Thursday, March 24, 2011

Liverwort, Zebra Swallowtails and Northern Water Snake

By creeping along the river at a snail's pace today, I noticed a lot more than I had just yesterday. Bloodroot and Rue Anemone were the main show, but I also saw one Hepatica, Carolina Silverbells, a yellow composite I haven't identified yet, Paw Paw flowers, and some interesting leaves that will be worth watching during the summer, to see what kind of bloom arises from them. Also seen was a mating pair of Sleepy Duskywing butterflies, and a Green Anole looking for a mate by showing off his beautiful red throat. Zebra Swallowtails flitted along the riverside like it was a highway. I saw at least eight. They were everywhere.

While I sat on the side of the river drawing the Liverwort (above) I paused a minute to watch the water run past me, and was surprised to see a 3 foot long Northern Water Snake glide by. The snake pulled up onto sandbar just beyond where I sat and stuck his head out of the water to look at me. I imagined him thinking: "Whoa - what is that thing?" He swam upstream and then pulled back onto the sandbar to look again. I'm sure he thought, "It sure is big!" before continuing upstream and disappearing behind a big rock jutting from the water. I kept watch, hoping to see him come out from behind the rock. He didn't for several minutes, until finally I saw only his head stick out, looking in my direction. What? Was I sitting on top of (or too close to) his or her hole? Even though snakes do not think in the way I imagined, I felt distinctly that I was in his space and that he was waiting for me to leave.

Daisy completely missed the thrill of the snake's visit. She was sleeping peacefully behind me, on the next level up the hill. She woke as I packed my bag, and off we went towards home.

Sleepy Duskywings, mating

Friday, March 18, 2011

Round-lobed Hepatica, Rue Anemone, Partridgeberry

I headed out today with a specific mission: to hike to the lower portion of Meetinghouse Creek and draw the Round Lobed Hepaticas that grow all along the edges, on both the east and west-facing slopes. The day was warm for March (over 80 degrees) and even though there was a cool breeze from the west, it passed way over my head as I sketched beside the creek, and the sun shining straight down on me made me feel rather toasty. On the other hand, I was cooled by the damp, black loamy soil, revealed as I slid slowly downhill and scraped away the leaf litter, which allowed my jeans to soak up some of the moisture.

The plants above are growing on the east-facing side of the creek, in a steep bank of moss along with many dainty Rue Anemones, Partridgeberry vines, and lots of violet-shaped leaves about the size of my pinky fingernail. Butterflies fluttered past: a Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Spring Azure, and three Folded-wing Skippers. A fat, black fly buzzed around for a while, and had the nerve to land on me. Daisy explored for a while, and finally took a nap. This is not her favorite kind of hike.


Last year's leaves plastered to a rock in the creek

Monday, March 14, 2011

Carolina Jessamine vs. Japanese Honeysuckle

Today Daisy and I spent several hours hiking, heading first to Lawson's Fork to see what early wildflowers might be blooming. Last year I found a large patch of Rue Anemone down there, and since they are definitely blooming over on Meetinghouse Creek I assumed they'd be out. But just because they are blooming in one place, it doesn't mean they are blooming elsewhere, even in the same neighborhood!

We wandered the shore along the creek, keeping an eye out for blooms. We found none, but Daisy had a fine time jumping onto the muddy bank, into the water and out again, and it was beautiful - twisting Mountain Laurel trunks, arching branches of Dog Hobble, the gray haze of pre-spring hardwood forest. But no flowers yet, no unfurling fern fronds.

We finally settled next to a pine close to home to draw our official state wildflower, Carolina Jessamine, the vine growing from the base of a pine and intertwined with the invasive Japanese Honeysuckle. The tangle gets even more involved around the other side of the tree, where Coral Honeysuckle joins the fray. A Dogwood is in bud beside it all, and at some point in April, all of these plants will be in bloom.

Mountain Laurel and Dog Hobble along the river

Mountain Laurel Trunk