to discover two new birds that I had not seen before and another that caught me by surprise while camping at Flanners Beach on the Neuse River at the Croatan National Forest in North Carolina.

First up is a Wood Thrush. They don't winter here but head to the warmer climates of Mexico, Central or South America or the Caribbean. But in my readings of the Wood Thrush, some will linger in the Southeast US and this one surely is a lingerer and a surprise.

Then this bird who was foraging in the bushes right next to where I was sitting.

I was able to identify him as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet so named because of the red dot on its head. And boy did I have a hard time photographing him as he was quick of foot with lots of chattering thrown in.

I learned the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is an insectivore and the reason he was spending so much time quickly moving from branch to branch in the bushes. He was small and plump and cute as a button.

Here's another new sighting and he took a bit to identify. It's a Yellow-Rumped Warbler specifically a Myrtle Warbler.

There are four closely related Warblers lumped under "Yellow-Rumped Warbler," the eastern Myrtle Warbler, the Audubon's Warbler of the Western US, the northwest Mexican Black-fronted Warbler, and the Guatemalan Goldman's Warbler.

All of the birds foraged in close range and it was easy to observe their behavior. The Wood Thrush was on the ground picking through the soil, the Myrtle Warbler who stayed up high in the trees while flying here and there, and the little Ruby-crowned Kinglet who was in arms reach while it hunted for tiny insects in the bushes.

Their songs were sweet but not nearly as sweet as the satisfaction in discovery of new wildlife to observe.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Just think about it . . .

 . . .that's all I ask this Thanksgiving.

Turkey. Often, if you just say the word, it will illicit a snicker or a guffaw. It's a derogatory term in our language, used as a put-down, uttered with disdain. He's a turkey. What a turkey. Or simply, Turkey.

To discuss this magnificent bird and to move past the prejudice, I am not going to use the common name Turkey, but instead use the genus and species name, Meleagris gallopavo. And perhaps we will see this bird in a different light rather than a species we've been taught to marginalize.

Meleagris gallopavo is one of two species native to the Americas. The other living species, Melagris occelata is native to the forest of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Meleagis gallopavo still roams the forests of North America and you may catch a glimpse of one or more from time to time at the edge of the treeline. They are a success story in conservation as they nearly met with extinction in the 40s from over exploitation. But careful re-population measures have led to a healthy population.

In the Southeast, though, they are under threat again with scientists seeing puzzling population declines. Studies are underway but it is suspected predators and loss of habitat could be the cause.

Male Wild Meleagris gallopavo
Just look at the photo! How darn beautiful is that? And noble. 

What a magnificent native American bird.

Here's some things to consider about this fascinating and intelligent bird:

  • The distinctive gobble of the male can be heard a mile away
  • Males display beautiful tail feathers and puff themselves out during courtship as seen in the image
  • The male head is colored a bright red, blue and white. An all-American bird!
    Female Wild Meleagris gallopavo
  • Only males have the fleshy protuberance, the snood, that extends over the beak and down the neck
  • The snood changes colors according to mood
  • The feathers, 5000-6000 in number, have beautiful bronze-green iridescence (females a little duller) and if you've not seen them in person you are missing something
  • They are curious and intelligent and, some people say, affectionate
This wonderful bird, 23-million years of evolution behind it, had the misfortune of becoming the domesticated Meleagris gallopavo that graces the Thanksgiving table every year. They are raised in stressful conditions and about 45 million are slaughtered for the feast.

Forty-five million. 

They suffer terribly having their beaks partially clipped off and, because of crowding conditions, will peck at each others heads. If a wound ensues, the wounded bird is pecked to death.

Factory farmed Meleagris gallopavo
The magnificent Meleagris gallopavo reduced to the indignity you see above. And the indignity you see on your Thanksgiving plate. Reduced to a mere centerpiece. Reduced to a Turkey.

