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Sunday, May 22, 2011

A funny story

I stumbled across these pictures and thought about the funny story behind them.  Last summer, I was working in my yard while my then 2 year old daughter  was playing on the steps.  Suddenly, I heard her yelling, “Not nice, not nice”.  I looked and she was no longer on the steps but standing in the drive way looking into the neighbor’s yard.  She pointed to a pair of mocking birds and again said, “Not nice”.  Suddenly one of the birds dove down and the other followed.  They swooped on to a small black racer, picked him up about a foot off the ground and dropped him twice as I watched.  They would alternately swoop and peck him, each time drawing a rebuke from the three old about playing nicely.  I laughed and picked this little fella up.

We looked him over and the set him loose into a briar and blackberry patch.    Would you believe those birds followed us and sat until they realized he was not coming back out? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Accidental Herpetologist has an Audubon Day

I took a long overdue trip up to Maryland to visit family, friends and celebrate a niece’s first birthday.  I returned home about 1 AM the following Sunday, to find the torsion spring on the garage door was broken …….. Friday the 13thHuh!?!?!  Even more pressing were the lawn, garden and patio being in serious need of maintenance.  The weather has been nearly perfect for the lawn which seems capable of doubling in length every week!  My garden is in trouble, but that is another post (hint: moles, voles, rabbits and deer!!!!!).
After almost 3 hours of struggling with the garage door: putting it on track, aligning the cables, setting the wheels and watching it fall apart I accepted that I needed professional help on this one.  The job proved well beyond my skill level…….. 
So, with that I went to what I could do……… the yard!

Through the tears welling in my eyes, as I mulled over the prospects of having to invest in a new garage door and opener, something caught my eye.  From beneath the refrigerator, I could see the head of large skink.  The boys call him Michael Angelo.  He’s been around for at least 3 years and seems to get bigger every year.  This year he is pushing a legitimate 10 inches with a huge triangular shaped head.  Initially I figured him to be a 5-lined skink, but I've come to realize that he is in fact a broadheaded skink. (Broadheaded Skink).  As soon as I started the mower, a fat American toad hopped or rather stumbled from the grass line (American Toad)……… Okay, two observations in 3 minutes, time to get the camera!  With grass this thick, rain the night before, over cast skies and cool temperatures this day had “herping” potential.
Camera in pocket, I ran into a moth about 2.5-3 inches long and fat.  It appeared as if he had just emerged and was in the process of pumping up his wings.  I took him up and put him on the window ledge.  Not a herp finding, but interesting. 

As I am leaving I look to my right and I see a huge green tree frog.  She is another regular who has lived around the house for at least 3 seasons.  I refer the frog as “she” because I have never seen a green tree frog this large and females tend to be larger.  Tree frogs are like ghosts that disappear during the day, so to find her “day spot” was quite exciting.  Her colors are so brilliant that she is easily distinguishable: lime green body with a solid and distinct cream band along each side with red eyes.  The colors are so strong and the markings distinct that she appears almost tropical.

Before moving to the backyard, I decided to see how the moth was doing.  His body was no longer as thick or long, and his wings were probably 3 or 4 times their length an hour earlier.  Dashing from the shutter across the bricks to the drain pipe is a juvenile fence lizard.  He’s only about 3-4 inches and thin for a fence lizard which hints at his age.

Two years ago there were few fence lizards around the house.   In fact, I recall only one.  A huge old male that ruled the front porch and looked at you with disdain if you interrupted him to ring the bell!  Recently, lots of juvenile swifts have been seen all over the patio.  Last year most were 1-2 inches long and I suspect this one is from that class.  As the number of swifts increased, the number of skinks seemed to go down.  If you look very closely there is the tail of a juvenile skink beneath the drain pipe.  Both were too active and wary.
The final front yard count was one toad, two skinks, one fence swift, a moth and one spectacular green tree frog.  I was hoping to round out with a salamander, turtle or snake.  I went over to check the garden and move some sticks and caught a glimpse of something moving around the branch.  I sat still and it came back……….. A green anole (chameleon)!!!!!!!!
I have never seen one here!   My assumption was that we were just outside of their range! I must have irritated him, because he was bright green when I saw him and brown when I snapped the picture. Ironically, a few hours before leaving for Maryland, I ran into a friend who works for the North Carolina Museum of Natural History.  We were discussing the extension of alligators into the extreme Northeast corner of NC and Southeast VA around the Dismal Swamp/Back Bay area (Alligators in Virginia...) and I asked him if he’d ever seen anoles this far up.  He said no, but they were probably there.  He was right. 
I hoped to see a turtle and I got my wish, a box turtle in the far corner of the yard beneath a Magnolia.  Unfortunately, as you can see he was either dead or well on his way.  The flies were doing their part.

Oh well, Next time I’ll keep the camera on me!  While the anole was a find, Michael Angelo is impressive!  About the garage........