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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cattle In Afternoon Sun

December 26th, 2014 
Cattle In Afternoon Sun 
Walton County, Georgia

Riding by my favorite field. I had accidentally knocked one of the controls on my camera and effectively lowered the light level. I liked the effect – somewhat reminiscent of an old sepia-toned black-and-white photograph.

Related post:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Northern Cardinals ‘Return’

December 20th, 2014

Northern Cardinals ‘Return’

Walton County, Georgia

Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) had come to the feeders continuously throughout the year. They don’t migrate so it was surprising and a little distracting to note that they ‘disappeared’ in mid- to late October. None came to the feeder until a few days ago and, so far, I’ve seen three males and one female. Thus, thankfully, order has been restored to the universe.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Play Of Light

December 18th, 2014
Play Of Light
Walton County, Georgia

The sun backlights the Dog Fennel plants in this field and brings them to life. I look forward to seeing this field every day I ride along this road.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Eating On The Run: Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

December 13th, 2014. Some birds – Purple Finches and American Goldfinches – will sit at the feeders to eat. By contrast, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees will swoop in, alight, grab a sunflower seed, and fly up to a branch nearby to crack the seed open. They repeat this over and over again. Rarely does one sit at the feeder to eat.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reluctant Visitors: Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata)

December 13th, 2014. The Blue Jays in our area are quite shy. They live in the woods near the road and we rarely see them near the house. Last Winter, house, several came furtively to the feeder area. 

They would land in branches above and scope out the area. 

At first, they scavenged kernels that fell from a corn ear feeder we keep for the squirrels and stayed at a distance. 

They became a little bolder with time and we were treated to some close views as they ate the loose corn kernels closer to the house.

They didn’t come in until January so I was a little surprised to see one furtively scavenging kernels within a day of putting out the first ear of corn last week. Maybe we’ll see more of them this Winter.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Squirrel At Play...

December 8th, 2014 
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) 
Walton County, Georgia

The young squirrels spend quite a bit of time playing – chasing each other up and down tree trunks and along branches. This one paused for a couple of minutes to take stock of things.

Related post:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

December 8th, 2014
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
Walton County, Georgia

Chipping Sparrows are returning to the feeders after spending the summer out in the field. We’ll have up to three dozen or so in the middle of Winter.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Eastern Baccharis (Baccharis halimifolia)

December 1st, 2014. Eastern Baccharis  (Baccharis halimifolia) – also known as Silverling, Groundsel Tree, Consumption Weed, Sea Myrtle -  is one of the few shrubs that blooms in the Fall. Plants are dioecious; the male and female flowers are on different plants so it is the female plants that we notice. 

This shrub was growing by a fence. Most of the plants I see are at the edge of woods where it’s not possible to see their shape clearly. 

The flowers. In their prime, the blooms look like tassels. They spread as they go to seed. In individual seed is visible in the left side of the second photograph. 

An enlargement of the seed 

Flowers that have gone to seed.

Friday, December 5, 2014

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

White-throated Sparrows were regular visitors to the bird-feeder area last Winter. I didn’t notice them until towards the end of January and they stayed around until the middle of April. They are difficult to photograph because they are constantly on the move. 

They are named for the white throat patch. Sometimes it is difficult to see the patch on the neck and they can be identified by the black and white stripes on the head, with an often-prominent yellow patch at the front end of the white patch. They are also larger than most sparrows that winter in our area.
Often three or four birds would come hopping across the ground out of the woods and feed in the area near the bird feeders where they poke around in the leaf litter for seed, insects, and berries. They don’t eat from the feeders themselves but may east seed that has fallen from a feeder. One of the photos below shows a bird with what appears to be a sorghum seed in its beak. They spent most of the time on the ground. I saw one perched in a tree on only one occasion. 

This year, I spotted my first White-throated Sparrow in mid-November. So they already here for the Winter but able to get most of their food in the woods except when it’s been very cold.