Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More Pine Cone Birds!

The pine cone feeders are attracting more birds to the back yard (see previous post on how to make them and more photos). While I've seen mockingbirds in the yard, they don't stick around nor feeder at our sunflower seed feeders. This mockingbird was feeding on the pine cones on Christmas morning.

Dark-eyed juncos are common but are seen on the ground below the feeders. Several juncos were also feeding on the suet in the pine cones on Christmas morning.

Finally, I saw a pair of Eastern Bluebirds feeding on the cones but so quickly I didn't get a photo. None of these birds have been back since. I guess it was just a Christmas present for me!

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bird Pine Cones and Holiday Decorations!

Carolina Wren December 19, 2011

I assisted Virginia Master Naturalist Debbie with the Junior Naturalist Club at a local middle school. We made pine cones filled with suet and seeds for the birds. It was so much fun I decided to make some of my own.


Start with some pine cones (I had old ones that didn't have any scent on them). Tie a pipe cleaner (no ribbon!) around the bottom. Mix about equal parts of vegetable shortening and peanut butter in a big bowl, the stickier the better. Use a small spatula (the kids used plastic knives) to put the mixed suet into the crevices, then roll in wild bird seed and shake off the excess. You might want to do this outside since it's very messy. You should have seen the school children! I attached the pine cones to a burning bush shrub.

The tufted titmouse came right away but this downy woodpecker was what I caught with the camera. Other birds I observed on the pine cones were dark eyed juncos, hairy woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, and American goldfinches.

The Northern Cardinal kept looking at the cones but didn't eat--just cautious I guess. But he makes a great Christmas decoration just by himself!

I had to post a photo of my Christmas tree this year which I picked out myself from the Spruce Run tree farm only a few miles away. I had my pick from thousands of trees but found this one right away. I think we have more presents for the pets under it than for the two of us but that's ok with me.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'm Back! Flowers and Birds

I lost my School Board election by 68 votes (1104 to 1036), the closest race in the county and the reason why the results weren't posted until 11:30 p.m. last Tuesday night. Had I been able to capture just 35 more votes from my opponent, I would have won. The results by precinct or town were Eggleston (227-210), Pembroke (602-468) and Newport (243-325 with me getting 57% of the vote!). Considering that I'm a newcomer to local politics, it was an accomplishment. It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

I'm back to posting again but haven't done much in the way of photography for the past 2 months. I did find these photos on my camera's memory disks.

Great Lobelia

This native wild flower is my favorite of the fall with its deep blue color. It's usually right along side...


The white flowers of snakeroot bloom in the woods.

In early October, a flock of birds stopped by the backyard---American Redstart and these others....

Cape May Warbler (UPDATED from comments)

Black-Throated Blue Warbler (UPDATED from comments)

My other very blurry photo shows a white stripe on the black wing which you can see a little of in this photo.

For the past week or two, I spotted a pair of ruby-crowned kinglets. I had never seen these birds before so it was very exciting to see them flying around the understory. I don't think I have ever seen birds move the way they do.

Finally, I have to post a photo of my dog, Kookie. She is happy I am back with my old routine. When I came home from campaigning in the afternoon, I could tell she missed her afternoon walk and worse, she smelled other dogs on me!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake and Lost Community of Mineral

I wish I could say I felt the earthquake but I was in a Food Lion at the time. But, a few minutes afterward, the few shoppers and clerks were getting cell phone calls about it. When I got back home a few minutes later, my husband was outside checking around. He was up in his office when the quake shook the whole house for about 30 seconds. We found no damage.

I had just been reading about Mineral, Virginia where the quake was centered. It is one of those "Lost Communities of Virginia" (also the name of the book by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg, a birthday present from my husband). Gold was discovered in Mineral about the time of the California Gold Rush and made the town. That led to other mining (sulphur, pyrite, iron, copper, etc.) and a railroad depot until that all died out. The trains just pass through now. What made the town come back somewhat was the nuclear plant built in the 70s and only 10 miles away. It was shut down today. Now, I guess Mineral has the distinction of being the center of the largest earthquake in Virginia. Our county of Giles used to have that distinction for a 5.8 quake back in 1897.

