Michael's Rediscovery of Nature

Ramblings and observations of a former biologist and a lifelong naturalist, who has recently returned to his roots in east Texas. After a many years of working from coast to coast in an industry far removed from biology, it has been a pleasant change of geography, activity, and attitude. No stressful job decked out in a three piece suit. No city living. Instead there is a rediscovery of the woods, of something scurrying through the leaves, of the clear notes of a bird call, and of reliving the joy that I had when nature was a playground and a classroom.

Ecology of My Yard - Who Knew So Many Things Lived Here?

Walking in the woods is always a lot of fun.  Observing nature in such an environment presents a myriad of potential subjects to view, examine, photograph and to enjoy.  The biodiversity in the mature hardwood pine community where I walk is tremendous.  There are so many possibilities whether your purpose is to observe species interaction in the community or to measure the biomass of the forest or to observe the species diversity of the bird population or just to enjoy your stroll and see how many interesting subjects you can find for your camera.  The forest presents a wealth of opportunities for your study or enjoyment.  

It is to the woods that I often head when I am wanting to get close and enjoy nature or as we old hippies used to say "commune with nature".  Isn't that a cool phrase?  "Commune with nature".  What does that really mean?

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To commune with nature, you become one with nature and attain knowledge of the things about you.  In particular you gain knowledge of the terrain, bodies of water, the plants, animal populations, people, weather and the general state of the setting.  It is not necessarily a conscious effort.  When you enjoy nature and are in the woods it is what comes naturally as you walk through the woods.  There are many different levels of that, of course. You may start with just a nice walk and make some natural observations: flowers, birds, scenic views and the like. The more you go, the more you observe and slowly the community comes alive. No pun intended.  

How much one observes varies with the individual.  Many people walk through the woods and see nothing.  Well, some see targets. Some just see the flowers or the birds.  Others see the vast mysteries that such a habitat offers and they see some of the many interactions that make up a wealth of opportunities to learn more about nature.

In the woods, that is an easy thing to do, but what about in your yard?  It is its own ecosystem.  There are communities, interactions, diversity, environmental factors and all of the parameters that one finds anywhere in nature.  It is just a different perspective.  

With many yards, there is very little diversity. The yard may have one species of grass, a few weeds, maybe a tree or two and some shrubs around the house. There will still be some interesting features on almost any yard. There will be birds, insects and small creatures of various types.

My yard is a little different since I live in an RV by Lake O' the Pines.  I do not have a typical grass lawn. I have all kinds of different small plants, some shrubs (mostly native), lots of birds, a stack of old rotting logs (firewood size), and the nearby woods allows for many larger visitors that are not found in the city.  

Since I spend a fair amount of time in my yard (which overlooks the lake), I have the opportunity to to do a lot of observing. 

My main chair sits about four feet from a small stack of firewood where a pair of Broad-headed Skinks (Plestiodon laticeps) live.  They don't leave the wood very often that I have seen. Normally I see them sitting on different flat spots where they bask in the sun.  They likely have enough food that comes to them on the woodpile so they don't have to spend much time searching for it.  

Starting about six feet from my chair is the first of four shepard's hooks which hold most of the bird feeders.  The feeders are quite active even when I am sitting there.  Many of the birds have little fear of me and allow me to observe and photograph at will.  One mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), is fairly tame and will land on my knee if I offer it bread (rarely) or dried meal worms. The cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) come and feed mostly on the seeds that have fallen to the ground.  They will also gladly take pieces of bread (whole wheat) that I toss to them.  The House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) come and go. They are a little more timid, but they do allow me to take their pictures without scaring them off, as do the Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) and the Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor).  

There are insects everywhere.  Other than the mosquitoes, I have not paid a lot of attention to them yet, but I regularly see various beetles, flies, wasps, bees, and the other day, I had a group of freshly hatched praying mantis (Mantodea sp.) on my side table.  Fire ants (Solenopsis sp.) sneak in now and then and I did see a wandering Carpenter ant (Camponotus sp.) I will be looking closer at the various insects soon.

I have a variety of spiders as well.  I have not identified many of them yet, but will do so soon.  There is a Long Jawed Orb Weaver (Tetragnathidae sp) on the front of my RV and a beautiful small orb weaver (will add the ID here later) on the rear of my RV.  I also regularly see jumping spiders (Family Salticidae). 

The grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are near the feeders much of the time.  The mother of the family group will get about three feet away from me to take peanuts.  Her three youngsters are starting to come closer but still stay about ten feet away.  Coyotes (Canis latrans) transverse the property on occasion.  I have seen beaver  (Castor canadensis)and nutria (Myocastor coypus) from my porch.  There are most certainly raccoons (Procyon lotor) and opossums (Didelphis virginiana) in the area that very likely venture upon my lot in their nocturnal activities.

I found one Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) on a bush a few weeks ago.  I hear toads (Anaxyrus sp) caling sometimes at night.  From the lake not far away I hear Blanchard's Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans blanchardi) often during the day as well as at night.  Now and then I hear the deep sound of bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus). 

 On my lot are three species of tree and there are several others within 30 yards including a beautiful Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) that is in a lot of my pictures of the lake taken from my front yard.

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What does all of this mean?  It means that there is a wealth of life right here on my little lot that is roughly 27 x 50' (9 x 17 m).  One could spend many, many hours if not weeks, months or even years examining the ecology of this small habitat.  

I have so much to learn still about the heavy woods across the street and I look forward to spending more time there and adding to my knowledge.  On a completely different scale, but still as important, I have a lot to learn about the ecology of my own little spot.  I have got to get more in depth - especially speaking of the trees, the insects and the other plant life.  

Better get to work.  

 

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