Night Flashes

Life begins at night.

~ Charlaine Harris

It’s not just moths that I have been seeing out in the yard after dark. The new flash system has been out on a few nights with me as I wander the premises (carefully in case there are any Copperheads out and about) looking for what’s happening on the night shift. Here are some of the highlights of the late night crowd.

The sculptor of leaves, a May Beetle chewing its way through the foliage of trees and shrubs after dark (click photos to enlarge)
An Oblong-winged Katydid, Amblycorypha oblongifolia. Summer is the time for the katydids to come out and sing their chorus in the darkness. This is one of the katydid species that can occur in different colors other than the dominant green – orange, tan, yellow, or even pink.
A nymph of the Common Tree Cricket, Oecanthus sp., hiding on the underside of a leaf. An adult male tree cricket calls by rubbing the ridges of their wings together.
A common spider in our woods, this Spined Micrathena, Micrathena gracilis, is armored with stiff spines to deter predation. This is a female as they are much larger than males and are the ones that build the webs. Males probably use silk only during the mating ritual.
Annual or Dogday Cicada, Neotibicen sp. Although called “annual” cicadas, they actually have two to five year life cycles with some adults emerging every summer. Males produce loud high-pitched sounds by vibrating specialized round abdominal membranes called tympanums. Sounds can be as high as 100dB
The stars of my night-time strolls are the Cope’s Gray Treefrogs, Hyla chrysoscelis. This is prime mating season for these beautiful amphibians and we can hear their harsh trills from inside the house almost every night now. This one was shy when I approached and quit calling (his vocal sac is enlarged, but he is not inflating it for calling)
This one was not shy. Perched on a plant a few feet from one of our amphibian ponds, he was cranking out his calls trying to attract a mate. You can see the bright yellow on the inner thighs, usually visible only when the frog is moving.
Note the huge toe pads on this species, allowing them to expertly climb almost any surface.
I believe this is a female (because of the white throat). She was on the edge of one of our ponds, no doubt trying to decide which caller she liked the best. Once she chooses, she will approach the male and often touch him, and he will then grab her and, together, they will move to the water.
A small, loose cluster of eggs is laid at the surface of the water. They will hatch in a few days, with tadpoles developing into froglets in about 45 days.
Another pond dweller is easier to see at night – a Backswimmer, Notonecta sp. Note the long hind legs used like oars for locomotion and the upside down resting position at the water surface. Backswimmers are predators that capture prey with their front legs, and stab them with their strong beak-like mouthpart. They then suck out the hemolymph (insect “blood”) of the victim. They breathe by capturing air in a fine layer of “hairs” that cover their body.
Here is one of many larval Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) still living in our ponds. Eggs were laid in February and early March and the largest larvae now look to be about 2 inches long. They will soon absorb those feathery gils and leave the pond to find a home in the woods nearby.

Flash Mob, Part 2

I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.

~Stephen Hawking

I returned Friday from a few days helping out my mom in the mountains of Virginia and have been slugging around the house and yard trying to avoid the heat and humidity, It’s tough when you sweat through a tee shirt just walking around the wildflower jungle with a camera. Here are a few more macro subjects with the new flash set-up.

