Heh, a wildlife heavy morning! I went out to see if the turtle had moseyed off (actually, he’s sulking under the beautyberry bush) and James said “Look! A little tiny squirrel!”

I followed his gaze and said “Honey, that’s a chipmunk.”

It turns out we have the Eastern Chipmunk in the yard. We are at the extreme, extreme, extreme edge of their range, so amusingly enough, they are generally found on one side of Raleigh, and not the other. Bein’ on the north side, we get chipmunks. Go figure.

He’s cuter ‘n hell, of course.

Turtle Redux

I found myself awake early this morning–before James! Madness!–and went out and did some weeding, and dumped a few more things in the ground. (From next door, shasta daisies, echniacea, and another indeterminate yellow thing with leaves like a black eyed susan and a head like a marigold, from the nursery black snakeroot and the prairie winecup.)

Along the way, I tripped over another of Mother Terrapin’s minions. This little fellow was a little smaller than a paperback book (although much thicker, obviously–a Robert Jordan sized book, let’s say.) I picked him up and he clammed up so tight he was practically hermetically sealed. Had I wanted to put my ear next to the shell of a small biting creature, I fancy I could have heard the hiss of the airlock closing. He was, of course, the eastern box turtle.

Since James is mowing today, I moved the little fellow over to the back yard. Having read about turtles after the last one, I now hate to move ’em, but I figure a journey of twenty yards is preferable to an encounter with Mr. Lawn Mower. He’s welcome to live on the property, or lay eggs, or whatever he (or she) desires, of course, but he’s probably just passing through to someplace else.

So that was kind’ve a neat way to start the morning.

Yet more snakes!

Walked down to the stream. Near to the path, on the edge of the bushes, was a large, heavy-bodied snake, maybe two feet long, very thick in proportion, a seriously meaty snake. None of the little whippy wormy snakes–this guy was pumpin’ iron at the gym and always cleaned his plate. It was dark, dusty brown-black, with what looked like narrow, paler bands, a little like you get with a kingsnake, but much lower contrast, faint lines of tan on chocolate, the whole creature much thicker than a kingsnake and not at all glossy.

“Do not assume all snakes are poisonous,” I told myself.* “That one you saw the other day was probably a brown water snake. Not all snakes are poisonous. Surely there are plenty of other other snakes that look exactly like cottonmouths.” I went home and looked on line. There are indeed some look-alikes. So, banded water snake, or mature cottonmouth, Ursula isn’t going to go prodding this legless gent to find out for sure.

When it saw me checkin’ it out with the binoculars (I was maybe ten feet away, but I wasn’t getting any closer) it slithered into the bushes. This doesn’t mean anything–despite their reputation as some kind of scaly psychotic, cottonmouths, like the vast majority of snakes in North America, would much rather flee than tangle with you. (I recall a show once where several scientists set out to see just how aggressive cottonmouths were. At one point, they were standing around poking the thing with sticks, trying desperately to provoke an attack, and the snake was just “Let me go, let me go, I have no quarrel with any of you, let me go, let me go.” They eventually concluded that as long as you don’t step on them, and don’t try to play with them, you’ll probably be fine. This is good advice with any animals, and most artists.)

*Unless you’re thinking of handling them, in which case all snakes are not only poisonous, but explosive.

Out of ink. Nearly out of paper. Need to do a Digger. Need to work on Nurk. Need to pack for Con.

Obviously this is therefore the best time–nay, the only possible time–to decide that I should try to figure out a whole new way to do comics in color gracefully. Yeah! So it looks like watercolor and ink! Yeah! Surely there’s a way to do that digitally! Yeah!

To distract myself from this madness, I took a walk down to the stream.

I had been there for maybe ten minutes, and spotted a coupla turtles lazily treading water, and had just about decided that nobody was out this afternoon, and I should head back, when I heard a ratchety, grating, rumbling frog call.

And then another one. And then another one.

Rather rapidly, I was sitting in the middle of a chorus of deep, gutteral calls that went on and on, for over a minute, frog after frog. Some seemed to be above me, leading me to suspect it was a treefrog (the call was similiar to the Gray Treefrog.) I didn’t see a single frog, but I was afraid to move, for fear they’d see ME, and stop calling. It was a lovely, if surreal kind of experience, made more so by the fact that I wrote a scene identical to this in Nurk’s story a week ago. (They were bullfrogs, not tree frogs. Of course, I’m not a shrew either, so who am I to complain?)

