Moon HaloMoon Halo

Have you seen the halo around the moon tonight? It’s something else! Absolutely gorgeous and huge. If you have a moment, go outside and take a look. ;)

Dawn 11.22.14Dawn 11.22.14

It’s that time of year that my sleep schedule gets all kinds of messed up. Of course, it didn’t help that last night David and I were playing video games into the wee hours of the morning, lol. We stayed up until sunrise this morning. It’s not often that I get to watch the sun rising because I’m simply not a morning person; but since we hadn’t been to bed yet, it made for a nice meditation moment before finally heading to bed. And the coyotes were howling like nothing I’ve ever heard before! I have yet to actually see one, but we hear them often here.

After we woke up this afternoon, I was pleased to find the day so warm and inviting. We’ve had some bitter cold days here already, even a couple of snow showers, which is not typical for this time of year. I spent most of the afternoon outdoors. We decided to turn off the heat and open the doors up to change out the air in the house a little and give the cats some freedom to go in and out as they please. Today, to my delight, I saw a red-tailed hawk flying overhead. A little while later, I heard the familiar call of Sandhill Cranes and looked to the sky to see a huge flock of them flying overhead.

Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar #1Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar #1

I happened to glance down at the ground and notice this Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar. The neighbor’s 5-year-old was outside with me at this point and asked if he could hold it. I told him that this one was fine to hold, showing him the red bands to identify it, but also told him to never handle fuzzy caterpillars without asking someone first because some of them do sting. The caterpillar remained in its defensive ball as he cautiously held it. I love to see kids this curious about nature. He asked if he could take a photo, too; and I have to say, that his photo below of me holding the caterpillar turned out very nice!

Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar #2Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar #2

After a quick hike down to the creek and back, it seemed only fitting to finish the day off with a photo of the sunset. :)

Dusk 11.22.14Dusk 11.22.14

The Middle Falls

I thought I would share a few photos from this past Monday’s hike at Burgess Falls State Park. The autumn colors are beautiful there this time of year. My guess is that this cold snap we’re entering into today will have the remaining leaves changing rather quickly. It was most certainly a cold, wet, nasty day outside today, but Monday’s hike couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. I hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween!

Burgess Falls in Autumn #1 Burgess Falls in Autumn #2Cliff Wall Cascades

Ridge Top Trail Sign

Ridge Top #1 Ridge Top #2

Burgess Falls Dam

Downstream

Above the Dam

Autumn Flagpole Setting Sun

Species Stagmomantis carolina - Carolina Mantis #1

Over the weekend, my neighbor happened to spot this female Carolina Mantis on the tire of his vehicle and called me over to photograph/relocate her. I moved her to the wheelbarrow first to get a few decent photos and curiously watched her behavior. Something in the yard or on the wheel barrow must have caught her eye as she swayed back and forth in a bobbing motion that made me think of a hypnotist persuading an unsuspecting subject into deep slumber.

Species Stagmomantis carolina - Carolina Mantis #2 Species Stagmomantis carolina - Carolina Mantis #3

Around and around the wheelbarrow support this mantis played hide and seek with me as I tried getting as close as I could without frightening her away. She seemed more cautious of me than others I have encountered.

Species Stagmomantis carolina - Carolina Mantis #4

Sensing her leeriness of me, I moved her to a nearby tree where I figured she would feel safer. Her camouflage was absolute perfection. The “Where’s Waldo” shot below was a little disappointing since none of three photos that I took with her on the tree focused on her head. Before I had the chance to capture anything better, she quickly climbed up the tree’s height away from my prying eyes. Our encounter only lasted a few minutes, but I thanked her for her time, as I always do with my subjects, and wished her well.

Species Stagmomantis carolina - Carolina Mantis #5

I was looking forward to seeing the total lunar eclipse early this morning. I haven’t seen one for many, many years. I even stayed awake two hours later than normal to catch it, but I didn’t get to see much of the eclipse due to cloud cover. The thunderstorm prior to the eclipse beginning was pretty spectacular, though! The video is grainy and edited for the best lightning strikes that I captured. You’ll hear me say, “I smell a skunk.” When David said, “You’re shorter,” he was handing me the umbrella to protect the camera from the rain. One of these days, we’ll learn to keep quiet while taking video, haha!

I really didn’t get any noteworthy photos of the eclipse. My camera simply does not have the capabilities to photograph the moon well. Last night, it was more about the experience of witnessing the eclipse. The clouds broke briefly enough around stage 3 to 4 of the eclipse for the following two images, but they’re the best I got before the clouds overtook the moon again. And by that point, I was ready to go to sleep!

