Since moving to my "treehouse" three years ago, I've become much more intimately acquainted with the behaviors and habits of a wide variety of forest critters. I've identified more than 28 species of birds, so far, by sight or sound. The hoots of the barred owl couple always bring me the most joy and comfort, even in the wee hours of night/morning.
Then there's my newfound curiosity about snakes because of a coy gray rat snake, a couple of sleek black racers, and one perturbed copperhead. This copperhead was well disguised in the leaf litter next to my gravel driveway. I almost didn't see him (I say him but am unsure of gender id in snakes.) He is getting ready to shed his skin - evident by its very dry appearance and the milky fog over his eyes. With his vision somewhat impaired, he was more defensive than aggressive - my lucky day!
One morning a couple weeks ago, I stepped outside to see two little balls of fur snuggled together on my front deck - baby raccoons. I can imagine that mom needed a day to hunt or scout a new den, and she instructed them to stay put until she returned.
It's a lovely thing to be the trusted caretaker, even for a short time, of these precious babies. They were perfectly obedient, sleeping much of the day away curled up together and exploring some but never leaving the deck. After a bit of research, I guessed them to be about seven weeks old. And I can only assume that mom came back because by the next morning they were gone.
And there are funny visitors like this guy, fresh after a morning rain!
Today, as I weeded my native plant garden, a Spicebush Swallowtail visited for nearly half an hour. Swallowtails are common here - yellow ones and blue ones. Time to pull out the Butterflies of Tennessee identification book!
Learning all the species in this forest comes one-at-a-time. What are their features? Colors? Behaviors? Sounds? Sizes? And then I reach for guide books or Google searches and learn them, one by one.
At first, I thought today's visitor was a Pipevine Swallowtail. After turning a few pages, I came across the Spicebush Swallowtail and its two most distinguishing features: two rows of orange dots and a shooting star on the underside of its wings.
I share these woods with such a plethora of wonderful creatures. What a delight to get to know one more and spend a Saturday afternoon in the garden together.
p.s. I like to ponder the meaning of different animals when they show up in my life. Here is an excerpt on butterflies from Animal Speak by Ted Andrews:
"Butterflies bring color and joy with them. When butterflies come into your life, look at how much or how little joy is within your life. Lighten up. Look for change. Don't forget that all change is good. Butterfly medicine reminds us to make changes when the opportunities present themselves. Transformation is inevitable, but butterfly will help teach you that growth and change does not have to be traumatic. It will teach you that it can occur as gently, as sweetly, and as joyfully as we wish."