Plants in from porches and patios….brown snakes
Catbirds on American Beauty Berry.
If you happen to have a chemical free yard, such as I have, you may look out into your yard and see a few round white objects protruding through your grass….or weeds such as in my case. Upon closer inspection, you find that you have some mushrooms growing in your yard. The next day, you take a look again and they are twice the size…..a day later….3 times the size and before long, you become concerned that these mushrooms must be on steroids as they are reaching gargantuan sizes. What are common in late summer and early fall are giant puffballs. These mushrooms can reach the size of a basketball and thus are incredibly impressive in both their rapid growth rate and their amazing size at maturity. Eventually, the mushroom will darken and the outer tissue will harden. But inside a magical transformation takes place as millions of tiny spores are formed and once this occurs, any breakage in the outer shell, a dark explosion….almost a black cloud of spores are expelled into the air. It appears like a puff of smoke and if this is caused by rain, each drop falling on the mushroom results in a black puff of smoke. These incredibly mushrooms do not harm anything and they are a wonderful source of science exploration for parents and or teachers with children and / or students.
Over the past week, I have noticed many monarch butterflies as they are migrating southward. Many monarch butterflies will winter along the Gulf Coast near Ft. Walton Beach, where there are a few sheltered trees where large numerous of these beautiful butterflies hang as if dripping from the trees. Last week was also very interesting as night time temperatures dropped into the 40’s and insects, like bumblebees, where comatose on flowers. The temperatures were not warm enough to allow activity and you could literally “pet” bumblebees if you are so inclined as they could not fly and would not even move when touched. As if newly revived, the warmer temperatures of the weekend of 10/9 -10/10, the bumblebees, red wasps, stink bugs, giant sulfur and skipper butterflies are very active around the late flowering plants, like butterfly weed, goldenrod, mist flowers and iron weed.
In regards to bird activity over the past week, two observations come to mind. American beauty berry provides a riot of color, either white or deep purple depending on the color type. I have two large bushes, one of each color and catbirds, which have recently arrived in the Atlanta area, love to feed on the berries…which are full of many small seeds. In addition, bluebirds and mockingbirds also delight in feeding on these berries and occasionally brown thrashers will also join in on the food source. Also of note, some bluebirds, due to the current light cycles of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, are behaving as if they need to defend a territory against all other male bluebird intruders…….that include their own reflection in outside rearview mirrors on automobiles. My vehicle has long beauty berry stains down both car doors from the male bluebird that is spending a great deal of time fighting its reflection in my mirrors. The bluebird also visits me at my home office window where he clings to the window and alternately perches and flies at his reflection only 3 feet from my desk.
Lastly, I would like to mention that as we bring our deck and patio plants indoors for the winter…..some folks will experience a surprise and may find in the near future, a small snake in their home. In years past, while working at one of the local nature centers, we frequently received phone calls from excited callers about small snakes being found in homes this time of year. What appears to happen is that potted plants, which are watered more frequently than we seem to get rain, are a wonderful place for brown snakes aka Dekay snakes and for the closely related red-bellied snake. Both species are quite small, reaching about 12 inches in length and are of brownish coloration. As plants are brought indoors, they are not watered as often and as the soil dries, the small snakes leave the security of the soil in the flower pots and thus are found on living room floors, Florida porches or other rooms of the house. Amazingly, most people think that any brown colored snake is venomous (copperhead) and most often, snakes that I have identified through the years have been non-venomous brown snakes. These little snakes are arguably the most abundant snake in the Atlanta area and they feed on earthworms and other soft bodied insects (grubs) as well as small amphibians including salamanders and newly metamorphosed frogs. They are completely harmless to people and pets. Please observe the images below and refer to them if you happen to find a snake in your home this fall. You can also refer to images in my earlier postings of this year to view baby copperheads to compare the species characteristics.