Domesticated Meleagris gallopavo did not live a normal life in the wild as it is meant to be. Domesticated Meleagris gallopavo lived a short, unnatural and tortured life.

Just think about it. That is all I ask this Thanksgiving.

And, if after reading this you think of me, "What a turkey!" I will be honored, my friend.

My life as a Turkey is a wonderful documentary about Meleagris gallopavo.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An American 'American' success story

The mailman came to my door a week ago, not with a package in hand, but to alert me to something to see right then. He was excited and I could tell something was seriously up.

Despite still being in pajamas - yep, still in pajamas at mid-day, oh well, what can I say, I get engrossed in stuff - I hurried outside to have a look.

Imagine my utter surprise to find an American Bald Eagle riding the air currents way high up. I was truly astonished as was, James, the mailman to see this Bald Eagle in a residential area. They are nearly always found near water. The closest body of water, Jordan Lake, was four miles away where they are flourishing.

Something here had his interest and he remained for awhile while we watched transfixed and, eventually, he broke from the rising air currents and headed west in the direction of the lake.

To witness this eagle soaring above my home on that cloudless, crisp fall afternoon is an affirmation to the success of the Endangered Species Act. The act saved the Bald Eagle from extinction and to see it in a developed area is confirmation of its increasing population. This is good.

It is truly an American 'American' success story.

 *The Endangered Species Act celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Wake up

I found this spider tucked away in the corner of my yard. He's no bigger than half the size of my pinky finger nail. Looking at him, I thought part of the coloring on him was metallic but the close-up of the camera revealed it to be a sharp yellow.

What delights nature holds. Look at these lovely colors of soft green with whites, yellow and black. How magnificent nature is in her creating.

Nature and life hold so hold many wonderful moments if we only open our eyes. Wake up people. Wake up and open your eyes to the beauty of the world around you. It is disappearing at an phenomenal rate.

What is truly important? The Earth and all of its inhabitants who are intertwined in a myriad of webs or our insatiable desire of consumption.

Wake up.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

An early morning spider silhouette

An orb spider silhouetted against the early morning sky with her quarry. You can see the curves of the web where the insects were caught.

While the spider begins her day, flying above, high in the sky, is the contrail of a jet that's carrying passengers somewhere north.

Friday, October 4, 2013

One magic day

A week ago, while in New York, I was caught by surprise to see Monarch Butterflies flying over Fire Island, a barrier island of Long Island, on the long journey south to their wintering grounds in Mexico. It is one of the great migrations and I was delighted to witness it.

I had not seen a one in my area this past spring on their journey north, despite planting Milkweed, their host plant. So it was extra-special for me as I know their numbers are in serious decline due to pesticides, habitat loss and the loss of Milkweed. I'd been hoping and wishing they would visit my gardens as I put care into making sure it's a welcoming environment for them.

This afternoon, I spotted a butterfly in my garden, which I thought was a Monarch, gathering nectar from the Cosmos flowers I had planted in spring. I was thrilled to think that the Monarchs, after seeing them in New York a week ago, had finally made it south to North Carolina on their continuing journey. Nearly tripping over myself to get my camera and then running down the stairs of the deck into my yard, I snapped the above image.

After studying it, I determined it was a Viceroy Butterfly who are often mistaken for Monarchs. Although similar, Viceroys are smaller and can be distinguished by the black line on the lower portion of their wings. Though not a Monarch, I was happy nevertheless to see this butterfly enjoying the gardens.

But, nature is magic as are butterflies.

About three hours later, I spotted another butterfly flying around the same flowers while stopping here and there to partake of nectar. After about nine minutes, the butterfly flew off in a determined southward direction. I felt certain this time.

The visitor was indeed a Monarch. It had stopped to refuel itself on its long journey to Mexico. I was delighted to the core and glad I had planted flower seeds during the chill of early spring if only to help this one Monarch make it home.

