The real estate listing for this property promised abundant wildlife, and in that regard I certainly haven’t been disappointed. Some of the local critters have caused trouble in the garden and the poultry flock, but most have been a source of delight.
Where to I start? As a long-time birder, I’ll start with the abundance of bird life. In my first year at Panther’s Hollow I recorded over sixty species of birds, from the open areas by the road past my house to the back of the hollow. Some of these I’ve only heard, but the majority I’ve spotted, often from my windows while washing dishes or sitting on the sofa.
April brings the song of the Northern Parula Warbler, followed shortly by the Hooded Warbler, and later the Black-throated Blue. Meanwhile the phoebes have begun nesting, the towhees are singing their “Drink your teeeee!” and the wood thrush and ovenbird are making their presence known. As spring wears into summer the ruby-throated hummingbird is a frequent visitor to the garden, drinking nectar from the jewelweed that grows along the stream, the blossoms of the scarlet runner beans, or the flowers of the trumpet vine, which are a particular favorite.
The scarlet tanager can be found farther back in the hollow, and I’ve even spotted more elusive species, like the Louisiana waterthrush. The pileated woodpecker (think Woody) can often be heard and occasionally seen, as is the northern raven, with its hoarse croaking. Red-shouldered hawks often get my attention with their repeated “keeaaaa, keeaaa” glissando as they circle high overhead, sometimes with newly-fledged young, and the smaller broad-winged hawk occasionally signals its presence with a high “tee-deee.”
Nighttime or early evening often brings the barred owl’s “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you-all” and other shrieks and howls, and occasionally from the porch on a summer evening I’ll hear the screech owl’s soft whinny. A few times in winter I’ve even heard the great horned owl’s mysterious hooting from somewhere deep in the woods. Out by the road in the evening I may hear a whippoorwill incessantly repeating its tremulous phrase.
By the creek I’ve seen cedar waxwings, orchard orioles and eastern bluebirds, and have even spotted the reclusive green heron perching briefly on the bridge. Once or twice I’ve seen an osprey fly over, and a belted kingfisher often darts from the trees over the water uttering its unmistakable rattle. In winter the winged sumacs outside my window have attracted bluebirds, goldfinches, and the occasional wintering phoebe or hermit thrush, among others, who feast on the dried fruits.
I’m not much good at identifying butterflies, but this area impressed me right away with its abundance of them. Most visible in spring and summer are the tiger and zebra swallowtails, but in March the little blue ones appear (spring azures?), and later I can often spot a pearly crescentspot, a great spangled frittillary, or occasionally the spicebush or pipevine swallowtail. Dragonflies also abound, and spiders of every description.
It’s hard to know where to begin with plant life, but of course the redbuds are everywhere in early spring with their tiny fuchsia blossoms. Ironweed and goldenrod abound in the late summer, along with Joe-Pye weed and a tall yellow daisy-like flower I can’t identify. When climbing the wooded slopes I’ve discovered red trillium, mountain mint, and other woodland flowers, and may apples, Solomon’s seal and false Solomon’s seal grow along the woodland edges.
The barred owls and red-shouldered hawks are undoubtedly attracted by the abundance of reptiles and amphibians. Crayfish, or crawdads, as they’re called here, are plentiful, and in springtime the frogs are — well, omnipresent. Since I still have an above-ground pool that I’m trying to get rid of I have more than my share of them basking in the puddles that collect at the bottom. In the evenings the chorus of frogs can be almost deafening — both the singing of the spring peepers and the rattle of the cricket frogs, which reminds me not so much of crickets as those party noisemakers that you crank.
The amazing thing is to spot one of the really tiny frogs on a wall or some unexpected place — sometimes several at once. Here’s one I found on an asparagus stake — not much more than half an inch long!
One evening I took a walk out to the road and in the floodplain by the creek the ground was practically covered with large frogs — it was all I could do not to step on them!
I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the huge snapping turtle I found lounging in my potato bed one spring day (I just wish I had thought to snap a picture). When digging up my potatoes later in the summer I found what I suspected — a clutch of turtle eggs where there should be a potato! Some were beginning to hatch, with their tiny, clawed feet emerging from the shell.
Though I didn’t want a resident population of snapping turtles, I carefully placed the eggs in a container full of soil and set it by the stream, hoping the little turtles would swim away to the pond their mother came from, (which is also home to wood frogs, by the way). Later I learned that turtle eggs that have been disturbed rarely hatch and, not surprisingly, when I checked weeks later the eggs were still there.
As for reptiles, I’ve been relieved not to encounter a copperhead as yet, since I’d been warned they’re prevalent in the area. I believe it’s because I’m on a north-facing slope, and I hear they prefer sunny slopes. I have, though, seen a few black rat snakes, as well as a probable northern water snake. What I’ve really enjoyed is making the acquaintance of the five-lined skink — a fairly common little lizard I never knew existed. The younger ones have cobalt blue tails, and can often be seen scampering out of crevices and unlikely places when disturbed.
Photo by Fotolia/Roijoy
Mammalian life includes the ever-present white-tailed deer, along with my resident groundhogs and possums and the marauding raccoons. The yelping of coyotes can sometimes be heard at night, which has made me concerned for my cats, but they seem to avoid them somehow. I’ve also been spared any troubles with the occasional bear or bobcat that have been seen.
The most interesting mammals I’ve encountered were some eastern red bats that were soaring over the open areas by the creek, then perching in the trees, one winter in the late afternoons. It took an e-mail to a local naturalist to identify these, since they weren’t in my Peterson Field Guide to Mammals.
Photo by Fotolia/patpitchaya
But this is only a sampling — think what a real naturalist could find!