My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spring is Springing Out All Over

Spring always starts slowly, but in the south, it soon starts stumbling over its own feet in it's rush to get every living thing moving.  The first sign of spring was way back in late January, when the swamp maples bloomed.  Their tiny red blooms are barely noticeable until they fall on the ground.  But now the swamp maples are a blaze of red color, as their seed pods are ripening and all of them area beautiful shade of bright red.

Swamp maples seed pods

Several days ago, I heard a rustling at my window.  This lovely Polyphemus moth was at the window, trying to get out. I opened the window and then it decided that it was happy there.  So I took its picture before pushing it out to resume its short life.  Today there were several species of butterflies fluttering around, but I didn't try to photograph them until it was so hot, they would barely settle, before flying off again. But there are at least two species of sulfur butterflies as well as a couple of other species I don't know. 

Yesterday, I went to Crooked River and rode my bike around while birding.  I also went out of the park and through a neighborhood where I found many signs of spring. 

Plum tree?

Saucer magnolias
And the robins are leaving.  Today I was only able to count six where I  usually count 50 -200.  I caught this guy sprucing up before his trip north while at Crooked River State Park.

I'm keeping a patch list while I'm here, so decided to check out part of it this morning. The first thing to catch my eye was this glorious Caroline jasmine, just at the edge of my "yard".  It was attracting bees and butterflies, but all were way too high for me to photograph them.

Carolina jasmine

A closer view
 Then everywhere I went, I saw more spring activity.  Tree buds were busting out all over.  Many also had blooms.

Baby leaves

Leaves and blooms

More buds bursting out

And we may have had the first of our spring warblers visit. The only thing I can match this terrible picture to is a young female northern parula, because it looks like its throat will be yellow.  Hopefully Judy Bell, Bruce, or another birder can help me out here.  The turkey vultures have been moving through for the last ten days or so and we are also seeing some black vultures, which I hadn't seen all winter. And two mockingbirds seemed to be courting.

On my walk this morning, I also found this redbud tree.

Redbud blooms

Bladderwort have been blooming for several days in one of the bar ditches along the auto tour road.  I went down this afternoon to capture it.

Swollen bladderwort, Utricularia inflata, flower

I had to stop to take a picture of these strange little flowers.  They have  a unique kind of star-haped leaf cluster and the leaves are a little like succulent leaves.

And these little buds were on a scrawny sub-shrub, only about eighteen inches high.

If you know what that last two plants are, please let me know. I'll try to research them while I'm not so busy - that's when I'm waiting for customers in the Visitor Center.

So, what's new in your neighborhood?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Help! Where's the Shelter

After taking several canoe routes out of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, I decided to graduate to do a trip out of Kingfisher Landing. I got my canoe loaded the evening before and only had to add lunch, food and water since the rest of my canoeing gear lives in my car.

Sunrise from Kingfisher Landing

I got to Kingfisher Landing, which is only about a half-hours drive north of here, just as the sun was coming up.  I quickly got ready, and blithely started my paddle down the long and mostly straight canal.  I planned to paddle mostly south on the green trail to the Bluff Lake Shelter. The day quickly turned cloudy but was still beautiful.  I got to see my first Georgia cedar waxwings as well as enjoy an osprey. I was always accompanied by the high-pitched chips of yellow-rumped warblers.  And for a large part of the way I always had three to five tree swallows swooping all around me. Phoebes were also present and several of them occurred in pairs. The day quickly warmed up and I was glad I had worn my sandals  instead of my boots.

Ready to sign in and unload

Clearing is underway

Cold toes warming up

Part of a flock of cedar waxwings under still-cloudy skies

I found the same kinds of signage  here as I had on the other trails I'd paddled, at least at first.  I was able to stay on course for the first  seven plus miles.  But then I came to a lake.  There were no tall,white-tipped poles to guide me any further.  And no signage.  I looked ahead to what appeared to be a solid bank.  I looked to the right and saw a weather station/depth gauge. I figured the shelter must be up near it and paddled  up the lake.
Follow the green signs

But still nothing - no channels and no structures.  Then I started to worry that I'd gotten my information from our paper map and not from our website which lists the routes and the shelters that are open.  I thought the fire might have burned it down and that is why I couldn't find it.  I further reasoned that perhaps the trail was closed here and that I could explore a likely place and see if I could wiggle through on one or more alligator trails. That's when disaster hit.  I managed to wiggle about  100 feet  into tight shrubs growing on jams little batteries - small patches of peat that have been blown lose from the bottom and are now floating. But it was obvious that I couldn't actually paddle here. At this point, I called the administration office and told Judy I couldn't find the shelter.  She told me it was across the lake from the mouth of the channel I'd come down.

I think I' will escape - only feet to go

 I started back out - turning around was REALLY fun - and again spent several minutes fighting my way back out.  Fortunately, I've spent a lot of time doing this kind of paddling and my canoe, Swamp Sprite, is good at it. We were soon out of that predicament and paddling around the edge of the lake so we wouldn't miss the channel.  I found the channel and in less than a half mile, got to the shelter.

Bluff Lake Shelter

I enjoyed a well-earned lunch and rest there.  Then I paddled another half mile up the channel.  Within a few strokes, I realized I'd left my camera on the table at the shelter.  So I didn't get any pictures.  But I thought the scenery was getting even prettier as I continued the paddle.  There is a blockage ahead and I really wanted to see it but I'm still trying to find my limits so was afraid to go much past the expected sixteen miles I knew I had to do. So I turned around, retrieved my camera and started back under now sunny and warm skies.

Pitcher plants are regrowing

But  only about a half mile after I entered the channel, I came to obviously new territory.  I was at the entrance to another larger lake than I'd come from and one that had not been on my route coming in. I checked my GPS and saw I was going south and knew I should be going north.  I retraced my route back to the first lake, looking all the while for where I'd somehow made a wrong turn.  When I didn't find any turns, I turned around and went back to the new lake, still looking for the missing turn.

Views on the way back were prettier under sunny skies

 Finally my blonde brain suggested that possibly I'd been in the wrong channel all the while.  I knew I was at the bottom of the lake so started back towards the weather station.  Only about fifty feet away, I saw the correct channel.  After that it was a piece of cake to find my way home.  But I did go back towards various way-points I'd set on the way in so I'd have a backup if I took another wrong turn. I now understand how one can get lost here.  I'll not ever count on having marked trails here again.  But I'd rather have to depend on navigation than marked trails anyway. It makes for both more interesting paddling and the ability to go explore unmarked places.

Golden Club, aka Never Wet is blooming

Marsh, shrubs and trees AND a recognized channel

 Our bookstore just got in a wonderful National Geographic map of the refuge.  It is designed to be carried in a boat and is huge and very detailed.  As soon as I entered it into our stock, I bought a copy. And I'm getting a new GPS since I can't use mine with a computer and can't download maps because it's too old. I'll definitely be better prepared for my next trip.  Now just need to get my canoe fixed or or find another ride. (I forgot to mention, that when I stopped to stretch my back, I ran up on a little battery.)  Then I had to go to the back thwart and push off which, in turn made my thwart break away from the gunnel.  Soon after that, my seat came out of its track and I fell to the bottom of the boat.  Had to make a lasso our of my bow line to hold everything together until I got back. )

I loved these dead, but still colorful pitcher plants

I've also notified the Refuge of the lack of trail markers.  Hopefully, they'll get some volunteers to replace them.

I did take some waypoints.

Shelter: N 30.87817, W 082.15057

Postscript, March 5, 2014

I just found Google Earth can pull info off my GPS.  So now you too, can see my wanderings through Bluff Lake and down to Half Moon Lake.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Oh That Jekyll Island

Cindy invited me to go to Jekyll Island last Sunday.  We planned to do several activities: take pictures of the sunrise and moonset - which happened very close together, count birds with a birding group, pig out on seafood for supper, and then go to back to the boneyard (dead trees on the beach) and paint with colored light on the skeletons of trees as we took their pictures.

