Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nature in the Neighborhood - Can you say "yellow," "bees," "bug guide?"

June seems to be a great month for big yellow flowers in my neighborhood.  The sunflowers remind me of France and the cultivated rudbeckia remind me of roadside Black-eyed Susans.  I took the following photos on morning walks and it seems I was not the only fan for the big Sunflower and the Rudbeckia!  The bees also made good use of what these plants have to offer.

Sunflower -- June 17, 2011
Sunflower close-up with Sweat Bee -- A Lowcountry bee species -- June 17, 2011

Possible Mining Bee on Rudbeckia -- June 17, 2011

Possible Mining Bee on Rudbeckia -- June 17, 2011

And how do I know the names of these bees?  Well, I have three sources -- two go-to "bug men" and a book that they wrote with another "bug man."  These bug men do not kill the critters.  They celebrate them!  Merle Shephard is professor emeritus of entomology at Clemson University's Coastal Research and Education Center here in Charleston.  Keith McCullough is a naturalist with Charleston County Parks and Recreation.  I know both men from bird walks at Caw Caw Nature & History Interpretive Center and through their involvement in activities with our Charleston Natural History Society -- Charleston Audubon Society.  When you go on a bird walk at Caw Caw with these two, you are also going on a bug walk!  It is quite informative and fascinating.  Their passion for these critters is infectious, as well!  And I can promise you, you will not miss a bug!  You will certainly see some impressive bug behaviors also.  I will never forget how quickly the praying mantis devoured the moth -- it was gone in seconds.  And I would never have seen this if Merle had not been there to point it out!

  These two men co-authored with Edward Farnworth, another professor of entomology at Clemson University's Coastal Research and Education Center, an insect pocket guide, Common Insects & Spiders of the South Carolina Lowcountry, published by Lowcountry Biodiversity Foundation.  This book has now become our "go-to" book when we come home from our treks in the field and need to ID an insect that we have photographed.  You can read reviews of the book on-line, if you google it, or on the Lowcountry Biodiverstiy Foundation site.  You do not need to take just my word for it, Rudy Manke is also a fan of this guide!  This organization is a non-profit whose mission is "to promote educational, scientific and economic activities that support the awareness, value and conservation of the Lowcountry's rich biological and ecological resources."  This book is a first in a series which they are publishing to help us all understand better the nature surrounding us here.  Proceeds from this book will help to fund the publication of subsequent issues in the series.  I wonder what they will do next!  The book is available in several local bookstores including the Caw Caw Visitor Center.  Or, you can send $18 to the Lowcountry Biodiversity Foundation.  The address can be found by clicking on the link above.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer memories: Wildlife at home

So here we are now in September and it is a second surprisingly cool day. I am delighted with these cooler temperatures.  Since it is also a cloudy day, it is a good day to stay inside, with the camera safely tucked away, to edit the photos from our sizzling hot summer.  And it seems I have a collection of various shots of wildlife at home to share, in addition to those previously posted: History of a Red-tailed Hawk Family -- Part 1 and Part 2  and  Wildlife at home -- 30 minutes of clickity-click

In chronological order ...

On the evening of June 25, Carl and I spotted for the first time a trio of Banded Brothers climbing in the oaks across the creek.  We grabbed our cameras to photograph the playful group.  Our Silly Boy Siamese, Jalabert, also fascinated by these masked bandits, followed us out on the deck.

Playful brothers -- June 25, 2011
Playful brothers -- June 25, 2011

"Humans and cat spotted!  Take cover!" -- June 25, 2011
Jalabert:  "Can we keep them?  Go get them, Mom.  They look like great playmates!"  -- June 25, 2011

On June 28, 2011, I was able to get this nice shot of a Great-Crested Flycatcher -- a regular in our yard in the summertime.

Great-crested Flycatcher -- June 28, 2011

I do not always take my camera with me when I go to my other home -- the Johnson family home on  James Island -- where I grew up -- when I go to swim with my Mom or friends in Schooner Creek on hot, still summer mornings.  But this time, on July 1, 2011, I did take the camera.  And I am glad that I did since this Green Heron was such a poser and the Clapper Rail, though less cooperative, also wanted to make his presence known.

Green Heron -- July 1, 2011
Green Heron -- July 1, 2011
Green Heron -- July 1, 2011

Green Heron -- July 1, 2011
And the wanna-be beautiful Clapper Rail -- July 1, 2011

One of our biggest challenges, due to our limited camera gear and the very dart-y birds, is photographing hummingbirds well.  We have seen the fabulous, frozen-in-air hummingbird photos by the professionals and we have watched programs and read articles about how it is done.  We simply do not yet have the equipment required (multiple flashes) to produce those shots.  And yet, we are undeterred in our attempts to capture decent hummingbird pictures.  We keep on trying.  My personal goal, now that there is more competition for the feeders, is to capture 2 birds in one shot.  But our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not care about my goal.  They just want to protect their turf/perch/feeding tube from any interlopers!

