Saturday, April 30, 2016

Tulip Poplar Bloom

Yesterday I spent some time sitting beside our little man-made garden pond, trying to locate our five new goldfish that  have been in hiding for over a week.  It was peaceful, but not the quiet kind of peace. Cardinals sang and called and squabbled (two males), squirrels chased each other in the treetops, the wind blew every now and then, rattling leaves, and a small airplane passed overhead.

By far the best sound was the horse-whinny call of a Screech Owl out at the haha.  I remember the first time I heard this sound. What the heck was that??? It took me a while to figure it out.  Go HERE, to the Cornell site, to hear the sound. Click the first example.

The flower I drew had fallen out of a nearby Tulip Poplar and was on the ground at my feet. I'm not sure who might have clipped the flower, but I assume a careless squirrel ran past and broke it.

I've added a couple photos of a bloom growing on a low branch to give you an idea of their beauty when they are in full bloom. It's rare to get to see one on eye level.

Tulip Poplars are very common... go outside and look for one!



Friday, April 29, 2016

Ground Beetle, Painted Lady, Oats, & various grasses

An April afternoon and sunset on Jay's doesn't get any better.

My friend Dee and I walked around the hill on the path my husband keeps mowed for me and admired the yellow ragwort, crimson clover, toadflax, and spotted cat's ear blooming everywhere. Gnats bothered us a little, but once we sat down with our faces into the breeze, the gnats were pushed behind us (a great tidbit to know if you ever find yourself in gnat country). The sound of wind in the trees and birdsong kept us company as we drew. Occasionally we'd get up and wander about to find something else for our journal page. Dee drew some of the flowers, while I decided to draw some of the interesting grasses and insects.  Yes, even the gnats.

We stayed a couple hours and enjoyed the peace of the place and getting lost in observing and drawing.

Keeping a nature journal is so joyful!  My wish for every one of my readers is that you can find time to try it yourself.  Everyone's journal is different, and each journal is personal.  It takes no expensive equipment and offers rewards on many health levels - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  If you want some help getting started, email me. I offer workshops and classes.

Even if you don't journal, I hope you go outside and feel the breezes!


Friday, April 22, 2016

Southern Ragwort & Toadflax

Spring is progressing slowly around here. Just when you think the heat is here for good, Mother Nature sends a blast of rain followed by cool dry air, and azure skies with puffy cotton ball clouds rushing overhead.  

Today I sat to draw with a good friend and student under the Tulip Poplar at the top of Jay's Hill.  It was in the mid-70's and the wind blew steadily which kept the gnats at bay. I don't use the word perfect, but let me say it couldn't have been any more wonderful.  The ragwort is just beginning to bloom, and soon the hill will be completely yellow. Pale lavender Toadflax can't compete, but I have always loved this dainty flower.  Growing up, I used to pick handfuls for my mother.

We drew in peace, with a bit of chitchat and a steady breeze in our faces.  Sweet Daisy sat at her usual respectful distance in front of my friend.  Her radar ear twitched occasionally when a gnat buzzed her, otherwise she gazed out at the hill.  She didn't move.

Duke... well Duke is in training.  He's bad about nudging your elbow over and over to get you to pet him (once never satisfies) and likes to get in your face to remind you he is there and needing love.  Once he stepped his muddy paw on one of my student's journal page. As you can imagine, he disturbs the peace of journaling. The good news is we are making great progress!  Today he was on leash for a short while, and when I let him off he sat quietly nearby and was a very good boy!   

Question to my readers... do any of you keep a nature journal?  Just wondering.  Let me know! 

Happy Spring to all!


 Dukie's leash is attached to an old kudzu vine at the base of the poplar.

Daisy and the beautiful clouds.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ragwort, Dandelion, Honeysuckle, Catbrier, and Violet Leaves

Today I hiked with my classes and drew various leaves that are growing around Middlewood.  The Ragwort that grows all over Jay's Hill is just starting to bud, soon the hilltop will be covered in yellow!. The violets are in bloom other places, but not where I plucked this leaf to draw.  The dandelions along the path to my studio don't get enough sun to bloom, and even though the honeysuckle doesn't bloom until May, I loved the beautiful red stem.

