Yearly Archives: 2012

Bear in the Backyard!

 

2bear-6063As I sit here on this Saturday morning, the last in July, after having spent a glorious chunk of time outside, I can recognize and feel thankful for my blessings. Sometimes it’s easy to see only the negative side of things, but days like today show me just how lucky I am. I love that I have total and complete freedom to spend my time exactly as I want, not having to check with someone or plan my schedule around another. On weekends I usually have no place to be, nothing I must do and hours to spend as I see fit, which almost always includes my favorite thing in all the world–nature photography. What freedom! How can I not love and be thankful for this!

Before the sun rose today, I lay in bed and contemplated how to spend my morning. Yesterday I rushed off to The Biltmore Estate, hoping to photograph a male hummingbird in the walled garden where 6 feet tall red flowers beckon like bells to the winged wonders. I saw plenty of hummingbirds, but none of them cooperative ones who wanted to be famous. I stood in the sun forever, waiting, waiting, waiting, with sweat pouring down every inch of skin. It was hot and crowded and though I enjoyed my time there and found plenty of beauty and things worth photographing, today I needed some solitude. So a little after sunrise, I headed out, walking the short distance to the wild spot of land beside my home.

The field there is unnoticed and for sure, unloved. (Except by me!) It is not one of these lovely meadows filled with wildflowers of every color. Instead, it is overgrown, teeming in spots with poison ivy and pricker bushes along with queen anne’s lace, clover, vetch, milkweed, thistle, and a mix of grasses and other plants. In some places the growth is nearly as tall as me–6 feet, which makes my progress slow. On my way to the far side which has become my favorite spot, I passed two round patches of matted-down grass where some animal slept recently. I smiled, thinking about the curled up bear or deer, spending the night under the stars. It is always a joy to read the tracks and traces that are present everywhere.

honeybee-5172At a place where grasses were thick, weighted-down with tiny drops of dew, I stopped and proceeded to look closely, searching for possible photographic subjects. The water drops decorated everything, hanging silently like miniature ornaments. I set my tripod up and began closing in on some of the more interesting drops, loving the way the sunlight reflected in each one.

After I’d been working for a while, I heard breaking sticks in the forest and stopped to look there. Was it a bear or a deer? More noise came–enough to tell me it was a bear– and then, sure enough, a bear emerged from the thick wall of forest, entering the field at a slow pace and taking a dozen steps out before stopping. In this split second when I realized it was a bear, my only thought was, I have on the wrong lens! My macro with the 2x converter on the end was not going to work to photograph the bear!

Meanwhile, the bear sensed that something was amiss in the field, suddenly standing up and looking my way. The sun behind me on the horizon though was blinding and though I was only 30 feet away, it seemed unlikely he could make me out. By then I had switched lenses, but the camera was still screwed on the tripod which was low in the grass. I undid the screw as my heart threatened to beat right out of my chest. My hands shook, as I hurried to get ready to take at least one shot.  It was an OMG moment! And I thought I would die right there of a heart attack, I was so excited. The bear by this time had moved away, to the edge of the field, where he promptly sat down, looking back my way. I had time to lift the camera and take two photos–both of them bad–before he disappeared into the trees…..

 

Woo hoo! I live in an amazing place! It is extraordinary for me to think that today I saw a bear–not in Great Smoky Mountain National Park or Pisgah Forest, but right here, steps away from my door. To some this would be alarming and cause for fear, but for me, it only reinforces what I have known since I moved here. I am in the right spot. I am where I want to be. I am surrounded by wildlife and wild land; my little slice of heaven. For me, witnessing a wild animal in its natural habitat is a HIGH that’s hard to beat.

After that I stood for a long time, switching to my 300mm lens and hoping with everything I have that the bear would step out again and I could get some decent shots. A second chance to photograph him when we were not so close and not so rushed. But of course, it was not to be–in my experience with nature photography, one rarely gets a second chance at wildlife.

Eventually I moved off and continued my photographic foray, finding much beauty to capture…. a perfect tiger swallowtail butterfly, a common buckeye, a spicebush swallowtail backlit, dragonflies with golden wings that shimmer in the sunlight and lots of “water art” waiting to be photographed. I love my life! I love the chance to find and capture these ordinary moments that recharge my spirit and bring me a joy that I can find no where else. Such a beautiful world we live in!