Best photo from August 1, 2011 ....

Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- August 1, 2011

Best photos from September 5, 2011....

Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- September 5, 2011

Ruby-throated Humming bird:  Aiming.... -- September 5, 2011

Ruby-throated Hummingbird:  Aiming.....   -- September 5, 2011

Ruby-throated Hummingbird:  In!  -- September 5, 2011

And finally, this perky little juvenile Northern Cardinal ... and we do have a slew of Northern Cardinals in our yard!

Juvenile Northern Cardinal -- September 5, 2011
The very welcome cooler temperatures are signaling me that I need to work hard to finish editing and to post  my excursion photos from July and August.  As always, I am several sets behind, because even during those sizzling hot days, it was hard to resist being outside with a camera and I accumulated many shots!  So there will be more summer shots to come from other locales!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Visit to SC Audubon's Beidler Forest in Late June

It was late June and I was ready for another visit to SC Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest.  You may recall my first post (written in July) on this favorite birding destination in which I mentioned that Spring is my favorite time to visit the Swamp.  And if you have not read the earlier post and you are unfamiliar with Beidler Forest, you may want to peruse it as an intro to how the place inspires me.  Of course, you should most definitely check out the link to their site for more details on the forest.

I knew that I would likely have a hard time locating the golden-boy Prothonotary Warblers and their families at this time because most nesting had long been completed and the adult birds generally move their fledglings from the low-lying swamp to the higher forested areas away from the boardwalk area by this time of the summer.  True enough, I did not see any Prothonotaries although I did hear a couple of them singing on occasion.  The forest certainly was not quiet however.  Late June is a time in which many species' goofy and curious youngsters are out and about, exploring and learning about life.  So the young Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Northern Parulas, and Carolina Wrens were chirping, chattering, &  flitting about in the canopy as I headed down the boardwalk.  It is easy to phish and see these younger birds as they are more curious and bolder (read "goofy") than their parents.  This does not mean that they are easy to photograph; they are still wigglers!  

A fluffy little Northern Parula -- June 28, 2011

As I left the visitor's center, my encounter with wildlife was immediate -- a White-tailed deer and her very young fawn were feeding within thirty feet off the boardwalk!  I attempted to photograph them through the foliage as best I could not knowing that I would be treated to fabulously clear views of the pair 40 minutes later!  (So be patient, and no skipping ahead, you will see photos of them shortly.)  But then I was distracted by quick movement and a bit of rustling at the foot of the boardwalk about 15 feet away.  Suddenly, I saw a family group of turkey hens and their young fledglings moving quickly and quietly away from me!  They were too quick for photos, alas!  There was also the distraction above by all of the young birds, too.  As I was trying to track some birds flying through the canopy, I caught a glimpse of this Barred Owl grooming himself and watching me.

Barred Owl -- June 28, 2011

 Suddenly, I spied a lovely iridescent pale Luna Moth on the board walk in it's last mortal moments.  Even so, it clung nicely to a tree so that I could get some more natural looking photos.  This was my second close encounter with this beautiful creature.  My first encounter, on a  Caw Caw birding trip, was even more momentary when a very large one flew just past my shoulder and beyond our group.  So this time, here at Beidler, I was able to study it closely.  The "moons" (to me they resemble "eyes") on its wings remind me of oriental art and the pale green wings with pinkish-lavender edges are the same shades as the Jordanian rug hanging on my living room wall!  I should perhaps print one of these photos for the living room! 

Luna Moth -- June 28, 2011

Luna Moth closeup -- June 28, 2011

After spending some time photographing this lovely bug, I decided to move on or this visit would indeed take me the entire day as I had not yet reached the first intersection of the boardwalk where the loop begins.  Often, this is an area that we trot through expeditiously in order to begin the trek around the loop as that is the swamp-iest area.  But this day in late June, there was so much going on in this higher area that I was reminded that all areas might reveal some treasures if you slow down to take the time to look.  Ah, Beidler offers some important life lessons!  Just as I folded  up the tripod to continue my trek, I spotted the mother White-tailed deer and her fawn moving through the woods directly towards the boardwalk and ME!  I froze hoping she would feel comfortable enough to come closer.  She did!  You would have thought she was tame!  She and her baby moved just ahead of me and parallelled the boardwalk at a distance of 12 to 20 feet.  I began to speak softly to them and followed them (leaving behind my tripod -- people waving around big sticks can be scary) and they were not bothered at all by my company.  I was awe-struck to be able to watch these tender moments between mother and child.

