Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #22

I know that summer is, for all intents and purposes, here.  I know this for several reasons besides the heat.  The stores are starting to put out the Memorial Day/4th of July d├ęcor.  The Son of Never Stops Eating is bouncing off the walls with excitement about "No school!". I'm starting to see graduation photos on Facebook. We're in the midst of "the lasts" with the Teenager; the last band concert is tomorrow night. Before I know it, I'll be another proud Mom posting the cap and gown photo on Facebook.  Her childhood went by way too fast, like everyone told me it would.

When I walk down the trail these days, I have a similar feeling- it seemed like summer was so long in coming, and now that it's here, the winter months seem so far away.  Was it ever really so cold out on the trails that my feet felt frozen solid despite wearing two pairs of socks?

The marsh itself is in full summer bloom; the dragonflies are buzzing around consuming insects and each other (they are ethereal and beautiful, but they are also cannibalistic, vicious little creatures).  The snakes are coming out to bask in the morning; I'm checking all the usual snake spots looking to see who's out enjoying the sun.  Except for the occasional mallard or American coot, the waterfowl seem to be gone, although I did manage to sneak up on one blue-winged teal pair this week and get one photo. They were surrounded by egrets, both great and snowy, and perhaps a juvenile little blue heron or two.  When the egrets sensed my approach they took off en masse but the teals seemed content to stick it out for a few minutes before they decided that they, too, should relocate somewhere untainted by human presence.

Flowers are blooming, too; in the past two weeks the wildflowers have started really showing up, along with the butterflies perching on the blooms.  I love them all but the monarch butterflies are among my favorites.

I'm always astonished at the myriad varieties of dragonflies I can see on my hikes.  This time of year, the common whitetails and Eastern pondhawks are everywhere; the green, black and white of the Eastern pondhawk standing out and blending in with the green vegetation at the same time.  I also see Halloween pennants, with their orange and black markings; the red saddlebags dragonfly- all red; the black saddlebags dragonfly- all black; the jade clubtail- green with brownish-red at the end of its abdomen.  Of course, the males don't always have the same appearance as the female of the species, and sometimes the immature dragonflies look different than the mature.  Like many things in life; learning to ID dragonflies is an ongoing effort.

Seen on the trail: Painted bunting, indigo bunting, black vultures, Northern cardinals, scissor-tailed flycatchers, great egret, little blue heron, great blue heron, snowy egret, dickcissel, monarch butterfly, hackberry emperor butterfly, question mark butterfly, Gulf fritillary, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Delaware skipper butterfly, funereal duskywing butterfly, dragonflies including jade clubtail, Regal darner, variegated meadowhawk, red saddlebags, black saddlebags, Halloween Pennant, snakes, including broad-banded water snake, cottonmouth, plain-bellied watersnake, red-eared sliders, and skinks.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #21

This is actually Week 21 and 22, but to stay consistent, I'm calling it Week #21.  Just a few weeks ago, we were still having cold spells and now it's getting hot. Not middle of summer hot, not yet, but on Saturday I drained an entire 32 oz. Nalgene bottle while on the trails, then had to stop at my favorite gas station for a huge iced tea on the way home.   My nature nerd tan is clearly visible- tan forearms and raccoon eyes from the sunglasses- and today, burned earlobes. I didn't realize they were burned until I made some Mother's Day phone calls, and it was ouch! ouch! ouch!

The painted buntings and indigo buntings have made their presence known on a portion of the trail; my second male painted bunting sighting of the season occurred when one jumped out from some ground vegetation right in front of me and then proceeded to sit in some branches while I tried, mostly in vain, to get an award winning painted bunting photo.  In the end, it was good enough for ID.  About five minutes later, an indigo bunting did the same thing to me.  It was a good birding day.

Earlier this week I accompanied my son's class on a field trip out to the trails, and we saw three snakes- a cottonmouth, a broad-banded water snake, and a western ribbon snake.  Today, the nature gods decided to give me a special Mother's day gift and I saw five snakes- two plain-bellied water snakes and three diamondback water snakes.  I'm seeing frogs- mostly the adorable little green tree frogs- and hearing the occasional American bullfrog.

