Common Nighthawk

The common nighthawk is a swift, graceful flyer capable of catching and eating insects on the wing. Its territorial “call” isn’t really a call; it’s a loud whirring buzz made by its wings as it dives. You’d think such a bird would nest high in a tree, as close to the sky as possible, right?

Nope. The nighthawk doesn’t build a nest at all. It just lays its eggs right on the ground, where their speckled pattern blends in with the dirt and leaves.

Common Nighthawk
Those huge eyes help it find flying insects at dusk.

Continue reading Common Nighthawk

Hey, look, I’m on LGBT STEM!

I am currently on a botany field trip to the mountains, where I am likely out of cell phone range and not answering comments, but hopefully taking lots of pictures to eventually post. But through the miracle of post scheduling, I’m posting this now! A couple of days ago, LGBT STEM posted an interview with me on their site, so go check it out.

Or just look at this lovely parrot pitcher plant. You’ve probably noticed my fondness for carnivorous plants by now. Or maybe it’s not that noticeable, because doesn’t everyone like carnivorous plants?

Dropped Connection

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge “Connected,” here’s a footbridge that used to connect the banks of a stream. Well, technically it still does, but you probably wouldn’t want to cross it.

Ephemeral Ponds

Last week I talked about mole salamanders and the ponds they live in. It’s not just mole salamanders using those ponds, though! Today, I thought the ponds themselves needed a post. Mole salamanders, and many other amphibians, tend to breed in what are known as ephemeral ponds, or vernal pools. Whatever you call them, they are just low spots that fill with water at certain times of year, but their temporary nature is what defines them, and what makes them an essential wildlife habitat.

Even though the rainiest season in most of the South is summer, the ponds usually hold water in winter, after the late fall rains. There may be more rain in summer, but it is promptly sucked up by tree roots or evaporated in the heat. In winter, the trees are dormant and the air is cooler, so water is left to saturate the ground and pool in the hollows.

How long the ponds will hold water is an important factor for wildlife. Some of the shallow pools dry in a matter of days. Others have at least a puddle at the deepest point for most of the year. In drought years, almost none of them will have any water at all. Continue reading Ephemeral Ponds

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eastern Box Turtle

This week’s photo challenge was From Every Angle, and this box turtle obligingly gave me several angles to shoot from.

Eastern Box Turtle, Side View 2

Mole Salamander

The mole salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) is not a glamorous-looking creature. It’s small, unassuming, and slippery. It lives in burrows and in small isolated ponds in the woods. It’s mostly dark brown or black, often mottled with a gray or blue lichen-like pattern. It has a broad, flattened head. It looks a little like some artists’ reconstructions of Tiktaalik, and it’s easy to picture it living back when animals were first starting to crawl onto land.

Mole Salamander
Terrestrial Adult Mole Salamander

Continue reading Mole Salamander

Green Anole

Many southerners will recognize the green anole, aka Carolina anole, aka American chameleon. The scientific name is Anolis carolinensis.

Green anole, not green at the moment
Green anole, not so green at the moment

Though sold in pet shops as “chameleons” because of their color-changing ability, they’re not the same as the true chameleons of Africa and Asia.

Green anoles are small, slender lizards that live mostly in trees, but can also be found clinging to window and porch screens. Usually bright green, they can change their color to brown or tan. They have a pink throat fan, or dewlap, which they expand to communicate with other anoles. They are territorial, so what they’re communicating is probably “MY tree! Go away!”

Continue reading Green Anole

An arachnophobe, a hemophobe, and an ophidiophobe walk into a forest…

(Arachnophobia: fear of spiders and scorpions. Hemophobia: fear of blood. Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes.)

In any job dealing with wildlife in the field, you’re eventually going to have to deal with things many people find frightening, disgusting, or just plain creepy. I have caught and been bitten by snakes, walked through countless spiderwebs, and waded around in ponds with a thick layer of scum on the surface.

One of my projects in the summer was to trap, measure, mark, and release snakes. To that end, my co-workers and I set up giant X-shaped silt fence arrangements with a trap in the center and buckets as pitfall traps at each end. The buckets were covered with little plywood tables to provide shade. One day I lifted up one of the plywood tops and found this:

Arachnophobe's Nightmare
Arachnophobe’s Nightmare

That is a pigmy rattlesnake in the bucket. Next to it is a very large wolf spider. On the underside of the plywood is a black widow spider and the dried-out corpse of a scorpion. An arachnophobe’s nightmare.

Continue reading An arachnophobe, a hemophobe, and an ophidiophobe walk into a forest…

In Which I Cheat at the Blog Award Game

So, Vibrant at blabberwockying! has nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger award, and both Kathy at PsycheServices and izabolinha at The Turtle Way have nominated me for a Premio Dardos award.

As we say where I live: “Thanks, y’all!”

The way these awards work is like a game. The English translation of Premio Dardos is “Prize Darts” and I think it’s very descriptive. You throw your “darts” in the form of links at other bloggers; then they throw them at more bloggers, and so on. Blog awards are like a chain letter, minus the promises of true love if you forward it on and a gory death if you don’t. I am resistant to threats of gory death from anonymous letter writers. But a compliment from a fellow blogger is another story.

So: Thank you for thinking of me! I appreciate it, but I am going to cheat a little. The problem is, I don’t know enough bloggers who would be receptive to this and who also haven’t already received both awards to write posts for all of these. So, to those who named me for the prizes, I hope you will accept this big combined award post, which gives me an excuse to mention some friendly Blogging 101 classmates who may not write about things that would ordinarily come up on a nature blog. So this is one big, combined, all-purpose award post. I’ll call it the Bethany-Is-Lazy Award, and it’s a one-time thing that nobody is expected to pass on. It also gives me a chance to try out this pagination thing, because this post is gonna be long.

How I Succeeded and Failed with a B.A. in English

The Bitchy Editor’s post How Your B.A. in English Prepared You for Failure got me thinking about what constitutes failure or success in relation to a degree. I have a B.A. in English. It is my only completed degree so far. I was, by some standards, a success: I actually used it to get a job. It was still a giant mistake.

I was trying to double major in English and wildlife ecology, until I was so burnt-out and broke that I decided to just finish the degree I was closest to and get the hell out. I only needed one more class for English. I was working a string of temp jobs and just beginning what looked like a promising writing career, and I could see myself doing something like writing or editing until I could make a living writing my own stuff. So I took that one class and got out.

I bounced around in temp jobs until I was hired as a copy editor of construction textbooks. I thought, hey, I’m good with words, and I’d like to learn about construction. Perfect!

Not so much. The job killed what little attention span I had, and after staring at a manuscript all day, I found that the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was write. When I did force myself to write, it was not great prose. It was, well, forced.  I’ve never been a heavily stylized writer; I aim for an invisible style. But everything I wrote then was as flat as a plumbing manual for vo-tech students. Continue reading How I Succeeded and Failed with a B.A. in English