I’m not proud

The other day, I did finally get out to accomplish something, and successfully too, but I’m not really counting it as winter activity – I’ve definitely done better. The temperature got amazingly warm, and so I ventured out again in search of mantis egg cases (oothecas) to prime the property for spring. Of course, I had the camera equipment along, just in case, but subjects remained few and far between. I was out in some meadow/scrub land, looking for the tall stiff weeds or small saplings that the Chinese mantids prefer to place their eggs upon, which put me within hearing of a downy woodpecker, a red-shouldered hawk, a barred owl, and one of the accipiters – this was the only one that I caught a glimpse of, and it was only briefly as it flew deeper into the nearby forest, so I couldn’t tell if it was a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk, but from the alarm call it was one of those.

The only thing that I did see, other than some boring sparrows, was a northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos,) which was spotted in a pile of pruned branches very close by and was disinclined to fly off, instead appearing very interested in the deeper shadows of the woodpile.

northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos in woodpile
It did not appear to be an ideal spot for a nest, even if it’s the season, because the pile was too easily accessible to foxes and raccoons, but perhaps it was in search of materials, or I’d spooked it from a feeding spot. Either way, I did a few frames and let it be.

A little further on, examining the streambanks netted me this monster:

American bullfrog Lithobates catesbeianus basking on stream's edge
That’s an American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus,) and a big one – larger than my fist. Credit to my stalking skills in even getting the image, because I managed to get the camera out while standing fairly close in plain sight, snapping off this one frame before some other hiker passed behind me and spooked the frog into the water. Slow movements count for a lot.

egg case ootheca of Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensisAnnnnddd that was about it, really – still not much going on, and no scenery to speak of. But I said I was successful, and I was, finally locating a spot that had an entire cluster of egg cases in a very small radius. These were all Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) cases, and I’d been through quite a lot of territory before I found these curiously close together. I was also looking for Carolina mantis eggs, but saw none; they’re much smaller and more subtle, so much harder to spot at a distance, plus if I’m any judge, the populations locally are far lower. But the Chinese oothecas had me wondering, because I’d been in virtually identical areas and all I found were old examples, clearly at least a year old and in some cases much older. Then to find better than a half dozen all within spitting distance (my own – I don’t think mantids spit) had me considering, again, if adults return to the same location as they hatched to produce their new egg sacs. Mantids live out their entire life cycle within six to eight months, so there’s no chance of multiple egg cases, but is there an instinct to return to a successful site? I had the suspicion previously when a new ootheca appeared in almost the exact location as an old one here at home, and this cluster (in an area demonstrably devoid of other examples) strengthened that suspicion slightly.

I did a frame of this, by the way, because it illustrated something that I’ve never seen. Mantids are good about finding long-lasting weeds or small trees to place their sacs upon, something that won’t be knocked down in the winter storms, but this was the first I’d ever seen one use a cluster of thin reeds; there were plenty of other, better choices within a short distance too, but I won’t pretend to know the mind of a mantid. I collected six and brought them home, setting them up on natural ‘stakes’ in various prime locations to start watching in the next month – April to May seems to be the ideal time, but there’s a big spread in hatching dates. I’m suspicious that, as warm as it’s been this late winter, the hatchings will be early, but we’ll see what happens. This brings my total at Walkabout Estates to eight now, with only one being found here, though two of the recently collected ones are possibly old. And I’m on top of things with new seeds for the spring, including tomato seedlings already started and several things in the greenhouse, so I’m not being that lazy. Cardinal flowers are, as threatened, planned for this spring, and The Girlfriend and I will be going out to pick up some ginger lilies when the season is right – they seem to be a favorite of many species, not the least of which are the Carolina anoles. Getting there, getting there.

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