Emerging again in 2022 – part 1

1 leaf P9146097© Maria de Bruyn res

Not too long ago, a friend asked me whether I’d stopped writing my blog, a question that truly startled me. Over the past months, much of my time has been spent addressing new as well as ongoing problems and challenges, but I also kept taking nature walks and photographing wildlife and natural phenomena.

I stored photos and notes in folders for potential blog topics, so in my mind I was still engaged in the writing process, but then I realized that my last blog was published in mid-October 2021, 3 months ago! So, I’ve now made a conscious effort to set aside some time to again share some photos and observations of what I’ve been seeing the past half-year or so.

I’ll re-start my blogging with photos in the plant (part 1) and bird (part 2) families but without a specific focus. They are simply visuals that appealed to me, like the suspended leaf above. I hope you enjoy seeing them, too.

2 rose PC018346 © Maria de Bruyn res

At the end of autumn/start of winter 2021, I still had some lovely flowers blooming in my garden. A rose that hadn’t had any buds all spring and summer suddenly sent out a lovely bloom!

The Rose of Sharon had bloomed all season.

3 Rose of Sharon P8070836© Maria de Bruyn res

4 Rose of Sharon P8070832© Maria de Bruyn res

The hot lips sage and lantana emerged in mid-summer and then lasted well into winter.

5a hot lips sage P9146178 © Maria de Bruyn res

5 lantana P8252416 Maria de Bruyn res

In our area, people often take autumn trips to the Appalachian Mountains as the fall colors tend to be really wonderful then. This year, many people remarked on how gorgeous the trees were in our area and some people decided to just admire the beautiful trees nearby.

8 autumn trees IMG_1972 (Maria de Bruyn) res

6 Jordan Lake PB063613 © Maria de Bruyn res

7 Jordan Lake PB063637 © Maria de Bruyn res

A tree in the Cane Creek Reservoir lake looked lovely against the fall background and the far shore of the lake made for a beautiful scene, too.

10 Cane Creek IMG_0014 © Maria de Bruyn res

9 Cane Creek IMG_0006 © Maria de Bruyn res

My maple tree delighted me with its bright colors but the leaves didn’t last too long.

11 maple PB169564 © Maria de Bruyn res

When the vegetation took on winter browns and beige hues, it still was beautiful to see.

12 leaves IMG_1908 © Maria de Bruyn res

13 seedsPC173288 © Maria de Bruyn res

And there were pockets of green left here and there, making for nice abstracts

14 stems P8028400 © Maria de Bruyn res

or settings for insects, like spiders.

15 spider P8251982 Maria de Bruyn res

16 web P8081563 © Maria de Bruyn

And the rains left behind droplets that shimmered and delighted before dissolving with late-year sunshine.

17 water droplet PA063700© Maria de Bruyn

May your coming year will just keep getting better and better as it goes along! (Next up, some birds that have been delightful the past weeks.)

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Autumn amblings — seeing insects, birds, a snake and two surprises

It’s been challenging lately to know what to expect as far as weather goes in our area. Following tropical storms Florence and Michael, we’ve had several more episodes of drenching downpours that caused local flooding and closed off some natural areas. The temperatures have gone down to freezing or below in the morning and then have risen to 50-60s F (10-16C); this has sometimes led to steam rising from fence posts and some flowers still blooming which usually would have died by now. This morning, I skipped my walk as the temperature was below freezing with wind, so I re-lived some visits this past month to the Brumley Nature Preserve North. If you, too, are inside sheltering from the weather, perhaps you’ll have the time to amble photographically through this long Brumley walk with me.

Some parts of the reserve are still fairly green, which creates a lovely ambience for leisurely strolling and nature observations. In other cases, we can see the arrival of late autumn and approaching winter. This picturesque tree, one of three near a pond that harbor various bird species, was still very green in late September; now these forest denizens are showing off their gnarly “bare bones”.

     

So some early mornings are quite nippy and others a bit milder, with dried plants glistening with spider webs and dew drops that sparkle in the sun.

