Thursday, September 22, 2022

South Carolina Snakes and More

We have an abundance of wildlife in our area. Sure there are deer and turkeys and fox and even coyote. The wildlife I am writing about is more in the reptile family tree. We have many snakes in our neighborhood and only one is venomous, the Copperhead. There others in nearby counties, but in Greenwood it is the Copperhead you need to be aware of.
Let's start with some less frightening reptiles. Who doesn't love a baby turtle? How about a handful of three newly hatched turtles?  I came across these little ones while planting a hydrangea along the side of the house. After a quick picture, I put them back where I found them. 

Fast forward ten years, came across another newly hatched turtle in the same area of the garden. 

Another reptile that we have everywhere is an Anole, Anolis carolinensis. When newly hatched they are about an inch or so in size. Just too cute.

There are Eastern Fence lizards, varying in size from teeny tiny to about almost eight inches from head to tail. 

Now that we have touched on some of the legged reptiles (and there are so many others- multiple Skinks and Glass Lizards), it is time to venture to the snakes in the Upstate of South Carolina. Now you can ask some self-proclaimed experts and they will tell you about lots of venomous snakes. Not true. I have a few sources to back up my information. One of the best is the Savannah River Ecology Lab from the University of Georgia. I have two friends, one retired from and one currently employed by Department of Natural Resources in South Carolina. I have one almost on speed dial. He backs up all his identifications with a link to the said snake's ID document. 

So let's look at the snakes I see regularly in my yard/garden. 

I will ease you in slowly- Here's a pretty one- 

Above and below- Rough Green Snake. It is a lovely emerald green and quite small. Their diet is insects, spiders and other small invertebrates.

On to the various black snakes we have. 

There is the Black Racer, who is really fast.  These guys will really move through the garden to get away from you. They are mostly black with a little bit of white under their chin. Their diet is mostly insects, other snakes, lizards, birds and amphibians. 

Black Racer

 Next is the Blackrat Snake. Their diets include lizards, frogs and rodents (yea!). They are also fond of duck eggs. They are quite common in our area and while mostly black, they have a good bit of white on them. They will try to look tough to scare you away.

Black Ratsnake

If frightened they will 'freeze' and assume a kinked position. In the grass that helps them disappear, though not so much on the pavement.

Black Ratsnake

The juvenile Rat Snake is more varied in coloration. 

Juvenile Black Ratsnake

I find I have a resident Rat Snake near the dryer vent. I tried to pull it out one time, but he held fast. It is in the space between the ductwork and the wall. Always fun to be in the wild!

The third black colored snake that is common in our area is the Eastern Kingsnake. They are black with white markings that look like cyclone fencing to me. It is one you want to have around if there are Copperheads- Kingsnakes eat Copperheads. Their diet includes snakes, lizards, rodents, turtle eggs, and birds. They are resistant to the venom of the Copperhead. 

Eastern Kingsnake

There are many tiny snakes.  First, Worm Snake. My phone-a-friend gave me a hard time when I first found this one. I was not sure what it was but described it as a snake that looked like a worm. He came back with a smart comment that I will not share. They feed exclusively on earthworms. 

Worm Snake

A couple that I confused with each other- Redbellied Snake, who feeds on slugs,

Redbellied Snake

Redbellied Snake

and DeKay's Brown snake. They are closely related. Brown snake also eats slugs as well as earthworms and other small invertebrates.

DeKay's Brown Snake

Another small snake is a Ringneck Snake-  pictured below is a hatchling next to a piece of pine straw. They can grow to 10 - 15 inches in length. Diet includes amphibians, small invertebrates, and lizards. 

Ringneck Snake

Not to be confused with the Redbellied snake, there is also a Red-bellied Watersnake. While they are a water snake, they can be found in the yard. They eat primarily amphibians but also eat fish.  

Red-bellied Watersnake

Note the red/orange underside of the snake. They are really attractive.

Red-bellied Watersnake

Another colorful snake is the Corn Snake. They eat larger prey- birds, small mammals, lizards and reptiles.
Corn Snake

Corn Snake

Next come two that are closely related, both water snakes. First Northern Watersnake. This snake is often confused with a Cottonmouth (venomous) snake. Cottonmouth or water moccasin have different markings, bands instead of blotches. The Northern Watersnake's diet is primarily fish and amphibians. 

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

The other watersnake is the Brown Watersnake. It is not common in our area but seem to be showing up more often in recent years. This photo was shared by a neighbor, wanting to know friend or foe. The Brown Watersnake's diet is primarily young catfish. 

