No hard feelings?

The other day, The Girlfriend and I visited the NC Botanical Garden, mostly to check out the sculptures by local artists that they feature at this time every year. Well, she was checking out the sculptures; I had been through a little earlier, solely for photographic purposes, and had noted most of them in passing, only finding two that I liked while most of the rest were hideous. I’m being nice and not naming names or talking about styles, but seriously, what the hell motivates some people?

Anyway, I had my camera with me and was watching for items of opportunity, but the hurricane-turned-tropical-storm (the second one this year, in this area) had passed through in the interim; the garden wasn’t damaged in any way, but flowering plants and such had been changed a bit. I was commenting that I wasn’t seeing any of the anoles that I normally found in the garden, when we exited the gift shop and I glanced over at the wall outside the door. There, right alongside a decorative plaque, sat a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) in a perfect pose, curled vertically on the wall exactly like a sculpture itself but much better looking, an excellent living accent piece. I pointed it out quietly and started getting the camera out, but the anole twitched as I was nailing focus, and just as I tripped the shutter, turned and started into a crevice behind the plaque.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis thwarting my perfect composition
I mean, what did I ever do to it? The Girlfriend even tried to spook it back out by poking her finger gently in the opposite side, and ended up losing the top joint to no avail. It probably wouldn’t have helped, because the anole was unlikely to emulate its previous photogenic pose anyway. But any thoughts that I might have had concerning its prudence and shyness were banished by seeing the head poking back out just a little above where The Girlfriend had tried to flush it out, and it stayed there peering at me impishly as I drew in very close for the portrait.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis peeking out like a little scamp
Refusing to rise to this obvious baiting, we moved on to other parts of the garden, but ended up passing back through a few minutes later. Knowing that anoles tended not to go too far in their meanderings, I kept an eye out along the wall and surrounding areas but didn’t see anything. Until my eyes lit onto a display of hanging ceramic planters less than a meter away, where the anole was basking in bright sunlight right by a high-traffic area. I don’t really think now that I spooked it at all, given how far away I was at first sighting, and it only ducked inside to answer the phone or check the drier.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis posing on edge of planter
I did a few frames while it watched me with seeming unconcern, and we moved on again.

About twenty minutes later, as we were about to leave the garden, I glanced over at the display hangers again and found the same anole stretched out on one of the arms, drowsing carelessly. I say again, this was a high-traffic area for the garden, and people were passing it every minute or three, so it appeared pretty used to their presence. But after not seeing any for months, it was good to be reassured that there was still at least one around.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis basking on display hanger
I have to note that this is the fifth of six frames that I took at this point, with previous frames showing it watching me – in other words, even as I was firing away it went back to napping. Yeah, terrified.

In between the second and third sightings, I spotted a small distinct hole in the gravel just off one of the main paths, and almost immediately its maker appeared, alighting on the ground alongside and then plunging in headfirst. As wasps go it was pretty big, and I thought it was a cicada-killer, which paralyze the big insects and carry them off to a burrow where the immobile-but-living prey feeds the newborn wasp larvae. Looking it up on BugGuide.net, though, I found that I was mistaken, but not by too much.

Great golden digger wasp Sphex ichneumoneus outside burrow under construction
This is a great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus,) which paralyzes grasshoppers and katydids instead. It was clearly in the process of creating a new burrow, because it would disappear within for a few seconds, make a few classic busy buzzing noises as if humming a little peevishly to itself, the back out and scatter some of the excavated material behind it. Locking focus was a bit tricky because it was moving very quickly, so a lot of my frames are trash, but I got a few that worked.

Great golden digger wasp Sphex ichneumoneus pulling material from burrow
As we watched carefully, we could see the wasp kick some of the soil behind it like a dog after doing its duty, and in this frame, there’s actually a little clod of dirt clasped in the jaws of the wasp. I regret not treating this a bit more seriously and actually getting down to ground level for a better vantage, but being there with someone else who wasn’t ready for a full-on photo session (and neither was I, admittedly,) on a busy Saturday right alongside a main path, wasn’t exactly the conditions I would have liked. Not to mention that the wasp itself was better than 25mm long, of unknown venom potency or temperament; not the kind of thing that I wanted to push in too close to.

Great golden digger wasp Sphex ichneumoneus scattering material from mouth of burrow
One of my many missed frames, but it serves a purpose still, because you can see the blur of a couple of its legs as it kicked the excavated soil away behind it – you can even see some blurred dirt that’s moving in the frame. As The Girlfriend pointed out, this was an ideal candidate for video – except I didn’t have the video-capable body with me. I know, I know, “So much for being prepared,” but I can’t carry everything with me, and since this was a casual outing I had even less than the previous visit. I guess I should look into porters (because, you know, the vast sum of money that I would garner from such video would justify the expense…)

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