The book covers two lost communities, Eggleston and Newport, in my Giles County, Virginia. I wanted to read about them since I am running for public office, School Board, to represent the eastern district which comprises those two communities plus Pembroke. That's why I haven't posted too much. I am enjoying getting out and meeting the folks in these and other smaller communities in the mountains here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Glen Alton Hike

Yesterday, I held a nature journal workshop with 2 other naturalists at Glen Alton Recreational Area about 20 miles from my home. The previous week I went on a pre-hike and that's where most of these photos were taken.

Glen Alton was a 300 acre hunting and fishing retreat for a doctor. When he died, the Forest Service bought the land because it is in the middle of the Jefferson National Forest. It's a great place for birding and easy hiking.

My favorite place is the wetland area which is about a mile hike through woods to get there. The dead trees with the pond lilies is so peaceful.

Some of the wetland was created by this beaver dam.

The reflection in the beaver pond is a native St. Johnswort which I had not seen before. It's my favorite photo of that day.

For the workshop, we did not go on the wetland area hike since we had several families with very young children. We ended up going around the small lake which worked out better (snakes, dragonflies, whirlybugs!). But, I certainly don't regret my hike the previous week.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eastern Hognose Snake

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

Sophie, our cat, first spotted it and then Kookie, our boxer/lab, ran over and began her "snake" bark. Kookie is scared of snakes and would not be any closer than a foot from it. I went into the house to grab my camera.

With Kookie still barking, the snake had spread its head and neck and gazed toward me, hizzing all the while. That's how I knew it was a hognose. From this angle, it's hard to see the characteristic upturned snout which gives the snake its name. He uses the snout to dig up buried toads--plenty of those around here. This snake looked over 3o inches long--close to the mature size.

This photo was taken with the flash--hence the more yellowish tone. I had seen a hognose many years ago but that one was colored much differently--much lighter. So, it's hard to identify by color although the markings are similar. The hissing and flared head behavior was a dead giveaway for the hognose. That is how I knew this snake was all bark and no bite. Back then, I was so scared I backed off without getting a photo. My husband went out and moved it with a stick--it flipped over and played dead, another characteristic of the snake.

But I didn't want to bother the snake. I grabbed Kookie by her collar and led her back to the house. She did not object--thankful that I had saved her from the snake encounter. When I went back, the snake was gone.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Catalpa Memories

My honey bees have been flying southeast high into sky. I wondered where they might be foraging for nectar and pollen since not much is blooming nectar-wise for them. As I drove down our road, I noticed several Catalpa trees blooming. When I stopped to inspect, I heard the familiar sound of pollinators. While I only saw a few bumble and carpenter bees on the lower branches, I was sure honey bees were at the top of the tree. These trees are located about a half-mile in a straight beeline southeast of my bee hives.

Common Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides)

For years I have driven by these trees and not paid much attention to them. I am glad my bees make me notice these and other flowers. These trees are not native to this area, originating in the Gulf Coast of the United States. The trees were probably planted as fence posts (Trees and Shrubs, Peterson Field Guide). The guide also states that they produce "catawba worms" that fishermen use as bait.

As I photographed the tree and flowers, memories of my childhood came back to me. A large Catalpa tree grew along the fence of our front yard where I grew up in a town outside St. Louis, Missouri (now a suburb). My sisters and I would put the Catalpa flowers in our hair. Later when the large seed pods appeared, we sat in a circle under the tree and tried to smoke the "cigars" or long seed pods.

On another note, I photographed these flowers this morning and am wondering what they are. The bell-shaped flowers are about an inch or so long and quite showy.

Purple Clematis (Clematis Verticillaris)

They are growing on a vine with three leaflets with simple leaves. Does anyone know what this vine is?