 Full Hunter's Moon Eclipse (around stage 3 - 4)Full Hunter’s Moon Eclipse (around stage 3 – 4)

Full Hunter's Moon EclipseFull Hunter’s Moon Eclipse

No, this next photo is not the sunrise. Before I headed in to go to bed, I snapped one last photo of the light pollution in the distance. The light had a much more eerie feel than the photo captured.

Light PollutionLight Pollution

Much earlier in the evening (last night), I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos of the moon as it rose high in the sky. I shared these last night on Flickr and Twitter. I meant to add them here, too, but got sidetracked. I’ll include them now since the theme of this post centers around the moon and the night sky.

99% Full Hunter's Moon99% Full Hunter’s Moon

99% Full Hunter's Moon (8 second Long Exposure)99% Full Hunter’s Moon (8 second Long Exposure)

Both are similar, yet I thought the second photo was interesting due to the blur created by the movement of the clouds. Sitting staring up at the sky with the clouds moving as quickly as they were, created an optical illusion, making the moon and stars appear to be moving at twice their normal speed. It was kind of dizzying to watch.

I’m not sure when the next lunar eclipse will be. I’m just glad that I took the time to enjoy the night sky even if I didn’t get to watch the entire eclipse. Our universe is truly an awesome wonder.

Orange Caterpillar #2Orange Caterpillar #2

Sorting through images today, I noticed that I have several with a similar color theme, orange. I thought I would do these all together in a photo-dump since I’m so far behind in posting. These first two are a couple of my favorites, but I have no idea what species of caterpillar this is. Help with IDs are welcomed as always.

Orange Caterpillar #1Orange Caterpillar #1

Orange Capped MushroomOrange Capped Mushroom

Small Orange ButterflySmall Orange Butterfly

Orange BugOrange Bug

Fossilized StoneFossilized Stone

Orange EyeOrange Eye

Orange WaspOrange Wasp

Juvenile Five-lined Skink #4

I have held onto three and a half months of five-lined skink photos, hoping I would capture better images of a juvenile. I finally got the chance this past Sunday. They’re incredibly fast making it difficult to get decent images. These little critters have provided so much entertainment and amusement over the past few months that I will miss them when they go into hibernation.

During the couple of weeks while we were cleaning the trailer and preparing to move, I generally kept all the windows and doors open while I was there to air out the house. One day I noticed this adult five-lined skink in the hallway by the back door. It must have walked right in to escape the sun. After the first few weeks here, I realized that those back steps are a favorite hangout for these skinks to sunbathe.

Adult Five-lined Skink #1

Unintentionally, I terrorized this poor skink trying to coax it back outside. After a few minutes of chasing it through the house to no avail, I decided to give it a break to catch its breath while I grabbed my camera — keeping an eye on its whereabouts. The house was still completely empty, so that wasn’t too hard. After taking this photo and calmly talking to it, it finally scampered out the front door with little effort from me.

In the next few weeks, I only saw the juveniles. Many times I walked out that back door only to have one fall on my head as I opened the door. Yes, I squealed every time, but immediately laughed at myself and the silly skinks who I would swear were trying to make “contact.” After observing them for the past few months, I’ve reached the conclusion that they must be curious creatures.

Juvenile Five-lined Skink #1

Several have ventured into the house. Moses brought my attention to one as he quickly darted under my desk in pursuit of an intruder invading his territory. Luckily, I managed to capture it and released it out in the woods away from the house. I did this with two others as well. One of which hitchhiked into the house in my hair! That particular day, I was trying to photograph the little bugger when it must have climbed into my hair without my realizing it. My hair is down to my waist now, so it had the perfect ladder. When I couldn’t find my subject that I was trying to photograph, I walked inside to use the restroom and happened to brush through my hair, brushing it out. How I didn’t feel it there I’ll never know.

One wasn’t so lucky. I apologize for the gruesome nature of the following photo. I almost didn’t include it, but I wanted to mention a piece of folklore that is prominent here in the South.

The Perils of Cats vs. Prey

Folklore: In the South, the skinks, especially the adult male broad-headed skinks are sometimes called ‘scorpions’ and some people believe their bite to be poisonous.  Herpetologists formerly scoffed at this folklore, but as is often the case with animal myths, this belief may be rooted in some degree of truth.  It is now known that if a juvenile still exhibiting its bright blue tail is eaten by a cat, serious neurological symptoms such as a loss of balance, crossing of the eyes, paralysis and even death may follow.  This would indicate that the bright coloration and markings of the young skink are actually warning colors similar to that displayed by the poison arrow frog.” [Source: “Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.Jacksonville Zoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.]