I posted some pics of the Red Aphids last time, a few of which were being eaten by Syrphid Fly larvae. These two have been killed by a tiny wasp parasitoid that devours their insides, pupates inside their empty husk, and then exits through the hole you see on their sides. These empty shells are called Mummy Aphids (click photos to enlarge)
Some hatched insect eggs (maybe Stink Bug eggs) on an iris leaf
An unidentified winged ant. I saw a few others one morning…perhaps a mating flight?
An unidentified sharpshooter (a type of leafhopper), possibly in the genus Draeculacephala, which means Dracula-headed.
An early instar of one of my favorite caterpillars, a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). I spotted the tell-tale folded leaf on a Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) out front. I gently opened the fold to reveal this snake mimic larva with incredibly life-like fake eyes. You can see the silk that the caterpillar spun on the leaf to fold it (silk contracts as it dries, pulling the two sides of the leaf together).
A large Rustic Sphinx Moth (Manduca rustica) caterpillar feeding on American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
A new insect (for me anyway) in the yard, a White-fringed Weevil, Naupactus leucoloma – one of the so-called broad-nosed weevils. Originally from South America, this beetle is now considered an agricultural pest throughout the southern United States. Males are unknown for this species. Oddly, I saw several of these one afternoon and when I went out the next day to look again, I couldn’t find any.
Another new species for me was this tiny (less than 1/4 inch) Saddled Leafhopper, Colladonus clitellarius.
Some of the hopper nymphs are just comical looking. I think this is a Coppery Leafhopper, Jikradia olitoria. The upturned abdomen is diagnostic.
Here is an adult Coppery Leafhopper. This species is quite variable in color as an adult. Many leaf- and planthopper species can be difficult to photograph since they tend to move under a leaf when approached with a macro lens. This one obliged me by perching in one spot while I took several photos.
I found several of these tiny predators throughout the yard. This spiky little guy looks like it just woke up from a hard night of partying. This is a Spiny Assassin Bug nymph, Sinea sp.
Unidentified fly. Note the toe pads and the fact that it has only two wings which makes it a member of the fly family, Diptera (translates to two wings).
One of my favorite summer yard critters, a Two-marked Treehopper, Enchenopa binotata. Treehoppers are known for their often bizarre shapes due to enlarged pronotums (the prominent plate-like structure that covers all or part of the thorax of some insects). This species is a thorn mimic.
Here is another type of treehopper in the Buffalo treehopper group. This one may be Hadrophallus bubalus (no common name, although something like triceratops treehopper seems appropriate). This is another new species for the yard. As a by-product of their feeding on copious quantities of plant sap, treehoppers often secrete a sugary substance called honeydew, which can serve as a food source for bees, wasps, and ants. You can see this one was accompanied by an ant. Ants often provide protection from predators in exchange for the honeydew.
A head-on view of the above treehopper. Interestingly, treehoppers communicate with one another by vibrating the stems and leaves of their host plants creating sounds too high-pitched for the human ear.
It seems as though spikiness is a thing in the yard right now. Here is a Spiny-backed Orbweaver, Gasteracantha cancriformis. This one is feeding on a large black ant. The rigid spines are believed to help protect them from predators like birds. This one was about 10mm across and is a female. Like many spider species, the males are smaller than females, in this case much smaller (only 2 – 3mm).
There has been an emergence in the yard of these flying tigers this week. This is a robber fly known as the False Bee-killer, Promaschus bastardii. I’m guessing the scientific name was coined by a bee ecologist. Every year, about this time, I see several of these large (a little over an inch long) robber flies snagging flying insects out of the air. Their loud buzzing is a give-away as they fly off when I am walking through the yard. I saw two this day, each with a species of bee (this one, a Honeybee, the other had a native bee of some sort).

Though the far reaches of the universe have been in the news a lot recently because of the amazing images from the James Webb Space Telescope, I continue to see aliens right outside my front door. Take a look and I think you will be amazed at what you can find as well.

Flash Mob

What makes photography an strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.

~John Berger

My macro light has been giving me trouble for a while now and we finally put in an order for a new one last year. It has been on backorder ever since. I started looking at reviews online and found another option at about a third of the price of the one I was replacing and decided to take the plunge and bought a Godox MF12 twin flash and wireless trigger. It is definitely fancier and seemingly has some advantages, but it is a bit more complicated and I am still learning how to use it after a couple of days. It does great during the daytime, but I am having some trouble with night photography (when you really need a flash) but I am pretty sure it is user error and I hope to conquer that soon. In the meantime, I’m afraid you may be subjected to a slew of pics of bugs here in the yard and the woods for a bit (my apologies to the squeamish amongst you that prefer flower pics….you know who I am talking about). Next step is to create some diffusion to soften the harsh light a bit. Here is a sampler of some macro subjects from the past couple of days.