I hate to admit that I cannot identify the grass.  It grows everywhere but I've never identified it, and even though I have tried, I won't be able to until I get a better grass field guide. I'm determined to find it, so stay tuned!

Anyway, all these leaves have interesting shapes and textures, and so I decided to draw them.  The day was overcast, cool, and almost gnat-free, which is wonderful!

I sure hope everyone is enjoying Spring.  If you haven't been outside lately, today is a good day to go on a walk!  


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Climbing Vetch (Vicia augustifolia)

After hiking around and following deer paths through the woods, we were chased away by gnats.  Yes, tee-tiny little black gnats.  There is nothing in nature more irritating than having gnats swarm around your face, their favorite place, naturally. They love to get into your eyes and ears, and did I mention that they bite?  The trick is to get to a place where the breeze (if you're lucky enough to have one) is blowing into your face.  If there isn't a breeze, you may as well go back home.

There was a breeze today, so off we went to higher ground which in Middlewood is the top of Jay's Hill where my favorite Tulip Poplar grows.  I've been watching this tree grow for 25 years.  Daisy loves the tree and the delightful shade it provides. Even on days that I don't consider hot, if we are on the hill Daisy can be found in the shade keeping an eye on the whole hilltop.  Maybe it's the herding instinct, and she is keeping an eye out for the wolves that might come get her sheep, me!  

On the way up the hill I stopped to pick this little vine, one of the Vetches.  It is in the legume family, which you would know if you looked at the tiny flowers.  They are "pea-like" flowers.  This is always your first clue that it's a legume.

An unknown vine I just found growing at the edge of the woods.

The view from under the Tulip Poplar.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wild Grape Vine, Eyed Click Beetle, Sixth Graders

This entry was drawn yesterday during my class with two sixth grade boys.  They are such fun, and both seem eager to draw... except on beautiful sunny day just before spring break!  They were hilariously hyper yesterday, but still I taught them a few important things, such as how to identify our Official State Wildflower, Carolina Jessamine, and how to identify a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (we saw them everywhere!) and their main host plant, Tulip Poplars.  We also found an Eyed Click Beetle, which look scary because of their huge false eyes. We all held him to feel his CLICK!

After a lot of playing around, we sat at the edge of the woods to draw a wild grape vine and any other little thing we might see nearby.  Rufous-sided Towhees and Cardinals and Crows made appearances while we drew.

Here are a few sketches from the boys.

 Wild Grape Vine

 Close up of DNA of a gnat. Ha!

Wild Grapevine

Daisy helping to carry home one of our sitting rugs. For the record, I didn't realize how completely miserable she was until I looked closely at this photo. Poor old girl. She carried it pretty far (for her). I won't let it happen again. 

Heading back

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mysteries of Migration

The article above can be found in this month's issue of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine.  Every month the magazine includes a four-page section called "Wild Notebook" which is written for families with children, and for teachers to print and hand out in their classrooms.  I've been writing and illustrating for Wild Notebook for many years, and continue to feel thankful for the opportunity to share with children my love for and fascination with all aspects of our natural world.

The Hummingbird paper sculpture project is by Anne Runyon, one of the most creative and brilliant artists I know! She designs a new project for each article.



Friday, March 11, 2016

Riverbank: Dog Hobble, Dwarf-Flowered Heartleaf, Asian Clams

The dogs and I spent a couple hours by the river this morning, me drawing, Daisy and Duke playing in the water for a while, then napping. By noon it was 78 degrees, warm for mid-March, and sitting beside a rushing river is a wonderful way to enjoy it.

We wandered around a bit first and found a pile of small clam shells near the water where, a while back, raccoons had eaten a feast.  There were tracks nearby that were new, (the shells were not) but they are not raccoon.  I'll look them up in my tracks field guide.