Throughout the season, I've seen other species of butterflies but never a Viceroy, a look-alike of the Monarch, nor a true Monarch. Yet, in one magic day, both appeared. One to fool and the other to affirm.

Journey North is a Citizen Science project where you can report Monarch Butterfly sightings and other species to help scientist track migrations.

An excellent guide for help in identifying Monarch Butterflies.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mystery image, September 18, 2013 identified

Once again, Mary T. of NC was correct in her ID of the image as an American Toad. Congratulations Mary!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mystery image, September 18, 2013

Can you identify this handsome frog? Here's a tad of a hint. He's about an inch in length.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mystery image of September 11, 2013 identified

Mary. T of North Carolina correctly identified last week's mystery image. Congratulations Mary!

It is, indeed, a Luna Moth.

I found the above wing parts one morning on a road while at Jordan Lake, NC. The moth must have been a bat's dinner the previous night. The soft body parts were missing leaving these lovely wings for me to collect.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mystery image, September 11, 2013

The beauty in nature is surely a teacher. What stunning colors, shapes and textures comprise the above image. It is not a textile but from a living creature.

Can you guess what it is?

Starting today, I'll post a mystery photo every week and the challenge is for you to identity it.

Write in your ID below and next week, I'll let you know who was right. It could be you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A contemplation on a lost bird

Ninety-nine years ago today, the Passenger Pigeon was extinguished from this earth. Once numbering four billion, they flew in great flocks that were miles wide and miles long. Imagine a flock so large that it took fourteen hours to pass overhead. Yes, we can only imagine.

The extinction of the Passenger Pigeon occurred in a mere 40 years. Forty years to erase four billion souls.

Twenty-five million erased every year.

68,493 erased every day.

What happened?

This is Martha. She was the last surviving member of her species who died in her aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.

They were elegant birds of lovely iridescent colors who lived in highly social flocks.

They were hunted and persecuted and lost habitat to farming. They were horrifically slaughtered by using nets set to capture them in flight. Then, once entangled, young boys were employed to snap their necks.

Their massive rookeries, where they would rest and mate, were not safe either. Men would fire aimlessly at the huge mass of birds huddled in trees so numbered that their weight would snap branches.

They were not only slaughtered for food and sport but also because they were perceived as pests. When huge swaths of forest was logged for farming, removing many of their ancestral rookeries, they would gather in the fields eating crops and seeds where they were baited.

It was a massive slaughter of the most numerous bird ever to populate the planet.

This is all that is left.

A memorial plaque and statue outside the aviary where Martha spent her last days.

On the day of her passing, how many humans contemplated the profound meaning of this loss or reflected on their culpability in the extinction?

The Passenger Pigeon is but one of many species that have been pushed off this planet by us. There are many, many more. And the extinctions continue. Currently, worldwide, there are over 44,838 on the endangered species list.

I've come to know my neighborhood birds as I've been feeding and observing them now for about three years. And, even though they are familiar with me, they still flee when I emerge from my home to fill the feeders. I cannot gain their trust. I do not wonder at their fear.

What horrors have they witnessed committed by humans with each rising and setting of the sun? What memories are imprinted in their genes carried from generation to generation that informs them to be wary of us? It is said that the pioneers would walk through the forest blasting everything in their wake. Wild turkey, doves, cougars, bear, deer and many more well felled for fun by their guns. Did their ancestors witness such carnage? Did they witness the slaughter of the Passenger Pigeon? The Ivory-billed Woodpecker? The Carolina Parakeet? It is possible.

And what of now? Do they see and hear the hunters blasting in the forest and the lakes? Some people today, although illegal, shoot song birds from the skies or feed them rice so their stomachs explode from the swelling of the grain.

Charles Darwin, during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, encountered birds on the many islands he visited who were not afraid of humans but would come and land on a shoulder or a hand. It was their first encounter with our species so they had no reason to fear us.