One of our striking day-time moths, the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, (Atteva aurea) on Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) – click on photos to enlarge
Chestnut Carpenter Ant, Camponotus castaneus. This large (up to 10mm) ant is found throughout our woods nesting in rotting logs or under rocks.
One of my favorite insects, a nymph of the Red-headed Bush Cricket (aka Handsome Trig), Phyllopalpus pulchellus.
This beetle-like cricket has large palps (finger-like mouthparts) that are usually in motion as it explores a leaf surface in search of food.
Two-striped Planthopper nymph, Acanalonia bivittata. Adults are green (occasionally pink) with dark stripes along the top edge of the wings. On the back end of this nymph you can see some of the waxy filaments produced by an abdominal gland to supposedly help protect them from predators. Adults and nymphs pierce plant stems and suck up the sap.
Northern Flatid Planthopper, Flatormenis proxima. I love the venation in the wings of this common species.
One of the most abundant insects in our yard, the beautiful (and tiny) Red-banded Leafhopper, Graphocephala coccinea.
Yellow-striped Leafhopper, Sibovia occatoria, a species I rarely see here in the yard jungle. This little beauty is about the size of a small grain of rice.
Red aphids, Uroleucon sp., on the stem of a Green-headed coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata. There are aphids predators on the prowl as well. The black-colored aphid has been parasitized (most likely by a tiny wasp parasitoid) and has died with the wasp larva or pupa inside. But what about those other things?
What I believe is a Syrphid fly (Hover Fly) larvae eating a Red Aphid
This morning along our walkway – a Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera) with prey (I think it is a type of May Beetle, Phyllophaga sp.)

Huntington Portraits

Portraits are about revealing aspects of an individual.

~Kehinde Wiley

Last weekend I drove down to Myrtle Beach, SC, for a surprise birthday party for my friend Scott. Of course, I had to visit one of my favorite birding and photography spots while I was there, the nearby Huntington Beach State Park. The causeway leading to the beach passes across an oasis for birds with a freshwater lake on one side and a tidal salt marsh on the other. With lots of time with old friends from my state park days, I didn’t make it over to Huntington at prime time of dawn or sunset, but still managed to grab a few mid-day photos of some of the residents. One of the great aspects of this place for photography is that the critters are very accustomed to people walking on the causeway and nearby trails and can be quite tolerant while you capture their portrait.

Great Blue Heron stalking prey among the oysters at low tide (click photos to enlarge)
A Tri-colored Heron moves about swiftly stabbing at small fish and shrimp
Snowy Egret staring into the water right before lunging at a small fish
A Great Egret sporting its breeding colors around the eyes grabs a killifish
I sat with this Double-crested Cormorant for several minutes while it dried its wings and preened. You need to be close to appreciate their eye color.
It is breeding season for the striking Anhingas and this male was looking dapper as it perched near a group of nesting pairs
While sitting with the cormorant, a passer-by asked me “Have you seen any?”. I asked, “Any what?” This is what she and many other visitors are hoping to see along the causeway.


Camera Captures

These woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

~Robert Frost

The trail cameras continue to capture moments in the lives of our woodland neighbors. Here are a some clips from the past couple of months to highlight some of the mysteries of the forest after dark.

Most of the coyote video captures are similar to this in terms of behavior – very focused, trotting through the woods (unless they see the IR camera, and then they tend to flee). Their purposefulness made me think of the Frost poem above. This is the first time on our property that three coyotes have been recorded in one clip.
Another first for the trail cameras – Gray Foxes. Last year we had several weeks of captures of a Red Fox, but this is the first time Gray Foxes have been seen.
An Eastern Screech Owl landed on a slight mound on the forest floor containing numerous mouse runways and holes. The owl is just inside the field of view on the lower left. Did it catch a mouse?
The owl flies to a nearby sapling. I can’t see any prey…
Two nights later the owl lands on the camera. Was it attracted by the IR lights?
A few weeks later, the owl is back and presumably lands on the branch with the camera. This must be a good hunting spot.

— A beautiful Gray Fox stops by the Raccoon den tree one night to check it out

— It has been a while since we saw a Bobcat on our cameras. This one looks smaller than previous individuals. Hoping it can heel whatever is causing the limp.