The dragonflies are out in ever increasing variety.  I'm starting to see more of the jade clubtails, plenty of the plains clubtails and the ever present common whitetails and eastern pondhawks- but this week I saw three Cyrano darners.  The first one I saw I couldn't tell what it was, and I balanced precariously on the edge of the boardwalk attempting to get a clear enough photo for an ID.  I'm still not seeing the same amount of butterflies as I have in the past;  I'm hoping that their numbers pick up.  Every time I walk, I do see a few viceroy butterflies; always in the same spot, so maybe I'm seeing the same butterflies every day.

At the blind, a red-bellied woodpecker has laid claim to a tree, and he is there every day I'm there, pecking away and making his presence known.  He climbs in and out of a hole in the tree, perches on top of the tree, and then maneuvers all around the tree. Sometimes he flies off, only to return.  Periodically there is another woodpecker there as well; I can't tell if this other woodpecker is a male or female.

Seen on the trails: green tree frogs, southern leopard frogs, bullfrog (heard), skinks, fishing spiders, painted buntings, indigo buntings, dickcissel, little blue herons, kingfisher, great blue heron, great egret, mallards, American coot, Western kingbird, Northern cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, dragonflies (roseate skimmer, band-winged dragonlet, Eastern pondhawk, Cyrano darner, red saddlebags, black saddlebags, plains clubtails, jade clubtails, common whitetails), broad-banded water snakes, diamond back watersnakes, western rat snake, western ribbon snake, plain-bellied water snake.  Butterflies: viceroy, common buckeye, goatweed leafwing, Eastern comma, question mark, black swallowtail.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Graduation is now almost upon us.  We're in the midst of the "lasts"- the AP exams, the final band concert, the final full month of school.  The banquets and the award ceremonies are underway. Prom has come and gone. The cap and gown are stashed in the closet, ready for the Big Day. The graduation announcements have been sent out.  Festivities are being planned. Every day I am reminded that the Teenager is on a fast train towards adulthood and independence, and that train is speeding up every day. 

I like to think that I'm not a hovering mother; that I'm one of these laid back, whatever happens, I'm cool kind of parents, but I'm not, really.  Sometimes I really need to hover, to make sure that my baby girl is safe and everything is good.  It's hard for my brain to wrap its way around the idea that my hovering Mom days are coming to an end.  In a few months she'll be several hundred miles away.  It feels like she just came home for the first time, dressed in a Winnie-the-Pooh onesie and swaddled in a baby blankie with ducks on it. I don't want her to leave; it feels like she just got here. 

Yet I know it's time for her to go; it's time to fly out of the nest and see where the wind takes her. 

About a week ago, she passed her driving test and obtained a drivers license. A few days later she wanted to drive the car to Starbucks to study, so she asked the Dad of No for the use of his vehicle.  He handed over the keys, she got in the driver's seat, and we stood out in the alley behind our house to watch her take her inaugural solo drive. 

I'm going to follow her there, I told him, after she'd left. Just to make sure she's okay. 

No, you're not, he replied. 

You'll probably be relieved to know that I didn't.  However, the temptation was strong.  I had an overwhelming maternal urge to make sure everything went smoothly, that my baby girl arrived safely at her destination, that no crazy driver got in her way.  I also knew, however, that if she found out- and she would- she'd probably be mad.  The Dad of No was right; I did not need to follow her.  I went back in the house, put my car keys away, and started uploading observations into my iNaturalist account. I might have checked my phone a few times. Just in case. I admit, I was relieved when she arrived back home, safely, a few hours later.  