I discovered a natural chair at a spot where an old wild grapevine rests on the ground. (see photo below) Sand had washed down and filled in behind the vine to make a soft, flat seat, and from there I could see the long arching stems of Dog Hobble (Leucothoe axillaris) as well as the small leaves of the Dwarf-flowered Heartleaf (Hexastylis naniflora), two typical north-facing riverbank species. Daisy found a spot just below where I sat, while Duke climbed and settled above me on the steep bank.  The rushing water kept us all company.

Another thing I'll look up tonight are the cute, tomato-red bugs that were out in force on that sandy bank.  Everywhere I looked I saw one running around.  It occurred to me that I should be careful since the bugs were RED, and supposedly announcing that they are poisonous, or at least would make me itch. But then again, they may just be faking it.  I was not particularly careful, but I never got a bite! Because of this I assume they are harmless... If I'm wrong (and just lucky not to get bitten), I'll update! 


Bug and Tracks UPDATE: Sunday, March 13

Clover Mites (Bryobia praetiosa) are bright red when young.  Perhaps the ones I saw had just hatched out.  Older ones are reddish brown, and probably difficult to see.  

This is one of several field guides to animal tracks. The tracks I saw were not clear enough to identify, and I can't remember exactly how big they were. I remember thinking they were too big to be a squirrel. I will probably go back later today to see if I see any new ones.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Daffodils, Violets & Clematis vine

We are enjoying a taste of Spring weather this week, with temps in the mid-70's yesterday and today, and it looks to be nice all the way until Saturday. Spring surprises are popping out every day. It's time for the ephemerals (wildflowers that bloom before the trees leaf out), and while hiking with my sons Sunday I found both Rue Anemone and Round-lobed Hepatica just beginning to bloom.

I planted the little miniature daffodils (above) in a big green pot a few years ago, along with the clematis. The violets in there are wild and self-sowed all around, in and out of the pot. While drawing I noticed that down near the bottom, the pot has cracked completely around. Ah, well. Nothing to do about that. Instead I closed my eyes to listen to the birds and smell the warming earth.  It was heavenly. A bird fluttered just behind my head, and I assume it was the Tufted Titmouse that had been singing just seconds before.  A female Cardinal chip chip chipped to her mate from the Forsythia, which is just beginning to open. A Question Mark butterfly flittered above the warm gravel in the driveway.  I'm so glad Spring is on its way!

Yesterday's drawing spot

Rue Anemone

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Last Beach Day

Ahhh, well, no drawings today, it being our last day, plus we went out to dinner, which changes the whole afternoon.  Here are some pics from the day, though.  Enjoy.

 man-made oyster shell tower

 tiny sea urchin

 yellow & purple sea whip

 Channeled Whelk

 four-armed starfish

Friday, February 19, 2016

February Fossils

Oooh, it was cold today!  Well, not so much temperature-wise, but the wind chill made it pretty hard to stay on the beach for long.

This journal drawing honors my best fossils from this week.  Each one was found on a different day, each one a thrill.  For the record, I'm serious about my fossils and have five fossil books that help me identify what I find.... so when I say that one is a camel tooth, it's true.  There is a particular way a camel tooth is different from horse's tooth - I won't go into details. ;-)

These fossils are all Pleistocene material, which means they are between 10 thousand to 1.8 million years old.  That long ago South Carolina had many different animals wandering around - Mastadon, Mammoth, Giant Ground Sloths, Camels, Saber Tooth Cats, Dire Wolves, Capybara, Glyptodonts, and more.  We know this from finding their fossilized bones, bones which have turned to stone. This is how you can tell it's not new material.  In fact, I did find a huge femur-looking bone at low tide, and my heart skipped a beat!  Wow!  But when I picked it up it was very light weight, and when I tapped it with an oyster shell, the sound was not the high, ringing (rock) evidence of a fossil... it was a soft, unimpressive thud.  I was sad, but it is what it is.  This is to say, the fossils above are good, though, and passed all the tests.

We have one more day, and windy or not, I'll be out fossil hunting.  Maybe I'll have something exciting to share tomorrow.


A minute after taking this, I found the claw!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sea Whip & Atlantic Winged Oysters

Strolling along the cold, windy beach today I found this yellow Sea Whip washed ashore.  I've drawn sea whip before in my journal, but this time it's a little different because this one supports two Atlantic Winged Oysters that had attached themselves to the branch with thin brown wire-like things, apparently made by the animal.   

