Archive for October, 2007

You Can’t Always Get What You Want . . .

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

A Katydid Caught in an Orb-web Spider’s Grasp

Outside our kitchen window this morning, in the remnants of a web spun across the corner, a large orb-web spider held an even larger green katydid in her grasp. She seemed to be trying to chew away the silk in which it was entangled, to release it rather than to wrap it up. Most of the carefully constructed web had been demolished, maybe torn up by the katydid’s wings. Later, I found the corpse of the katydid on the window ledge below, partly chewed up, but lovely green wings intact. No sign of the spider or her web.

A Young Black Rat Snake Lost

Also this morning – a deeply cloudy, warm, humid day – we found a small, slender gray snake with dark splotchy markings lying dead just outside our garage door. A discarded snakeskin lay in the pine needles under a nearby bush. Ants had formed a trail to a spot near the end of the snake’s very thin tail. The head looked triangular, but the cloudy eyes appeared very round – not the vertical slits of a pit viper – and I could see no sign of rattles or a button on the tail. It was almost certainly a very young Black Rat Snake, which isn’t surprising because several times we’ve seen large Black Rat Snakes around the same area of our yard. We’re happy to have them around because they’re not venomous and they eat rodents and insects – on the other hand, they also eat small birds. It wasn’t clear what had killed it, though it must have been vulnerable just after leaving its old skin.

No Red-breasted Nuthatch – but an Eastern Wood Pewee and a Pileated Woodpecker

Meanwhile, around the feeders in the front yard, I was watching out for a Red-breasted Nuthatch because there’ve been many reports of sightings this fall – including a call from my sister, Janet, in Charlotte, NC, this morning saying she had seen one in her birdbath. She described it perfectly – a small, quick bird with a bluish back, stubby tail and distinctive bright white stripe over the eye. So far, I haven’t been so lucky. Around our bird baths and feeders were only the ubiquitous Titmice, Chickadees, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Carolina Wren, and a Mockingbird that seems to like the fruit, nut and seed mixture I’ve put out recently. Three Mourning Doves pecked under the feeders. Our resident pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches stopped by for a while, and a pair of Brown Thrashers fed in the grass on the edge of the driveway. A Phoebe hunted from perches on our mailbox and in low branches. A Pine Warbler sang in the woods nearby.

Then – like a small consolation prize for not seeing any Red-breasted Nuthatches – or maybe as a reminder to appreciate what’s here instead of looking for something else – an Eastern Wood Pewee swooped in low and landed on the branch of a pecan tree. It flew from there all around the front yard, not staying long in any one spot, and was mostly quiet, but paused in another low branch close enough and long enough for me to see it well – and for it to sigh a brief, soft wee-oo.

A few minutes later I heard the bugling call of a Pileated Woodpecker, and then saw it as it flew across our yard – a large black bird with a rolling flight pattern, flying low, flashing white – to an oak at the corner of our property. I could just barely see its flaming red crest and imperious profile through the branches of the other trees, but it stayed around in the same general area for at least half an hour, frequently clucking or calling.

Towhees Sing among Morning Glories, Goldenrod and Ragweed

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

The first two days of October have brought beautiful fall weather – with crisp, chilly mornings, deep blue sky, sparkling sunlight and brisk winds – and rather frustrating birding. The treetops have often seemed full of bird activity, but I haven’t been able to spot any migrants among the wind-tossed leaves, except for one Red-eyed Vireo.

Late this morning as I walked through the neighborhood, the kee-yer cry of a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk sounded clear and close, though the hawk was so high it was barely a speck against the blue. Four Chimney Swifts twittered much lower overhead. Phoebes, Pine Warblers and Mockingbirds sang, Brown-headed Nuthatches called squeaky-dee, and I heard the kleer! of a Northern Flicker – the first one I’ve heard this fall. Although some Flickers live here year-round, more usually arrive around this time to spend the winter here, so they become much more noticeable.

The Old Field that runs along the dead-end road just outside the entrance to our subdivision is coming alive with fall color and texture, despite the drought, and despite the fact that someone recently and pointlessly sprayed a lot of the already fading kudzu with an herbicide, turning it before its time into an ugly, scraggly brown mess. But goldenrod and other yellow-flowering weeds have begun to bloom in profusion. White, purple and pink morning glories wind through grasses and thorny weeds, and are especially pretty in a roadside ditch, where the blooms tumble over ragweed, horse nettles, and tough-looking brambles and vines. Sleepy orange and Cloudless Sulphur butterflies weave around foxtails, broomsedge, tall red-topped grasses, and the deep-purple berries and raw red stems of pokeweed. Now and then the burning-orange wings of a Gulf Fritillary dance like a small flame through the grasses. Grasshoppers sing and snap and fly.

The summer birds are gone from the field – indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, white-eyed vireos, and I think even the catbirds now – and the winter sparrows and juncos haven’t yet arrived, so the mellow chewink of Eastern Towhees is the most characteristic call in the field right now.