Friday, September 4, 2015

Baby Steps

American Lady Butterfly

Well, it's been just over a month since our big move and we're about 80% unpacked. I'm afraid some things may stay in boxes forever. Seemingly endless trips to big box stores for supplies and calls to contractors and repair people have slowed to a trickle and the place is starting to feel like home. Now that the dust is settling, I have started to take note of my surroundings. I've been spending more time checking out the yard, and have ventured out some short distances to explore the city and county. But every time I think I have it figured out on my own, I get lost and find myself heading out a highway towards Atlanta. I am so thankful for a smart phone with Google Maps.

Red Spotted Purple Butterfly in our Yard

I am happy to report that there are birds, butterflies, other insects, animals and native plants in Georgia! The trick for me is in trying to get to know them, and in trusting my own instincts about the things that I already do know. Most of what I know about nature I learned in nearby Florida, bolstered and coached by knowledgable friends and teachers until I became comfortable with the information. Now I am in a new place and everything is out of context. Things seem familiar, but I'm just not sure. For example, I was not used to seeing Eastern Towhees at my Florida feeders, but here, I see them every day. Is this normal for this part of Georgia? It appears so from my personal experience, but I'll have to do some research to see if this is true in general. Catbirds and Robins that would be unusual at this time in Florida are all over up here. When we first got to town I would go outside and kept hearing familiar sounding bird calls. I thought they sounded like Brown Headed Nuthatches, but in my old Florida world, I had only heard them in parks and preserves. I kept telling myself that they were probably Carolina Chickadees. Sure enough, the Chickadees showed up and I doubted my first intuition. But I kept hearing what sounded like a "squeaky rubber duck sound" and it gnawed at me. Then one day I looked out at the backyard feeders and saw an unusual bird--it was a White Breasted Nuthatch! I was very excited and listened to a recording of the call to see if this is what I'd been hearing. No, it was not. Doubt took over once again. I felt like a I had no idea what I was doing birding-wise. Then one morning I heard the "rubber ducky" sound from the trees and a pair of Brown Headed Nuthatches flew down to the feeder. I should have trusted myself. Both types of Nuthatches and the Chickadees are regulars at my house now, especially since I brought out the suet.

Eastern Towhee 

Catbird Taking a Bath

Brown Thrasher--Georgia State Bird

White Breasted Nuthatch

Brown Headed Nuthatch

Another example of this came last week when I was trying to identify butterflies in the yard. The first one was a Question Mark. Once again, an animal I would never have seen in my yard in Florida, but one that I have since seen several times in Georgia. I guess from my experience so far that they're common here but had only seen once or twice previously in Florida.  I was baffled by another butterfly that showed up a few minutes later. It had a familiar shape, but I couldn't quite place it. It looked like a Snout Butterfly, which would have been an unusual one for me anyway, but it didn't have the snout which would have made identification totally obvious. Finally it sat still long enough for me to take a couple of good photos and I was able to figure out that it was indeed a Snout, but the snout was missing. I just have to learn to trust my intuition. Some butterflies here are entirely foreign to me and I'm reaching out to my new resources to help learn them. And I think it's time to stock my library with some new field guides!

Question Mark Butterfly in the Yard

Snoutless Snout Butterfly
I turned to my new NABA friends to help ID this one--A Silvery Checkerspot.
I've identified some of the plants in the yard, and through talking with butterfly and native plant enthusiasts I have learned that many of the plants that are invasive exotics in Florida are a problem here, too. English Ivy, Privet and Heavenly Bamboo will all be leaving our yard shortly. The Lantana, however, can stay, for now. Turns out it isn't quite as big a problem here as it is in Florida, and the butterflies and hummingbirds love it. It can stay until I find something better and native to replace it. There is a native plant sale in October and I will see what I can find to get the garden started. The new yard is pretty and manicured, and I want to keep it looking nice, but I do not plan to water a lot or use lawn chemicals, so grass may not be practical. I'll keep as much as will stay alive on its own and will slowly add wildflower patches to shrink the green desert. I've planted some nectar plants in pots and the butterflies and hummingbirds are happy. I put up bird feeders with seeds and suet, and hummingbird nectar, too. It took a while, but now it's like a busy highway outside with birds flying here and there, gobbling and drinking as fast as they can. When we lived in Florida I didn't have a good place to put hummingbird feeders where I could watch them, so we're really enjoying seeing them here. I'm surprised that hummingbirds can ever eat enough to survive what with their furious chasing off of intruders. They must burn off a lot of calories.

