Late February and early March have been notable so far for obnoxious winds. If you don’t live in SE NC, imagine soupy clouds of pine pollen and being pelted unpredictably by sweetgum balls.
On a recent wander through a local park, this Eastern Towhee was singing at the top of his lungs before getting blasted from behind by a sudden shocking breeze. Several guides note that this species is more often spotted closer to the ground, but we’ve seen what we think is this same bird over the last couple of years in the same spot, high up on the same tree, in the same park, singing the same song…a living trail marker. He’s the only one we see, but others are audible.
A little farther into the park, notable for its remaining longleaf pine/wiregrass/turkey oak community and interesting topography, this mallard pair was enjoying a high water day in one of the lime sinks. (which is often totally dry…) It’s a pretty neat spot – a little higher along the rim of the sandy depression, there are several Litsea aestivalis, Pondspice – a rare plant in NC, and federally listed as a species of special concern. Happy almost-spring…
Bald eagles might’ve discovered the neighborhood, to the consternation of crows who are accustomed to harassing the local hawks. Bald eagles are not uncommon in SE NC, especially along the coast, but seeing them a bit further inland apparently scoping the suburbs has to be a sign of something. Friends living closer to tidal creeks and spoil islands have been seeing more of them as well, so maybe there is some kind of population boom, and/or there is less available territory. Our neighborhood, about one square mile in area, still has some very large old pines and green open space, areas that are typically used by red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, and osprey, during warmer months. It’ll be interesting to see if they decide to hang around. Check out this work by NC State scientists studying bald eagle movements.
…here’s a place to insert a clever comment about the 2018 Super Bowl winners. Or you can check out some Superb Owls, if you’d rather.
And probably a lot more, since I only took one opportunity on a November afternoon to wander and observe. Wish I had taken a few more, since this place was one of very few islands of residual ‘nature’ remaining in the north New Hanover county asphalt-n-subdivision sea. As of last month, it’s been cleared and graded, as predicted. Sigh.
You can’t (re)make this kind of plant community from scratch. And ‘tree protection’ ordinances don’t protect the less charismatic (clearly not IMHO) understory.
The banner and left photos are (WERE) pine barren gentian, Gentiana autumnalis, a member of fire-dependent longleaf and pond pine communities. Not sold at the garden center of the adjacent Lowe’s Home Imrpovement.
native american legends say when birds flew into the heavens to collect their songs, those who flew highest would find the best songs. you thought you wouldn’t be able to fly high enough, so you hitched a ride hidden in an eagle’s ruff, unbeknownst to the eagle, who began to tire and fall just before reaching the highest and best song. you slept on the eagle’s ascent, and tumbled out just in time to fetch the most beautiful song. you were so happy and proud! but when you returned to resentment of birds on the ground, you were soon ashamed of your deceitful ways.
Ever wonder what lives and grows along the margins of those orthogonal ponds? I do. (yup, easily amused…)The Thanksgiving challenge this year was to identify some of the stuff on the slim portions of unmown retention pond banks in a very wet planned community in SW Florida.
The ponds in these photos are a few years old, and have had time to accumulate a variety of both native and exotic invasive species in the areas where management practices allow for plants to duke it out on their own. Most of the diked high banks are mown down to seasonal high water, with a few exceptions in hard-to-access areas. Along the water itself, a few pockets of vegetation have proliferated, which are pretty popular with a variety of bird species.
In this neighborhood in late November, palm warblers seem to be the most visible songbirds of the moment, especially when they are plucking insects off of the ubiquitous pool cages! These winter visitors spend the breeding season ‘in bogs and fens in the northern United States and Canada.’ Common gallinules (previously known as the common moorhen) were also hard to miss, both visually and aurally. Small groups of adults and juveniles could be seen tip-toeing along the spatterdock at nearly all times of day. These marsh birds are also winter visitors, although their breeding grounds are more southerly than the palm warblers.
It wouldn’t be southern Florida without a bunch of brightly-blooming plants in late November. Nearly all of the upper edges of the dikes contained the exotic Caesar’s weed, Urena lobata, which bears a superficial resemblance to the spring-flowering native saltmarsh mallow, Kosteletzskya pentacarpos, we see in FL as well as SE NC. More expected fall bloomers included various species of native goldenrod, Solidago sp. and asters, Aster/Symphyotrichum spp..
White peacock butterflies took advantage of the carpet of exotic largeflower pusley, Richardia grandiflora, blooming on dike bank tops. This annual, also called Mexican clover, was everywhere, with clusters of delicate white blooms attracting equally delicate clusters of white peacocks. Quite a show. Slightly lower and wetter areas contained the fantastically-named exotic, Cupid’s shaving brush, Emilia fosbergii.
