Sunday, November 09, 2008

'Bama Bugs and Butterflies

The Alabama Gulf Coast abounds in bugs and butterflies, particularly with large dragonflies. I've been able to identify the butterflies, which posed cooperatively for the camera. The dragonflies, however, are perpetual motion insects, rarely lading anywhere long enough to focus the camera. Any names you see on them may well just be a descriptive name so I can tell one shot from another. If anyone knows the names of these dragonflies, I'd sure be glad to learn. The large yellow dragonflies never did land, that I could see. Once we saw a large yellow helicopter flying over, and I quickly told Dick to look up at the giant yellow dragonfly going over!
Painted Lady

Gulf Fritillary - topside

Gulf Fritillary - bottom side

Common Buckeye

Why do butterflies go to the beach?

Long-tailed Skipper

Mystery bug - looks vicious

A 2 inch long spider

I'm glad dragonflies aren't 3 feet big as there were in prehistoric times.

Big fat dragonflies are a favorite Kestrel food.

Don't want to find this beetle in my shoes!

Red Saddlebag Dragonfly

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who's Awake?

They say all good things must end, including vacations. We try to stretch ours out by stopping at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Alabama along the Tennessee River. The drought is just terrible and all the wetlands are dry lands where the migrating waterfowl should be stopping to feed. Acres of water lily leaves blow in the breeze, three feet above the mud which is all that remains of the lake edges. We walked a few trails, but saw little in the way of birds. The volunteers in the Visitors Center are both retired and spend their time going from Park to Refuge around the country, living in their RV and having a wonderful time. We got some good ideas from them to investigate for our retirement plans.

A cave where ten thousand grey bats reside is nearby, and we head down to it around sunset. Although the afternoon warmed up nicely, as the sun set, the temperature dropped with it. The spring in the cave poured out into a beaver pond, so this was one place with plenty of water available. The Downy and Red Bellied Woodpeckers chattered and flew about until it was almost too dark to see, but no bats left the cave that we found. How do they know when it's time to come out anyway? we wondered.

Just as we started back to the car, I heard a soft call along the shore. "Who's awake?" it asked. "I'm awake," came the response, "Me too!" Once again, wishing has made it so. We kept thinking there should be owls along the beaver pond, and now we hear Great Horned Owls! Dick hooted back, and at first, we thought there was only one bird, responding to his hoots, even though neither of us knew what the other was saying. Finally we decided there were two birds talking to each other and trying to ignore this intruder to their conversation. Especially, since he didn't speak owl very well. After a few minutes, we actually saw the two owls take wing and leave for another part of the woods. I thought I heard them mutter something about rude people who wouldn't stop talking as they flew away.

We awoke early, as usual (will this always happen when we retire?), and got an early start on our bird watching. The cave area was fogged in, so we headed to some bottom land forests. Beautiful trees! A Hermit Thrush sang a duet with itself - another life bird for us. Two Red Shouldered Hawks shouted at each other from a swampy area, but hid from our view. Small Kinglets, Warblers, Chickadees and Nuthatches darted from branch to branch, chattering happily. Again, as we headed back to the car, we heard a soft call from the trees nearby. "Who cooks for you?" this one asked. It's 10:00 in the morning. Could there be a Barred Owl looking for breakfast this late in the day? Dick tried to talk to it again. This time the voice moved to a nearer tree, then stopped. I think she decided we were not good cooks when she saw us. If we had heard a Screech Owl too we really would have scored an Owl hat-trick!

It was a perfect day to drive home. The fall foliage was at its peak in northern Alabama. The hillsides were a crazy quilt pattern of yellow, gold, bronze, russet, orange, and scarlet on a background of deep pine green, with white fingers of Sycamore reaching through the canopy here and there, and a brilliant sky blue above. As we crossed into Tennessee, we could see the colors beginning to fade a bit. By the time we reached Louisville, the hills were the brown and grey we will see for the rest of the winter for the most part. Hawks soared, just enjoying the day, I think, more than they were hunting.

I have a comment to make to those drivers on I-65, in their cars, trucks, and SUV's, their RV's pulling horse trailers, and their semis. I heard you cursing at me, as you passed going 70 mph and more.

My Prius going at 63 mph, gets 52-54 miles per gallon on a regular basis. If there's a good stretch of downhill, it can reach 58 miles per gallon. HA! Top that, Bub!