Thursday, August 9, 2012

When Welkinweir Goes Wild

The Rodebaughs, who were the original owners of the estate and arboretum at Welkinweir, wanted to "provide sanctuary for biodiversity." Over the course of many months, whenever I've been lucky enough to have the camera with me, I have taken pictures of some of this biodiversity, or some of the unmistakable evidence of their presence.
A beaver (and possibly one or two more) lives in the big pond.  It likes to cut down the trees near the water's edge, and build extravagant dams on our own dam and spillway to stop the water.  Beavers cannot stand the sound of running water.  It creates some extra maintenance needs at the arboretum, and some hazards, but the beaver likes to dine on the water lily tubers and keeps them from overtaking. So, we let it be.  The beaver itself is hard to photograph, but its handiwork is not...
Talk about persistence...or maybe lack of judgement. I think some of our arboretum visitors explained this strange behavior best, "It has to be a male beaver. He just doesn't have a wife around to tell him that tree is too big for him to handle!" And another added "Or to make him finish a job when he starts it."  And yes, both comments came from males.  It is thought it was a lone male beaver for a while, but someone claimed to see 3 swimming in the pond earlier this year.  His extreme show of strength must have won some lady beaver's heart. 
We have a lot of bird boxes at Welkinweir, and admittedly the season for baby birds has mostly passed.  The picture above is from much earlier in the year, and I think (don't quote me on this) that those bug-eyed, yellow billed monsters will eventually turn into the beautiful, graceful looking tree swallows.  Right now we have Carolina wrens nesting in a cardboard box by one of the entrances to the estate house.  This species is a southern bird, like the name implies, but are slowly expanding northward and live here year-round.  Maybe that explains their late nesting.

While I'm still on the subject of birds, I was lucky enough to watch a bird banding demonstration given to summer camp kids at Welkinweir.  It was a lady and a gentleman whose names I do not recall, but apparently they come here every year to band birds.  You have to be licensed to do this.
The unsuspecting birds fly into a very fine netting and fall harmlessly into a little pocket, and are then carefully retrieved.  This one was being very vocal about how displeased it was to be in that predicament. 
When freed, this irate tufted titmouse latched on to her thumb for a few minutes.  Another defense this species has is to puff up its "tuft" when threatened to make it appear larger. 
After a while though, it let go, and she was able to show the kids how to record data. They measure wing span, and use a straw to blow the belly feathers to determine about how old the bird is.  The kids really enjoyed the straw part, I think because the bird would protest loudly every time.  Finally, she attached a band to the bird's leg before releasing it.  The bands are uniquely numbered and species specific, because the diameter of the bird's leg will not change throughout its lifetime.  The unique numbers allows the individual to be identified if it is ever netted again.  This allows people to study bird dispersal and migration, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success, and population growth.

We also have many reptiles and amphibians at Welkinweir.
This amphibian was trying to blend in.  If you visit Welkinweir, you can hear a bullfrog on the pond.

These reptiles were laying eggs earlier this year, which is about the only time of year I see them.
Snapping turtle, laying eggs on right.

Painted turtle 

I also see many snakes, sometimes eating some of our amphibians, but thought I would leave those images to your imagination. :)

And finally, there is an abundance of insect life and a variety of arachnids here.  I can do without the ticks, but I saw an interesting, and sufficiently ugly spider to photograph for your enjoyment.  

Red Admiral butterfly

When you visit Welkinweir, don't forget to bring your camera, and keep an eye out for wildlife.

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