Winter Wonderland

Through the weeks of deep snow, we walked above the ground on fallen sky…

~Wendell Berry

I alluded to this trip in our last post when I whined about missing our “big snow” at home while we were away. Well, we were away in our happy place, Yellowstone. And, even though it is experiencing a relative snow drought this winter, there was still plenty in most places. We were asked by a teacher friend at the NC School of Science and Mathematics last summer to lead a winter Yellowstone trip for high school juniors and seniors. With the ups and downs of Covid, we were unsure about the prospects for making the trip happen, but, eventually, it came to fruition with all participants fully vaccinated and everyone agreeing to adhere to Covid protocols before and during the adventure. Melissa and I went out a few days early to scout things out and make final arrangements for lodging and meals. Melissa managed to find lodging in a hostel so we were isolated as a group and we had all our meals but one catered to minimize being in crowded indoor spaces. I will admit we were both a bit nervous about our first flight since the start of the pandemic, but, we were careful and everything turned out fine.

This is the first of a few posts about the trip. We had a nice mix of snowy days and bright sunny days, so we experienced both the quiet beauty of snow falling from gray skies and the glistening allure of diamond dust. That latter phenomenon occurs when a ground-level “cloud” of tiny ice crystals sparkles in the sunlight. Diamond dust usually occurs only in temperatures well below freezing. It is one of my favorite atmospheric conditions in Yellowstone in winter.

Below are a few of the scenic highlights of the trip…

Lamar Valley (click photos to enlarge)
There’s always more snow in the northeast portions of the park
Icy morning in the interior (on our snow coach ride to Old Faithful)
An all but frozen Soda Butte Creek
It was a very good year for Snowshoe Hares. Their tracks were everywhere! (pop quiz – which way was this animal going?)
The group on a snowshoe hike on the Thunderer Trail
Rime ice on trees along a waterway impacted by a thermal feature
The steam phase of the eruption of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser. The impressive water phase had happened the day before our trip to the interior. The water phase can be major or minor in length, with the geyser height in a major eruption reaching over 300 feet. The steam phase can last from a few hours to several days. Over the years, Steamboat has been unpredictable in its schedule with intervals between eruption ranging from 4 days to 50 years. The largest number of recorded eruptions in a year occurred twice, with 48 eruptions in both 2019 and 2020. This is the first time we have ever seen Steamboat erupting and it was a thrill!
The nearby Cistern Spring is believed to be connected to Steamboat Geyser. Cistern’s discharge increased in 1965, when Steamboat’s major eruptions were becoming less frequent. This surge in heat and water was so great that all vegetation immediately south of Cistern was killed, The water level in Cistern changes when Steamboat erupts.
The Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as seen from Lookout Point. This waterfall is 308 feet high and, in winter, the ice mountain at the base of the falls can be over 100 feet tall.
Old Faithful geyser erupting. The beauty of this winter sunrise sighting was that only four other people besides our group were there to witness it. In summer, there can be several thousand people crowded on the boardwalks viewing an eruption.
Rime ice on trees in the Upper Geyser Basin

One of my favorite thermal hikes is the Fountain Paint Pots Trail where, in a short walk, you can see all four types of Yellowstone’s thermal features – geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. My favorite are the mudpots. They are like a natural double boiler. Water collects in a shallow, impermeable depression (usually due to a lining of clay). Heated water under the depression causes steam to rise through the ground, heating the collected surface water. Hydrogen sulfide gas is usually present, and certain microorganisms use the smelly gas for energy. Microbes help convert the gas to sulfuric acid, which breaks down rock into clay. The result is a goopy mix where the gases gurgle and bubble. Minerals, like iron oxides,color the mudpots leading to the name “paint pots.” I find myself taking a ridiculously large number of photos here on every visit, hoping to capture an unusual shape as the mud erupts.

A spire of mud
Intricate patterns in an erupting mud bubble
A combination of spire and bubble
Grand Prismatic Spring from the boardwalk, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and the third largest in the world.
I love the incredible sunrises and sunsets in Yellowstone, especially in winter. Here is a flame orange sunset toward the end of our trip.
Melissa looking at wolves at sunrise

The next posts will cover some of the amazing wildlife we encountered during our adventure…

Refuge Ramble – Pocosin Lakes and Mattamuskeet

Our public lands – whether a national park or monument, wildlife refuge, forest or prairie – make each one of us land-rich. It is our inheritance as citizens of a country called America.