When I was a child, my family had a beloved Persian cat named Socks. One summer day, he became very ill, showing the exact same neurological symptoms listed above that eventually led to his death within a short period of time. At the time, we also discovered the blue tail from one of these skinks. We, of course, concluded that the skink was responsible for his death. Ask anyone in my family today, and we’ll still swear that this is true. In my research on skinks and other lizards, I’ve read several accounts like this.

However, I’ve also read numerous statements from scientific sources stating that these skinks are neither poisonous nor venomous. A few years ago, I did run across one article that stated something to the effect that skinks could carry bacteria that cause these neurological symptoms. I’m afraid I can no longer find the source to back that up; but it’s possible that when pets eat a skink and have a bad reaction like that of our cat, Socks, they could be suffering from an extremely bad case of food poisoning. Don’t quote me on this. I’m simply sharing what I’ve read. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the toxicity of skinks to pets; and some veterinarians have even claimed that there may not be enough research to prove one way or another what exactly is going on.

Back to the image above, none of our cats got sick. Whoever killed that poor skink, never showed any symptoms. I never did find that skink’s blue tail, either. I still wouldn’t risk my cats’ lives by allowing them to “play” with a skink should I know one is in the house. I also have a heart. If I can rescue a critter from our perfectly capable hunters, I will. It’s just unfortunate that I missed this one.

It wasn’t until August 21st that I saw another adult five-lined skink. I just happened to glance over at this tree while sitting outside when I noticed this one. I slowly crept up on it as I snapped this first one.

Adult Five-lined Skink #2

After getting closer, it ran circles around the tree before finally calming down in my presence. This allowed me to get a second shot as our eyes connected for the first time. There is no doubt in my mind that there is intelligence in the mind of a reptile.

Adult Five-lined Skink #3

On September 3rd, I tried my best to get a good photo of this juvenile. Unfortunately, this was the best that I got. Still not nearly as good as I would have liked in a photo.

Juvenile Five-lined Skink #2

Which brings me to this past Sunday, September 28th. These have to be my absolute favorite photos of a five-lined skink that I’ve taken all summer. The day before while I was busy weeding the area around our back steps, I found (pretty sure it’s the same one) this skink under a flower pot. I must have startled it pretty good because it froze in fear. Since I had on gloves, I reached out and picked it up, inspecting it closely before telling it to run along so it didn’t get hurt by the shears. I didn’t take the time to release it down in the woods.

On Sunday, I noticed it hanging around on the steps. For some reason, this particular skink was very docile and tamer than others I’ve encountered. I went inside to grab my camera. As I was coming out the back door, it somehow landed on me, hanging on for dear life.

I'm A Skink Magnet

Yes, I giggled in glee; but had the presence of mind to snap a photo. I cautiously walked over to the lawn furniture, not wanting it to fall off and get stepped on. It hopped off onto a chair and allowed me a wonderful photo shoot.

Juvenile Five-lined Skink #3

Juvenile Five-lined Skink #5

Even with the great number of five-lined skinks that I saw over the summer, there should have been more since a brood of eggs can be as high as 15 to 18! I enjoyed interacting with them. As the weather will undoubtedly be cooling off soon, I’m sure I won’t be seeing much more of these little characters. I will look forward to their return in Spring. :)

Early Autumn Sunsets Are the Best

I realize that my last post was also a sunset photo. I apologize for redundancy, but these evening skies lately have been something else! This was the perfect ending to a long day of yard work. Now, I’m going to relax for a bit. I’m wore out!

Gorgeous Sunset 9.25.14

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Looking Forward to Autumn

I’m looking forward to seeing how the landscape changes around here. The chill in the air today was perfect for this first day of autumn. (I’m finding mixed messages online about the autumnal equinox. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says September 22nd at 10:29 pm EDT, and Google and others say September 23rd.) Unfortunately, I didn’t take a spectacular photo to commemorate the day because I was busy playing with a new toy, an acoustic guitar given to me by a friend over the weekend. Oh, JOY, I’m loving it! Truly, I am. I had one years ago, but never got around to learning to play it well. All I can really do is pluck out a tune, one string at a time. Luckily, there’s plenty of how-to videos and websites around to guide me through. I still say playing a piano is much easier, though. My fingertips are so sore!

I took these photos a week ago Sunday, 9.14.14. I’m pretty sure the insect is a Margined Blister Beetle, Epicauta funebris. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. It caught my eye as it was an insect I had never seen before. It was a pretty smoky grey and black and kind of fuzzy. I’m not finding a whole lot of information about this beetle. Given the word “funebris” in its taxonomy, I’m left wondering if it is part of nature’s clean-up crew, one of the insects that feeds on dead animals or something (?). Educate me if you know. :)

Margined Blister Beetle

And Happy Autumnal Equinox!