Sunday, June 28, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 25, The Ditch

Pinks and Greens in The Ditch

I've been saving this trip for the end of my month-long tour. I waited because I don't really want to say goodbye, and also I wanted the visit with my friend, The Ditch, to be as good as it could be for this time of year. My very favorite times to visit are after the rainy seasons in fall and spring, but I won't be here in the fall or spring, so I gave it as much time as I could to get close. I peeked at the ditch on June 1st when I was at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve for the first leg of the June Challenge kickoff, but the roadside mowers had been busy and it was dry and not much was growing. So I waited all month to give the summer rains a chance to start again and get things going. We've had a lot of rain this week and Thursday morning was overcast with a forecast of early rain. It seemed like a pretty good day.

Bagworm Moth Cocoon

As soon as I opened the car door I heard the cheery sound of a Bachman's Sparrow, perched on top of a pine. These happy little guys always put me in a good mood. And seeing the Bachman's was a good reminder to me of why I lug around my heavy camera bag with 3 cameras--one dedicated for macro shots, one for telephoto, and a point and shoot for whatever I'm not shooting at the time. I was thankful that even though I was planning to spend most of the morning with the macro for flowers and bugs, I also had the long lens for the lovely sparrow singing at the top if its lungs from way up high.

Sweet Songs of the Bachman's Sparrow

After watching and listening to the sparrow for a nice long while, I went back to the car and got my rubber boots and put on my bug spray. I was still itchy after the yellow fly bites at San Felasco and didn't want a repeat. I put on my hat and walked out into the grassy ditch. It was still mowed short, but the mowers had left a swath uncut next to the fence. I hope that they plan to let it all grow up at the end of summer so the Liatris and other tall flowers can bloom, but for this trip it was good to be able look at the plants and also see where I was walking. Besides keeping my feet dry and the ticks and chiggers off, I consider the boots to be a little bit of snake protection. I was glad I had them on when I almost stepped on the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake that quickly slithered away from my foot. It hid under some leaves near the fence and I got some obscured shots of it (using the zoom). I have been lucky so far with snakes. I respect them and try to avoid bothering them, and I find that they are just as loathe to interact with me. But I am always on the lookout, just in case.

Got My Boots On

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

Early summer is Rhexia time in the ditch. There were 3 species blooming and each has its own appeal. I am partial to the bright, showy flowers of Handsome Harry, but I also like the compact shape and little hairy leaves of the Nuttall's Meadowbeauty. And Pale Meadowbeauty is welcome dash of color appearing all over the county at this time of year. Tiny grasshoppers boinged out of the grass as I walked along. I wasn't fast enough to photograph any, but a Katydid nymph kindly stopped chewing and posed for me. I saw a few spiders, including a huge Wolf Spider racing away from me. I did not realize until I got home and looked at my pictures that it was actually 2 Wolf Spiders together. I don't know if they were mating or fighting or what was going on, but it was an interesting surprise on the computer screen to see all those legs and 2 abdomens. I was also surprised by a Green Lynx Spider whose hairy legs blended in marvelously with the hairy phyllaries of the Goldenaster. I only saw that one on the computer screen, too.

Katydid Nymph Munching on Handsome Harry (Rhexia virginica)

Nuttall's Meadowbeauty (Rhexia nuttallii)

A Couple of Wolf Spiders

Lost in the Phyllaries (Green Lynx Spider on Scrubland Goldenaster--Chrysopsis subulata)

It's probably not quite the right time for my favorite Little Metalmark butterflies. Their host plants, the Deer Tongues are just getting tall and will be ready to bloom in a month or so. I usually see them in August or March. The large swallowtails were also absent because there were so few tall nectar plants for them. I saw a lot of them down the road where it hadn't been mowed. But they'll be back when the plants grow taller again. I did catch glimpse of a tiny Least Skipper that landed on a blade of grass, and an unidentified skipper that blended in with the brown and red leaves. A fuzzy little bee fly hovered around potential nectar sources and stopped moving long enough for me to get a closer look.

Tip of Deer Tongue Spear (Carphephorus paniculatus)

Least Skipper--Teeny Weeny Butterfly

Unidentified Skipper on Shiny Blueberry

Fuzzy Little Bee Fly

A couple of small clusters of Hairy Laurel reminded me that I will get to learn new varieties of familiar plants when we move closer to the mountains of Georgia. Last month when we were buying our new house, we took a day and drove to a state park at the base of the Appalachian Trail. The Mountain Laurels were blooming and it was beautiful to see splashes of soft blossoms all over the mountainside. The flowers were immediately recognizable to me. They were similar to those of the Hairy Laurel, but larger, whiter and they grew on large bushes instead of like small shrubs. I imagine there will be a lot of these moments of recognition in my future.

Hairy Laurel (Kalmia hirsuta)

Tiny flashes of pink through the green grass revealed some variety of Hoary Pea. There are several and I've never been good at determining which is which. I have a similar trouble with St. John's Wort, Yellow Eyed Grass and Goldenrod. I think I'm going to use the move and learning new plants as a chance to hone my botany skills.

Hoary Pea (Tephrosia of some sort)

Myrtleleaf St. John's Wort (Hypericum myrtifolium) (I think)

About halfway between the roads that form the boundaries of my ditch, the woods behind the fence open up and it is much drier. Some early sandhill wildflowers were blooming and I found one of the biggest clusters of Rattlesnake Master that I've ever seen. A few Rayless Sunflowers were blooming and the leaves of hundreds of basal rosettes gave a hint of what fall will bring. It's going to be a beautiful season. Further down the road, closer to again to flatwoods, pretty pink Barbara's Buttons thrived in the wet areas near the culvert, along with Red Root, Seed Box and a whole lot more Meadowbeauty. Still, the ground is relatively dry and the carpet of tiny Sundews I've seen in the past were not evident, and the Orange Milkworts were few and far between. In wetter times the Milkwort would be growing all through the grass with Little Metalmarks feeding on them. I'm sorry I missed them.

Huge Rattlesnake Master!
Rattlesnake Master Closeup (Eryngium yuccifolium

Blister Beetle Perched on Rayless Sunflower (Helianthus radula)

Open Rayless Sunflower (Helianthus radula). I think it looks like there's a party going on in there.

Grassleaf Barbara's Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia)

Seaside Primrosewillow, or Seedbox (Lugwigia maritima)

Handsome Harry Looking Fabulous (Rhexia virginica)

The Back of a Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor). The white spots are like stained glass when viewed from the other side--they let the light in.

Mid-morning, the skies darkened and thunder rumbled in the distance. Time to turn back. I walked the length of the ditch and back to the car, loving and remembering.

Bracken Fern Fiddleheads Opening


  1. Your blog is nice; however, I'm thinking that you should consider publishing your photos/reflections.

    1. You are too kind! Maybe someday. I did self-publish a book of flower photos last year. It is available on the sidebar of my blog, either as a paper copy or (I recommend) an e-book. But I'll definitely keep it in mind for the future.

  2. After reading your post and looking for examples on You Tube I think I might have a Bachman's Sparrow in my back yard! It seems like they are not that common, but this little bird has been singing a LOT the past week! Hard to see, but flits around the pine tree. I need your expertise! :)

    1. Well that would be fun! I'd love to come listen and look. They sound like they're saying "here, kitty kitty" when I hear them.