~Terry Tempest Williams

Last week was another of those times I really appreciate our public lands. I spent four days on the road in eastern North Carolina doing what I love to do – watching and photographing wildlife and sharing it with others. I started out Wednesday morning at the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes NWR. It was sunny when I arrived and one of the impoundments finally had some standing water in it so there were some swans hanging out close enough to observe and photograph.

Tundra Swans milling about in Marsh A on the Pungo Unit (click photos to enlarge)

The day started to take a turn as mid-day approached with light rain showers developing and a rainbow out across the fields.

Distant swans in a rainbow

The rest of the day was the kind of weather where my camera stayed in the car. Unfortunately, I didn’t, and before the day was done I was soaked along with a couple of folks hanging out with me. It wasn’t a total loss (it never is) as we did see a nice young bear and a wild canid. I am pretty sure it was a Red Wolf (that would be the 15th I have seen at Pungo over the years) but I can’t be 100% sure as it was about a hundred yards away when it dashed across a grassy road giving us about a 5 second view. In all my trips to Pungo, I have never seen a coyote but I know they do occur. This canid looked large and leggy, so I am pretty sure it was one of the few remaining Red Wolves in the wild.

The next couple of days were spent further east and I’ll share those highlights in the next post. Friday I was back at Pungo and enjoying the gang of four otters that have been a mainstay of the Pungo wildlife show this winter. One had caught a Bowfin and was munching away in a tangle of brush.

River Otter chewing on the head of a Bowfin

Two other cars had stopped and were out photographing the otter, so I moved on. Later that afternoon, I encountered the otter again and this time they climbed out on the bank and I was able to grab a portrait of one before they all disappeared into the canal.

Otter portrait

At sunset, we were out in the fields near the maintenance area where several thousand Snow Geese were already landing for their evening snack of corn. It is such a privilege to witness this gathering of birds and to share it with others.

I have been lucky to have seen this sunset show well over a hundred times in the almost 40 years I have been going to Pungo and it never gets old. And I love the reactions of people witnessing it for the first time. It is something they never forget.

The next morning was very cold, but sunny. Birds were flying, we had glimpses of the otter again, and a friend spotted a bird I don’t see very often – a King Rail. It was feeding along the bank of D-Canal and allowed us to sit and watch it for several minutes before disappearing into the tangle of vines and debris in what looked like a Muskrat or Nutria burrow entrance.

A King Rail was a highlight for me at Pungo

Mid-day found us driving over to Mattamuskeet where there were many more visitors and tons of waterfowl in the impoundment. Many of the visitors looked like duck hunters and I always wonder what’s going through their minds as they stare out at thousands of ducks. Northern Pintails are particularly abundant this time of year. The whistle calls of the males can be heard everywhere along Wildlife Drive. Anytime an eagle flies over, hundreds of ducks take flight and circle until the threat is gone.

A Great Egret stalking small fish in the shallows

The water level was high in the impoundment, so the ducks had free range over most of it and the waders tended to feed along the edges or at grassy islands. Great Egrets and White Ibis stood out in their white outfits against the dried grasses and blue water.

A pair of White Ibis crisscrossing their bills for the photo

Back at Pungo, we looked for and found the King Rail not far from its morning feeding area. It continued to skulk up under the overhanging tangle of vines and grasses along the canal edge…no wonder I rarely see them.

The King Rail was only a few yards from its morning spot when we returned from Mattamuskeet
The golden glow of late afternoon light on a pair of Tundra Swans in Marsh A

We walked down “Bear Road” seeing a couple of bears across the field and enjoying the beautiful crisp winter day. A few swans flew over, serenading us with their mournful whoo-whoo calls. I ran into several folks I know (I guess I am partly responsible for all these refuge visitors) and then headed out to the front fields, hoping for a show of several thousand Snow Geese. I stopped at the observation platform and did not see the birds out on the lake, so we rushed to the front fields where we found several hundred geese mixed in with feeding swans in the field. Where were the others?