Probably because I was sitting so quietly, a mother duck coming around the bend decided it was safe to launch her brood in front of me, and so I sat and watched nine half-grown ducklings swim by in a tight bunch.

The frogs tapered off. I lifted my binoculars to watch the ducks swim out of sight, thinking “Surely nature cannot top THAT. I’ll head home now–” and saw movement.

The ducks had disturbed a heron. It had a gray-green back and rich maroon chest, and with that size and color, there’s only one possible suspect–the Little Green Heron. I’ve had a tentative maybe-a-sighting of this heron before, based on a blurry photo of one I took years ago–but here was the real, definite deal. I watched him through the binoculars for a minute, set them down, and thought “Wow! Well, it doesn’t get any better than–”

The heron took off, flying my way, passing maybe four feet in front of me, landed on a muddy shore fifteen feet upstream. Moving slowly… slowly… one…. foot… lifted… at… a… time the little heron stalked a shoal of tiny mosquito fish, and I gave up on that whole breathing foolishness. Then wham! the heron’s head shot out, and a little shiny thing flipped madly in its beak. It swallowed it down, and began strolling up the stream.

“Okay,” I said, “in order to top that, the osprey’s gonna have to crap on my head. Time to head home…”

Went for a quick walk down to the stream again. Nature is so cool. Today, in addition to the usual suspects of cardinal, towhee, bunny, finch, nuthatch and grackle, there was a great crested flycatcher, the first one I’ve ever seen. (Thank god, it’s the only flycatcher in the South–they’re notoriously hard to tell from other flycatchers.) Woo! Lifelist!

There was also an immense green frog who yipped when it saw me and jumped in the water. I caught sight of it on the other side of the stream and got a good look–a bright green head, and a darker, mottled back. Looked a lot like the classic bullfrog, but I don’t know if they make that kicked-Chihuahua yip alarm call.

While I was studying Mr. Bullfrog, I heard a slithery, slippery noise, and turned to see one of Mother Terrapin’s minions come sliding down a muddy bank on his shell. “OHHH!” cried Ursula, who will not be in the running for the “quick on the uptake” awards any time soon. “That’s why they’re called ‘sliders!'” He was a much smaller specimen than the megalithic beast on my lawn–only about the size of my spread hand or so.

Finally, I saw another red-headed woodpecker, which I still get a kick outta seeing, and a mother mallard with a huge brood. And there was a belted kingfisher who went flailing by over head–I can identify them by flight now, no other bird I know does that kind of mad pinwheeling through the air, like somebody who’s lost their balance, and is running forward to keep from falling over.

All this in ten minutes. Probably I was just damn lucky, but maybe I should go in late afternoon more often.

Went for a walk to restore my vital brain juices. The air is damp, thundery, and oppressive, and of course, the farther I walked, the more thunder we got, leading me to believe that I should probably turn around and head home. But I stopped at the usual bend in the stream I walk down to, and was rewarded by the sight of a medium sized snake–I’d put him at between 12 and 16 inches–draped over a branch by the water. As I watched, he slowly uncurled and slid down into the water, then snaked his way across the stream. He worked his way along the opposite bank for a bit, then found a spot to slide up, and draped himself over a little bar of mucky leaves there.

I strongly suspect he was a brown water snake, being a reasonably slender, light brown snake with distinct deeper brown stripes. It is not impossible that he was a thin, light colored cottonmouth, however, so I stayed well enough away. It doesn’t pay to mess with strange snakes. He was very pretty, though.

And now, back to the grindstone!

Brown Water Snake
http://www.bio.davidson.edu/projects/herpcons/herps_of_NC/snakes/Ner_tax.html

Cottonmouth
http://www.bio.davidson.edu/projects/herpcons/herps_of_NC/snakes/Agk_pis.html

Oh, dear lord.

I was out pouring the Hot Meats peppered sunflower seeds into a feeder, and ran afoul of them.

My hands were nowhere near my face, so I suspect a stray breeze caught one of the tiny bits of husk, carried it dancing on the wind, and then, with airy malice, whipped it directly into my right eye.

The pain was immediate, blinding, and absolute. Hot peppered suet up the nose that one time was pretty bad, but this was like an assault. I staggered towards the house moaning the mantra “ohfuckohfuckohfuckoh–” and blessed the architect who put the bathroom next to the back door.

Flushing it with water helped, after a few minutes, but sweet mother of bunnies. If the squirrels experience even half of that when they try to eat the stuff, then I am committing an abominable act of animal cruelty. I only hope they smell it and know better than to grab a mouthful.