The Teenager has always had an independent streak.  When I sent her to sleepaway Girl Scout camp, one of the questions on the form was "What are some things we can do if your Girl Scout becomes homesick?". I didn't know how to answer the question.  She insisted up until the moment of departure that she wouldn't miss us, not one bit.  She would especially not miss her brother. She couldn't wait to get away from him.  I don't get homesick, she told me.  Sorry, mom.  I love you, but I don't miss you. 

Two days into camp the phone rang. It was the Girl Scout camp. 

I was sure that they were calling because she was sad, and she missed us.  The nice lady on the other end of the phone, however, had a different tale to tell. Apparently the Teenager had used up all her camp cash on slushy drinks and candy and was out of money and the camp wanted to know if I wanted to make an extra deposit into her account so that she could buy more "snacks". She wasn't homesick at all.  She was too busy drinking Slushees. 

At least, I told myself, while thinking about how fast the next three months are going to go, the Son of Never Stops Eating will be around for awhile.  The nest isn't completely empty yet.  This thought consoled me until the next day, when the Son of Never Stops Eating mentioned that he wanted to get a driver's license too, because he didn't want to ride the bus to school anymore.  He's sprouting his own wings. 

And so the adventures continue...I definitely will not be following the Teenager to college, but I will be hoping she texts me every now and then, just to check in- because I'm still Mom, and I will still worry.  

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #20

This past weekend was the annual iNaturalist City Nature Challenge, during which 64 cities from across the world competed in a friendly but fierce competition to find out which city could get the most observations and species observed in a four-day period.  Some people eagerly anticipate the Super Bowl, the World Series or March Madness; the Mom of No takes the City Nature Challenge seriously.  Fortunately, the weekend turned out to be sunny and warm: optimal conditions for getting outside with the camera, the hiking boots, and a large bottle of water and viewing some wildlife.

During the four day Nature Challenge, I logged over 16 miles walked and 81 observations with 57 species logged.  Not too bad, considering that I sometimes become absorbed into watching a bird even after I'd gotten photographic evidence of it and should have moved on (one of the goals being greatest number of observations, quantity is important),  or got sidetracked into looking for something that I heard might be in a certain place, and since I'm out here already, hey, why not go looking for it?  You never know what Nature will send your way- especially when the day is waning, the battery on the camera is almost dead, the water bottle is nearly empty, and the feet are weary.

It's clear on the trails that we are now well into spring; the butterflies and dragonflies are out and the summer birds are here. A day or so before the Nature Challenge started I'd heard a rumor that the painted buntings had arrived, and on Sunday, as I walked towards one of my favorite birding spots, a painted bunting flew out of the trees and landed on a rock right in front of me.  Yes! The bird never stood still long enough for me to get that perfect shot, but I had my first documented painted bunting observation for the season.

Sometimes you almost walk right by the critters and almost miss seeing them.  It happens to me often enough that I wonder what I'm missing even when I'm looking closely. On Friday night, I almost walked by a diamondback water snake that had wound itself up in some reeds.  Once I saw it, it was obvious- but I almost didn't see it.

Sometimes you go looking for things, and you don't find them.  On day two, I had seen a bittern fly up from some reeds, and the next day I returned to the area hoping for some luck.  I knew my chances were slim; they're secretive birds, skilled at hiding.  I could hear it (or at least I thought I heard it), but I couldn't see it.  Finally, it was time to go- I was almost out of water, and I had things to do elsewhere, but I left reluctantly.

I live in a suburban area near a very large city, and although I've been nature-nerding for a few years, I still find myself in awe over the number of species that I find in one relatively small area of undeveloped green space.  Every so often, I start thinking that maybe I've found almost everything that there is to find, and then the next week I find something new, or I see some behavior that I haven't seen before,  and I realize all over again that I will probably never see it all.  Then I ponder the thought that the diversity of what I am personally seeing is a miniscule part of what exists on Earth, and I realize all over again what an astonishing planet I find myself living on.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #19

The weather forecast for the weekend had not been promising, so I was happy when the torrential rain that we were expecting mostly passed us by, except for the rain that poured down at the same time The Teenager was scheduled to get her hair done for prom (fortunately, the rain tapered off before she was due to leave for the festivities).  As a result, I was able to get my hiking in which was a good thing because I needed it.

For multiple reasons, it's been a stressful and hectic few weeks, and with graduation right around the corner, it won't be any less busy for several more weeks. I'm glad that I have my nearby nature to help relieve the stress and to give me a chance to breathe.  The spring and summer wildlife continues to show up, despite some still cool days and nights, and every day brings something new to the trails.

I am still not seeing as many dragonflies as I  had expected, but every day I see more variety.  Same for butterflies; a viceroy has apparently staked out some territory near one bend of the trail, and I've seen it there a few times, fluttering around and resting on leaves. Or perhaps there's two viceroys who have claimed that section of real estate; I'm not able to tell if there's a difference, but I'm glad to see it/them.  The red admirals continue to be plentiful, and once or twice I've seen an Eastern tiger swallowtail fly by.

The ducks are mostly gone, except for some American coots, the ever-present mallards, and the skittish blue-winged teal. It's been a few weeks since I've seen a gadwall or a common goldeneye.  They've been supplanted by the birds of summer: little blue herons, the scissor-tailed flycatchers, the blue grosbeaks, and a rumor that the painted buntings will be here soon if they aren't already. Today, I saw a belted kingfisher (a year-round resident) with a fish in its beak.  Along the river, a spotted sandpiper has found a bit of shoreline that suits it; he (or she: I'm unsure of gender) has been there several times this week.

I'm starting to see more snakes, which makes me really happy; I know not everyone is a fan of the snake but I get a definite thrill every time I spot one curled up or stretched out on a log, sunning and minding its own business.  One evening last week I saw a broad-banded water snake swimming through the pond on its way to attend to some snake business.

I know I'm not the only one dealing with stress and a hectic schedule at the moment; a walk in the woods usually is not the solution to the problem, but even a brief time in nature, breathing deeply, walking, and really looking at nature can be a respite in a crazy world.

Seen this week: Broad-banded water snake, plain-bellied water snake, American bullfrog, sora (bird), Eastern pondhawk dragonfly, common whitetail dragonfly, plains clubtail dragonfly, blue dasher dragonfly, band-winged dragonlet, blue corporal dragonfly, several damselflies, armadillos rooting around after a rainstorm, ladder-backed woodpecker,  greater yellowlegs, spotted sandpiper, Eastern tiger swallowtail, viceroy, monarch, gray hairstreak, numerous sparrows, Swainson's hawk, both Eastern and Western kingbirds, scissor-tailed flycatchers galore, little blue herons, and more.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #18

The weather this month has been kind of strange so far; several days have been cooler than normal and a few days have been very windy.  It has to be really cold and windy to deter the intrepid Mom of Go Outside No Matter What, but yesterday came close.  Even I, the crazy nature lady, was walking down the trail, wondering to myself just why I was out there.

Actually, I know why I was out there- it was the same reason I'm always out there, besides the fact that I need the exercise and that after a long day of work it feels good to get outside and move.  I'm on the prowl for something new and different, or something that makes you think, wow, that's strange, or interesting, or fascinating.  Some days I do find a new addition to the bird life list, or something unusual for the area; on very rare occasions I've found out of range butterflies or unusual dragonflies.  I get excited about that.

Other days (most days), my observations are of the common critters that hang out at the nature preserve all the time: the Canada goose, the common whitetail dragonfly, the great blue herons and great egrets, the mallards, the red admiral butterfly.  Unless they're doing something unusual, it's tempting just to pass them by without a second glance or a photo for documentation.  Just how many mallard observations does one person need, anyway?

When I look at some of these creatures up close, however, I am reminded that even the common things are beautiful.  The metallic coloration of a variegated meadowhawk glinting in the sunlight is stunning, as is the pattern on the body of a female common whitetail.