White-tailed fawn -- June 28, 2011

White-tailed deer -- June 28, 2011
White-tailed family moment -- June 28, 2011

 The little fawn stuck very close to his mother's side.  What I did not realize at the moment that I took the above picture though, is that the mother was telling her baby goodbye.  So I was momentarily surprised and concerned when they began to separate and move in opposite directions.  Then I understood when the baby moved to a little hollow at the the base of a tree and lay down.  This was the time of day that Baby sleeps and Mom moves off to feed. 

The fawn moves towards his hollow -- June 28, 2011

The fawn in his hollow -- June 28, 2011
Well this Baby needed his rest and he seemed a bit more uncertain without his Mama by his side, so I left him to finally begin the loop around the boardwalk.

The swamp was very dry completely without standing water until I got out to Goodson Lake.  But again, the young birds were very busy exploring and enjoying life as youngsters do.  The next set of kids that I came across were a group of 3 Pileated Woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker -- June 28, 2011
Pileated Woodpecker -- June 28, 2011

Also, this Carolina Wren was not very happy about my passage down the boardwalk.  I imagine she may have had a newly fledged baby closeby.

Carolina Wren -- June 28, 2011


I had hoped to see some snakes, but such was not the case this time.  However, I was able to photograph this most cooperative Southeastern Five-lined Skink.

Southeastern Five-lined Skink -- June 28, 2011

Southeastern Five-lined Skink

The day was warming, and in late June in a South Carolina Lowcountry swamp, warming is not an insignificant event.  Wildlife and people both know that it is time to seek respite from the heat, save energy and rest.  The critters were calming and I was sweating, so I headed back towards the visitor's center.  But before that, I checked on the young fawn dozing in his hollow one more time.

White-tailed Fawn dozing -- June 28, 2011

Overall, I was immensely pleased with my visit once again to the SC Audubon Francis Beidler Forest.  Writing this blog today and reminiscing over those special moments shared with the deer family and the young, goofy birds, I am beginning to feel that "magic" pull from the Swamp.  So do not be surprised if you soon read another blog post about an early Fall visit to this special place! 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Early Morning Walks in James Island County Park

During the summer months, my preferred mode of exercise is an early morning walk.  When I tired of walks around the neighborhood, I would drive the short distance from the house to the local park, James Island County Park, one of several wonderful parks in our Charleston County Park System.  Our local park system is one of the best I have ever encountered!  And James Island County Park is a microcosm of all them -- there really is something for everyone:  dog park, water park, picnic areas, picnic shelters for large groups, natural areas, fishing dock, and multiple organized activities and events!  My favorite are the natural areas.  The paved paths through the woods and along the perimeter of this park provide me with the same kind of wooded and marsh view lowcountry, serene vistas that I enjoyed exploring around my neighborhood (on a less developed James Island!) as a child.  The paved paths help to limit the bug access  -- fewer ticks and mosquitoes!  I will admit though that these same vistas and the wildlife that inhabit them also slow what is supposed to be vigorous walk -- especially when I go with binocular and camera!  But how do you leave the camera at home when you know that the painted buntings will be singing!?

So here are a few shots from a couple of my June walks in James Island County Park:

Morning reflections at the Fishing Dock -- June 12, 2011

Morning reflections from fishing dock (2) -- June 12, 2011

A lost hen has wandered over from a neighbor's yard -- June 12, 2011

A Fish Crow -- June 12, 2011

Barn Swallow that nests every season under the Fishing Dock -- June 12, 2011
Female Red-winged Blackbird -- I love how a bird can shake it's entire body but hold it's head perfectly still!

Red-winged Blackbird n-- June 12, 2011

Painted Bunting -- June 12, 2011
Morning light through the Spanish Moss -- June 12, 2011
Northern Parula fledgling -- June 12, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker -- June 12, 2011
Pileated Woodpecker -- June 12, 2011

Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- June 12, 2011

Eastern Kingbird -- June 12, 2011

Laughing Gulls -- June 12, 2011

Clapper Rail -- June 20, 2011
Barn Swallow -- June 20, 2011

Barn Swallow -- June 20, 2011

Laughing Gull -- June 20, 2011
Barn Swallow -- June 20, 2011

Painted Bunting -- June 20, 2011
Painted Bunting (2nd year male) -- June 20, 2011

Purple Martin family -- June 20, 2011