Wednesday, September 06, 2006

swamp tale

I took Alpha Dog along on a swamp walk yesterday afternoon. It was warm and hazy with the late afternoon sun filtering through the clouds. Biting insects had fallen off enough that it wasn't really a problem, and dragonflies--mostly green darners and whitetails--were all over. A number of butterflies were out; I was able to get a positive ID on a couple of monarchs. Usually it's just 'monarch or viceroy,' but these were pretty close up and at rest.

Alpha is as a rule pretty fastidious for a dog. Coming upon a pile of old scat (I think it was otter--there was an awful lot of crayfish chitin in it) she was seized by an urge (inspired, no doubt, by all the wildness around her) to revert to the wolf. Yep, she got down and rolled in it. Not just a perfunctory roll, either; she meticulously positioned herself and slid into it two or three times over my objections, shimmying as if to distribute the stuff over as much of herself as possible until sufficiently perfumed. Yuck. And I'd just bathed and flea-treated her, too. Fortunately her only interest in the copious coyote scat that lay along the trail was to piddle on it. Kind of a canid 'Kilroy was here' gesture, I suppose.

Except for the usual ubiquitous egrets, not a lot else was in immediate evidence. For several minutes I caught the echoing drum of what must have been a fair-sized woodpecker in the distance--deeper and more resonant than the drilling of the little ones around my neighborhood. I think the area has pileateds, and I'm sure it has some of the mid-sized woodies. The sound came from a woodlot a good distance away across open marsh, so getting a better look wasn't an option.

Everything changed in what seemed like a matter of seconds. A huge dark cloud rolled in and the wind, previously minimal, picked up. It was an isolated stormcell, common in these parts. It swept in as if from nowhere, stopping right above us. The wind increased. There I was, the tallest thing on the berm road except for the power poles, with a big dark cloud over my head like Al Capp's Joe Blfspk. (I think that's how it was spelled, anyway. Does anybody even remember Joe and his personal storm cloud anymore?) I started jogging in the direction of the nearest stand of trees and the parking lot, hoping the lightning didn't start up before I got there. Alpha, of course, was suddenly interested in the smells of small mammal trails alongside the edge of the berm. One thunderclap and she woulda been out of there, but until disaster looms, oblivious. Maybe we've brought them a little too far from the wolf. I yanked the lead and kept up the pace.

The wind was swaying moderate-sized trees by now, and birds were scattering for shelter. Smaller ones who tried to outpace the wind now veered off course; one smallish raptorlike bird clipped the powerline ahead of me, spun out of control, and crash-landed in a tree some yards away. But a big blue heron managed to cruise over unaffected at a higher altitude than the others. As I rounded the last bend to the parking lot, a pair of some of the biggest birds I've ever seen out there rose out of the trees ahead and coasted effortlessly to cruising level. I've never seen them before. Wood storks!

Yard eco: A small flock of common grackles, probably passing through, stopped off at the backyard feeder yesterday. They're kind of homely, ungainly-looking birds to begin with and the males looked to be minus the keeled tail feathers they have when breeding so they were not an attractive bunch. They cleaned up some of the seeds the squirrels had dumped on the ground, though, so I guess I shouldn't judge them by cover. Unfortunately, their presence while they were there did seem to be a disincentive to the smaller songbirds who normally visit. A couple of the hummers swooped in, took in the scenario, and got out in a hurry without stopping for nectar.

Two male house finches, healthy.

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