August 26, 2013 9:25:36 AM
Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]
"You can observe a lot by just watching."
-- Yogi Berra
Not many folks would show up in the misting rain for a Gator ride, but Dianne Patterson did. She was dressed in rain jacket and green rubber shoes. I offered an umbrella, but she slid her pale blue hood over her head.
"I'm good," she said. "When you schedule a butterfly or a bird count you have to go rain or shine."
I pulled on my black rubber boots and topped my head with a floppy garden hat. Then we were off in the Gator at a brisk two miles per hour. It's the perfect speed for an observation tour, and that's what we were doing.
Dianne had agreed the first chance we got we'd tour the Prairie homestead. Dianne, knowing all things birds, butterflies and native plants, would point out what was growing and what should be encouraged to maximize our bird and butterfly populations.
First, I wanted to show Dianne the caterpillar I had discovered on the hosta plant, but instead there was a chrysalis. Dianne suggested I move the plant to the greenhouse to avoid tempting a hungry bird. I, of course, pulled the leaf off and put it in a mason jar with holes punched in the top. I wanted to watch the metamorphosis up close.
Then we visited the garden spider. The garden spiders are just getting started; we found two of the black and yellow beauties. Dianne took pictures of the misting rain sparkling on the exquisite spider's web.
Before we started good Dianne held her hand up, "Listen ... it's the yellow-billed cuckoo. They especially like to call after a rain."
Before the day was out we had seen a green heron in a tree, an osprey flying over the lake, bank swallows on the electric lines and swooping the dam, mourning doves, an Eastern bluebird, female indigo buntings (I would not have noticed the dull-colored birds except for Dianne), Eastern Towhees and dozens of swarming ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Dianne said, "Don't worry about their fighting. The juvenile males are learning how to be hummingbirds. The strongest and most aggressive wins."
Dianne suggested that I not put red dye in the hummingbird feeders like I was accustomed to doing. As I began to study hummingbirds I noticed that only a novice would put the possibly injurious dye in the feeders. I was glad I didn't look like a novice.
Next, Dianne pointed out butterflies -- the giant swallowtail, red spotted purple, tiger swallow, hackberry emperor, sleepy orange, cloudless sulphur, variegated fritillary, question mark, Carolina satyr, silvery checkerspot, pipevine swallowtail, zabulon skipper and a spring azure.
Then, the plants native to the Prairie that attract all these birds and butterflies -- peppervine, vervains, rough leaf, dogwoods, legumes, ironweed, passion vine, partridge pea, goldenrod and butterfly pea.
And across the driveway along the ditch was a beautiful pale blue American bellflower, identified with the kindly help of Dr. Harry Sherman.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.