Mystery solved by Randy: It's Purple Clematis, a native vine that is in the buttercup family. My Peterson guide pictures the flower a little differently--no curls on the end of the sepals so I guess that's why I missed it. Anyway, I am glad to have another native plant and it's close to the area where I discovered the orchid this spring.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blackberry blooms, birds and bees

I have a very large blackberry patch near my beeyard. Yesterday, they were in full bloom with all kinds of bees and butterflies on them. The bird bath is used by the bees for collecting water.

This honey bee flies toward a blackberry flower while a native bee flies above. The pollen is a light gray color.

The ubiquitous bumble bee seems to visit every kind of flower around, being a very important pollinator. I counted 8 different kinds of native bees and 3 types of butterflies foraging nectar on the blackberry blossoms. The flowers needed all the different pollinators since the blooms were washed off last night by a hard rain.

This giant swallowtail was warming up early in the morning on a blackberry leaf. Later in the day, he was foraging quickly on the flowers.

This Eyed Click Beetle posed for a photo before taking off. The beetle is quite large--at least 2 inches. He feeds on larvae in decaying wood of hardwood trees. I turned him over to see if I could hear him click (snap his muscles) as he righted himself but I didn't hear it. He just flew off.

On May 11, I taped this Carolina Wren singing. I think it was one of the fledglings from about 10 days earlier.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whitetop Mountain: Morels and Eleanor Roosevelt at the Naturalist Rally

Morel Mushroom May 7, 2011

There it is--a morel mushroom! But I didn't find it. I was on a mushroom field trip led by Becky Rader at the Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally last weekend. The group found 7 morels--me nary a one. The morel season is gone by the end of April on my land but we found them on Whitetop Mountain (exact location I will not tell) because it is at high elevation. Becky gave me a good rule, "By the time Mayapples bloom, morels are gone."

Lichen May 7, 2011

I did find this lovely lichen. I couldn't find find what it is by searching online--does anyone have a clue?

Bigtooth Aspen May 7, 2011

I always think of aspens as a western tree, growing in large groves at high elevations in the Rockies. That's the quaking aspen but here in Virginia, we have the bigtooth aspen. The range map for this aspen shows an extensive area in the northeastern United States. Rather than seedlings, this tree reproduces mostly by sprouting by roots, colonizing disturbed areas, no doubt how this little tree ended up at the edge of the trail. We looked around and found a large tree about 25 feet away, only beginning to leaf out. The catkins and leaf buds are eaten by ruffed grouse while the rest of the tree is eaten by deer and beavers.

Whitetop Mountain May 7, 2011

Whitetop Mountain is the second highest peak in Virginia behind Mount Rogers which is 5,729 ft. elevation. In the photo above, you should see Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. As we learned from Doug Ogle's speech on Friday night, Whitetop might have been higher than Mount Rogers at one time but it has been so developed over the years. Whitetop Mountiain is shown on the first surveyor's maps while Mt. Rogers was missing. I was most intrigued, though, when Doug talked about the great connection between Eleanor Roosevelt and Whitetop Mountain.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Whitetop Mountain

Eleanor Roosevelt was born and raised in New York. Her father, Elliott, was committed for alcoholism to a sanitorium near Abingdon, Virginia. Doug said that was a big mistake as the area is known for producing hard apple cider and moonshine. As a child, Eleanor visited her dad where he took her on horseback rides around the Whitetop Mountain area. Elliot died when Eleanor was only 10 but she attended the annual bluegrass music festival on Whitetop during the 1930s while she was first lady. Doug showed photos from newspaper articles about the festival, one with Eleanor Roosevelt next to the musicians. The festival was very popular with 16,000 cars parked at $1 a car (a huge sum during the Great Depression).

Note that this information was not found on the First Ladies Library website but only from Doug's speech and the wikipedia entry.

Doug Ogle pointing to Mt. Rogers from top of Whitetop Mountain

The telephone lines are in the process of being buried--a big improvement!

Mount Rogers from Whitetop Mountain
May 7 , 2007

This view of Mount Rogers is from the lower parking lot on Whitetop. The red spruce were in bloom which sent my allergies in high gear at this point. This was only my second trip to Whitetop (my first in 1981) because, like many, I visit Mount Rogers to see the rhododendron bloom in early June. If I do it again this year, I will be sure to stop by Whitetop on the way.

