Saturday, July 16, 2016


Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana
I spent the entire day inside yesterday, painting our kitchen. (It looks great, by the way.) I had the radio on all day and by the afternoon I reached a point where I just had to turn it off. My brain and heart are exhausted after the events of the last few weeks. The Orlando night club massacre, the car bombs in Baghdad, police shootings, the 5 murdered police officers in Dallas, and the constant heated rhetoric of our upcoming presidential elections. The attack in Nice this week was the last straw for me. I just can't take it any more. I think this is hitting me hard because my husband and I were just in Nice a month ago and I still have the vacation images from that beautiful, happy place fresh in my mind. But the pain and hate and negativity are just starting to overshadow everything and I can feel myself losing spirit. So I took action today and got my butt outside to take photos. I know it always helps me feel better, which is something I always forget until I'm doing it.

Silver Spotted Skipper on Lantana

I decided to go to the State Botanical Gardens to look for butterflies. They have a lot of Lantana and Zinnias, butterfly favorites, so my chances were good.  Stepping out of the car I caught a low flying Mississippi Kite out of the corner of my eye as it whizzed over the parking lot. I followed it out into the gardens and forgot everything but the pursuit of nature.

Widow Skimmer Dragonfly

The first thing I found was a tiny, juvenile Black Racer on some stepping stones in the grass. I was afraid it was dead because it didn't move away when I came in close. But when I touched it with my shoe it reared up, shook its tail like a rattlesnake, and struck at my toe. Not dead! I took a bunch of photos and pointed it out to several other visitors, including a little boy who wanted to keep it and bridal party having a photo shoot. The snake was probably happy to get away from all the attention.

Juvenile Black Racer, Maybe 8 Inches Long

Next up was a pair of armadillos, digging without care right next to the wedding photos. The wedding photographer called me over this time. The armadillos were not at all afraid of people and I was able to get pretty close for some good shell shots. I pointed them out to some visitors who had never seen an armadillo before. They are the weirdest animals, and they cause so much damage. I feel bad for the landscape crew, but I love watching them. 

Armadillos Ignoring me

I followed the call of a bird that turned out to be an Indigo Bunting, way up in an oak tree. The call led me down a path lined with tall red Swamp Hibiscus flowers. I got in the way of some bumble bees on a mission for nectar and was buzzed several times. Movement in the leaves turned out to be a baby Carolina Wren, whose parent zoomed in and scolded it away from me. Ahead a little further, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher picked bugs off of the Magnolia leaves. 

Scarlet Rose Mallow (Hibiscus coccineus)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in the Magnolia

A flash of yellow drew my attention to a Zinnia patch where I saw a pair of Goldfinches picking seeds from the spent flowers. Swallowtail butterflies wafted around, trying to elbow their way in to sip nectar. A little skink on the sidewalk watched for grasshoppers.

Goldfinch in the Zinnias

Giant Swallowtail on a Zinnia

Five-line Skink Looking for Bugs

It was hot and humid with storm clouds building in the west. Sweat poured down my face and into my eyes, temporarily blinding me with sunscreen. As I looked for a place to sit and wipe my eyes, I noticed a huge bed of Hyssop flowers, almost moving with the buzzing of bees, flies, wasps, butterflies and moths. My eyes stopped stinging and I shot photo after photo. If you want a good plant to attract pollinators, try Hyssop. Wow!

American Lady and Ailanthus Webworm Moth on Hyssop

Buckeye on Hyssop

Gray Hairstreak on Hyssop

Juniper Hairstreak on Hyssop

More conversations with other visitors about what I was doing with my head in the Hyssop patch. Then the thunder moved closer and louder and I packed up and went home. The familiar call of a Mississippi Kite made me look up and I saw a pair soaring overhead, too far away for photos.

Silvery Checkerspot

Driving home I felt like I'd been to a retreat. I hadn't thought about anything but what was in front of me for the whole morning. I felt refreshed and rested and reminded of the beautiful world around me. And of the basic kindness and friendliness of the people around me. I just needed a realignment. And to turn off the news and get outside. Always a good idea.

Fiery Skipper on Periwinkle