We got there around noon and had a picnic down by the creek. While we ate leftover spaghetti and chocolate truffles, we kept our ears open and ticked off the birds singing in the riparian zone: Acadian flycatcher - check, ovenbird - check, summer tanager - check, yellow-throated vireo - check, black-throated green warbler - check.
After lunch, we walked back to the old logging road that the timber company built to access the property some 10 years ago and started up the valley. I must admit, after spending so much time and effort trying to kill a tom turkey during the past two months, it was a welcome relief to just putz around and take in all of the other wild things that live there.
Bugs were the first things we noticed. The butterflies along the road fluttered all around us; beautiful, pale blue spring azures, common buckeyes, silver-spotted skippers, fritillaries of undetermined species and tiger swallowtails.
|Love is in the air. Copulating tiger swallowtails (light and dark morph).|
Further down the trail, we came across a couple of bizarre caterpillars, looking menacing and poisonous with a thicket of sinister dorsal spines. Although I fancy myself a serviceable identifier of butterflies in their adult forms (thanks in no small part to Jeffery Glassberg's fantastic guide, Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East), I know virtually nothing about making sense of their larval stage. I took a few photos and hoped for some guidance from David Wagner's very cool book, Caterpillars of Eastern North America. To date, I've had little success keying out the caterpillars in my life with this book, though I suspect it has a lot to do with the variability in their life stages rather than the inefficiencies of the book. This time, however, I think I can confidently say the creepy-crawlies we found were another anglewing type - the question mark. (No, it's not a joke. Similar to the eastern comma, the adult question mark sports the punctuation of it's namesake on it's underwing.)
|Question mark caterpillars (???)|
|Black-shouldered spiny leg - I think.|
As we hiked up away from the creek and through the regenerating forest the logging company had cut around the turn of the century, the bird song reflected the change in habitat. Yellow- breasted chat - check, prairie warbler - check, field sparrow - check, indigo bunting - check, broad-winged hawk - check.
|The mountain wetland hangs on.|
Our visit wasn't completely benign. Over the winter, Sue had discovered and identified a large princess tree growing at the edge of a clearing. Despite my protests that the tree would make for a perfect place to hang a deer stand, Sue was adamant the non-native and highly-invasive intruder had to die. We stopped at the truck to gather our instruments of death and then hiked on up to the tree. It was certainly a picture of health - filled with seed pods waiting to become a virtual forest of princess trees. Through her research, Sue chose the manner and timing of execution. May is the best time of year for the "slash and squirt" tree killing technique, so I girdled the tree with a hatchet (sighing heavily as I did it in sight of so many deer trails) and Sue followed with a generous squirt of herbicide to every cut. Now we'll wait and see what happens.
|Princess tree - a picture of health.|
|Slash and squirt - dead meat.|
On our way back down the hill, we stumbled into a brightly marked box turtle crawling across the trail. Box turtles seem to be well-represented in our little part of the world, but they are in trouble throughout their range. Populations of these long-lived, terrestrial turtles are in decline due to a number of factors, especially habitat destruction and roadway mortality. An adult male, like the one we encountered, can be as old as 40 years to 120 or more - something to think about the next time you see one struggling across a busy highway. For the time being, this one is safe as long as he stays on our side of the valley - and we intend to keep him and all the other wild things on the property that way, for as long as we are able.
|eastern box turtle|