|Tight Tendrils gripping Wingstem|
I have a group of friends, the Nature Ramblers, who get together each week at the State Botanical Gardens in Athens to learn about nature. We are led by excellent guides, who often focus on botany, but the members of the group are interested in just about everything and we do not miss an opportunity to appreciate a mushroom or butterfly or toad that we might find along the walk. The motto for the group is "seeking what we find" and usually the group does find something interesting about every 5 feet or so. We don't walk very far, but we make up for lack of distance with excellent content.
Today was a Ramble day, but I had a prior commitment in the morning and arrived about an hour late. I texted a friend to see where the group had gone. You'd think that a big, slow moving group would be easy to find, but there are a lot of trails at the gardens and they could be just about anywhere. While I waited for an answer to my text, I headed in what I thought was the likely direction and tried to find some more birds to add to my June Challenge list as I walked.
|Young, Eastern 5-Lined Skink|
(For those of you who are not familiar with it, the June Challenge is a friendly birding competition set up by my old birding community in Alachua County, Florida. The goal of the challenge is to actually lay your eyes on as many birds within the county boundaries as you can. The birding is fun and group oriented and people share sightings and locations with everyone who wants to try to add a tough to find bird. The winner gets to keep a huge trophy for the year and is celebrated at the end of June potluck. Not wanting to miss out on all the fun, I'm doing my own version here in Athens, with a couple of rule changes. First, I am allowing myself to bird outside of my county. Athens-Clarke county is small--121 square miles, vs. 969 in Alachua County, so I made my birdable region a 30 mile radius from home. 2nd, because I am the only one participating here and I don't have any teams to help me, I'm allowing myself to count some tough birds I only heard but didn't see, like the Bob White Quail or Barred Owl. It will be fun to see how many I can find.)
|Katydid munching on Jewelweed|
Anyway, as I was walking to find my fellow Ramblers, I heard a Barred Owl call and stopped to try to see it and maybe even get a photo. It sounded pretty close and I hooted back to try to get it to respond, but it never did. Then I looked down and saw a familiar plant at my feet--Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria), which is a host plant for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies. I probed the soil around the little plant looking for the tiny flowers that sometimes grow just under the soil, but didn't see any. It was a good find, anyway. I never did see the owl, but a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers flew out of a tree just ahead and I followed them for a while. Acadian Flycatchers were hopping back and forth in the branches overhead. A Buckeye Butterfly landed in front of me, flashing its big eyespots. It was getting later and later and at this point I had missed most of the walk but I decided that I was enjoying myself. So when I got the text from my friend telling me they were nearby, I walked over to say hi, then turned back and continued my solo ramble.
First I walked along the powerline cut to see the prairie plants and look for butterflies and other insects that like heat, sun and flowers. It seems I had chosen to come to the hottest and sunniest part of the garden just when the sun was getting strongest, and I was starting to melt. But my hunch was right and I saw some good bugs--Delta Flower Beetles on Queen Anne's Lace and Daisies, a couple more butterflies and a tiny spider hiding in a Wild Onion flower.
|Delta Flower Beetle on a Daisy|
|Skipper on Bee Balm|
|Tiny Spider in the middle of the Wild Onion flowers|
Next I headed down to the river for some shade and to see if I could find anything interesting in the woods. We've had a lot of rain and the river was rushing and the water sounded cool and calm. It was much cooler there, but the mosquitoes found me and were eating me alive so I turned back out of the deep shade. Luckily, the rest of the trail I followed was still shady, though not as buggy. Walking the path back towards the garden, I saw Indigo Buntings and a Hooded Warbler. Then I watched as a pair of Black and White Warblers hopped up and down the branches of a tree, then one sat still and preened. They looked ruffled like they'd been bathing in the river.
|Black and White Warbler|
|Green Caterpillar (Skipper?) blends in with the green stems|
I think it's nice sometimes to not have an agenda and to just go where the opportunities take you. I wafted down the trail, turning over leaves here and probing rotting logs there. The recent rains that brought out the mosquitoes also brought out the mushrooms and other fungi and right ahead of the Black and White Warblers was a beautiful Eastern Box Turtle, standing on the trail and eating mushrooms. After I took its picture, I moved it out of the way so it wouldn't get stepped on by runners.
|Fungus that looks like fingers|
(Which is where it gets its name, I guess! I'm told it is called Dead Man's Fingers, Xylaria polymorpha)
|Big floppy tree fungus with a slug|
|Eastern Box Turtle with mushroom on its face|
Everywhere I went I found something interesting--a red beetle, an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, a katydid, bullfrogs, a grasshopper. I found a spider hiding behind a Wingstem plant, and chased a small toad around a tree. Though I missed the expert information and camaraderie of the real Ramble, I had a very satisfying morning just going wherever the trail took me. And I'll be back again to join the group next week.
(Read the Nature Rambling blog by clicking this link)
|Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly|
|Big, Camouflaged Katydid|
|Grasshopper that looks like granite|
|Big spider hiding behind a Wingstem stalk|
|Toad trying to hide from me|