Hummingbirds During Rare Truce

I miss walking out the door and seeing the Anole lizards scatter. But up here, instead of scuttling Anoles, we have chipmunks. They're pretty cute, and move very quickly too. I may change my mind about them because there seem to be gangs of them roaming the yard, gobbling birdseed. Our dogs are fascinated. And I was happy to discover that the green Carolina Anoles do live up here, though in small numbers. The invasive Brown Cuban Anoles haven't made it up here yet. And I have seen tree frogs. Alas, no Alligators up this far north, though. We have lots of gray squirrels, and I still do what I can to keep them out of the bird feeders, but I have a soft spot in my heart for a 3 legged squirrel that hangs around our yard. If he can make it into the feeder, he is welcome to it. We have hawks and owls in the neighborhood and he probably made a lucky escape.

Cute Little Chipmunk

Three Legged Squirrel

I have spent a couple of nice days at the State Botanical Gardens in town and know it will become one of my favorite spots. It has nice hiking trails, lovely flowers, and is a great place to photograph butterflies and insects. They have a lot of hummingbirds and praying mantises right now. We have visited 3 Georgia State Parks so far, though I haven't spent long hours in any of them with my camera. There are waterfalls and mountains and I'm not used to hiking uphill, so that will take some getting used to. I haven't explored the wildflowers much yet, though I did find Orange Jewelweed at Fort Yargo State Park. It's in the Impatiens family and is reported to be a remedy for poison ivy. They conveniently tend to grow near each other. There will be many more new flowers and places to explore.  I have made connections with NABA (North American Butterfly Association) people and am now a member of the Piedmont Chapter. I plan to start attending Oconee Rivers Audubon field trips soon. And I may have worked out a gig as a volunteer nature trail guide. More on that later if it happens. I still miss my old home and my friends, but I can see that Georgia has a lot to offer, and as I head off to bed, I can hear a group of Barred Owls caterwauling in the back yard. This seems to be a good place and I'm looking forward to getting to know it better bit by bit, baby-step by baby-step.

Goldfinches at the Feeders

Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar from NABA Field Trip

Praying Mantis at the Georgia State Botanical Gardens


  1. Charming! Thanks!! Best line: Alas, no Alligators up this far north, though. ;-)

  2. Dear Katherine,
    You have accomplished so much since your move. I am very impressed. I love how you have joined the local nature clubs, are feeding the birds, and will plant wild flowers to replace the lawn. I am looking forward to meeting you and learning more about nature from you.
    All the best,

    1. It will be nice to meet you, too! Thank you for reading.

  3. Hi, Katherine! We miss you down here in Gainesville! I envy your White-breasted Nuthatch, but Mike had told me, based on visits to his daughter in North Carolina, that Brown-headed Nuthatch is much more generally distributed up in your area than it is down here. Did you notice that your towhees have red eyes? Not like the white-eyed Florida birds. I wonder if yours will come and go with the seasons, or stay all year. Oh, and my wife and daughter covet your chipmunks!

  4. Hi Rex, Thank you!
    I miss everyone in Gainesville, too. Things are starting to take shape up here, though. I'm loving having the nuthatches all around. They are everywhere! And you are so right about those red eyes on the Towhees. I hadn't caught that before. I'll let you know if they stick around or leave. And I'd be happy to put a chipmunk in the mail for your wife and daughter! (Just kidding). The warblers are showing up now and I'm off this morning to try to see a Canada Warbler someone reported in the Botanical Garden. Take care! Katherine