Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 22, 2007

The Wandering Naturalist

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 1:30 pm

Southern North Carolina

 Alright, this is where the picture connection stops.  I can’t get the proper internet to download my pictures, so words will have to do.

 We’re camping in South Carolina about three feet south of the North Carolina state border at a place called King’s Mountain State Park. The impounded lake here is a shallow weedy affair.  I ventured down to it’s shoreline about sunset last night and was treated to the sight of dozens of bats feeding on the midges rising fom the water surface.  They appeared to be Littel Brown Bats, but the dim light and the flittering forms made this an impossible thing to determine. Whatever they were, there were dozens of them overhead, around and over the lake.

  The nice thing about bats is that they are living bug zappers.  Standing in the silence of the evening, the only sound greeting my ears was the hushed fluttering of webbed wings and the occassional snap of bat mouth on bug.  More than once a fluttermouse dipped down to my level and snatched a mosquito out of the air. This is a very satifying sight and sound.

  Oddly enough, bats are among the noisiest of creatures, but their ultrasonic calls are out of our hearing range.  If I had remembered to bring my bat detector (I knew I forgot something), the clicking noise would register as a deafening chorus of echolocation.  They shout and wait for the sound waves to bounce back.  As the waves get closer together the target is marked and the aerial mammal zooms in for the snatch.  Little Browns use their wing and tail membranes to scoop the prey out of the air beofre grabbing it with their mouths.  From the looks of things this was a bad night for mosquitoes.

  Returning to lake edge this morning, I was greeted by another welcome sight.  A tiny Cricket Frog attempted a launch into the water. I intercepted the amphibian before it struck liquid.  Cricket Frogs used to be a common sight up in Michigan, but have disappeared over the years and are now very rare in the state.  Holding this micro frog carefully between my thumb and forefinger, I took great care not to harm it.  Cricket Frogs are literally the size of Crickets, so the entire beast could barely reach across my fingertip.  They are overall an even brown color with a bumply skin texture. 

  Long ago they used to be tree frogs and still retain the toe pads needed for that job. Now they reside in weedy shallow lakes and some day, way down the line, they will lose the pads and gain some webs.  Neither you nor I will be around to see this happen, so don’t hold your breath.

  Cricket Frogs don’t call in autumn, or else I would have heard them last night while bat watching.  Next spring, however,  my little captive will resume the “Crick Crick Crick Cricket Cricket Cricket” call that fits their name and appearance.  In the meantime, take two marbles and click them together and you’ll get a great imitation of the Cricket Frog call.

  I trust the Carolina mountains will offer up an array of wildlife and flora as the week goes on.  Persimmons and black Gum trees are attaining a beautiful ruby hue.  the persimmons are ripening and offering succulant Grey Squirrel fare. A Black Vulture circled overhead today and Mocking Birds are everywhere.

  Yesterday I picked a young Timber Rattlesnake off the road.  Apparently it was attempting to soak up some of the residual heat off the road before it was struck and killed by early morning traffic.  Although only about 12″ long, this beauty has all the marks of the species.  Its background color is pale cream overlaid with a dramatic series of dark red-brown “V’s” down the back.  A chalky cinnamon smear runs down the center of the back as if somebody touched it before it was dry.  Around these parts, the light colored versions are known as “Canebreak Rattlers” – which is far better than the scientific name of the subspecies which is Crotalus horridus atricaudatus.  Further north, this species becomes darker in pigmentation.  It really is a stunning snake, and I hope to forward some photos soon.

  I’ll get some time at the next campsite to view it in detail. In order to preserve the snake, we paid a visit to the local Walmart to buy some alcohol and a glass jar.  So preserved, the snake (which is in beautiful condition aside from being dead) will last for a very long time.  This is the method used by early naturalists and explorers  to preserve their collections, so I am tapping into a rich tradition here.  I’m sure Lewis and Clark would have appreciated the opportunity to explore a Walmart.

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