Lots of critters moving through the holler this past week. I've seen deer tracks down by the apple tree a couple of times. Some of the apples are falling off, attracting birds and at least one whitetail deer. Many other apples remain on the tree and are getting larger. Blackberry bushes are full but they don't have many ripe fruits yet. I've sampled a few on my holler walks though.
My best photographic evidence of wildlife has been of butterflies and moths this week:
After taking a few photos I slipped it into a jar and back out through the pet door, but this morning it (or another one) was sitting on a window blind. I managed to get that one safely back into the woods just before I came in to do this post. This was a new moth for me -- always an exciting event.
Thamnophus sirtalis, July 7, 2013 [Photo credit: Cathie Bird]
I stirred this snake up out of the grass while I was checking out the Echinacea patch...I think I almost stepped on it. It squiggled away from my feet a few inches before curling up to defend itself. I love this photo because it caught the red tongue with its forked black tip.
I heard and saw lots of birds this week also. Just awhile ago I spotted several white-eyed vireos. At least one of them was a juvenile. I'm wondering if some chicks recently fledged. A male was singing outside my window just before I saw several others in the quince and autumn olive bushes along the fence.
Several crows have been making a racket as I'm writing this post. On holler walks I've heard jays, cardinals, yellowbreasted chats and plenty of calls that I can't identify yet.
One of my dogs spotted this timber rattlesnake near the porch today and started a barking ruckus that brought me outside to see what was up. I have seen rattlesnakes a number of times in the holler, but this is the first time I've gotten a photo.
Not long after my last post on progress of the nesting phoebes and their chicks, activity in and around the nest ceased. It appeared that the chicks -- I had seen at least 3 by that time -- had either died or been eaten. The parents (or another couple?) immediately began to build up the nest again. Here's some video from May 8th:
After a couple of days of warp-drive remodeling, the birds disappeared. I wasn't sure if they had abandoned this nest for another one or were just in a holding pattern of some kind. As of Monday the 13th, I had decided they had abandoned the nest, and moved my vehicle and my own activity back to the porch-side of the house.
On Friday the 17th, I saw a phoebe near the house for the first time in about a week. It looked like this bird went to the nest but I was not in a position to observe the nest directly or get any video. Yesterday I thought I saw another visit, now, today, I got some video of a female sitting on the nest. So, next time I have to go out somewhere, I'll start using the back door again.
As I watch the newest round of phoebe activity, I'll continue to explore files on all of the bird species I observe for the USA-National Phenology Network at BNA. It's a terrific resource for more indepth info on birds and their life patterns.
By the way, on May 9th (and not too far from the nest) I almost stepped on a "creature of interest" in the disappearance of the baby phoebes:
Snakes like this black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta) are known predators of phoebe eggs and nestlings. [Photo credit: Cathie Bird]
I didn't do a holler walk today because I had a seminar in Knoxville this morning. When I got home, however, I found a very interesting visitor near the door:
Rat snake, 7 May 2011. [photo credit:cathie bird]
I've seen rat snakes in previous years when they are shedding their skin -- usually they've been on the rain gutter or around a door. This one was on a shelf where I keep a few rocks. I'm not sure I would have noticed it if both cats hadn't been sitting together staring at something and switching their tails. When I followed their gaze I saw the snake.
One year one of these got inside. I heard some noise in the blinds on the door nearest the section of gutter where I often see them. When I went to invesitgate, I saw a large rat snake winding through the slats, with its head already at the level of the door knob. I waited for it to crawl down a little further, then reached around it and opened the door. It crawled back outside then, though a little too slowly for my liking. The next day I saw it around the gutter. After another day or so it disappeared, leaving only some shreds of skin to affirm that I had not imagined it all.
I used that same door to my advantage on another occasion. One night I heard something in the bedroom blinds -- turned out to be a bat. When I got up, he began flying around. I waited until he went out toward the living room, then opened the door. When he came back he went right out the door.
This winter I used a sliding door at the back of the house to let a bird out. It came in one night through the pet door, I think, and flew right up onto my arm. It was a wren...so small and light and soft-looking. It flew away when I moved, and spent the rest of the night alternately flying around and resting. The cats and my border collie kept their eyes on it but didn't try to go after it.
I figured it was no use trying any rescues until morning, but I had no idea how I was going to help it get back outside without a dog or a cat impeding progress. I mainly hoped it would stay out of their reach until I had a chance to try.
When I woke up in the morning, the bird was already flying around a bit. I kept track of its location while I hatched a plan, which came in a flash of inspiration. As soon as I saw morning light beyond the windows, I opened the back sliding door, making sure the panels of the blinds covered any part of the glass door that would not be open. As I crossed back across the room to where the wren was clinging to the log wall, I turned off the lights. I finally got close enough that he flew away from me, straight toward daylight and out the door. Awesome!