Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Best Of…

December 31st, 2014. I was browsing some posts a few days ago and realized how many wonderful things I’d seen this year and wanted to share again. 


Birdwatching. I did a lot of that this year. I joined the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Audubon Project Feederwatch and spent a lot of time watching the birds around our feeders. Identified 20 different species that came to the feeder area… and they didn’t include the Brown Thrashers, Eastern Bluebirds, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Mockingbirds that stay out in the field. 

Several White-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) would make one or two trips daily to feed on the ground below the feeders. 


We installed a couple of log feeders that I’d seen (on a webcam) attracting Pileated woodpeckers successfully. Within 24 hours, we had our first Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). It took a while before the first Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) found the feeder but, once they did, they came through several times each day.

This possum (Didelphis virginiana) came through several times. We’d seen them an night but this was the first time one came through in daylight. 

One of my favorite photographs of the year; a feast of colors. On the log feeder (from top to bottom) Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), male Downy Woodpecker, Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus), Chipping Sparrow. On the branch, male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and a Chipping Sparrow.


A Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus). Not a colorful bird but it looks so wide-eyed and innocent. Looks. I watched it steal food that a Yellow-rumped Warbler had fetched from the log feeder and deposit on a branch to eat leisurely. The only thing I can say in its defence is that it had a lot of trouble getting food from the log feeder.

A Pine Warbler. This bird only came to the feeder for a few weeks but it was thrilling to see it. 


We made a trip over to Oconee Bells State Park in South Carolina specifically to look for two wildflowers: Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia) and Pygmy Pipes (Monotropsis odorata). It was late in the season but we did find… 

some nice Oconee Bells flowers. 

Pygmy Pipes proved more elusive. They announce their presence with an intense fragrance. We smelled them once but couldn’t find them search as we might. We spoke with some fellow hikers who placed a flag on the trail to point us to a patch. It still took some effort to find them but we did. 

On a hike to nearby Station Cove Falls, I spotted this Luna Moth (Actias luna) ‘drying out’ before going in search of a mate. I’ve seen several Luna moths but it’s always a treat to see another one.

On the way home, we detoured and drove up to the headwaters of the Tallulah River. We found some embankments ‘covered’ with Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in bloom; others thick with Rue Anemones. I have to confess that I had never seen Bloodroot in bloom in the wild; I’d only seen plants with seedpods later in the season. Sweet Little Betsy trilliums – purple and green variants – were also thick in some areas. 


And then came May. I broke my arm when I tried to climb an embankment. I launched myself up the embankment – or that was my intention. I did go up, but then backwards and free fell about six feet to the road below. I landed on my right shoulder. Not good. I did avoid surgery but spent a couple of weeks in a hanging cast (a tool of the devil) and then six weeks in a sling. 
At that point my orthopedist sent me to physiotherapy for a month to regain the range of motion of the shoulder and recommended that I start to ‘do the things I liked to do’ that didn’t involved strength. ‘Taking photos’ was good.
But that’s when I learned in no uncertain terms that cameras are right-handed. I’m left-handed but taking photos with a right-handed camera is quite challenging. I did try holding the camera upside-down so that I could see through the viewfinder but trying to focus and take a photo was more than it was worth. So… I ‘retired’ from photography until mid-July when the fracture had healed sufficiently that I could start regaining strength in the arm again. 

In July, we made one of our pilgrimages to the Piedmont Wildlife Management
Area where… 

we found one of my favorite wildflowers, Rosepink (Sabatia angularis), in bloom. At the same location, 

I saw my first Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis). 

Back home, we were treated to a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) that browsed her way across the area in front of the house early in the morning. She browsed on a few things that we would have preferred she hadn’t but… 


I noticed an unusual gall on a blackberry near the mailbox. A little bit of sleuthing determined that it was a blackberry knot gall produced by a small wasp. 

Another treat was regular visits by a Raccoon (Procyon lotor) mum and her kits. They started coming by the feeders in the late afternoon and, then, earlier in the day. We’ve seen the kits becoming more independent with time, often coming by themselves. Mum was adept at getting onto the platform feeder and helping herself to seed and suet cakes. So now I bring the suet cakes and the log feeders in at night. 


A late-season visit to Boggs Creek Recreation Area found a Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) feeding on ironweed flowers. These fritillaries are impressive; about two to three times the size of the Variagated or Gulf fritillaries we see locally.


I resumed riding a recumbent trike which doesn’t require arm strength and have spent many hours exploring road in the eastern part of Walton County as well as some road in Oconee and Barrow counties. Being so close to the ground allows me to see a lot more and even take photographs without having to get off the trike. Yes, I’m spoiled. Among the treasures I found were several mushrooms including Old Man Of The Woods and…

the delicate Fragile Dapperling (Leucocoprinus fragilissimus).

I found a couple of wildflowers I hadn’t seen before – Rough Mexican Clover/Florida Pusley (Richardia scabra) and… 

Tievine (Ipomoea cordatotriloba). Morning glories are fairly common here but this species is really a coastal plain native and unusual here. 

We had seen a male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) at the feeders during their migration north in Spring. We were treated to the sight of two juvenile grosbeaks as they migrated south for the Winter. They stayed around for a couple of days and then were gone. 

I found a partial ‘fairy ring’ of the American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria var. guessowii) and followed them daily for a week or more. 


We occasionally see Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies out in the woods but rarely at home. We were treated to approximately half a dozen feeding on Thorny-olive (Elaeagnus pungens) as they migrated south. 

I’m one of the many people who stop and move turtles off the roadway into the grassy verges to the side of the pavement. The only turtle I saw on the road this year was this beautiful Eastern Box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) that was sunning on the roadway. Needless to say I moved it off the pavement. 

Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) are common around here and we hear the youngsters calling as they learn to fly. Rarely, however, are we treated to close-up views of these birds. At least one decided it would try its luck at our bird feeders. I don’t think it had much luck but we were lucky enough to get some photos when it stopped by. A rare treat.


It’s bird-watching time again. 

This year, the Purple Finches (Carpodacus purpureus) not only changed their name (formerly Haemorhous purpureus) but showed up at the feeders early this year and, it appears, in larger numbers. 

In spite of having to sit out a couple of months, all in all it’s been a very good year. Looking forward to another great year in 2015.

No comments: