…The “need to hold still” is a skill that both scientists and non-scientists need to cultivate, a vital way to pay attention to the world. Through observation, it is possible to develop a richness of texture and nuance, substance and form, in our understanding of the animate and inanimate residents of this world – and our place in it. It is how we become informed.
I can hardly believe it, but this is my 100th post since I wrote the first blog back on March 22, a mere ten months ago. After officially being retired for three weeks, I posted that first report. I think I was hoping for a vehicle to continue my work as an educator and naturalist. Throughout my career, I was fortunate to have worked with a cadre of dedicated and inquisitive people that were constantly sharing new discoveries and challenging me with questions about nature. I now realize that the blog is a way for me to challenge myself and to continue learning about the natural world that I love.
I recently took a look back at the topics I have covered and realized it really has been quite an eventful ten months of retirement. I traveled to some of my favorite places and did some serious woods-watching here at home. So, in honor of the milestone of making it through one hundred of these monologues, I now revisit a few of my favorite memories of the past few months.
It all started with a trip out to my shed last March and the discovery of a different sort of shed – the cast skin of a huge spider. It turned out to be from one of our largest spiders, a Dark Fishing Spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus. The intricate details of the shed are incredible.
Then, just a few weeks ago, I had an encounter with a live, albeit sluggish, Dolomedes spider. It was in a tree trunk I was cutting for firewood. After just missing the spiders’ hiding place with my chain saw, it slowly crawled out and allowed me some quality observation time.
Speaking of encounters, one of the most amazing things I experienced these past few months (actually…ever) was a close encounter with one of our state’s most elusive animals, a Bobcat. After seeing one cross a dirt road at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, a friend and I parked the car in the only available shade and got out to wait. The next 20 minutes were some of the most exciting I have had with any wild creature. The majestic cat ended up strolling toward us and then just sitting and looking around for a couple of minutes, before vanishing into the brush.
Pocosin Lakes also provided a glimpse at something I have always wanted to see – a Curve-lined Owlet caterpillar. This unusual larva feeds on Greenbriar and is considered a dead leaf mimic.
I consider it simply bizarre and beautiful.
Another magical experience from Pocosin Lakes was last spring when I happened to stop at a marsh to scan for birds, and heard the unmistakable sound of an American Bittern. Their call is described by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a deep pumping oong-ka-choonk. Listen for yourself at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Bittern/sounds.
A trip to New Jersey and Delaware last spring provided an experience with one of the great wildlife spectacles on the East Coast – thousands of Horseshoe Crabs coming into the shallows to mate. Coinciding with this event is the arrival of tens of thousands of shorebirds that stop in the Delaware Bay region to take advantage of abundant food resources (including the Horseshoe Crab eggs) as they migrate north for the nesting season.
Other adventures afield have taken me to Yellowstone (always a favorite), Maine, and the Dolly Sods Wilderness in the highlands of West Virgina. In each location, I am reminded how lucky we are to have these stunning landscapes preserved for the good of the ecological communities, and the human spirits, they sustain.
A traveler from the far north visited my home state a few weeks ago, providing a rare opportunity to sit in awe in the presence of an almost mystical creature, a Snowy Owl. My time spent alone with this beautiful bird was certainly one of the highlights of the past year.
I also was reminded how much there is to learn, and be amazed by, in our own backyards. From behavior-altering parasitic wasps, to the delicate beauty of native plants, to the fascinating behaviors of some of the local wildlife, there is always something to experience and appreciate. We need only to get outside, and have the patience to observe, and we will be rewarded with glimpses of beauty that can still help connect us to the natural world.
All in all, it has been a “beary” good ten months of woods-watching and blogging. I hope the next one hundred posts are as much fun for me, and, hopefully, you. But after the first one hundred, I think I’ll take a few days off…
One who reviews pleasant experiences and puts them on record increases the value of them to himself; he gathers up his own feelings and reflections, and is thereby better able to understand and to measure the fullness of what he has enjoyed.
~Sir Edward Grey