 

Some of the insects emerge with the sun to bask in the golden light, like this seed bug (Orsellinae, left), whose coloring camouflages it well against the seed heads, short-horned grasshopper, American bird grasshopper (Schistocerca americana) and different color variations of Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) who were hanging out on the dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium).

 

   

Various birds have been enjoying the winter seeds and especially the winter berries, like the red multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and beige poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).    

The Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are quite fond of berries.

They travel back and forth between fruit-laden trees and dried grass seedheads, occasionally stopping on paths to find worms and insects.

The cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) also like to gorge on berries, often sharing trees with American robins who enjoy the same meal. Sometimes snagging a berry involves some acrobatic moves.

  

The waxwings are adept at these moves and I only occasionally saw one drop a fruit. They are such elegant birds with their black masks and subtle touches of red on the wings and yellow on the tail feathers.

 

One of my favorite bird species, the ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula), are also fond of berries. They like suet in gardens but no suet feeders are found in the reserve.
Some of the larger birds, like the Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) and yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius), also look for berries and insects as they mostly stay high up in the trees.

 

Purple finches (Haemorhous purpureus) are another species that enjoy late autumn fruit.

  

In early November, I had my first of two delightful surprises at Brumley. It was early morning and as I glanced up at some very tall trees, I spotted movement among the earth-toned leaves. My lens revealed a yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) – and when I entered it into my bird list for the day, eBird asked me to justify having seen it as it was a rarity this late in the year.

Two other birds that are not surprises but also a joy to see are the hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) and colorful Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).

  

It’s always worthwhile to look all around when you walk, not only up at trees if you are a birder or at eye level if you like mammals. I take a lot of bird photos, because I love birds and because they are often easier to see than other wildlife species. But I consider myself more a “wildlifer” than a “birder” since I really am interested in all kinds of animals. That now stands me in good stead during the high-precipitation events we’ve been having. The ponds are filled to capacity and then some, with water flowing over the banks and onto paths.

In some cases, the high humidity has been great for plants; bryophytes are shooting up sporophytes which carry their reproductive spores. As there are over 600 mosses, liverworts and hornworts in North Carolina, I didn’t get the scientific ID for this species.

The rains created new temporary water-filled gullies, where chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina) and white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) have been enjoying baths along with other birds.

 

  

This earthworm (Lumbricina) obviously decided it had to get out of the water-logged earth for a while and I was glad not to have squashed it as I walked along. Its slow progress along the path may not have aided it, though, because there were plenty of robins and other worm-eaters in the vicinity.

 

A large Northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) was sunning next to a path after the rains as well.

   

So my last visit to Brumley, when I was hoping to capture a golden-crowned kinglet digitally, did not fulfill that hope but ended by giving me a great surprise – my first sighting of a beaver (Castor canadensis) at this reserve. A colleague had seen one there, I’d noted the gnawed tree near the pond, and I had figured out where the lodge was, but I had not yet seen the mammal in the early mornings. Shortly before reaching the pond, I’d stopped to chat with dog owners and mentioned that a beaver was there but I hadn’t seen it yet. Ten minutes later – at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, there s/he was!

It was so surprising to see the aquatic mammal cruising the pond, swimming in large and small circles. As it created small waves and wakes with its head, I pondered why this largely (but not solely!) crepuscular animal was out in the open with people walking by. S/he must have just really wanted to have a good long swim because the animal was out and about for a few hours.

 

Three times, the beaver slapped its tail and dove under with a huge splash when people with dogs strolled by – three times, I missed getting that shot but I did manage to get a photo when the beaver took a time out at the entrance to the lodge.

That was an exciting wildlife spotting – not only did I get to see an animal I rarely see but it was also exhibiting a behavior that I witnessed for the first time. (Previously, I’d seen them harvesting and transporting food to the lodge, chewing bark and felling trees.) As I often go to Brumley in the mornings, being there in the afternoon had another advantage as well – I got to witness a spectacular autumn sunset with the sky almost seeming like a kaleidoscope as the clouds and sun’s rays created rapidly changing skies. I’m looking forward already to my next foray to this reserve!