Hummers, mantises and caterpillars

The hummingbirds have been with us all summer, flocking around the feeder and usually draining it once a day. We sometimes see a dozen at a time.

This is the time of year that other things start showing up. We have been noticing praying mantises in the last few weeks. This one thought the hummingbird feeder would make a good hunting ground.

mantis and hummer


Sunday afternoon I noticed this caterpillar eating leaves on one of our crepe myrtles.

caterpillar top


It looks like a Chinese dragon. The four yellow spots on its back are actually some kind of hump.

caterpillar side


I have no idea what this one is. Does anyone else know?

Turtles all the way down

We haven’t seen many turtles lately, but within the last week we (or I) saw two on Fouche Gap Road. The first one was immobile but apparently trying to cross the road near the bottom of the mountain.


We stopped so that I could move it out of the road. At first, from a distance, I thought it was a snapping turtle because it seemed to have such a flat back. Up closer I realized it wasn’t a snapper. It was a full hand-span wide. I put it at the closer side of the road, but Leah and I both worried that it was going to head back out into the road after we left. Fortunately, there was no sign of it when we came back home.

Monday morning Zeke found another turtle closer to the top of the mountain.

turtlehoundZeke is a good turtle hound.

This one was safely in the weeds, so I didn’t bother him/her. Here’s a closer shot.


Maybe two turtles doesn’t qualify as “turtles all the way down” but two within a few days is a lot for up here.



Fox and armadillo

I have mentioned before that we have foxes around the neighborhood, some of which regularly visit our driveway to poop and eat catfood*. I recently saw more of the family. This was about halfway down Lavender Trail from our house to the driveway of our new property.

fox kit 2

This fox kit watched me and the dogs approach for a while, but dived into the brush before we got close. The image is fuzzy because I took it with my phone from a good distance, and the phone camera has a wide angle lens. The scale is not obvious here, but the kit is quite small. I think it would fit into two hands cupped together, with maybe a little overflow.

About two weeks ago I saw two fox kits. This time I saw only one. I’m pretty sure the den is somewhere in a thick patch of kudzu that grows beside the road. There is an obvious path through the kudzu leading into the darkness beneath the growth.

On Monday morning as I walked the dogs I looked into the path and saw this.

armadillo skin

It’s the skin and the tail of an armadillo. The picture is fuzzy not because of distance but because I was holding the phone at arm’s length and wasn’t as steady as I might have been. It was also dark down there.

It was gone when Leah and I walked the dogs Monday evening.

I assume that the mother fox brought it either to feed one or more kits or to eat at her leisure. I don’t know how the fox came to have the armadillo. I would have thought an adult armadillo would be too large to be fox prey. Maybe the fox found one killed by a car, or maybe it found the remains of one that a coyote had killed.

* Edited to clarify exactly what the fox eats. Thanks, Scott.

The hummingbird, the fox, and the snake

We’ve had a few small wildlife events around here in the last few days. The first was the return of the hummingbirds, and the first time this year that one of them trapped itself in our garage.

hummer on a wire

This is the best shot I could get of the little bird. She (I’m pretty sure it’s a female because I can’t see any red on its throat.) was bumping up against the ceiling of the garage, as they always do when they fly in, and perched on one of the garage door opener wires for a rest. It’s right up against the ceiling.

I was not optimistic about doing anything for it, although we have rescued a few in the past. I finally decided to close the garage doors and turn on the overhead light. I put a step ladder under the light and climbed up with a towel. The hummingbird flew immediately to the light and I grabbed it as gently as I could. It was not tight enough, though, and the bird escaped. It came right back and I folded the towel around it and got it. I then opened the garage door and took her outside, where she flew away as soon as I opened up the towel.

The second event, or series of events, is our continuing story of the foxes. One, we think, makes our driveway a regular stop on its rounds. It comes by in the morning when Leah feeds the outdoor cats their breakfast, and it comes by in the evening when she gives the cats their supper. Sometimes it gets catfood, and sometimes it doesn’t. Zeke is usually on the front walk in the evening. When the fox appears, Zeke scrambles down to the gate and barks. Lately that seems to spook the fox so it leaves.

Leah is quite annoyed at the fox because we can’t leave catfood out, but, at the same time, she says she feels sorry for it. I think that’s because she worries about whether the fox is getting food. I have assured her that it’s a wild animal evolved to find natural sources of food, but she has her doubts.

On my morning dog walk Saturday, I found an example of the fox’s natural food. Just down the street from our house I saw a fox dive into the poison ivy at the edge of the woods. Zeke didn’t see it, fortunately. When we got to the point where it had been, I saw it watching us from a few feet away in the woods. I grabbed a quick shot with my phone.

fox in the woods

It’s very hard to see the fox, so I zoomed in some.

zoom fox in the woods

This is a bad shot, but it was the best I could do while holding the dogs’ leashes in one hand. The fox watched from here for a while, then, when it realized I was watching it back, it retreated deeper into the woods. When I looked down, I saw a dead chipmunk at the edge of the pavement. I think we scared the fox away from its kill, and it was reluctant to leave. The chipmunk body was gone when we came back, so I assume the fox returned and got it.

Along the way back, one of our neighbors stopped to warn me of a “rattly” snake in the road near her home. Her house is up the street from us, so not on our regular walk, but, obviously, I had to go up there to see the rattly snake. I saw the snake but I couldn’t get a picture. I wish I had been able to get some shots, because this was the first time I have seen crows harassing a snake. They were diving at it in the road, but not getting too close. The snake was in the process of slithering off the road into the weeds when I first caught sight of it.

I’m sure it wasn’t a rattlesnake; it was some kind of black snake. The crows flew away when we approached, so the snake got away.

Snakes on a road

Leah and I saw this snake last week when we took the dogs for a short evening walk.


This is a blurred shot. It was past sunset so the light was bad, and all I had to take the shot was my phone. On top of that, this little snake was really moving. I didn’t recognize it. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever seen one before. I searched online for a black snake with a white ring around its neck and quickly found that it was – surprise! – a ringneck snake.

This link leads to an article about the ringneck snake at the Savannah River Ecology Lab website

According to the SREL site, ringneck snakes are 10 to 15 inches long. The one we saw was less than six inches, so it was almost certainly an immature example, or possibly a hatchling (see the image of a hatchling ringneck in a person’s hand at the SREL site). SREL says that the ringneck snake has one of the largest ranges of any North American snake. Its range spreads from Florida to Canada, across the US Southwest and up along the Pacific coast.

Wikipedia says, “Ring-necked snakes are believed to be fairly abundant throughout most of their range, though no scientific evaluation supports this hypothesis.” However, SREL cites a capture-mark-and-release study by Henry Fitch in 1975 that found densities greater than 700 to 1800 per hectare (2.47 acres) in Kansas. That’s a lot of snakes.

This small, shy snake seldom shows itself during the day, which probably explains why I had never seen one. But then a couple of days later I saw another one when I took the dogs on their morning walk. This one looked like it had been run over at the edge of the road, but when I nudged it with my foot, it raced off into the weeds.

I should have taken a picture before I nudged it, but I didn’t want to take a picture of a dead snake. Dead snakes are not uncommon on the roads around here. Just last week, in addition to the live ringneck snakes, I saw one large black snake and a large copperhead that had been run over. Both had apparently been sunning themselves in the road after a cool night. That was probably what the little ringneck was doing as well. Since they’re small, the ringnecks aren’t as good a target for our local drivers as larger other snakes.