Brown Watersnake photo credit Barb Warner

Finally we come to our venomous snake. The Copperhead. Their most distinctive marking is on their side- it looks like a Hershey' kiss. This is a snake to avoid. Another neighbor sent me this photo, asking what it was. She was walking, looking elsewhere and tripped over it!!!  Young Copperhead snakes have a yellow tip to their tail, very distinctive. Their diets are pretty wide. They eat small mammals, birds, lizards, and other reptiles. 

Copperhead photo credit Laurie English

Thanks for following along with me on our photo journey of snakes in the Upstate of South Carolina. There are other snakes I did not profile as I have not seen them. I have comments allowed, if you comment, please sign your name so I know who has visited.
Many thanks to my phone-a-friend buddy Win Ott. 

©Copyright 2022 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Birds and How to ID Them- a new tool for me

While on our Garden Fling I chatted with a few fellow bird lovers. We heard a bird singing in the front garden of one of our first stops. It was hard to see the bird through the leaves and branches of the trees in the very lush front garden. I was chatting with both Jean and Kylee and we couldn't figure out who was singing. A little later, in the back yard both Kylee and Jean shared that it was a White-eyed Vireo. They made the identification through one of the Cornell bird apps, BirdNET 

It was easy to use, Kylee gave me a quick tutorial and I downloaded the app right away. 

Back at home I am always watching the birds, making identifications, taking photos, and I put together a bird book for each of my grandkids.  I hear the Eastern Towhee often but as they are usually ground feeders, I don't have them on the deck or at the feeders, under the feeders- yes. Last month I was happy to see a male Eastern Towhee scratching around the base of the seed feeder. When I first saw a Towhee, I thought it was a mutant Robin! Oh how far I have come with identifying birds!  

Look who was with 'Daddy' Eastern Towhee! Most likely a juvenile male. They scratched around the soil together finding some seeds.

I didn't see the female around anywhere, but was thrilled to see these two!

Since I knew what an Eastern Towhee looked like and what he sounds like, I didn't need my app. Fast forward to this weekend. I heard a bird in my front woods. It was singing a little chirpy song and I didn't know who it was. I pulled out my trusty app on the cellphone and it made an ID right away.

 See the little green check marks on the screen? That's its chirp, quite distinctive! It is an Eastern Wood-Peewee. I didn't know this bird at all, so I needed to see if I could see who was singing way up in the pine tree. Next step was to get my camera with the zoom lens. As many of you also experience, once the camera comes out, all is quiet. I had a Dragonfly float around and land near me. Thanks Mr. Dragonfly.

I walked back to the house, giving up on getting a photo of my new-to-me bird when he started singing again. This time he was closer, sort of. He was in a tall pine and behind a small branch. I walked up the driveway, slowly as to not scare him away and zoomed in on him. According to Cornell's it is smaller than a Bluebird and larger than a Chickadee. The muted colors made it a bit of a challenge to find through the viewfinder, but patience paid off. Finally got a few good photos. One of the photos shows him in mid-chirp, which helped me know for sure he was the one chirping/singing. Let me introduce you to an Eastern Wood-Peewee

"Let me turn my head for my good side"

Beak open, mid song.

I recommend this BirdNET app and also Merlin, another free app from Cornell's Lab of Ornithology- All About Birds. Both are easy to use. Even if you know a few birds, these two apps help you learn songs and physical identifications for so many birds. 

©Copyright 2022 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Monday, July 4, 2022

I've Got a Dozen Under My Belt, On To Thirteen

Time sure flies! In 2010 we moved to South Carolina from Virginia. If I were to have to guess, I would say it was only 5 or 6 years! Wow. I hadn't done a yearly review of the yard/gardens for a couple years. Here are a few links to previous posts with photos of progress. I will just share this year's photos today.

Over the years we added a dry creek bed through the backyard, I highly recommend one if you have run-off in your yard that you want to direct. I added a short dry creek bed in the front yard to help with the mulch getting washed downhill. Our lake front area is a mess. I had it redone a few years ago with Hayscented ferns Dennstaedtia punctiloba, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah', and four Podocarpus macrophyllus 'Pringles Dwarf'. The ferns needed more water in some areas, the grasses didn't thrive like they should and the Pringles were eaten by the deer. The irrigation wasn't working like it should have. I had it set to go off in the wee hours of dawn, only to find an error code for valve one- the largest section of the yard. Now I manually start the sprinklers and they work fine. Not sure what the issue was. Finally, there was also a tree that fell onto the bank- crushing some of the grasses and ferns. I won't share that area today... maybe another time.