Have you had any exciting animal encounters lately?

Gift From a Pair of Wrens

quote22--2

Sunset from the Blue Ridge Parkway

So my parents recently came to visit me from Buffalo, NY and though they stayed at a hotel nearby, I did take time to clean and organize my tiny apartment for their arrival. One thing I did was move my bike outside, onto my back deck, as having it lean against the wall in the entry way is not exactly the furniture choice of the rich and famous. When it was pouring rain the other day I thought “hey, I really need to move that back inside before it gets all rusty.”  If not for the fact that it has sentimental value, I might have sold the bike years ago. But still it sits outside, with one wheel up over the deck and smashed against the wall to preserve the small sitting space as much as possible.

Yesterday I spent the morning exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway. When I returned, I sat on my couch for a minute, looking outside, watching my hummingbirds… when I noticed a wren hopping on the deck with a beak-full of leaves. ! To my amazement, she hopped up on the chair for a second, then disappeared into the black bag on the back of my bike, emerging several seconds later with an empty mouth. She flew off, but returned a short time later with another bundle of leaves, disappearing silently into the bag.wren-0394

For the next few hours I sat on my couch, with my camera on my tripod in front of me, watching and shooting as the pair of Carolina Wrens steadily built a lovely nest there in my bike bag. As often happens, all but the moment slipped away, and I became completely engrossed in the present, contentedly snapping away and unable to do much else. Both sexes worked together, though the female was more bold than the male. In wrens the sexes look the same, but the male took a break to sing for a bit after lunch, letting me know which one was the female. Her path to the nest was different than his, with her resting on the chair or the bike wheel and him coming in from the front, away from my curious eyes and clicking camera. He moved from perch to perch to belt out his melodious song while she continued to work alone, bringing load after load of decaying leaves, lichen, rootlets and pine needles. Sometimes she would disappear in the bag and stay there for a while. Though I couldn’t see her then, I could hear her rooting around in there, rearranging and making things just right, in the ways of females of all species all over the world.

wren-0993The nest is a tiny masterpiece, a perfectly formed circle of soft leaves surrounded by a neat circle of pine needles, all woven together, making a small cup that will hold 5-7 eggs. Watching them build it there was the sweetest gift I’ve been given in a long time and it made my heart smile with joy. I cannot wait to see the eggs and then the baby birds. Not sitting in my chairs for a while is such a small price to pay for this most amazing treasure.

Have you ever had a pair of Carolina Wrens build a nest somewhere unusual near you?

The Joy of Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds will visit special feeders.

Hummingbirds will visit special feeders.

Like many nature lovers, I put out a hummingbird feeder –actually   two–each spring and wait with childlike anticipation for the first visitor to arrive. From the right spot on my couch, with my back and front doors open, I can see both feeders and look up frequently as I work, hoping, hoping, hoping to see one hovering there by my meager offering. In North Carolina where I live that is usually sometime in early April, though I have not lived here long enough to be able to pinpoint the exact week. To be safe, I clean and hang the feeder plenty early, knowing the arriving males will be hungry from their long journeys.

When I feel the need to be inspired, all I have to do is watch a hummingbird for a few minutes. They are such marvels, with their tiny feathers and quick wings.

Seeing one at my feeder brings me such joy!

With the windows open, I almost always am alerted to their presence first by the buzzing sort  of sound they sometimes make when they arrive at the feeder. I stop what I’m doing and look up to watch them, happy when they feel enough safe enough to sit on the perch and rest. With binoculars I can see their tiny feet and feathers, their long tongues extending at the end of their delicate-looking bills. They drink for a minute, then Zap! They’re gone in the blink of an eye.

Notice the ant guard.

Notice the ant guard.

In North Carolina, and in other eastern states, there is only one species of hummingbird regularly seen–that being the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. That makes identification easy and you can impress your friends who don’t know much about birds by identifying one even though you only saw it for a millionth of a second. “Oh, there goes a ruby-throated hummingbird!”