Snow Geese swarming over the fields after a pair of Bald Eagles made the scene

We had not been there very long when I saw waves of birds flying in from the north. They had either been off refuge or around the bend in the lake, invisible from the platform. This was a huge flock of several thousand, flying in with their noisy nasal calls, swirling around the field with the late day sun reflecting on their bodies in a soft rainbow of colors. We were on the west side of the fields this time (I had been on the east side the night before) so the light was very different. The flock was landing about midway in the field, but when they would swirl around, hundreds of birds flew near us, squawking as they tried to settle down to feed. A couple of Bald Eagles flew across, chasing one another, and the geese exploded into the air (the swans stay put when eagles appear).

The magic of Pungo…

I believe there were more cars that night than I have seen at the sunset show (at least twenty scattered on both sides of the field), but, quite frankly, I’m amazed there aren’t a hundred cars every night. But, the birds are not always predictable and the weather can greatly affect their behavior. When conditions are right, like this past week, there is nothing like this anywhere else in North Carolina. Thank you, public lands managers.

From Above

If you want to look at the same place and see different things, look at the same place from different perspectives!

~Mehmet Murat ildan

While we were away over Thanksgiving, our good friends had family (their son and his fiancé) in town and he brought his drone. They flew it over their house and posted the video on social media. I apparently oohed and aahed over it in my reply, so they were kind enough to come over to our house in the woods and fly over our abode. Here is the wonderful video they shared (thank you, Kennedy!).

A short drone video showing our house surrounded by woods

It is certainly interesting to view your sanctuary from this perspective. As you can see, we definitely live “in the woods”. The video doesn’t show the one house we can see from ours, a large brick house not far off the northwest corer of the video but you can see the expanse of large trees that surround our home. Below is a still from another video showing some of the landscape features we have added:

  1. The two “circles” (one in front of the house, below it in this pic; and one off the lower right corner of the house) are amphibian pools. We have recently refurbished both of them (only one was completed when the image was taken) since the liners finally sprung leaks after 23+ years.
Still photo of the house and surroundings from another angle

2. There is minimal “yard” and much of the green you see to the right of the house is actually moss.

3. There are wildflower beds in what appear as brown ground cover inside the tree line, plus a small vegetable garden adjacent to the right of the house (you can see the curved line of the rabbit fence around the garden).

4. About an acre+ is surrounded by a deer fence. The other 13 acres, along with many acres of adjoining wooded lots, is for the deer and other large wildlife. Most of our property lies behind the house (beyond the top of this picture). On thing that is hard to see in the images is the steep terrain behind the house as it drops off over a hundred feet down to a wet weather stream before ascending to a comparable height on a very-looking different south-facing slope.

If you look fast, you may see the old stock tank we refurbished as an outdoor tub located just off the upper right corner of the house (the screen porch).

When the house was built 24 years ago, there was much more of an opening in the trees and more sunlight for the native plant gardens. I guess it may be time to limb up a few of the trees. The area around our house (and most of our property) is a mature hardwood forest. The dominant tree species are Tulip Poplar, White Oak, Northern Red Oak, a couple of species of hickory, some maples, and a variety of understory trees. Loblolly Pines appear here and there, especially in the few flatter sections along the ridge that were farmed up until about 75 years ago.

This is a great way to get a feel for the habitat you see in many of the blog posts about the plants and animals that are our wild neighbors. Of course, now I want to do this in every season.

Colors

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we think of autumn, we often think of fall colors, specifically the onset of the kaleidoscope of colors created by the changing hues of tree leaves. But there are many other fall colors to enjoy that require looking down, not up. Here is a sampling from the past week or two here in the woods.

Swamp Sunflower exhibits one of the dominant flower colors of autumn – bright yellow (click photos to enlarge; all photos taken with iPhone)
Obedient Plant shows the other fall color so common in our late wildflowers – purple. The combination of purple and yellow must be attractive to the late season bees.
Mistflower
The rich brown of Painted Buckeye seeds on the forest floor
Jewelweed has had a very good fall in our garden and the hummingbirds loved it. The swollen seed pods shoot the seeds when touched giving the plant another common name, Touch-me-not.
A very late season Monarch caterpillar on Common Milkweed
The beautiful orange, white, and black of a freshly emerged Monarch Butterfly
Orange and black again, from?…these have been very active the past week or so.
Mushrooms, like this Russula sp., have been popping up all over our woods and yard the past few days
My favorite mushroom find was a few of these Carolina blue, Lactarius sp. milk cap mushrooms down in our woods

Trail Cam Delights

Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.