Front garden

The front garden is filled with four Drift Roses 'Popcorn', one Loropetalum 'Purple Pixie', Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls' Redbud. Multiple Calla lilies, Zantedeschia albomaculata, have reseeded, a volunteer fern, Thelypteris normalis, popped up by the downspout pop-up and there's plenty of Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' and Dianthus 'Firewitch' spreading along the sidewalk. 
The shed is almost hidden because of all the shrub growth. At the corner of the shed is a large Tea Olive, Osmanthus fragrans

The front yard from the other direction. In the small garden, in the photo above is Prunus mume 'Hokkia-bungo' which just shines in December and January. On a warm day the honey bees are all over the blooms, happy to have something blooming at that time of year. Groundcover along the driveway in that garden is Hypericum caylcinum 'Brigadoon'. In the photo below, you can get a better view of the newest garden. A few years ago I decided to mulch the center of the front yard and put in a pollinator garden. The armadillo population and I have a running battle with the plants in that garden. I say they should stay, the armadillo thinks there might be good eats under those plants. To protect the center of the garden I have a small garden fence/edging. In this mulched area I have four Japanese maples- Red Dragon, Butterfly, Virdis, and Crimson Queen. Inside the almost invisible barrier is a selection of Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Iris, Asclepias, Stokesia aster, Cranesbill Geranium, Vernonia, Penstemon, and Agastache. Anchoring the center of the large garden is Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'. After being hit by a falling pine in a ice storm it has rebounded nicely. 

When I put in this large mulched bed, I had a washout of mulch. I finally ended up digging a trench and making my little dry creek bed. Hardwood mulch washes downhill too easily, so I changed it to be a pine straw mulch. Part way down the hill, in the bed, is a Crypotmeria globosa 'Nana', a really nice evergreen. Dotted along the edge of the rocks of the creek bed I planted a few Pitcher plants, Sarracenia flava. The one at the top of the hill I put a berm behind it to keep water at the plant's roots for a bit longer than if there was no berm. I have had success with them in the garden so I am going to get some of the other species. 

From the front yard we will walk around the house on the low side to the back. It is almost like tunnel to get to the back. The wax myrtles, Morella cerifera,  are now small trees. They needed to be limbed up or given a rejuvenating cut (to the ground). I like the small fruit available for the birds, so they got limbed up. On left as we walk through the tunnel is a nice sized blue hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, the deer seem to leave this one alone. shhhh, don't tell them it is here. In the lower left corner is a Swamp Sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius still small, thanks to the deer. Behind the sunflower is my very tall Calycanthus sp. I would call it a small tree, not a shrub!

The backyard--
from below- Looking back up to the house. This is the garden area that lacked water last year, so I have some replanting to do both this fall and next spring. These mature trees soak up all the available water. 
You can see the dry creek bed cut across the lawn area. It curves around the gardens and works well. 

Turning around to the lake you see my biggest stand of mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum. The pollinators love it. All day long it is covered with various bees and wasps as well as butterflies. It is a mint, so it needs to be kept in bounds. In this garden it competes with ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, who will win?

The backyard from the deck- views from above. In the photo below, the lower left corner of the photo is the Japanese maple 'Garnet', going strong. To the left of the maple is Amsonia x 'Seaford Skies'. I have sporadically cut it back over the years, after it blooms, to keep it from reseeding. Note to self- cut it back soon! 

The garden has so many mature trees, mostly oaks and hickory. I was challenged by some fellow gardeners at the Fling to count my trees. Maybe that will be a winter project. 

 Going along the side of the house on the higher side of the property is where I play with the dog. She loves to fetch. In the winter the water runs down through the yard, making it tough for the grass to grow. Maybe by fall the grass will have filled in. The shrubs along the house include a nice stand of Deutzia gracilis 'Nikko', three Camellias and a couple hydrangeas. The deer know these hydrangeas quite well. We had a late freeze this year and knocked back all the Deutzia blooms.  The garden that borders the woods has four or more St. John's Wort, Hypericum frondosum 'Sunburst', it reseeds a bit and I have replanted those tiny seedlings further along the garden.  

From the driveway looking down the side yard, the Edgeworthia chrysantha is quite large.

Last but not least is the garden up by the road. Two springs ago I installed irrigation to this garden. It has been growing in size, any gardener worth their salt will expand gardens to the space available! The Gaillardia is sprinkled throughout this garden. Front right corner is a Black Diamond Crepe Myrtle. Lagerstroemia indica 'Black Diamond Best Red'. Waving in the breeze is Stipa tenuissima 'Ponytails' grass. 

Thanks for joining me on a walk around the yard after twelve years in one place. Additions and subtractions will be coming in the following year(s). 

