Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pasture Rose, Butterfly Weed, and other May Wildflowers

Today is all about the flowers.  The ones I drew were all growing on the pipeline, near the top of the hill where our bench sits facing southwest. It was cloudy and very gnatty, the kind of gnats that like to fly into your eyes and ears, which could very well be used as a form or torture. The Yellow-billed Cuckoos were calling from the treetops again today - Cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-KALP! KALP! KALP!  and the ever present Wood Thrushes.  

There were more blooms to draw, but not enough time.  The rain chased me in with one hand clutching a fistful of flowers so I could finish up inside.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lupine seedlings from northern California

It's a funny kind of day - warm and humid, the sun is in and out, and a while ago a band of showers passed by and chased me inside.  I'd been out wandering around checking out wildflowers on the back road - if you can call it a road.  It's no more than the roadbed, and even the clay is washing out into a small gully.   The honeysuckle grows thick and is in bloom back there, so the air was heavy with scent. Many non-native wildflowers grow along the road but are lovely anyway: Venus' Looking Glass, Oxeye Daisy, English Plaintain, Queen Ann's Lace, Carolina Cranesbill, Yellow Wood Sorrell, Spotted Cat's Ear, and Common Fleabane, among others not in bloom yet.  In the woods heading to the old road was White Milkweed, Euonymus (actually a shrub) and dainty Summer Bluet.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was calling from a tree above me, and added to the steamy morning made it seem more like a jungle in Africa than South Carolina.  Cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-Kalp-Kalp-Kalp!  Our resident Wood Thrush sang his lilting, watery song as well.  Butterflies: Great Spangled Fritillary, Eastern Tailed Blue, and Red-spotted Purple.   I was lucky to see a wild turkey as he (or she) crossed the old roadbed and headed into our woods. 

After running inside out of the rain (can't have my journal ruined!) I noticed my pot of Lupine seedlings on the back porch. I had picked a dry seedpod last summer while in California, brought it home and tossed the tiny seeds into a pot not quite filled with potting soil.  I seem to remember that the once held a Gardenia cutting that had died in the drought conditions we were experiencing last year.  Anyway, I forgot about them until their small and wiry stems poked their perky leaves above the pot rim this spring. Now they are about 8" high and needing to be put out in the garden. 

I think I'll do that today.   

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tulip Tree Silk Moth and Lettered Sphinx

It was sunny, windy and chilly today, a surprise after the warm weather of late.  Walked the dogs at midday and tried to avoid the shade, which when walked through felt like stepping back into winter.  The wind with sunshine on my face was hard enough until I did some uphill walking and warmed up.  

The pipeline is lush and green after all the rain we've had this spring.  The Coreopsis blooms are at their best right now, the field filled with their waving yellow heads.  Many more bright pink Pasture Roses have opened up, and the ragworts still lend their bright shaggy yellow heads to the picture.  I trekked up to a certain spot where I know there is a large patch of Barbara Buttons that bloom about now... but about a month ago I'd see some bulldozers working near the spot.  This could have been the end of the BB's.  However, I found the flowers in fine shape and in full bloom just beyond where the work had been going on, and on the way back I found some slender stalks of Deptford Pinks.  Perhaps tomorrow I will draw these two flowers.  Today I hurried home to see if our visiting moths were still on the side porch, below the light.

They were.  And they stayed there (as models) all afternoon.  I pulled a kitchen stool out to the porch and was quite comfortable as I sketched.  

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Deerberry and Persimmon

While exercise hiking on the pipeline today I did my usual looking around to see what I could see.  Occasionally, even while exercising and having to concentrate on finding good footing on the trail, something interesting will catch my eye.  Today was one of those days.  As I was heading up the steep cut-through that runs between clearings I saw a low-bush blueberry blooming, and ticked it off on my "head-list" of blooms for the day: Lance-leaved  Coreopsis - check, Ragwort - check,  Toadflax - check, Blackberry - check, Pasture Rose - check, Blueberry - check - - - it took about two seconds before my subconscious came through and made me do a double-take. “NOT BLUEBERRY,” it said. Then I remembered. The blueberries around here have not only bloomed, but the ones I studied just yesterday along the edge of our woods already have small green berries.  I swiveled on the ball of my foot and walked back to the bush.  Another difference was the size and shape of the open, dangling white blooms. First, it was larger, and second, even though the buds were “bell-shaped,” the fully opened flowers were open wide.   Blueberry blooms are little bells.  Because I was in a hurry (how I hate to be in a hurry!) I snapped off a short piece of a flowering branch and took it home where it waited in a small vase until later in the day, when I (with help from a friend) finally had the time to identify it.  We even hiked back to the bush to make sure. It was  Deerberry - and yes, it's in the vaccinium family with the blueberries.

On the hike down to the mysterious bush, we passed a tree with many small blooms along the stems, at the base of the leaves.  My friend said "Persimmon" and we looked it up, but the small blooms didn’t fit the description in the field guides as being 5/8 “ wide, and solitary.  Solitary?  These blooms were bunched in threes at the base of the leaves and none of the many blooms on the tree were  any larger than about 3/8”.   We climbed up the hill to where I know I've seen a fruiting persimmon in the past to see if it was blooming so we could compare the two trees. It was a tall tree so we had to use binoculars to find blooms. Hmm...  There's one! my friend said. But...  one?  Why only one - and it's bigger, isn't it?  We discussed it at length, until I finally read far enough into the detailed description to learn that it is the female persimmon tree that has the solitary 5/8" blooms, while the male persimmons are “bunched and only 3/8 inch wide.”  Oh! It's a male/female thing!   Mystery solved.  

We suddenly realized we'd spent over three hours wandering around in the woods.  "Almost 6:00?  It can't be!"  I said.  We rushed back to the house so I could clean up enough to go out to dinner at 6:30. On the way we found two more trees behind my house that we couldn't identify, but once again, I was in a hurry.  Those trees will have to wait for another day.  

So many mysteries, so little time!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kidneyleaf Rosinweed

A creek in springtime is a magical place to visit, and little Meetinghouse Creek certainly fit that description today.  During my walk I stopped to see if anything was going on down there, and at first thought, "Nah, nothing here."  Then I heard a low buzz, and a Whitetail Dragonfly zoomed in and landed on a reed, causing it to bounce and wave for a moment.  A Spring Azure butterfly flitted down from uphill and sipped at the wet sand along the creek's edge.  Small minnows made themselves known by swimming through a patch of sunlight close to me, and once looking for them, I saw them everywhere, swimming oh-so-leisurely and then suddenly darting off... where to? what's the hurry? I wondered.   There were the bright round sun spots on the creek bed that showed the whereabouts of a Water-Strider (barely visible otherwise) as he walked around effortlessly on the water's surface.  

As I studied the Water Strider I slowly became aware of something else, something that reminded me once again of how important it is to stop and settle into a place if you want to truly see everything... along the creek bottom, as clear in the creek water as on land, ran a deep set of turkey tracks, heading downstream.  What a fun discovery.  I could imagine a lone Tom strutting along in the early morning and wading in for a Creek Buffet, getting his fill of insects, spiders, frogs, tender grasses and other tasty morsels.  As I stood there a Great Spangled Fritillary fluttered over the creek and stopped to rest on a grass stem. He fluttered away when four-month-old Daisy came running from Radu's side and splashed into the creek, snapping at the droplets she created as well as the butterfly.  So much for peace and quiet... and turkey tracks.  

On the way back to the house I saw a Blue Darner dragonfly zipping back and forth over a sea of yellow coreopsis blooms, a Checkerspot and a Sulphur butterfly,  seven Black Vultures circling,  and heard Chickadees and Indigo Buntings' songs.  At the top of the hill were the new leaves of a  Kidneyleaf Rosinweed.  I think this is the most beautiful native plant leaf that grows around Middlewood.   Years ago, when I first discovered the leaves growing on the pipeline, I was certain I'd found a rare plant.  It's neither rare nor endangered.  And although the leaves are large and ornate, the fall-blooming flowers don't live up to what you'd expect from such fancy deeply-lobed, carmine-veined leaves.  But they are lovely in their own way - small yellow composites on very tall stems, and they are a good source of nectar for butterflies.   

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Beard-tongue and Ragwort

It's warm and windy today, with strong gusts that bend the treetops!  Wandered on the pipeline looking for a patch of mushrooms I saw yesterday, and as I stood looking down at the spot where they had been a big shadow moved past me on the ground.  Looking up I saw a huge red-tailed hawk just as he landed in a nearby pine tree.  The small oak in front of the pine had a hole in the branches that framed the hawk perfectly as he preened and fluffed himself up.  He was so close I could hear little noises and flutters of wings as he balanced and adjusted his stance.  His rusty-red tail glowed in the sun.  He finally saw me and flew off his perch with loud flaps. The strong wind buffeted him as he flew across the pipeline and made his flight quite ungraceful.