“Wow! You must be a good birder!” they will say, not realizing how easy it is when there is only one choice. Identification between males and females is pretty straightforward– Males have a red throat patch that burns fiery red in the sun, shocking viewers who see it first in shadow or shade. Females lack this iridescent throat, but still are striking with their green backs and tiny size.

Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any vertebrate.

They lay the tiniest eggs– barely the size of a pea! When flying their wings can beat 60-80 times PER SECOND! On an average summer day they might visit 1200 flowers, feeding 5-8 times each hour. Their diet consists of nectar from flowers or feeders and insects and they are the only bird capable of flying forwards, backwards, in place and even upside-down!

What I think is most amazing about them though is their amazing migration.

Each fall they head south towards Mexico, traveling up to 2000 miles, including a 500 mile NON-STOP trip across the Gulf of Mexico.

Long ago people thought the tiny birds must hitch a ride on boats or other birds’ wings, but today we know the hummingbirds fatten up prior to their flight, then set out… and hopefully have enough energy to overcome the weather and other challenges.

Every time I see one, I feel lucky. And inspired. These tiny birds must overcome such obstacles on a daily basis!

To attract them to your yard, buy a special hummingbird feeder, sold at most any store that sells bird feeders. The best feeders are the ones that can be easily cleaned, with the top and bottom coming off to get inside. During the hot summer, mold grows quickly and is harmful to the birds, so regular cleaning is essential. Also, be sure and change the nectar often so it doesn’t ferment.

And speaking of the nectar–RED DYE IS NOT necessary, and many suspect it is actually harmful to the birds. Please don’t buy that Perky Pet red dye from the store!

Just mix up your own at home. All you need is sugar and water. Add 4 parts water to one part sugar. Mix the sugar in and store it in a pitcher in your fridge. That way, you’ll always be ready.

Happy Hummingbird watching!hum-3

 

Invisible Fawn

fawn-2

Years ago I worked as a Naturalist at a small nature center in Westchester County, New York. In the springtime, it was not unusual for us to get calls from well-meaning people who thought they had found an abandoned fawn. Some even went so far as to bring the fawn into their homes, wanting to “rescue” it from what they imagined was its terrible fate. These people were always surprised to learn that for the fawns, and their mothers, “being invisible” is a survival tactic that has worked for hundreds of years.

Newborn fawns have little scent and their best defense against predators like fox, coyotes and dogs is simple camouflage.

If they lie still among the leaves and fallen branches, their coat with its white splotches, blends in perfectly with the patches of sunlight filtering through the treetops. If you have ever been lucky enough to spot a fawn in the forest, you know how difficult it is to see. They will remain motionless until it is absolutely certain that they have been discovered and are about to be touched, or eaten. If an animal like a dog or coyote keys in on an invisible fawn, the fawn will get up and run but its chances of survival once it has been discovered are just about zero. (This is one reason why keeping your dog on a leash in the forest is so important, especially in the spring when baby animals abound.Even the most well-mannered and well-behaved dog in the world will not be able to control their hunting instinct. If they see the fawn, that’s going to be the end of the fawn.)

This photo was taken in Shenandoah National Park while I was on a morning hike. I was alone, walking quietly along a winding forest trail when suddenly I noticed this fawn, cuddled against a fallen tree just two feet from my spot on the trail! I was so amazed and in the silence I could hear my heart beating excitedly. This was something I had always wanted to see, but thus far, had never.

I stood frozen, in awe of my proximity to this beautiful, wild animal.

I could see the fawn looking at me, maybe wondering if I was a danger.  With slow movements, I snapped a few pictures, then moved off joyfully down the trail, thrilled for the chance to witness one of nature’s amazing adaptations.

If you are out and happen to come across what seems like an abandoned fawn, the best thing you can do for it is to leave it alone!

Trust that the mother is nearby and will be keeping an eye on things from a distance. Enjoy the moment, relish your amazing fortune to witness something so incredible, then walk on. In doing this, you will be showing you really do care.

Have you ever gotten a chance to see a fawn, nestled quietly on the forest floor? What was it like for you?