On an outing this past Wednesday, we found just a wee bit to photograph, mostly since the day had warmed considerably and this sparked a little activity. Not a lot – it’s still winter, so don’t go getting your expectations up, but at least there’s a smidgen to post that isn’t about being young and stupid, or old and cranky. Lucky you.
We were paying no attention to the trees, and would have missed this red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) entirely if it hadn’t vented a call as we were nearby. It sat still long enough for us to affix our long lenses, then took flight immediately afterwards, switching to another perch in much lousier lighting only fifty meters off. But it’s that season, and the behavior of remaining fairly close was suspicious, so I began looking around carefully. Sure enough, there was a nest not too far from where it had originally been perched, but at this distance and angle I couldn’t be sure if it was a hawk’s nest or perhaps a grey squirrel’s.
I took a few frames in the hopes that close examination might show someone peeking over the lip, and I tried circling it to a better vantage, but the density of trees wasn’t allowing it, and I never saw any signs of occupants, so right now this remains unidentified. Something to try and keep an eye on, but this was in a park a dozen kilometers or so away, so it won’t be frequent checks. I’ve got a couple of promising nests right nearby to concentrate on, anyway.
Even the songbirds were scarce, though being out at midday might have had a little to do with it, since they like dawn and dusk better. A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus – seriously, stick with the common name and don’t hurt yourself) posed nicely just long enough for me to unzip the camera bag, then moved to a spot with worse light and background, but I fired off a few frames anyway, because winter.
Annnddd for living, moving subjects, that was almost it. We’re getting close to the old and cranky thing again.
The frequent rains had flooded the banks of the river in places, and created a lot of mud. In one such puddle was clear evidence of a recent visit, but of course this took place in the dead of night and not in the live of afternoon while we were there.
These are the tracks of a North American raccoon (Procyon lotor,) which was likely checking out the water, as they do, for fun edible stuff – not like it was going to find anything in this minimal puddle. But elsewhere, there were some pickings, for both raccoons and nature photographers. This was largely determined by the creaking calls, heard while we were still a short ways off and halting as we got close. However, a lot of close examination eventually turned up the vocalists, taking advantage of the warmer day (which may not yet herald spring, but they tend to get an early start regardless.)
I had initially identified the call as coming from an American toad, but I was wrong! Instead, it proved to be upland chorus frogs (Pseudacris feriarum,) much smaller and about a hundred times more adept at remaining camouflaged and hidden, this photo notwithstanding. This was because I had spooked one from its cover at the edge of the water and it went a little further out into the puddle in a spot lacking stuff that it could get under, so it held still instead and counted on camouflage, not realizing that the common orange clay of North Carolina wasn’t matching the frog’s own coloration. They’re stupid, is what I’m saying.
This image is a little more accurate representation of their habits, but still makes it seems like they wouldn’t be that hard to spot. However, the one on the left (you didn’t miss that one, did you?) would simply duck under that leaf as soon as anyone drew near, doing so again as we were getting the shots, and most times they sit right up against clumps of grass or leaves and appear as nothing more that a mud lump. Given that their maximum body length is about 30mm, it’s usually more than effective.
Their calls, by the way, are way out of proportion to their size; you really expect to see something a lot bigger than this, and standing at the edge of a pond or basin (or a mere ditch, as this was) when they start calling again, it’s almost confusing how distinct they sound, perhaps right there, and yet you can see nothing.
This one was way too cooperative, but were we complaining? Having been spooked into the water, it peeked back out again after a few minutes, and our slower movements weren’t enough to chase it down again. The clump of grass and the bubbles help give an idea of scale: smaller that the treefrogs that I find so often, and way smaller than American toads. For some reason they’re not that common in my immediate surroundings (like within walking distance,) so I don’t have easy access to them to capture their life cycle, but perhaps I can find a key spot not too far away, because they’re common enough in the general area. We’ll just have to see what happens.
Well, okay, you’ll have to see – I’m gonna have to be actively searching. Typically this is anything from puddles to decent ponds, within or very close to wooded areas, so I at least know what to be looking for. You’ll know of my success, or lack thereof, soon enough.