Common spreading dayflower, Commelina diffusa, a fleshy-leaved exotic scrambler, was mixed in to nearly all of the pond and shrub margins. Angle-stem primrose willow, Ludwigia leptocarpa, was both blooming and drying out along the pond edges. Its stiff woody stems were popular hiding places for the palm warblers. The Ludwigias are well-represented in SW Florida with both exotic and native species, but this particular native was a bit easier to identify since it has very long floral tubes and a number of the flowers have 6 petals.
In slightly shadier margins, you could find clumps of the native southern river sage, Salvia misella (syn. S. riparia), and scrambling bits of bitter melon, Momordica charantica, (also called balsam apple, or pear) a member of the cucumber family that has escaped cultivation. This plant has a long history in herbal medicine – in fact, one of its many other names is leprosy gourd. The fruit in the photo will eventually turn bright orange and split open, revealing bright red seeds.
Rosary pea, or crab’s eye, Abrus precatorius, is another climbing import sporting red seeds and serious toxicity. The entire plant is poisonous, particularly the pretty seeds that were historically used for weighing, and are still used for jewelry. This species is on the Florida Noxious Weed List. A walk around suburban SW FL wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolia. another red-berried invasive exotic that belongs to Anacardiaceae, taxonomic home of poison ivy, oak, and sumac. This tree is aggressive colonizer of disturbed areas (most of Florida, these days!) and forms a thick canopy that shades out other species.
Some of the pond areas have what appear to be conservation buffers that contain some species that might’ve been original to the area. One particularly ‘weedy-looking’ area contained West Indian meadowbeauty, Rhexia cubensis, and Wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, a native woody shrub species that superficially resembles coral ardisia when squinting. (Coral ardisia has crenate leaf margins, among other distinctions.)
A couple of native aquatic species were still blooming – fragrant water lily, Nymphaea odorata, as well as larger masses of spatterdock, or cow lily, Nuphar advena.
Some of the pond banks revealed remnants of shellfish meals – not sure who was eating these paper pondshell mussels (i think), and if they were harvested from the adjacent ponds, or just eaten here. Other activity was more evident – damselflies appeared to be reproducing in some kind of synchronicity. If you stared at the pond edge vegetation long enough, dozens of these mating damsels (possibly Ischnura / Forktail sp.) were visible.
…the sound of a chainsaw. Or maybe hedge-trimmer, mixed with chainsaw and leaf-blower. Here in good ole’ SE NC, you can’t go outdoors in October without a soundtrack of revving yard equipment. Squared-off hedges and precision edges are the goal. Never mind the cloud of exhaust enlivened by aerosolized pollen and animal turds. Fun times!
Here’s a clip we recorded of neighborhood sounds this morning, from our patio…
It’s been a busy storm season in the southern states. Harvey and Irma fumed and convulsed*, leaving victims across all genera and habitat. Since I can’t help it, I’ll mention some aggravating and/or culpable unmentionables…climate change, sea level rise, greenhouse gases, heat island effect, scientific censorship, global emissions, human population growth, consumption.
“Expansion always, in all ways“™ – this gem courtesy of Million Dollar Listing’s Ryan Serhant. (at left, in said listing.) In other words, the goal of nearly every organism. Thinking about this gross pervasive consumerist attitude while hearing endless coverage of various storm tragedies made for some negative head-space.
Anyway. Despite the weather and attitude, there have been some pretty cool yard sightings lately! We rescued some Lobelia puberula (I think…the perennial blue Lobelias make a confusing genus!**) from new development last year, and what were tiny plants returned this summer to become alluring (and also toxic) giants. Seriously. They are about 4′ tall, and have been covered in butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds since starting to bloom about 2 weeks ago. Since they have long racemes of flowers that start blooming from the bottom up, and seem to occasionally send out secondary racemes, this perennial has a LOOONNNGG bloom period.
At the end of August, we spotted this brand new Blinded sphinx moth, Paonias excaecata, hanging out on Atlantic white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides. The caterpillars of this species feast on a wide variety of plants, so who knows whence*** it came. And just in the last few days, some Painted buntings, Red-eyed vireos, and Veeries have been haunting the Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana and Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, and feeders.
*Moil would be another good description, especially for Harvey.