Sometimes, if you wait a few minutes, these every day critters will do something you haven't seen before, like this great blue heron stretching its neck out. I happened to be walking by as it was perched on a nearby tree.  I hadn't even planned on taking a photo, since I have so many great blue heron pictures, and then it started to move its neck to bend down on the tree branch.

In April of last year, I found common buckeye butterflies everywhere.  I couldn't get down the trail without seeing several.  This year, I haven't seen any.  I don't know if it's because of the flooding, or the weather, or if they are on another trail, or if there is another reason .  Last year, I stopped taking photos of them because there were so many.  This year, I miss seeing them- the patterns and colors on their wings are beautiful.  Perhaps that's the danger of not documenting the common things; we won't know they're gone missing if they do disappear.

Seen on the trail: Common whitetails, red admirals, belted kingfisher, green tree frog, Blanchard's cricket frog, broad-banded watersnake, plain-bellied watersnake, blue corporal dragonfly, variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, little wood satyr butterfly, snowy egret, great blue heron, Carolina wren, swamp sparrow, scissor-tailed flycatcher, osprey (with fish), little blue heron, yellow-crowned night heron, greater yellowlegs, plains clubtail dragonfly, monarch butterfly, broadhead skink, blue dasher dragonfly, armadillos galore, and a coyote.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Marsh Project Week #17

The greening of the trail continues.  While I'm still not seeing a large variety of dragonflies and butterflies, I'm seeing a few- red admiral butterflies, common whitetail dragonflies, common green darners.  In a few weeks I anticipate that the common whitetails will be everywhere, and I'll start walking by them without taking a photo,  but for now, they're still new.  Everything is fresh and green - even the bane of my existence, poison ivy.  Small wildflowers are emerging, and new plants are popping up amidst the dead vegetation from last year.  

Even more exciting for me, the little blue herons are definitely here.  In the past couple of weeks, since the trail emerged from flooding, I've seen several.  I'm thrilled about this.  I've seen as many as five perched together on a single tree.  

I love little blue herons. They are much smaller than the great blue herons, another favorite bird of mine, and unlike the great blues, they are not here year-round.  Great blue herons have a fascinating personality and they stand still, making them easy to photograph.  Little blues have a lovely blue/purple color that I find stunning.  Juvenile little blue herons are actually white, which threw me off at first; I had a few mis-identifications before I caught on.  The adults, however, are quite distinctive. They often perch on the tops of dead trees, making them easy to see.  Last year, I walked right up on one eating a crawfish.  It would have been a fantastic photo, except that the picture came out blurry and too dark.  Perhaps this year I'll have better luck. 

The red admiral butterflies are out in force, too.  I've seen a few other butterflies- pearl crescents, an Eastern tiger swallowtail, a black swallowtail, a few faded question marks, and two monarchs.  The turtles are out sunning; as I walk toward the blind it seems that almost every log has at least two turtles on it.  

A slightly tattered and faded question mark butterfly. 

The mosquitoes have also returned.  I'm not too excited about that.  Unfortunately for me, I hit the trail without the bug spray.  It's time to start thinking about bug spray and sunscreen; I'm also starting to acquire raccoon eyes from my sunglasses and a slight tan on my arms and neck.  

I know that in a few months, summer will arrive, along with the heat  (and hopefully, some painted buntings!).  School has about nine weeks to go, and the graduation excitement is about to pick up in a big way.  I've got to start thinking about sending out the graduation announcements and getting the Teenager to her college orientation.  For now, however, I am going to walk quietly along the trail, breathing in the mild spring air, while watching a pair of red admiral butterflies settle on a branch, fluttering their wings. 

Seen on the trail:  Red-eared sliders, belted kingfisher (female), red admiral butterflies, question mark, Eastern tiger swallowtail, pearl crescent butterfly, northern cardinals, ladder-back woodpecker, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, song sparrow, Carolina wren, scissor-tailed flycatcher, common whitetail dragonfly, common green darner, variegated meadowhawk, snowy egret, great egret, great blue heron, one American white pelican flying overhead, and a cottonmouth snake.