It pains me to know I will most likely never gain such trust no matter what kindness I show them. Their ingrained fear of us runs deep and can only be gained by the witnessing of horrific acts.

But, I can dream of a day when one may alight on my shoulder.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Passenger Pigeon and other birds that have gone extinct at the hands of humans, I recommend reading "Hope is a thing with feathers: A personal chronicle of vanished birds" by Christopher Cokinos.

To know more about endangered species, visit photographer Joel Sartore's site and purchase a copy of his book "Rare." He is on a mission to photograph species before they are gone forever and hopefully inspire people to care.

And through my writings, it is my hope too.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why don't we?

Leaving a restaurant one early evening in July, I spotted this guy next to the road eating his dinner. This was not in a rural area and I was surprised to see him.

I identified him as a Woodchuck also known as a Groundhog. He was large and seemed nonplussed by me stopping and photographing him.

As I always do, I researched groundhogs and learned, in some areas, they are considered pests and poisoned, hunted and trapped. Why are they considered pests? Because of the enormous underground dens they create, which, if done on farmland, damages the land. But the truth is, they are killed off because they are doing what they do. How would a groundhog know he's on farmland? So they hunt them, trap them and poison them. Kill them off.

It never fails, in any of my readings about other species that inhabit the planet, that I come across most, if not all of them, described as pests or a nuisance or disposable is some area of the world and being killed. Maybe the human race is the pest. Maybe we need to look at ourselves. We've overrun the planet, it is past carrying capacity for sustainability and, we've overrun every other life form that tries to survive, despite us, on this Earth. But go ahead, bury your head in you smart phone, your iPad, your tablet, your Game Boy . . . The list is endless. Lots to bury your head in.

I'll never forget the cartoon I saw many years ago that showed two deer running into the woods with a hunter behind them looking through the sight of his rifle. One of the deer was looking at the other and the caption read, "Why don't they thin their own damn herd?" Yes, indeed. Why don't we?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A most exuberant bird

Out of all the birds that visit my feeders none exhibit the exuberance of the American Goldfinch.

Male American Goldfinch

These small, pretty birds amaze me with the joy they seem to display as they fly through the air, wings held close to their sides, undulating up and down, while they sing a cheerful song like little darts of pure happiness.

Female American Goldfinch

Everyday I walk out my door and hear and see these little golden darts, they make me smile and remind me there are others who enjoy life as I do.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Steller's Jay & Blue Jay

Being familiar with the Blue Jay, I was lucky to experience a Steller's Jay on a visit out west. Closely related species, the Stellar's Jay live in the Western United States preferring mountains and pines while the Blue Jay inhabits the East and North.

They are both bold and inquisitive. I found the Steller's Jay outwardly curious. He would stay at a distance while keeping an eye on me, both of us showing mutual interest.

The Blue Jay, while equally curious, is low-key about it almost exhibiting a slyness like, "I'm watching you but don't want you to know."

The Steller's Jay is easy to photograph while the Blue Jay is difficult as they flee when they see the slightest movement.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a photographic comparison between the Steller's Jay and the Blue Jay.

The Steller's Jay from the right . . .

 . . . and the Blue Jay from the right.

The Steller's Jay from the left . . .

. . . and the Blue Jay from the left.

The Stellar's Jay from the front . . .

. . . and the Blue Jay from the front.

When done photographing the Blue Jay vanished (I'm certain I must have moved) . . .

. . .while the the Steller's Jay was "outta here!"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bald Male Northern Cardinal

 I have many Northern Cardinals who visit my feeder daily like this handsome fellow.

I've come to know a few, especially an older couple who come early morning and late evening for their meals and who regularly bring their fledglings.

But I was surprised one afternoon to find this bald male at my feeder. To see his head denuded of feathers alarmed me. 

I had seen molting in Cardinals, where individuals would lose a few feathers at a time to be replaced by new, but I had not seen molting to this degree.