** “Lobelia puberula is a polymorphic species with numerous forms (McVaugh 1936) that have been considered varieties by some authors (Fernald 1947).”- from Researchgate, KEYS, DISTRIBUTION, AND TAXONOMIC NOTES FOR THE LOBELIA (LOBELIA, CAMPANULACEAE) OF ALABAMA AND ADJACENT STATES, Daniel D. Spaulding, T. Wayne Barger
*** did you know that ‘from whence’ is redundant? I didn’t, until checking usage for this post…
Barrier islands are fantastic places to see fascinating plant and animal adaptations to dynamic, high disturbance conditions. St. George Island, located ~3 to 8 miles off of panhandle Florida’s (not really) forgotten Gulf coast, is presently about 28 miles long, with an average width of about 3/4 of a mile. It is part of a chain of islands that form the outer rim of Apalachicola Bay, one of the most biologically diverse and productive estuarine systems in the world. (the lower portion of the Apalachicola River basin was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1983.)
Although St. George has been developed as a popular vacation spot, its ecology remains evident in natural areas across the island (various map links here), as well as many yards, roadsides, and ditches. These photos represent just a tiny cross-section of barrier island flora and fauna…
1. Whitney, Eleanor Noss., D. Bruce. Means, and Eryk Jadaszewski. Florida’s Uplands. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple, 2014. Print
…oh things ain’t what they used to be… – Marvin Gaye, 1971!
What was intended as an exercise in learning local ecology has become a documentation of its inexorable paving-over. Mostly in the name of more patio homes with 3-car garages, but also some strip centers (to buy crap to go in the garage), and a whole bunch of storage facilities (for the extra crap when the garage is full.)
Not far from here, one of the last chunks of wet pine flatwoods/sandy pine savanna, (or, ‘premier real estate opportunity’) is in planning to become a developer fantasy of multifamily housing and retail. It’s a place a few of us like to explore (trespass) to enjoy its incredible diversity of rare plants. birds, and other creatures. A few of the life forms found there might even be the last of their kind in this area. Any time of year is a good time to find something unusual and beautiful, especially if you are patient and enjoy squatting. And don’t mind biting or stinging bugs.
Like other remaining relic real places around here, this one is doomed for the grader. Efforts have been made with the owner, the county, and even various land trusts, but this little pocket just doesn’t seem to register as a keeper. And although wetland portions have been delineated, it is still possible to alter them with the right permits and greased palms. For the sake of visual record and posterity, here are some photos…
To honor an Am-ur-ikan tradition, maybe the owner will name the new development for what will be removed, plus a nonsensical ‘place’ word. As in Flytrap Plantation. Pond Pine Dunes. or Orchid Arbor. Perhaps some boutique-ish-looking price tags on the plants might help? On second thought, bad idea (and a big part of the problem to begin with) – isolating plants from ecological context for pure aesthetics devalues the magic of the assemblage. Fear would be a better motivator to leave this alone – there is no shortage of snakes… SSSSSS…..
i’ve got a feelin down deep in my adeagus that i just can’t lose…
– apologies to Lionel Richie and fans.
Persimmon beetles, Anomoea laticlavia, are members of Chrysomelidae, the leaf-eating beetles.
Guess where we found them? In addition to getting busy with each other in a variety of postures, they appeared (simultaneously, in some cases) to be making short work of young leaves of American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. Persimmon beetles belong to the subfamily Cryptocephalinae, or Case-bearing beetles. They lay eggs that are enclosed in carefully constructed containers made of feces and other excretions. As the larvae mature, they open and flip the case, using it as a base to construct a more elaborate structure (or ‘scatoshell’) also made from feces and leaf detritus. (1,2,3,4)
Although records in NC are mostly from Persimmon, in other parts of the SE , this species is also associated with legumes (Fabaceae), oaks (Quercus), willow (Salix), and in the Great Plains, more specifically with leadplant (Amorpha). (1) In our yard, they also appeared to be seeking and eating Carolina cherry (Prunus caroliniana), and black cherry, (P. serotina), although in smaller numbers. They are not noted agricultural pests.
Many of the leaf-eating beetles (during their larval phase) are myrmecophiles – they have some association with ants. Anomoea spp. have been noted to eat ant detritus and humus. (4)
Baker, James. “Claycolored Leaf Beetle PDIC Factsheets.” Claycolored Leaf Beetle | NC State Extension Publications. N.p., 10 June 2015. Web. 11 May 2017.
Morphology and Systematics: Phytophaga, Richard A.B. Leschen, Rolf G. Beutel. Walter de Gruyter, Apr 1, 2014
Eaton, Eric R., Rick Bowers, and Kenn Kaufman. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Print.
Agrain FA, Buffington ML, Chaboo CS, Chamorro ML, Schöller M (2015) Leaf beetles are ant-nest beetles: the curious life of the juvenile stages of case-bearers (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae, Cryptocephalinae). In: Jolivet P, Santiago-Blay J, Schmitt M (Eds) Research on Chrysomelidae 5. ZooKeys 547: 133–164. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.547.6098
suburban biodiversity in southeastern north carolina