Friday, September 27, 2013

September 26 2013 Ramble Report

Announcements of interest to Ramblers:

Pie day!!! Please come!!!
Sandy Creek Nature Center 40th Anniversary Celebration
Sunday, September 29, 2013; 3PM to 5PM

Trail walk with Dan Williams!
Sandy Creek Nature Center
Tuesday, October 1, 2013; 9:00AM

Photos of today's ramble are courtesy of Don Hunter (the complete set can be found here.)

Today's Ramble began with Catherine Chastain reading a selection from a wonderfully illustrated book, Middlewood Journal:  Drawing Inspiration from Nature by Helen Scott Correll, p. 78:

I can tell summer is losing its grip.  It’s interesting to note that I understand more every year that the seasons, which I used to consider fairly distinct, are really quite blurred.  Cat brier and Virginia creeper leaves begin turning red as early as July: fuzzy spring-like oak leaves sprout until frost.  During this morning’s ramble I saw the first “fall” silvery aster bloom for the year, and the grass-leaved and golden asters, which have been blooming for a couple weeks.  Thoroughworts (upland, round-leaved, and hyssop-leaved) are in bloom, but fading.  Tall goldenrods already brighten the woodland edges.  Joe Pye weed and pale indian plantain are in full bloom down by Meetinghouse Creek.

While I drew, fall field crickets trilled in the field behind me, and a white-breasted nuthatch’s loud and nasal ank ank! ank ank! ank ank! gave away his position as he walked head-first down the trunk of an oak looking for insects.  I remember the bird’s name and differentiate him from the brown creeper, who also hops on tree trunks, by thinking what a “nut” the nuthatch is to hop head-first straight down the tree.  The way a brown creeper does it, starting at the bottom of the tree and spiraling up the trunk, seems so much easier.  The name nuthatch actually comes from the bird’s habit of wedging nuts into cracks in a tree bark, then whacking at it with his sharp bill to “hatch” the nut from its shell.

A pileated woodpecker screamed several times close by.  A breeze kicked up and stirred the leaves, eventually becoming a steadying cooling wind that persuaded me to stay a while after journaling, just to enjoy it. 

We then walked through the shade garden to the road, down the road to the power line and then to the river. Today's theme was "vines," but we saw many other interesting things, both flora and fauna.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

September 19 2013 Ramble Report

Today it seemed appropriate to remember the Irish poet Seamus Heaney who died a couple of weeks ago, so Dale Hoyt read one of his poems. (Note: The flax-dam in the poem is a pond in which the stems of Flax stems are placed in the water to rot, releasing the fibers that were used to make linen. Many Irish towns had such flax dams.)

Death of a Naturalist

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

We planned to focus on butterflies again today, but it was cool when we began, not a good sign for butterfly activity. Butterflies prefer hot, sunny weather, so we left the parking lot with low expectations. But with so many sharp-eyed participants it wasn't long before we found lots  of interesting creatures.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 12 2013 Ramble Report

We started with a reading from Janisse Ray describing the Altamaha River as a library, which Hugh read. 

This river (The Altamaha) is a library, full of biota.  In these stacks, everything is written in different languages.  There is a dialect for motions at the surface of water, ripples and waves and mini- volcanoes and sometimes only a shimmering of wind.  Each species has its own vernacular, rasps and howls and bellows and flutelike songs.  Fish have a lingo of puff and plop, and wild speech falls off the tongues of amphibians and reptiles.  There is also a language beyond sound.

In this library, one shelf is for mussels and one is for bream that live in submerged bank roots.  There is a cabinet for the life of canopies and a dictionary of grass.  This library contains a reference for butterflies, a catalogue of birds. It offers a concordance of arthropods, a circulation of seeds.

The river runs and runs.  It runs until it makes a circle, half in the sky, and finds itself again.  It runs not simply to haul rainfall out of Georgia.
Not only to water the land.
Not only to nourish these forests.
Not only because it is a storehouse of life.        
The river runs because it is the keeper of mystery.  It is the bearer of what cannot be humanly borne.  It is the course of transformation.  It is a sacred urn that,  once opened, changes everything.

(From Janisse Ray, Drifting into Darien (Athens: UGA Press, 2011), pp x-xi.)

Bob Walker showed photos of the Gulf Fritillary that emerged from the chrysalis that Dale brought last week and which Bob took home to protect and see what emerged.

Our ramble today was through the International Garden to the Purple Trail and then back by way of the Orange Trail.  Went around the Beaver Pond on the Orange Trail and took it all the way to the Upper Parking lot.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

September 5 2013 Ramble Report

Dale brought a Gulf Fritillary butterfly chrysalis to show; Martha and Bob agreed to take home and give it tender care. Martha will give us updates on what emerges (butterfly or parasitic wasp).

Hugh read the story of Milton Hopkins and an indigo snake. Milton graduated from UGA with an MA in zoology, and intended to become a naturalist on the Barrier Islands, but ended up, in his own words, a dirt farmer.  He was an incredible birder, and known throughout the state. 

Although it was winter, the snake had emerged from a gopher hole to sun.  Milton collected the snake, thinking to offer it as a live specimen to a professor he knew at Mercer University, the head of the biology department.  At home he made a pine box and attached the lid with nails nailed only half-way down, thinking he'd give the snake water the next morning.

"Lo and behold," his story goes, "the next morning I awoke to find an empty snake box.  The huge reptile had forced the pine planks clean off the box and escaped into our home.  Wife Mary had a few-months-old baby girl at the time and wailed, 'That huge snake will swallow my baby.' I knew this was impossible but couldn't convince her."

"'We all turned the home upside down for several days in search of the snake, without success.  I was certain it had not escaped the house."

"One morning early, while we were eating breakfast my peripheral vision caught a swift darting motion from behind a large upright freezer.  Here was our snake.  She was coiled in and out of the heat-dispensing coils on the back of the freezer, which backed up to a closed window.  The freezer had recently been loaded with over six hundred pounds of beef we had just killed on the farm, and I hated to think of unloading and reloading all that meat, so decided the best method of recapture of the snake was to take out the window casing from the outside and remove the lower window.  This took some time and effort, and I had three pairs of eyes watching from inside the house to be sure the snake didn't move to another hiding place."

"'She had herself wrapped around and in and out of the coils of the freezer, probably seeking warmth, and it took some time to get her to turn loose and come out.  This was accomplished, the snake again put in her shipping box and this time the lid was securely nailed down."

"'After affixing the address on the box I added 'Live Snake' in big letters.  Railway Express agencies prided themselves on shipping anything, but I thought it prudent to leave the snake box in the pickup, enter the freight agent's office, and tell him what I wanted to ship.   He says loudly, 'a Live snake?'"
"Yes, Sir,"
"The agent said, 'Boy, don't bring that thing any closer in here.   Push my scales outside on the loading platform, weigh the box, and I'll give you a label to attach to it.'"

[From Milton Hopkins book, In One Place:  The Natural History of a Dirt Farmer, we learn that the snake lived for many years at Mercer University.  The end came when it bit a student.]

Hugh's reading is from Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 1999),pp. 189-190.

We then proceeded down through the Dunson Native Flora Garden to go out the White trail to the Blue Trail up the service road and back on the Green Trail.