We managed to leave Cindy's house at 5:00 A.M., and got the sunset and moonset duly recorded.  Then we had a great  morning looking at a lot of shorebirds, while birding with people knowledgeable about the area, but we also got black and white warblers and hermit thrushes and lots of other little birds.

Cindy setting up to photograph the sunrise in the boneyard

Then there was this one

And that one

And another

And many more - but you get the picture

And if we turned around, we got the setting moon

As it slipped through the branches of living trees

We saw these two in a little pond between the beach and the road - great comparison of a Great Egret and a snowy

Counting got way beyond me here - but the guy with the scope worked it out

I enjoyed a far-off osprey capturing a fish

Cindy and I found about 50 of a mix of yellow and black-crowned night herons
In the same pond were three pair of pie-billed grebes
 Then Cindy and I ate lunch and resumed birding. First we went to an area called the amphitheatre.  There we found lots of night herons, vultures, and pie-billed grebes. Then we tried to find the summer tanager female and the painted bunting female reported to be in the camping area.  We didn't find them but enjoyed sitting and watching lots of cardinals and chickadees come to the feeders. Then we had a wonderful supper - I had the low country boil in an all-you-can eat version and Cindy had a garlicky shrimp dish.  Both were excellent.  But the day was cooler then expected and the evening chilled down fast.  And we had higher expectations of our energy levels than we actually had.  So we didn't make it to the light painting activity.

The shrimp boat headed into the setting sun to go catch shrimp while we headed off to eat shrimp
We were satiated but I'm not done with this island. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Big Backyard Bird Count at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

We took part in the Big Backyard Bird Count today.  I managed to get started in time to catch a last glimpse of the full moon, before it was buried in clouds. And I was sooo happy to find turkeys right beside the boardwalk restroom grounds. No one showed up for our 7:00 A.M. start so I left a note and went down the boardwalk.  A group of ibis flew over soon after I started.  They turned out to be the only ibis seen today.

Setting moon

The only turkey that would give me a side view

This was one of my early birds and first of several Carolina wrens

The day was beautiful and quite warm, and I was just in a sweater and a hat.   But the little fifteen minute rain shower we had at five o'clock was the edge of a little cold front, and the day got windier and cloudier. I had to add a windbreaker for a few hours.  Finally the sun prevailed and we got clear skies before noon. The high winds helped to keep the birds down out of sight. I found some sandhill cranes and great egrets hiding in the grass.

The light was beautiful until the clouds filled the sky

One of a few sandhill cranes I found trying to stay out of the wind

I got accidental help form the Jacksonville Audubon Club who had scheduled a field trip here. A few other people also counted at different times during the day. One family gave me the only great blue herons we saw, and several other people supplied new species.

I got real excited in the afternoon when I had to go cover the visitor center and started looking at my pictures.  One of the little birds I had taken turned out to be a Palm Warbler.  And the storm knocked down some branches and cones and had some kind of food that the chipping sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, and pine warblers were eating right on the road.  So I was able to get lots of pictures of them quite easily.

We had scores of yellow-rumped warblers

My most exciting little bird - a palm warbler

The usual high up feeding pine warblers were mostly found on the ground today

Chipping sparrow - the first I've seen here

Had to take this sign of spring I found while walking the woodland trails around Chesser Homestead

We had numerous red-bellied woodpeckers

This very cooperative bluebird came to the restroom while I was sitting beside it

Here's what we saw:

48 speciesN total
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Duck
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
White Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Mourning Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Smaller, fatter dove than mourning dove. Always seen on the ground and runs into taller grass when flushed. Usually see three in this location. Second observer found 7 later in the day at the same location, the grass behind the boardwalk restroom.
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
This great blue heron was just outside the count - we counted two
Now I'm late getting to bed.  I have to get up at 3:45 AM so I can meet, my friend, Cindy and drive with her to Jekyll Island, GA.  We are going to count birds, take lots of pictures, eat out, and then play with taking night pictures.  Monday I have to leave at 6:30 A.M. to go to Jacksonville to get a broken window fixed on my car.  I'm already starting to look forward to having to work Tuesday.  Perhaps I'll get a little rest during work.