Another special treat of the day.... while I was drawing Beard-tongue flowers, a newly emerged Red-Spotted Purple butterfly wobbled out of the woods and landed on my backpack.  His shimmering blue and black patterned wings, with spots of red, took my breath away.  He rested a minute then fluttered up and over about five feet and landed again.  He kept making these short flights, over and over.  I followed him downhill until he finally warmed up and took off over the pipeline's waving grasses and wildflowers.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Biotite Mica and Other Black Things

Wonderful spring rains today.  Storm after storm swept over us, drenching every tree and rock and blade of grass.  The sun would shine for a few minutes and tease you into believing it was over, then it clouded up again and BOOM! Boom, boom, boom... another gullywasher.  

The dogs and I took a quick hike between two storms.  I had my binoculars with me in hopes of seeing the Indigo Buntings that sing so sweetly in the trees along the pipeline.  They were there again. I heard them, I snuck up on them from the hill above for a better view into the treetops. I changed positions, coming at the trees from other angles.  Sigh... still no luck.  Oh well. I'll try again tomorrow.  I do so love to watch a bird sing...

It started drizzling again before we even got to Meetinghouse Creek, so we turned around.  On the way back I found a crow feather, solid black against sandy clay.  A little further on I found a dead beetle on the path, with ants snacking on the edible parts, the two hard, shiny wings cast aside.   The turkey feather came next.  It was delicately balanced on spikes of spring grass.  

Back at the house I sat on the back stoop and noticed the last gullywasher had rearranged the driveway gravel, delivering some chunks down onto the brick walk. We are lucky to find occasional pieces of Biotite Mica in with the granite.  The one I found on the walk is mostly quartz with just a thin layered section of the mica.  

Daisy was trying to eat the dead wasp. Yuck. I moved the wasp from her sight, putting it behind me with my other stuff, and realized that it all had something in common - the color black.  

Monday, May 4, 2009

Morel Mushroom and Sprouting Buckeye

Over the weekend we went to our cabin near Waynesville NC to open it up for the season.  It's a tiny place that used to be an apple shed in a long-gone orchard. You can still see occasional apple trees here and there on the hill, and until last fall one of the original, 130 year old apple trees stood guard beside the cabin.  It had been failing for years and finally it had to be taken down, but we miss its huge, friendly trunk and waking to the BANG! and roll of the withered fruit it dropped onto our tin roof.   There had been a big hole in the trunk that had been home to the imaginary mouse-friend of our 7-year old neighbor, Rose, so a section of the trunk now resides in their garden at the big farmhouse just up from our cabin. The spot where the tree once stood has the darkest, richest soil I have ever seen, with only a foot-long, narrow band of hard applewood that had been holding up the whole tree.  We wish we could plant another apple tree but the surrounding oaks, ashes, hemlocks, and cherry trees cast too much shade now.  So, yesterday we decided to leave the Christmas Ferns that grew around the base of the tree, add to them and make it into a fern garden.  

Behind the cabin is an old, unused road that circles the top of the hill.  A massive Buckeye tree grows above the road and drops its dark, burnt sienna nuts conveniently (for easy pickup) onto the flat, leaf-littered gravel.  We look forward to gathering a few in the fall for the cabin (see Buckeyes in a Red Bowl). Yesterday, though, I was amazed to see how many seedlings had sprung up this year.  They were about a 18" high and I wondered if this was their first year, so I gently pulled the leaf litter away from the base of one.  Sure enough, there was the shiny brown nut nestled amongst the old rocks.  The fat white stem and thick root emerged from one side and magically went their own way according to nature's law: up and down, respectively.  A beautiful sight.

Also on this road was a Morel Mushroom (I've never seen one before, but I knew it immediately), Violets (Common Blue and Canada), Winter Cress, Forget-me-nots, Golden Ragwort, Daisy Fleabane (much larger than the Common Fleabane), Ground Ivy, Buttercups (Tall and Hooked), and Aniseroot.

We had off and on rain all weekend - a good thing when you have a tin roof and a good book to read.