©Copyright 2022 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Back to Flings- Let's Start with Trees

Our recent Garden Blogger Fling was held in Madison Wisconsin. We had a beautiful weekend to explore both public and private gardens, all set up by our Madison bloggers, Beth Stetenfeld and Anneliese Valdes. Our bus rides took us both through Madison and across the local countryside. Views out the windows were great- those quintessential farms dotted the landscape.

We were able to see some remarkable trees both in the private gardens as well as in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum and Olbrich Botanical Garden.  One of the stops on our first day was a private garden with lovely gardens. There was a majestic Weeping Willow.  Salix babylonica
This large tree shades the garden and creates a great spot for all those shade loving hostas. The gardeners wandering about the garden give you a sense of size. 

 Many of the gardens were well treed, with pines, oaks, and serviceberries, to name just a few. In future posts more of the private gardens will be shared. 
The Olbrich Botanical Garden had a couple trees that I had to stop and photograph. One was the largest Cottonwood, Populus deltoides, I think I have ever seen. I asked fellow blogger, Lisa Wagner, to stand next to it for size reference. 

Look at that bark!

It looks big, but without a person in the photo, you can't be sure how big.

Cottonwood with Lisa for scale

Also in the Botanical garden is a large Sycamore. I saw a larger one in the James Madison Arboretum in Harrisonburg, VA but this one was pretty amazing. 

Here is the Sycamore in Madison, I love the white mottled bark, always so striking.

Onward to the UW-Madison Arboretum, there were a number of great trees. Near the entrance to the main building is a State Champion Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica. Our guide, David Stevens was talking about the stunning fall color of this specimen.  During the summer growing season it is hard to get a good photo of this champ. If you can visit the UW-Madison Arboretum in the fall, be sure to look to the left of the building for an incredible show!
Black Gum

There were a number of Bottlebrush Buckeyes, Aesculus parviflora, both in the Arboretum and the Botanical garden. It is a great medium tree/large shrub. When in bloom the pollinators have a feast. In the photo below you can see all the flower stalks, ready to bloom.

Aesculus parviflora

A tree that I was not familiar with is the Fernleaf Elm. It is a large specimen, great branching and lovely glossy green leaves.  Ulmus 'Crispa'. It pays to have a guided tour of the Arboretum. He had so many stories about the history of the studies of various Crabapples, introductions of new Birch, a good specimen of a Polish Larch and if there had been time, our guide could have talked about each and every tree on the grounds. Had we not had the guide, the Elm might have been missed. 

Check out these wavy leaves!

A view from the back of the Fernleaf Elm

The trees that were spotlighted by our guide were amazing. On the grounds of this Arboretum, there are four mature American Chestnut, Castanea dentata. We all know about the loss of the Chestnut due to Chestnut blight across its native range where it was approximately 25% of the forest. Before the blight the Chestnut was widely planted both for its shade as well as lumber uses and seed production. Wisconsin is not in its native range. In the 1800-early 1900's Chestnuts were planted in Wisconsin as well as Minnesota. According to a study paper I read the theory for its success in these areas were both the isolation of these trees from the ones in the Appalachian mountain range and the Westerly winds. The study was written in 1975, so some of the data is not up to date. There was a National Champion Chestnut tree in Trempealeau county in Wisconsin on the Lunde farm. In 1960 this giant of a tree measured 11 feet circumference at 4.5 feet high, was 67 feet tall, and had a canopy spread of 55 feet. In 1975 it was superceded by a tree in Oregon City, Oregon that was measured at 15 ft. 8 in. circumference, 90 ft. tall, and a spread of 64 ft. 
The Chestnut trees in the UW-Madison Arboretum were presented to the arboretum by H. D. Tiemann, Forest Products Laboratory Director, however the date is not known. According to our guide, they were donated in the 1950's and planted in the Arboretum in the 1960's. (Had I had a pen that worked in hand my information would be more exact. I tried to find the information the guide told us, to no avail.) There were four Chestnuts planted and in 1974 were measured. The largest one was 15 ft. tall, 8.5 inches in circumference, and had an 8 foot spread. 
The stand of the four American Chestnuts really stood out as they were all in bloom! It was gorgeous! 

The Chestnut has both male and female flowers on one tree, monoecious. The long stalks are the male flowers. Their pollen is spread by wind and some pollinators.

Below is a photo of the Allegheny Chestnut, Castanea pumila, which was growing near the American Chestnuts. You can easily see the male and female flowers.

The American Chestnut seeds/nuts are edible- think Nat King Cole singing 'Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire'. Their hull is spiny. In the Arboretum many of the turkeys and deer enjoy eating these nuts. The leftover hulls are under the tree.

Wish we had more time in the Arboretum, there were so many great trees to see. Onward to more Fling posts...stay tuned.

©Copyright 2022 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.