If you are planning on camping around here, note that the nearby Grindstone campground is closed indefinitely due to the tornado that hit it on April 27--the same system that hit Alabama so bad.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring Overload

Walker Mountain from our back pasture. April 21, 2011

It's been a great spring--minus the scary tornadoes.

Tiger Swallowtails
April 19, 2011

These tiger swallowtails and another black swallowtail were feasting on the mud left by a flood along Walker Creek.

Blue Phlox April 19, 2011

The blue phlox has already bloomed in our woods . . .

and the redbud trees...

. . . as well as the wild strawberries in the back pasture.

Box Turtle April 24, 2011

I found 3 large box turtles while hunting for morel mushrooms--not sure where they were going in the woods but I was glad to see so many of these turtles around.

Garden Spring Flowers

I've been torn between working in my garden and walking in the woods. Too bad everyone doesn't have that dilemma.

Pink Tulip after rain. April 28, 2011

I plant tulip bulbs every fall even though they seem to only last a few years. I can't remember when I planted these large pink tulips.

Columbine April 28, 2011

This native columbine "came up volunteer" (an old saying of my mom's when anything just came up in her garden without her planting it). The blooms were especially beautiful this spring with the creeping phlox I planted years ago. Of course, the woods are full of columbine--they seem to like the steep rocky slopes.

Shooting Star April 24, 2011

I planted this native shooting star several years ago. The delicate green leaves are at the base whirled around a single stalk of flowers. The flowers are quite small--you almost have to get right down to appreciate their beauty. Shooting Stars don't t grow on our land but I was able to buy a start from a native plant nurseryman. It blooms for only a few days, the light green foliage decays after a month or so. I was lucky I didn't plant anything there the first year or else it would be gone.

Lilac April 25, 2011

The lilac shrub was filled with blooms.

I also surround myself with lots of pansies from local greenhouses--they get their plants from local growers or else grow them right there in the greenhouse. The prices are usually good too.

Teapot Planter

At one greenhouse, I saw some violas in a teapot planter which gave me an idea to use my recently broken teapot. My husband glued it back together for me and I put some violas in it. I think it makes a better planter than teapot now.

Country Eggs

This has nothing to do with my post but wanted to show you the beautiful country eggs I've been buying from a friend. He supplies the local gourmet restaurant with eggs so they have to be good.

Carolina Wren April 23, 2011

I put up an old birdhouse on my garden shed. A pair of Carolina Wrens built a nest in early spring. She was disturbed every time I went inside the shed. But, now it's quiet with the last fledgling leaving on April 23. But, I saw a new pair checking out the birdhouses on the front porch so I hope to see more activity and I can watch them from my computer.

Spring happens so fast!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Orchid Discovery!

Showy Orchis (Orchis spectabilis) April 20, 2011

Yesterday, I was awakened to the wonderful sounds of a wood thrush at dawn. About an hour later, I walked down our driveway and heard oven birds. To cap a wonderful spring morning, I followed my friend's advice and looked intensely in one area for morels. When I stepped down a steep slope, I noticed an unusual color, at first thinking it was probably a phlox or violet flower. Right away, I knew it was an orchid. I quickly forgot about morel hunting.

The species name "spectabilis" is Latin for spectacular--how appropriate! I can't believe I lived here for 27 years and have not seen this orchid before. But perhaps it finally bloomed for the first time after a long time:

Like other members of the Orchid family, it must have certain fungi present in the soil in order to survive. The seeds' outer shells are eaten by the fungi, while the seeds' inner parts obtain needed nourishment from the fungi. This relationship continues as the seed develops into a com, the bulblike underground part oa a flower stem where food is stored. The fungi delivers minerals and nutrients to the corn, which in turn provides the fungi with stubstances that the growing plant has produced through photosynthesis.
Leonard Atkins, Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains

So far, this is only specimen I've found. I plan to protect it as much as I can.

What a glorious spring!