Predictably, the turtle went for the road.

I helped her across, just in advance of the mail truck. She is now across the street, and ambling down the sidewalk like a good pedestrian. More than this, I cannot do–she made it this far, and if she makes it back home, wonderful. If I drag her down to the creek, she may just have to walk the whole damn way again, back across even more streets, so I’ll wish her good luck and godspeed.

The scuffed patch of lawn…probably isn’t turtle eggs…I can’t imagine…but I will tell James to avoid fertilizing that patch just in case.

Jesus, and I thought today was gonna be dull.

This is particularly ironic because I’m currently working on one of those random god paintings of a wicked turtle woman. I am a desperately rational being, I am and it is purely coincidence. It’s just…weird, is all.

There is a foot long turtle in the front yard.

He’s just sitting there on the lawn.

Holy crap.

What do I do? He’s probably a local, but the front yard! What if he goes for the street!?

His shell is damaged slightly, on one lower side–looks a bit crumpled. Not enough that I suspect damage to the innards, like you’d get from being hit by a car, more just one of the flap edges bent down a bit. Probably just a scar of a hard life. He’s just…a turtle. On the lawn.

Good god.

Update: His shell measures 12 x 8. He is some species of slider–he pulls in whenever I get near, so I can’t tell if it’s a red-eared or not, but definitely a slider. He can walk under his own power, and so, as far as I’m concerned, can stay in the wild. There is a scuffed place in the lawn where he was sitting, leading me to believe that he either was digging around, or…god help us…maybe it was an impact crater. (Do birds of prey really pick up turtles, or is that just in “Small Gods”?) Regardless, he’s fairly mobile. At the moment, he is basking. I am concerned that he may try to make a break for the road, so I’m going to have to move him.

Update Again: Okay, acting on better advice, I’ll leave (her?) alone. I’ll keep an eye out in case she goes for the street, though.

Jesus. The defective wildlife must have been saving up for this…

Rodent Council

I look out the back today and see what looks like a council of rodents–baby bunny, squirrel, and cotton rat, all sitting within a foot of each other, not bothering each other, just sitting. (Ironically, the cotton rat, half the size of either of the others, is the only adult of the bunch–the bunny is maybe a third the size of his parent, and the squirrel has the rangy, scrawny, large-headed look of this year’s juveniles.) (I know, I know, lagomorphs. Recent taxonomy studies place them as having split from rodents, however, so I’m allowed. Besides, who’d put “Member, Council of Lagomorphs” on their business cards?)

The young are out in force today. I went outside to read for a few minutes, and drink coffee. I didn’t get much reading done, although I did get a few bugs in my coffee. The wildlife scattered as soon as I came out, but returned almost immediately, except for the bunny, who’s a nervous little thing.

In the course of maybe twenty minutes, I watched the cotton rat wander around stuffing his face with seed, soon to be joined by a pint-sized miniature version. A hairy woodpecker came down and drove his wicked beak into the suet, then flew off. Four white-breasted nuthatches showed up, divided into pairs, and shoved suet down throats in a kind of upside-down rota. A young thrasher hopped around the base of the suet tree and began begging for food from anyone in the vicinity, which happened to be the cotton rat. The rat eyed the gaping beak of the thrasher looking faintly embarassed, the way any of us do when randomly approached by somebody else’s kids asking for something, and I must assume smiled and nodded and backed away slowly. Towhees kicked and scuffled under the cherry laurel, looking for food or pirate treasure or whatever. The squirrel undulated by, gripping an enormous bulb in his teeth. “My dahlias…!” Oh, well, easy come, easy go.

The thrashers were replaced by two red-bellied woodpeckers, a female and one with the moth-eaten noggin of the young. Young red-bellied woodpeckers are unbelievably obnoxious in their begging, with an ear-splitting yawp that goes right to your inner ear and boogies down. You begin to pray for the sweet release of death. You get the impression the other animals are, too.

So he sat next to the suet and yawped. Generally at this point, the adult stuffs food down that beak, probably in hopes of choking the yawp off at its source.

This time, however, his mother had Had Enough. A few yawps, and that was it. She charged him, tail spread, the way they do when they’re chasing off interlopers. The yawp of entitlement was replaced by the yawp of panic. He lumbered down the tree, then flew off. If the universe was really structured like it is in my head, a round of applause would have come from all corners of the garden, the cotton rat would have stood on his hind legs and clapped wildly, the blue jays would have erupted into Bronx cheers. Sadly, it isn’t, so they didn’t, but I was happy anyway.