Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen
Vacations are great. Returning in a relaxed state, with “new” eyes and a clean plate ready for connections both “re-“ and “new” can be a blast. Things get back to normal, but not exactly how things were when you left, because your vacation changed you. Hopefully for the better, but whatever. Time to get back to feeling “at home.”
For some reason birds are often what first grabs my attention when exploring a new world or an old world with new eyes. After returning from a recent adventure, I found myself tapping into the local chickadee scene to catch up on what was going down in the neighborhood—songbird speaking, of course. From their chatter it was clear the chickadees’ behavior had changed in our time away. First off, the chickadees were part of a sizable flock, as their “chip” and “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” calls were mixing in with calls from other avian species. As day lengths grow shorter, black-capped chickadees dissolve their territories and merge with neighboring chickadee groups to form larger flocks. Safety in numbers is key when courting and breeding seasons are over. Chickadee groups also allow other songbirds (and woodpeckers, etc.) to take advantage of the kind of survival strategy that only a “mixed-species flock” can supply. The first group of chickadees I saw had Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos, a young Magnolia Warbler, a Northern Parula and a small handful of Black-throated Green Warblers mixed in. The sight made me feel a bit more at home …
I then got all jazzed up to “reclaim” the meadow trail system in our yard. After a few weeks of un-checked, mid-summer growth, the trails had become an “aster jungle.” Before I was to “rehabilitate” the plants on the pathways, I strolled through and checked out what this “micro-jungle scene” was made of fauna-wise. Finding dragonflies perching and hunting from the flowers was no surprise as was seeing bees, flies and butterflies slurping up nectar as they tried to avoid the dragonflies. The presence of Clearwing Moths (Genus Hermanis), however, was what got me most excited. The two species of Hermanis are collectively referred to as “Hummingbird Moths,” but in reality they come in two separate flavors—“Snowberry Clearwing” (H. diffins), whose abdomens are mostly yellow, and the “Hummingbird Clearwing” (H. thysbe), whose abdomens are orangey-red. The combination of coloration and abdomen shape inspires my friend Amanda Devine to refer to the H. thysbe as “Skylobsters.” Fitting description. Both species were inhabitants of the aster jungle that day and I couldn’t have been happier.
Where most moths flit around slowishly at night and gather at lights (boring!), these Clearwing Moths were flying faster than fast—zipping from flower to flower and then eventually zipping by my head. By far the coolest moths to watch!!! Crossing paths with both species was a wonderful welcome back to the ‘hood. I still slayed the asters in my yard trails—but there are plenty of flowers “off trail” for the Clearwings to tap into! If I wasn’t totally feeling at home yet, I was well on my way.
Nothing, though, can “take one home” as much as a good ole creek walk can. For our creek walk adventure Leif and I grabbed some nets, snagged a couple of buds—Oliver and Clifford—and headed to Jones Creek. Water was flowing strong after a recent rain, and frogs were jumping in mad dashes as they spied the four of us trucking none-so-stealthfully down the creek. After one green frog was secured in our bucket (and several more took advantage of the endless number of hiding places in the creek), we
switched gears to salamander “hunting.” We’ve found adult Northern Dusky Salamanders close to the creek on past visits, but on this day we were fortunate enough to find larval salamanders still in the creek! “This year’s model” of Dusky’s, complete with external gills. We wrapped up our outing with a Red-backed Salamander and numerous Amanita mushrooms. Needless to say, we were pumped and I was feeling more and more grounded and present. Nothing hits the spot like a good creek walk, with four sets of eyes looking. The more the merrier.
It can be great to get away, and it can be just as great to get back. Back in the groove, back on the train, back in the neighborhood. Back home. Come back with different eyes and reconnect in whatever ways suit you. Nature is an easy one, because “you can’t and you won’t and you don’t stop.” There is no place like home.
PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen