songbirds, blooms, some other things

2.14.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden

There were lots of birds at the botanical garden feeders on Valentine’s Day, most of them flitting about too quickly to catch with my camera, but I got a few. And a new lifer!

house finch
(female) purple finch
Carolina chickadee
Pine Warbler, #81

I thought I’d never catch my elusive new life bird — this was the only good picture out of the bunch.

A bird true to its name, the Pine Warbler is common in many eastern pine forests and is rarely seen away from pines. These yellowish warblers are hard to spot as they move along high branches to prod clumps of needles with their sturdy bills. If you don’t see them, listen for their steady, musical trill, which sounds very like a Chipping Sparrow or Dark-eyed Junco, which are also common piney-woods sounds through much of the year.
~ All About Birds website

Coastal Plain Habitat boardwalk in February
sand post oak leaves
mountain laurel starting to bud
cypress knees
crested wood fern

More blossoms to enjoy in the Lenten rose patch:

my favorite
longleaf pine

We’ve been hearing frogs croaking for a couple of weeks but they always stop and hide before we get to their pond, no matter how quietly we approach. This time we did see a lot of their eggs in the water, though.

frog eggs under water
moss on the edge of the frog pond

One of these days we might actually see a frog! 🐸

sightings on another gloomy day

2.9.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden

When we arrived at the botanical garden on Friday, Tim needed to tie his shoe, which gave me a minute to look at the roof of the gazebo he was sitting under. It was full of reindeer lichen and all kinds of moss so I took a few pictures with my zoom lens. When I got home I noticed those tiny red dots on the lichen. (above picture) Apparently these are called lichen fruiting bodies (apothecia) which contain spores that are dispersed in the wind. Just a little biology lesson for the day…

bee hotel
(female) Purple Finch, #80

A quick stop by the bird feeders and there I found another life bird, this time a female Purple Finch!

The Purple Finch is the bird that Roger Tory Peterson famously described as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.” For many of us, they’re irregular winter visitors to our feeders, although these chunky, big-beaked finches do breed in northern North America and the West Coast. Separating them from House Finches requires a careful look, but the reward is a delicately colored, cleaner version of that red finch. Look for them in forests, too, where you’re likely to hear their warbling song from the highest parts of the trees.
~ All About Birds website

Carolina rose hips

We listened for a long time to a Carolina wren singing its heart out in the branches above us…

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment. If a shower drives us for shelter to the maple grove or the trailing branches of the pine, yet in their recesses with microscopic eye we discover some new wonder in the bark, or the leaves, or the fungi at our feet.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, September 23, 1838)

And finally, tucked away in a shady spot in the herb garden we found a patch of Lenten Roses blooming. They’re not actually roses, they are in the buttercup family. There are many varieties, flowers ranging in color from deep red to white and many shades in between.

It was a lovely surprise to find these flowers blooming so abundantly on a gloomy February morning!

when the sun comes out

2.6.24 ~ Parker Preserve, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

When the sun comes out the world brightens up, even the browns and grays in the winter woods. It was a very sunny morning the other day, but too cold for a walk. So we opted for an afternoon walk. Even then it was still cold, Tim wore a coat, and I was bundled up with hat and mittens, too.

We found a new place to walk, another property belonging to the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Parker Preserve. It connects to the Mason Farm Biological Reserve we had explored back in December. At the beginning of the trail is Parker Meadow, the site of the former home of Bill & Athena Parker.

American holly
coming soon!

The huge bench above is one of two sitting in the meadow, where a 19th century log cabin was destroyed by a fire in 1995. (I assume it was the home of Bill & Athena.) After noticing what we presume to be dozens of patches of daffodils about to bloom, we headed into the woods, following the Woodland Trail.

late winter shadows
marcescence highlighted
this leaf was probably stranded here all winter
moss with sporophytes

Off in the distance we saw a huge log, covered in moss with sporophytes sprouting out of it. I used maximum zoom but could only manage the fuzzy picture above. We have been warned repeatedly about copperhead snakes so I resisted every urge to go off the trail and wade though the leaves to get a closer look.

in the spotlight: a maple leaf surrounded by oak leaves
illuminated roots from a tree that fell long ago
I’m calling this a ghost stump
effulgence

The disadvantage to taking an afternoon walk is that the traffic on the way home is very congested and slow. We found ourselves sitting in the car for a very long time at a traffic light near the James Taylor Bridge. From the road this bridge is unremarkable, the only hint that a bridge is there is a small sign identifying it and a short cement wall with a low fence on either side of it. But it’s located a mile from JT’s childhood home and it goes over Morgan Creek, which he wrote about in one of his songs, Copperline. We’ve encountered Morgan Creek a couple of times on our walks. This is all of particular interest to me because James Taylor was my idol when I was a teen, and he was the first singer I ever went to see in concert. I had all his albums. It’s a small world.

