Intermission, part 1

I find it interesting that I’ve never used this blog title before (I keep a list,) and expect to want to again, so, part one it is. These are some of the semi-random images that were obtained between bigger or more thematic sessions that will appear here shortly.

three yellow-bellied sliders Trachemys scripta scripta perched on snag with partial reflection
While ambling around the nearby pond, I spotted these yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) from a distance and fired off a couple of frames before they were spooked into the water, but I’m a little mad at myself for this image. I didn’t recognize the quality of the color and reflections as I was shooting, and thus didn’t frame it better to capture the mirror-image, letting it get cut off by the shoreline in the foreground. It’s possible that I might not have been able to get a better frame anyway, requiring a much closer approach to get the shoreline low enough, which the turtles probably wouldn’t have tolerated, but it never occurred to me to try.

Up on shore a bit further around, there was another encounter that was curious.

huge blind yellow-bellied slider Trachemys scripta scripta on shore
The Girlfriend and I saw this massive slider from a distance, and through the lens I could see the eye on our side was damaged – but it was also perfectly still, and much further up on shore than we normally see them. I was thinking perhaps it was another dead one, a thought that remained right up until I was standing directly over it and finally saw movement. I could see that both eyes were either missing or ruptured, rendering it totally blind, and I’m more than suspicious this is from the idiots misapplying the copper sulfate for weed control; I’ve said earlier that the number of dead turtles that we’ve seen has been disturbing, especially since we rarely find any. It’s been close to a dozen this year alone.

huge blind yellow-bellied slider Trachemys scripta scripta portrait
Most times the sliders perch on logs, as seen at top, or on the shallow banks in secluded areas, ready and willing to flee into the water as soon as danger threatens – which for that pond is often, since numerous people walk their dogs around the perimeter. Few turtles come onto the banks this far (a handful of meters,) and when they do, it’s generally in the spring to lay eggs. This one was aware of us, but mildly or distantly, and did not attempt to flee. I considered herding it into the water, but figured that it either knew what it was doing, or was too injured to care, and decided not to induce any further stress; it was far enough away from the bulk of activity (plus it was a turtle and well-protected) that the risk wasn’t significant. But I did take a few frames with my sandaled foot inserted for scale.

huge blind yellow-bellied slider Trachemys scripta scripta with author's foot for scale
And I will note that it was missing the following day, so presumably it made its own way into the water.

Not far off, we heard some little “chip” bird calls directly overhead, and looked up to find a downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) industriously excavating a hollow into a rotting limb not very far up. Serious excavations.

chunk of rotting wood rising to opening
For a moment, it looked like an animated chunk of wood pulp.

downy woodpecker Dryobates pubescens lifting chunk of wood pulp out of excavation in limb
… but then the woodpecker became evident.

downy woodpecker Dryobates pubescens looking down from overhead excavation
Had the bird been silent, we may not have noticed it, since the wood was so rotten that it was taking little effort to break up, and thus minimal noise, but the woodpecker’s little chirps gave it away. I was initially shooting almost straight up into the sun, but soon moved to the side for better lighting, at least, and a profile shot.

downy woodpecker Dryobates pubescens peering from hollow overhead
I found this all curious, because it’s not exactly nesting season, but on researching the species, there’s a suspicion that there may be two breeding seasons in the south; are we far enough to count? It was also indicated that mate pairing may occur by late winter, so perhaps the males start the nests for potential mates in the fall instead of the spring – I know bluebirds will scout out nesting sites on their fall migration south, to return to in the spring.

This one wasn’t to be seen around that limb a few days later, not surprising in that the space available in that limb wasn’t even 25 cm before reaching the broken-off stump. But on a higher branch several meters away, The Girlfriend spotted him (I’m assuming it was the same) working on another hollow, this one looking more promising.

downy woodpecker Dryobates pubescens excavating another limb
Since they’re all within easy sight, I may try to keep an eye on them and see if the evidence of a brood appears, either this fall or in the spring.

Some time in the past week or two, a new resident appeared at the pond.

possible muscovy duck Cairina moschata hanging out at pond
While I have never seen one in this color pattern, the caruncles around the eyes would seem to indicate that this is a muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) – not native to the region but commonly introduced into stocked ponds and farms, so whether this one had been dropped or abandoned here, or wandered in from some source nearby, or was honestly wild and got a long ways from home, I can’t say. It seemed a little timid but not overtly so; not as blasé as the ones around the pond where I used to live in Florida, but not as cautious as most wild ducks either. Regardless, you gotta like the color pattern.

These various sessions were all part of the pursuit of the great egret, seen in an earlier post, and on exhausting the possibilities for the day we returned home. Standing out in the front yard with The Girlfriend (because that’s what we do, just kinda showing off for the neighbors you know,) we heard the calls of a red-shouldered hawk over the trees just out of sight, and in searching for that one, we saw a few medium-high altitude vultures cruising over, and then, above them, a high-altitude raptor. The wings were vulture-like, but at that distance I could just make out the white head and tail, and as that was registering, another appeared, and they were wheeling in a large circle together.

bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus high overhead with much more distant, unidentified bird
Definitely adult bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus,) quite some ways up there – a thousand meters, at least. With the long lens I could just barely get some detail, and believe me, this was as good as it was going to get. This was curious in that there are no large bodies of water anywhere near the place, and the pond was too small for eagles, but they didn’t seem to be hunting anyway. What they were doing, I’m not sure, but certainly not something that I expected to see here. Now, Jordan Lake isn’t that far away – about eight kilometers to the northern tip, so not even a hard flight for them – but still, why here? Nonetheless, it means we’ve been keeping an eye on the skies since then (so far in vain) for a reappearance.

Meanwhile, did you see the other avian in the frame? Yeah, something else was even higher, far too distant to make out by eye, and even at 600mm there aren’t enough details to discern anything dependably. The pattern and color look like a great blue heron to me, but that’s a lot higher than I’d ever expect to see one. Not that that’s definitive, by any stretch, but the mystery remains.

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