~Boris Pasternak

The heat of summer seems to have slowed the activity around the trail cameras in our woods, but sometimes, amid all the images of squirrels, raccoons, and wind blown leafy branches, there is is a jewel that really makes me appreciate the 24-hour a day presence of those eyes on the trees.

This first one is from a while back and is a very quick clip showing one of the opossums that uses the root ball den site carrying some leaves back to the ‘possum hole with its tail. Who among us couldn’t use an extra hand now and then?

A Virginia Opossum carrying leaves in its tightly curled tail

One of the things I have been surprised by recently is the lack of trail camera images of deer fawns. I have been seeing them along the roads here in the neighborhood for a few months, but they have not been recorded on a trail camera until this week.

Doe and fawn mosey by the Raccoon den tree

This next one is the video that I have been waiting for…a Bobcat in our woods! The video is cropped a little so it is not as sharp as some, but this is a clip of a nice-sized Bobcat walking down the now dry stream bed in our woods. I have long hoped to see one here in the neighborhood. We have plenty of woods and potential prey, and being near the Haw River corridor, there is ample habitat for these majestic animals.

Bobcat walking down the creek bottom one morning last week

I have admired the mystique of these secretive wild cats for many years. My first sighting was probably back when I worked for NC State Parks and I spotted a Bobcat and her kittens walking down the road at Goose Creek State Park. Since then, I have seen them mainly at wildlife refuges in our Coastal Plain – Alligator River, Mattamuskeet, and at Pocosin Lakes NWR. Most have been quick glimpses of one as it slinked off into the vegetation. Only a few have been recorded with a camera. Here is a brief list of some of those photographed encounters…

A distant view of a Red Wolf (right) tucking its tail and scurrying by a Bobcat at Pocosin Lakes NWR. The wolf was trotting down the road when it encountered the Bobcat in the brush, which assumed the typical cat pose of arched back. The wolf moved to the other side of the road, keeping an eye on the feline as it went past, and then hurried on down the road.
A pre-dawn encounter on a Christmas Bird Count at Pocosin Lakes…a Bobcat carrying a Snow Goose. When we stopped the car, the Bobcat dropped to the ground and crawled across the field to a wind row of trees and disappeared.
I went to the other end of the windrow, assuming the Bobcat would go down and cross onto the woods. As I stood there, some birds flushed out of the trees in the wind row, and then I saw it, sitting there in the thick brush staring at me. I’m not sure how long it had been there, and just as quickly, it disappeared.
I had just photographed a bear across a canal at Pocosin Lakes and was going to do a three-point turn and go the opposite way on the road. When I looked in my rear view mirror, a Bobcat was in the road behind me! I spent several minutes watching this beautiful animal as it eased on down the road and into the woods. More photos on this sighting can be seen here.

Note the white patches on the back of the ear in the photo above. Look at the video clip again and you can clearly see these distinctive white marks on the back of the ears. My only other Bobcat sighting in the Piedmont was one at Mason Farm Biological Reserve in Chapel Hill many years ago. When I returned to the parking lot I saw what looked like a large cat sitting in the adjacent field. It was looking away from me and I saw those white patches and it was then that I knew it was a Bobcat!

My most memorable encounter was when Melissa and I spotted a Bobcat walking down a road at Pocosin Lakes one hot September afternoon. It went into the brush when we drove toward it. We went a little farther, parked, and got out and sat behind the car and waited. The Bobcat finally came back out and walked up, sat down, and looked at us for a bit before walking off into the thick pocosin vegetation…magical! More on this encounter in a previous post.

Though I have been lucky to witness Bobcats in the wild several times, there is something extra special about knowing there was one in our woods. I just hope one day I will be lucky enough to see one for myself in our personal refuge.