Half a mile down to Morgan Creek
I’m leanin’ heavy on the end of the week
Hercules and a hognose snake
Down on Copperline
We were down on Copperline

~ James Taylor
♫ (Copperline) ♫

a mixed message

2.2.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden
Groundhog Day
partly cloudy, occasional shadows
definite shadows

This morning we took our groundhogs, Basil & Oregano, to the botanical garden to introduce them to their new home. Sometimes they saw their shadows and sometimes they didn’t. Maybe there will be only three more weeks of winter?

lingering winter
no shadows
‘Old Blush’ Rose leaves
promising spring

I’ve decided to use the scene in the first picture for Karma’s “same location for all 4 seasons” photo hunt. Because Groundhog Day falls between the winter solstice and the spring equinox I think I will make this into an 8 season effort, including May Day, First Harvest and Halloween, which fall between the other solstices and equinoxes. If you want to join in please see Karma’s instructions at the end of this post HERE at Karma’s When I Feel Like It Blog.

sandhills pyxie-moss

1.28.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden

It’s been a challenge getting outside with all the rain we’ve been getting lately. It was drizzling when we got to the botanical garden Sunday afternoon, even though the weather people had promised that the sun would be coming out. We decided to walk anyway.

Along the path we met a staffer named Lauren, who was out in the rain looking for salamanders. We fell into a nice conversation and when we told her about our hunt for seedbox a couple of weeks ago she suggested another plant for us to hunt down. A tiny pyxie-moss was flowering now. She showed us a picture of it on her cell phone, and gave us directions to its location. We found it!

By then it had stopped raining so I went back to the car and got my camera. What a treat to see this plant so rare and unique to the Carolinas!

A rare minute creeping subshrub of xeric areas in the Sandhills region of North Carolina. This is the smaller of our two species of pyxie-moss. Very range-restricted, the entire known range of this species is a handful of counties in North and South Carolina.
… The tiny succulent evergreen leaves are less than 5 mm long. … The flowers rarely set seed and the seeds rarely sprout.
~ Carolina Nature website

After enjoying our discovery we went on to explore more of the soggy gardens. There is always something different to see. It was still a damp, gray day.

pretty sure this is a longleaf pine

This resurrection fern was growing abundantly on one side of a tall tree stump. On the other side of the stump it was all mushrooms.

I couldn’t get around to the back of the stump for a full all-mushroom shot, but you can see where the ferns ended and the mushrooms began in the photo below.

I close my eyes and listen to the voices of the rain. … Every drip it seems is changed by its relationship with life, whether it encounters moss or maple or fir bark or my hair. And we think of it as simply rain, as if it were one thing, as if we understood it. I think that moss knows rain better than we do, and so do maples. Maybe there is no such thing as rain; there are only raindrops, each with its own story.
– Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)

lichens on a fallen branch
‘lemon drop’ swamp azalea buds
‘Spain’ rosemary flowering
Atlantic ninebark (rose family) seed head
Ozark witch-hazel blooming
witch-hazel marcescence
winterberry aka black alder

And you know the light is fading all too soon
You’re just two umbrellas one late afternoon
You don’t know the next thing you will say
This is your favorite kind of day
It has no walls, the beauty of the rain
Is how it falls, how it falls, how it falls

~ Dar Williams
♫ (The Beauty of the Rain) ♫

Lauren had mentioned that rainy days are the best time to look for salamanders. On warm wet nights from January to March here in the Piedmont they emerge from their underground burrows and head for vernal pools to mate and lay eggs. A week after that artic blast it did get unseasonably warm. I wonder if she found any salamanders after we talked. We kept our eyes open but didn’t see any.

hunting for seedbox

1.12.24 ~ North Carolina Botanical Garden

Every day the North Carolina Botanical Garden Facebook page adds a post about something currently happening or growing in their gardens. Recently they posted a picture of a square seed capsule with the following information:

This funky plant grows in wet areas like ditches and freshwater tidal marshes. Its small yellow flowers drop their petals quickly, sometimes after just a single day, but we get to enjoy the beautiful seed capsules through the fall and winter. You’ll find seedbox alongside the goldenrods and ferns in our Coastal Plain Habitat.