I felt a pang of sympathy for him. He wasn't the best looking bird but otherwise appeared healthy as he seemed to have a good appetite enjoying sunflower seeds.

I kept a watch for him over several weeks to see if his feathers were growing in and, to my dismay, it did not look as if he were improving. 

I was concerned for him because, instead of an unusual molt pattern that he might be exhibiting, he could be suffering from feather mites or parasites. Not a good thing to have.

This past Tuesday evening, I was happy to see that he brought a lady friend to dine with him.

I carefully watched the happy couple and, closely examining his head, it looked as though his feathers are returning. 

This is a good thing.  And a satisfying thing for the soul to see, that no matter what you look like, love bloom.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


This little guy stopped by my front porch one day to say "Howdy!" It's a Carolina Anole. He was curious about me and would move his head back and forth while I spoke and seemed to enjoy posing for the picture. He delighted me with his antics as he scampered about peeking from here and there.

In researching the Carolina Anole, I was amazed to find they are related to the Iguana. Who would have thought that here in North Carolina we have a reptile related to an Iguana?

Here's some other critters I've found around my property.

Look at those eyes and the length of the legs and antenna. What a creature!

I believe it's a cricket or, in the cricket family. I tried to identify him with no success but the images I looked at of other crickets were similar in appearance and characteristics. If you know what he/she is, please let me know.

This is a lovely Red Spotted Purple butterfly enjoying the pollen on my rose bushes.

Here's some nice closeups of the proboscis.

Here's another butterfly, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, enjoying the pollen on my lilies.

I wrote a previous post about Creatures around my home.

It's amazing the amount of biodiversity I find on my small piece of property.

No matter where I go, whether far afield or right in my yard, nature never fails to disappoint. I always am presented with something new and wondrous. And lately I've been exploring my little piece of property more and more to find out who, too, lives here. It's been quite a discovery.

Walk out your door, take a look around and see what you find. I am sure you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Granddaddy of the Northwest Tree Faces

In my last blog entry Faces on Northwest Trees, I wrote about faces I had seen on trees while hiking at Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park.

I inadvertently left out the Granddaddy of them all!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Faces on Northwest Trees

Can you see faces on these trees?

While hiking around Mt. Rainier and the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park in Washington State, I was struck by the number of faces I saw as I looked into the forest. The phenomenon is called pareidolia where the mind takes random data and sees a pattern.

See if you can see what I did. I'll give you a hint for each image (or for greater challenge don't read the hint), then below each image, I'll provide a closeup shot and circle on the tree where I saw a face.

Have fun and let me know how you do.

From Mt. Rainier

Image #1
Hint: Look at the center of the image.

Look at how you can clearly see the eyes, nose, mouth and eyebrows. Especially the eyes. Uncanny, isn't it?

Image #2
Hint: Look at the center of the image about one-third up from the bottom. The face is small so look closely.

I see an elongated face with a long and big nose. Do you?

From Olympic National Park, Hoh Rain Forest

Image #3
Hint: Look at the very top of the dead tree at image center. (Dead trees are also called "Snags.")

Can you believe it?! Do you see the face? He or she is looking up with eyes closed seemingly enjoying the sun on his/her face. I can even see horns like that of a Minotaur. Wow.

Image #4
Hint: Look at the center snag about one-fourth down from the top.

See the eyes looking to the left? I also see a bit of a frown or a tiredness on this face.

Then there was this guy who kept hanging around. Look at all that hair draped over his eyes with his nose sticking out.

Hint: Nearly middle of the image.

Can't see him? Scroll down.

What a dude!

The beauty of these ancient forests is breathtaking and worth preserving. I could feel the wisdom standing among these old trees. They are a true treasure of the Earth.

With a tad of wishful thinking, I couldn't help but muse that perhaps these faces are indeed the watchers of the forest.

Could they all be the Lorax? 

"Hey, hey! I-I'm the Lorax! Guardian of the forest." 
~Dr. Seuss