Around here, sea whip can be found growing in the deep water creeks that run through the marsh behind the island.  I've seen them many times at low tide, swaying in the currents below my kayak.  All the colors grow together, and from above it looks like a magical world.  I know there are crabs that live on the sea whip, but didn't know that these little winged oyster shells (full size is 2.5") use the branches, as well.

As mentioned on the page above, sea whip comes in many colors, including purple, orange, white, red, and yellow.  A fun tidbit: the tiny crabs that live on the sea whip eat the little coral animals in the tiny holes of the whip, so each crab turns the color of the whip it's living on.  

My ride to heaven.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Winter Beach: Operculum, Sand Collar & Fossil Turtle Shell

When I was younger the beach was all about sun, heat, baby oil, suntan, bikinis.  Summer couldn't come soon enough. Now, though, it's a winter beach that calls to me.  Cold and wild, empty except for birds, I love a winter beach, and this week I am thrilled to be staying on my favorite island,
Edisto. The goodies in my post above were things I picked up as I strolled along.

The operculum is basically a trap-door used by all univalves when they pull themselves into their shell for protection.  It feels almost like thin wood, and a fresh one looks like it could have been stained and varnished. The one above is large, 4 1/2" long, so it came from a really big shell. I mentioned Horse Conchs, but it could also be from Lightning Whelk, Knobbed Whelk, or Channeled Whelk, all of which are abundant on this island.

The sand collar is the egg case of a Shark Eye.  They are made of sand and mucus and encircle the mother shell.  As she creates it she embeds her eggs in the sand.  As soon as they dry, the collars return to being sand, so if you find one, don't plan on saving it.

More to come!


Friday, February 12, 2016


   Winter in the upstate of South Carolina is a time of contrasts.  In our woods lie great expanses of gray and naked deciduous forests which show off the rolling, leaf-littered terrain. As a native Floridian I truly love the naked trees. They are an amazing sight, even after living at Middlewood for 26 years.

There are also thick evergreen pines that sway and groan in the cold winter blasts. These are mostly loblolly, Virginia, and shortleaf pines.  They line our sunny pipelines. Tucked under the pines you will find the lovely Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), small evergreen vines sporting vivid red berries in the winter.  I drew the one above on a cold, sunny day in January.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sassafras Leaves, Carolina Locust

Another beautiful fall day at Middlewood!  Daisy, Dukie and I headed out around noon to enjoy the bright colors and cool breeze.  It was best kind of hiking weather. On the pipeline, I can (and do) easily switch from hiking on the shady side (cold) to the sunny side (hot, if there is no breeze). I wove back and forth today.  After we crossed Meetinghouse Creek (cold) we headed up the other side and walked to the sunny side of the far hill to settle down, me to draw, dogs to nap. After about ten minutes, Daisy and Duke moved from the sun to the shade.  Later, Duke wandered off to explore in the woods and Daisy came to sit in front of me to make sure I was safe.

I put my face into the sun and enjoyed the toasty silence with occasional rustling oak leaves and Crows cawing in the distance.  Opening my eyes I noticed in the distance rippling heat waves rising from the warm, sunny side of the pipeline. Suddenly, a loud BZZZZT! broke the silence as a Carolina Locust sprang from the grass beside me, flew about 30 feet, and landed back in the grass.  You always know a Carolina Locust by his black and yellow rear wings, which are only seen when they fly.  Otherwise, they are just average looking grasshoppers.  This guy flew his short "hops" around me for the whole hour I sat drawing.  BZZZZZT!

Sassafras leaves come in various shapes, all on the same tree. Here are three examples, but the possibilities are endless.  These leaves are past the color stage, but aren't the shapes beautiful?

By the time I'd finished drawing, I had taken off my fleece jacket, put my hair in a pony tail, but still felt hot, so we trekked home on the cool, shady side of the pipeline.  On the windy hilltop I felt cool and put the jacket back on.

Here are some photos of our trees, and my sweet guard collie.