A morning at Morningside Nature Center

This morning when my son informed me that he missed the bus, the first thing I thought was that I would get to go to Morningside Nature Center finally.  I’ve never been there before at all, and really didn’t know what to expect.  There is a living farm that my kids have gone to on field trips, but I’ve never been at all.  It is right next door to my son’s school, though, so it was the perfect time to experience it.

When I looked it up, the brochure said that it opened at 9:00, and my son had to be at school at 8:30.  So, what to do for 30 minutes?  I chose to go to McDonalds and get some coffee, then headed back over.  It wasn’t quite 9 when I got there, so I was surprised to see the gates open.  The sign on them said it opened at 8:00, which made the whole coffee trip unnecessary, but at least I didn’t have to wait any longer.  I was kind of looking forward to seeing the farm, but it’s closed on Monday, so I went on the trail.  It was a pretty foggy morning, not the misty fog of the other day, but a fairly thick fog that provided a nice, even light, but was heavy enough to also flatten the photos out a bit.  Fog can make colors come alive, but without shadows giving visual cues, things can look a little flat.  When you look at the image on the left, it looks as if these two trees are side by side, but in reality, the paler one on the left was about three feet closer to me.  In the photo on the right, the fog blurs out the trees as they recede, but the true depth of the scene is lost to the lack of shadows.

Well, after yesterday’s expedition, this morning’s seemed really tame.  There were lots of birds around, but mostly little ones that either stayed completely hidden or flitted from bush to tree so quickly I could barely see them, much les capture them.  I’m sure a real birder would have had a blast listening to them and seeking them out, but I didn’t really have the patience for that today at all.  Come to think of it, I pretty much never have the patience for that, and even if I did, I really don’t have the setup to get much of an image of those little birds that would do them justice.

I really wanted to see something big again, something impressive.  A hawk, or a gator would have been wonderful, but this area is too dry for the gators and the hawks must have been busy elsewhere.  Even a vulture would have been good, even if they are a bit smelly.  Looking around, I could see that this might be the kind of place to see a deer, but they weren’t in evidence today.

As I was beginning to despair of seeing anything but flora today (not that there’s anything wrong with that), a hawk’s cry made me look up.  I scanned the sky and looked to the top of the trees, but I couldn’t find him at all.  However, up in a nice dead tree, flanked by two longleaf pines, I saw a spot of red way up at the top, and knew that there was a woodpecker up there.  If he had been pecking at the tree, I would have known he was there without the hawk, but he was being quiet.  I’m pretty sure this is a red-bellied woodpecker, which is an odd name for a bird that has a white belly.

There were spider webs everywhere, but none of the beautiful orb webs that we most often think of as spider webs.  These were more of a nest of silk, and were built among the flowers, shrubs, trees and grasses.   Even though they do not have the neat and perfect symmetry of an orb web, each one of these has it’s own fascinating beauty.  The droplets clinging to them and the soft light filtering through the fog enhances the wonderful delicacy of these webs.

One of the most interesting and unusual things I saw today was reindeer lichen.  These green puffballs grow along the forest floor, mostly in groups, although this one was alone.  This one was about 18 inches in diameter, which seems to be pretty typical, although there are larger and smaller ones scattered about.  They have a wonderful spongy texture, but their branches look very treelike.  In fact, they do use these and similar lichen for trees in model railroading.

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