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Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

Once again I'm impressed by how a small amount of time can produce a rich variety of nature observations.

Some of the interesting stuff I noticed happened around my home. One morning's worth of paying attention included seeing or hearing a pileated woodpecker knocking on a tree in the yard, the cheery three notes of a titmouse, a flock of killdeer spiraling away from an unseen (by me) predator, crows stalking across a pasture, and a red-shouldered hawk perched on a fence post.

On a walk along nearby railroad tracks and old fence rows, I noted seeing southern hackberry and laurelcherry trees growing among more numerous live and laurel oaks.

I passed a neighbor's farm pond and saw a few male and possibly female hooded mergansers in the water. These colorful ducks seem to frequent small bodies of water near humans. Later one early evening, I saw a gray fox pattering by the cabin door and across the side yard. The fox was so close, I could see its white chin.

The next day, about the same time, I saw the fox in the neighbor's pasture, under a large live oak that grows in the fence row. The fox appeared to be sniffing the ground, but I couldn't tell if it was eating anything.

Later I checked out my kitchen window and thought the fox was gone, but then realized what looked like a fallen branch was the fox laying flat on the ground. When it didn't move after a time, I went out wondering why it remained so still. Even after I tossed several branches into the field, some of them bouncing right near the fox, it didn't spring up and run. I thought I saw an ear twitch. At near dark, I checked again and the fox's tail twitched back and forth as it walked around the same area beneath the oak. I can't say the meaning of what I observed. Was the fox sick, a heavy sleeper, drugged? I'll watch for it again. It looked healthy, its coat a smooth gray with chestnut markings.

The day after Thanksgiving I splurged and used the gas to drive to a section of Goethe State Forest off 337. I drove a short way into the forest on Hospital Road and parked my truck at an intersection of trails where vehicles are not allowed.

I strolled a trail, noting the large numbers of water oaks growing in the woods. I tell this oak from the shape of its leaves that start narrow at the stem and get wider at the tip. I also saw some laurel oaks, a few black cherries with their flaming redorange leaves, cypress and slash pines.

I took an animal track that led to a dry prairie full of red rushes. A cypress dome grew up out of what was once a wet area. Some bright red leaves on a few trees growing along the prairie edge turned out to be those of black tupelo, also called blackgum or sourgum. A dahoon holly in the same area had bright red berries. I also saw black to maroon berries on gallberry bushes and bright redorange leaves on winged sumac.

Back on the trail I passed a type of maple with leaves turning pale yellow to pink. I later identified the tree as a red maple. Lots of saw palmettos grew among the slash pines, and some sparkleberry bushes had leaves turning redorange.

Most wildflowers were in their seed phases, but one palafoxia bloom remained, a few short blazing stars shone out magenta, some yellow flowers of silk grass still bloomed and numbers of a hardy type of yellowaster had fresh flowers.

A faded gulf fritillary flew in search of nectar. I heard catbirds calling in the brush. Moss and ferns, still green, grew in a moist area and mosquitoes hassled me at some places. It was silent of human noise except for a plane droning over, a too frequent occurrence when I'm out in the wild. A special note: look for palm warblers flying low across roads and along fence rows. Yellow-rumped warblers have been coming to area feeders.

Until next time, good observing.