Unexpected encounters in the natural world

Left: male rose-breasted grosbeak. Right: male ruby-throated hummingbird. Both photos: ©Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

Repeated sightings of plants, birds, other animals and their common behaviors never lose their charm and interest for me. When a rose-breasted grosbeak and ruby-throated hummingbird (both males) first appeared in my springtime yard a few days ago, it still felt like a real treat.

What makes my ongoing nature observations especially enjoyable, however, is when I get to see something new or unexpected. It may be something already witnessed by countless others, but first-time personal sightings carry a special joy for me.

Top left: Eastern tiger swallowtails. Top right: possible Appalachian tiger swallowtail. Bottom left: gemmed satyr. Bottom middle: Eastern-tailed-blue. Bottom right: Monarch butterfly. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

This spring, I’ve enjoyed seeing the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies begin their puddling behavior when they gather in small groups to suck up salts and amino acids from fluids in dampened soil and dung. When I saw a fluted swallowtail that didn’t have the usual color patterning on its wings, I asked the experts on BugGuide whether it might not be a hybrid Appalachian tiger swallowtail, a rare hybrid of the Eastern and Canadian tiger swallowtails. They have not yet confirmed that ID for me, but I hope this was the case.

I did get confirmation on another small butterfly I had not seen before—a gemmed satyr. It was in the same area as some beautiful Eastern-tailed blues with white-fringed wings. Then, a week later, I had the good fortune to see my first monarch butterfly this year. The common milkweed that I planted in my yard has begun spreading, so there will be plenty of host plants for monarch caterpillars this spring and summer.

Top left: pollen-laden bee nectaring. Top right: damselfly carrying pollen while seeking potential mates. Bottom left: green anole displaying pink dewlap. Bottom right: green anole relaxing. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

Many of my nature outings are in areas with bodies of water—mostly ponds but also lakes and rivers. At one park pond, the damsel and dragonflies have begun flying and seeking mates. Before our recent heavy rain, not only were the plants and ground pollen-laden, but also some of the damselflies and bees pollinating as they flew from bloom to bloom.

At another park, green anoles appeared unperturbed by me standing rather close as they enjoyed time in the sun. One displayed his pink dewlap to warn the second one to keep his distance or because he was in a courtship mood. The second, larger anole, was more interested in relaxing and trying out various positions on stems and twigs to soak up the sunlight.

Top left and right: Northern cricket frogs. Bottom left: yellow-crowned night heron tugging at a twig to take to a nest in progress. Bottom right: hatchling river cooter. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

On other outings, I had the good fortune not to step on some small amphibians and reptiles. The Northern cricket frogs, who blend in well with their surroundings, moved a bit as I walked by so that I spotted them when approaching. A very small turtle blended in well with the vegetation at the edge of another path. I didn’t recognize it and wondered if someone from a nearby neighborhood had left it there, but a reptile group member identified it for me as a hatchling river cooter.

Such small amphibians and reptiles could end up as dinner for some birds living near ponds. The yellow-crowned night herons prefer to eat crayfish (crawdads) and crabs, but when they are hungry enough, they also eat small frogs and turtles. Many birders recently traveled to Durham’s Sandy Creek Park to see a pair of these night herons constructing a nest next to a beaver-enlarged wetland.

Top left: beaver transporting vegetation to its lodge. Right: groundhog climbing a tree. Bottom left: newborn Eastern cottontail rabbits. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

My sightings of mammals have increased a bit in the last 10 days. A raccoon trundled past my front porch a couple days ago. The raccoon’s size seemed impressive as I mostly see chipmunks and squirrels. I recently watched a beaver collecting and transporting leafy fronds to one of three lodges built on a tiny island in a nature reserve pond. A few days later, when I looked for the beaver again, I was surprised when I spotted a groundhog ascending and descending a tree.

I have groundhogs in my yard from time to time, and one year a groundhog came onto my porch where I was growing vegetables to help him/herself to some easy meals. But I had yet to learn that these mammals also climb trees. A more common mammal in my neighborhood is the Eastern cottontail rabbit. One of my neighbors recently showed me a pair of baby bunnies whose mother had nested in her vegetable garden.

Spring remains buoyant, and I’m looking forward to seeing what upcoming walks and hikes reveal. Enjoy the rest of spring!

Maria de Bruyn participates in nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers for the Orange County Senior Center and for projects removing invasive vegetation and planting native plants. Her photos are posted on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/bruynmariade/) and in blogs at https://mybeautifulworldblog.com.

This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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