From Hummingbirds to Mushrooms

Top Photo: A lichen “pipe.”

What appears at first to be some sort of corn-cobish kind of smoking pipe is actually a ruby-throated hummingbird nest. Ranger Dakota noticed it lying in the leaf litter adjacent to the Farmyard. As soon as I saw the object I knew it was a hummers nest, about 1 3/4” high, 1 1/2” across and covered with lichen.

Ranger Dakota with his hummingbird pipe.
Notice how the nest is attached on down-sloping branch.

The nest must have fallen from a loblolly pine above us on the path.

The delicate looking nest is made from plant down and fibers and is attached to a down-sloping limb with spider silk. It’s covered with lichens. Looking down into the nest, with an inside diameter of 3/4” – 1” it’s difficult to imagine two tiny hummingbird nestlings huddled together in the nest begging for food from their parents.

Not much room to move inside this lichen covered nest.

Though they look delicate, the nests are well built and secure. Notice that the branch separated from the tree, while the nest remained intact.

While investigating a patch of blue sage in Wander Away I spotted a small brown moth resting on one of the plant’s spires. I wasn’t familiar with the species. However, the distinctive pattern on its wings should help narrow down an identification. A bit of internet browsing turned up Hawaiian beet webworm moth (Spoladea recurvalis), or simply beet webworm moth.

Beet webworm moth.

Despite its name, the moth is mainly eastern in distribution in North America though it also occurs in the Neotropics, Australia, Africa, and Southeast Asia, and of course, Hawaii.

It’s larvae feed on beets, chard, spinach and various weedy plants such as Amaranthus and Chenopodium.

Common checkered skippers are more abundant in early fall that other times of the year. Whatever the season, you have to look down to see them. They fly low to the ground. The small leidopterans can be found in most parts of North Carolina, especially in places where the ground has been disturbed. As mentioned, they’re more often seen in fall than spring or summer.

A worn and tattered common checkered skipper.
An attempt at mating.

Though it’s fall and temperatures, for the most part, are slowly cooling, dragonflies continue to procreate in the wetlands. Here, a female common whitetail hovers over a likely spot to deposit her eggs. Each time she dips her abdomen into the water that’s precisely what she’s doing, ovipositing, laying eggs.

Female common whitetail hovers over likely spot to lay here eggs. (Note male eastern amberwing – bottom right),
She lowers tip of abdomen into water, releasing eggs as she does.

While spending a quiet moment or two on the Floating Walkway in Explore the Wild, a tufted titmouse seemed as surprised to see me as I was it.

Big-eyed surprised look on tufted titmouse.

The goldenrod along the path through Wander Away in Catch the Wind is in bloom and loaded with nectaring insects; bees, wasps, beetles, and butterflies of various species.

Gray hairstreak on goldenrod.
red-banded hairstreak.

If you look closely at the vegetation along the path throughout the outdoor loop trails, you may get a glimpse of one of the many juvenile green anoles that are stalking through the greenery hunting down insect prey.

Young green anole.

“Common in oak and pine forests and fields of the Piedmont area in North Carolina…” is what I read regarding the mushroom’s range while researching the fungus variously know as eastern Caesar’s amanita, American slender amanita or Jackson’s amanita (Amanita jacksonii). It is, though, known to grow from eastern Canada, down through eastern US and deep into Mexico.

Many mushrooms are here today and gone tomorrow, only briefly showing themselves above the surface of whatever it is they’re growing from. You have to catch them during that period when they’re reproducing and spreading their spores across the land. If you’re not there at the right place and time, you’ll miss it.

Day of discovery.
Second day.
Second day from above.
Day three.

And finally, a green heron that lives up to its name.

This green heron is actually green.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

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