Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Being 60, Discovering New Creatures #51-55

by Donna L. Watkins

Randal and I are certainly not your typical travelers. Our favorite places to visit are natural areas: national wildlife refuges, state parks, nature centers, etc. While many people head for the beach, big cities, a shopping or dining out, we head for forests, wetlands and gardens since we find the possibility of meeting another member of God's Creation very exciting. This year's 60 new adventures in my 60th year has brought many new friends my way and I'm grateful to be able to photograph them so we can continue to enjoy them for years to come, especially since some of them we may never see again until we reach Heaven.

So, here's a few new friends plus a castle called Atalaya which was built as a winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington along the ocean. It's part of a state park so we found some new creatures while visiting the park. This couple was the creator and designer of Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, SC, which was one of my dream places to visit.

© 2011 Donna L. Watkins - Lesser Yellowlegs
Huntington Beach State Park, SC
#51 of 60 - Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs - I saw a bird that looked like a sandpiper and wanted Randal to slow down so I could take a few pictures. You're not supposed to stop in such a place, but I'm grateful there was nobody behind us and that Randal did stop just for a half minute.

I didn't expect it to be a new species for me and if it wasn't for wonderful bird forums, I would never have figured out that it was a Lesser Yellowlegs.  What a name for a bird.  Wonder if it realizes there's also a bird called Greater Yellowlegs.  Our cat has short legs and we call her cute names because of it, but I wouldn't say she's "lesser" than any other cat.

© 2011 Donna L. Watkins
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
Later while we were on the boardwalk at the salt marsh, I saw another one that "looked just like it" but found out later that it was a Greater Yellowlegs.

When I compared the photos and the tips that were mentioned on the forum, I did see the difference. So I was doubly excited to have two new bird species.

Since we've not spent much time at all around water areas, in comparison to most of the places I photograph wildlife, there's always a chance to find something new each time and I'm delighted it was this year for my count.

© 2011 Donna L. Watkins - Atalaya Castle Entrance,
Murrells Inlet, SC
#52 of 60 - Atalaya Castle, located within Huntington Beach State Park, was the winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, who lived in Connecticut and New York City. Construction of the beachside home began in 1931, without detailed written plans.  The house and Brookgreen Gardens were constructed concurrently from 1931 to 1933.  Archer, a noted authority on Hispanic culture, designed the house after the Moorish architecture of the Spanish Mediterranean coast.

Wanting to provide work opportunities for community residents during the Great Depression, he insisted that local labor be hired for construction.  The home was named Atalaya (ah-ta-lie-yuh), a Spanish term for watchtower.  A tower built to hold water and provide a roosting place for bats was the centerpiece of Atalaya between two beautiful courtyards. View photo album of Atalaya Castle.

© 2011 Donna L. Watkins - Yellow Rat Snake
#53 of 60 - Yellow Rat Snake - Our first wildlife encounter after we headed down the trail to the lagoons at Huntington Beach State Park was to see this snake across the concrete pathway. We thought it was dead, but I hoped it wasn't. Thinking it was a garter snake I readily approached to talk to it. Surely my voice would bring it back to life, right?

Rat snakes are pretty slow moving and will most often freeze when encountering danger. This is why so many are killed on roads. When freezing while crawling on the ground they often take a rippled posture, looking like a large unironed ribbon. That's exactly what he was doing when we first saw him.

Read more about the Yellow Rat Snake on my blog post. There's a link to a short video of the Yellow Rat Snake on the post also as he headed for the woods.

© 2011 Donna L. Watkins - Yellow-bellied Slider Turtle
#54 of 60 - Yellow-bellied Slider - Another new adventure at Huntington Beach State Park was getting to see a Yellow-bellied Slider. I had to put it on a reptile forum to know what it was. He was sunning away on a log near the water. As I was studying about them I found out that they are called sliders because they lay near the water and have a smooth shell on the bottom (called a plastron) so they can slide right into the water if danger demands.

I thought it quite interesting he seemed to have so much algae on his back, but also after studying I realized this turtle was much larger than most yellow-bellied sliders from the dimensions listed, but it said that some have reached a foot in length if they have the chance to get very old. Guess this was great grandpa since it did seem more like a foot long when I was shooting the picture. I guess he's seen a lot of alligators in his time.

I've seen Red-eared Sliders with my first being at Huntsville Botanical Garden in the butterfly house. The best information and wonderful photographs of this turtle can be seen at Hilton Pond's website about this critter.

© 2011 Donna L. Watkins - Aquatic Worms in Our Pond
#55 of 60 - Aquatic Worms - Now and then I like to snoop around the pond looking for all the many forms of life that is in it.  I have a net that I use to take leaves out now and then, but that is a bit slimy since I have to filter through all the leaf layers to be sure there's no dragonfly larvae in the midst of them.

I look for frog and newt eggs and also tadpoles from the current year or those who have wintered over in that stage.  I even enjoy the various bugs that live in the pond .... but one thing I had never found before was worms.

Aquatic worms! I'd never heard of them, but these worms matched the pictures online and I learned a lot by reading about them.  Read the post on Aquatic Worms for more information.

Continue the last leg of the adventure journey with me .....

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