So I decided we would hunt for this interesting looking seed capsule. We had no idea what size it would be but we headed for the Coastal Plain Habitat and searched and searched with no luck.

We then looked for identification signs for goldenrods and ferns, found some and located what looked like a promising patch of dried up vegetation near them.

red bay tree with several burls

Then Tim googled seedbox and found out that these seed capsules were very small, about 1/8 in. cubed. So my eyes kept inspecting the area ever more thoroughly…

We did see lots of pretty dry plants…

And then, at last, I found some!!! In the picture below the seedbox capsules are tangled up with another kind of plant.

Tim used his walking stick to move one stem of the capsules away and turned them so we could see the tops of them. Cute little cubes. I imagine there is a seed in each box. Seedbox! So tiny! (picture below) Our persistence paid off and I doubt we would ever have noticed these little gems if we weren’t looking for them.

seedbox (ludwigia alternifolia)
aka square-pod water-primrose

After that bit of excitement a hermit thrush flew by us and landed in the bushes. It stayed put for quite a while and I thoroughly enjoyed the photo op.

The botanical garden also has a bird blind with bird feeders in the Children’s Wonder Garden so we walked over there, spotting some cardinals and lovely trees along the way.

southern sugar maple leaves
northern cardinal
river birch bark
(reminds me of the one I had outside my kitchen window in Connecticut)
another northern cardinal

And lo and behold, there on the feeder was a new life bird for me, a Carolina Chickadee!!! I couldn’t zoom in fast enough before it left but I was happy to spot one. 🙂

Carolina Chickadee, #79

John James Audubon named this bird while he was in South Carolina. The curious, intelligent Carolina Chickadee looks very much like a Black-capped Chickadee, with a black cap, black bib, gray wings and back, and whitish underside. Carolina and Black-capped chickadees hybridize in the area where their ranges overlap, but the two species probably diverged more than 2.5 million years ago.
~ All About Birds website

A Carolina wren kept us amused for quite a while with his antics on the feeder.

There was much to see in the winter garden, many delights for the eyes. It was only 32°F (0°C) when we left the house so I had put on my thermal leggings and wool hat from Norway and managed not to get too cold.

deciduous holly

The hunt for seedbox was good stimulation, exercising our brains along with our bodies.

squirrel photo shoot

1.6.24 ~ Bolin Forest

It’s been a couple of months since I introduced you to Fred, our affable neighborhood squirrel. Recently he decided to come to our back door for walnuts instead of inquiring at the front door. And sometimes he stays to eat them on the railing of our deck. One such morning, when I wasn’t feeling so well, Tim grabbed the camera and got these wonderful shots!

#2
#3
#4
#5

Fred comes around several times a day for his nuts. We’ve seen him chase away other squirrels who dare to come near the front porch or the back deck. One day he took a few steps into the house so now Tim is more careful about how far he opens the door. It brightens our day when we hear him “knocking” and see his little face peering into the sliding glass doors. It’s endearingly comical when leans over the edge of the front porch railing, stretching out so he can scan the bay window for evidence of human activity in the kitchen. His visits are delightful!

Yesterday I overheard Tim talking matter-of-factly to himself as he stepped outside onto the deck, “It would be nice if Fred cleaned up after himself.”

photos by Tim Rodgers

long winter shadows

12.23.23 ~ Carolina North Forest

Our first winter holidays in North Carolina were amazing! Our walks were few and far between, though, due to all the other activities. Time to get back on track and back to the blogosphere.

Look back on Time, with kindly Eyes —
He doubtless did his best —
How softly sinks the trembling Sun
In Human Nature’s West —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1251)

eastern bluebird

I think if I’m going to photograph more birds we will have to visit more gardens than forests. The trees seem to be so much taller down here and my zoom lens just doesn’t reach those high perches to capture the winged creatures that well. But I’m including this bluebird picture anyway to remind me how nice it was to see and hear a few of them, way overhead, that day. 🙂