Eastern Spadefoot

Here’s an eastern spadefoot, a medium-sized frog that is relatively common but rarely seen unless you happen to be trapping amphibians around an ephemeral pond. They’re burrowers, so they need loose, sandy soil that’s easy to dig into. They dig with their hind feet, backwards.

The adults are rarely seen in daylight. They usually only come out of their burrows at night to catch bugs, earthworms, and slugs. But you can sometimes find hundreds of tiny recently-metamorphosed spadefoots leaving a pond during the day.

The easiest way to tell them from true toads (the Bufo genus — around here that would be the Fowler’s toad and the American toad) is their eyes — their pupils are vertical instead of round. They also have two curved yellow streaks on their backs.

Also, they try to curl up into a ball when threatened. I’m not sure what threat would be deterred by this — definitely not a human — but it is adorable.

Welcome to the Hobbit House

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Happy Place.”

The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the places that, when I first moved to the Triangle, convinced me that I’d made a good decision. It’s a museum, obviously, with a large collection of art from an amazing range of time and space. As you would expect.

But there’s also an amphitheater where they hold their summer concert series. Their concerts are popular events: the bleachers fill up fast, but then people bring chairs and blankets and sit on the lawn. I usually sit on the retaining wall in the back. I don’t get a good view of the band there, but I can hear just fine and also watch the people mill around and the fireflies come out, and not get stepped on or bumped into. I’ve seen the Lost Bayou Ramblers, the Indigo Girls, and Iron & Wine there, as well as an impressive show by Paperhand Puppet Intervention.

And it has a lovely park outside, with miles of walking and bicycle trails where sculptures loom up along the way. Like these. They have real names (mouse over to see them) but I am not very sophisticated about art, so I think of them as the Corn Cob, the Stargates, and the Dragon Ribs.

And if you go on a cold, sunny afternoon when you have nothing pressing to do, you’ll follow a side trail until you’re away from the main part of the park and down the hill, so that even the giant Stargates are mostly out of sight. And then you’ll take a few more side trails off that, and you’ll come to this tiny dome-shaped building. It’s just out there in the woods. No big, obvious signs pointing to it. The trail is small and easily missed. The builder can’t have expected many people to see it, but there it is. Just for you, the aimlessly wandering person who happened across it.

The Hobbit House
The Hobbit House

Window

Patterson Hall

This week’s photo challenge was “Grid,” and it took me all week to find this one in the windows of Patterson Hall at North Carolina State University.

Yellow on Yellow

The Daily Post’s writing prompt this week was “Monochromatic.” Well, this isn’t perfect — there’s some green in there along with all that yellow, but I figured it was close enough.

This is a Pennsylvania leatherwing beetle, hunting for aphids among goldenrod flowers.

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

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.

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

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…

Weekly Photo Challenge: A very forgiving Pigmy Rattlesnake

This week’s photo challenge was “Beneath Your Feet.”

Pigmy Rattlesnake
Pigmy Rattlesnake

Pigmy rattlesnakes always look disgruntled, but this one has a really good reason!

It blended in so well, and I was paying so little attention, that I didn’t see it until I was bringing my foot down. I didn’t have time to stop it. I stepped right on it, trying at the last instant not to put too much weight on it.

Next thing I knew, I was standing about six feet away. I think I made an inarticulate squeak as I jumped away.

The snake never tried to strike at me. It just coiled up tighter and glared. I took a quick photo and then I left it alone. Every stick and leaf looked like a snake for the rest of the day.

Gopher Tortoise

The gopher tortoise is large, as North American land turtles go, but it does not stand out.

Adult Gopher Tortoise
Adult Gopher Tortoise

It’s slow-moving, grayish-tan, close to the ground, and when not moving it resembles a smooth, dome-shaped rock. On top of that, it spends a good part of its time underground. The tortoise is most visible when actively digging, as a fountain of sand flies up behind its claws.

The burrow is easier to find than the tortoise itself. The burrow of a mature tortoise can be spotted from a long distance in the hot, sunny, sandy habitat it prefers. A tortoise burrow is a crescent-shaped hole in the ground, with a wide mound of sand called an apron in front. These burrows go all the way down to the water table, so they stay relatively cool and moist in summer, and relatively warm in winter. This makes them an ideal refuge for many other species, and the tortoise doesn’t seem to mind sharing. Over 350 species have been found in gopher tortoise burrows 1. Personally, I have seen frogs, snakes, mice, beetles, and once a skunk.

Continue reading Gopher Tortoise