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A Pond to Ponder

Crickets: Parks and GardensUntil last week, when I started a new job at Overton Park here in Memphis, I was working in a 100% office job for about a year and a half.  Since I started writing this blog as my literal “outlet,” more and more I would leave the office each day with a strong desire to just go stand in a swamp for a while.  Partially this is because my now-full-blown obsession with photographing dragonflies needs to be indulged, and partially it’s because I just feel so peaceful standing still somewhere, with all manner of life buzzing and swirling around me.

However, the realities of commuting, business attire, and rapidly shortening days make it hard sometimes to search out swamps on weekday evenings.  So one day I decided to visit my neighborhood park, Yale Road Park, and see if perchance the pond there might house some interesting creatures.  I was richly rewarded, and it became my go-to swamp therapy for short late-summer evenings.  Now I’d like to share some of my spottings with you.

As long as I’ve been going to the park, it’s been overrun with Canada geese, meaning you have to watch your step.  But this summer I saw a couple of other interesting birds I’d never encountered there before.  One was the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), which you can see in the middle left and bottom images.  When I got to the park, it was showering in the fountain.  By the time I left, it was swimming and looking for fish.  It stayed submerged for 5-10 seconds at a time before emerging in a different area of the pond.  The bird on the middle right is a green heron (Butorides virescens), which is a small wetland bird.  They’re often nocturnal and only appear at dawn and dusk, but when they’re hungry or feeding young they may show up during the day.  Guess this was a lucky sighting!

Geese, cormorant, and green heron

This is a spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), chilling out on the grass between the pond and the railroad tracks. It didn’t move except to twitch an eye once or twice, so perhaps it was playing dead.  This is one of the largest species of freshwater turtles in the United States, and large females can live up to 50 years.

Spiny softshell turtle at Yale Road Park

Here are a few butterflies, including the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) in both the top photos. The photo on the left shows its four small false eyespots, which distinguish it from the similar American lady, which has two large ones. The American lady may be the world’s most widely distributed butterfly, occurring on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. It migrates northward from Mexico in the late summer. On the bottom left is the viceroy (Limenitis archippus), which benefits from looking similar to the poisonous, inedible monarch. The bottom right is a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), another wide-ranging species.

Butterflies at Yale Road Park

This pond is the only place to date that I’ve seen orange bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum), which may be a function of when I usually visit this pond since this species is usually not around water until late in the day. (I have yet to master finding these things in trees!) The females are orange, blue, and green, although all the ones at this pond seem to be green. I usually saw these hanging around with the familiar bluet (Enallagma civile), which is all over the place around these parts.

Familiar and orange bluets at Yale Road Park

The dragonflies are certainly frisky at this pond. One afternoon I sat for a while and a bunch of warring blue dashers buzzed centimeters from my face in pursuit of lady-friends. (You can see those photos here.) The top left photo below is a female eastern amberwing (Perithemis tenera) whose mate is keeping watch just below her. The pair on the top right are eastern pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis). The males sort of blend in with the blue dashers, but they seem slightly less violent. Finally, the photo on the bottom represents three days of effort. These black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) fly almost continuously, so the only way I could photograph them was to stand on a hilly spot above the pond and shoot downward, catching them mating (which slowed them down just a tiny bit). Not my finest shot ever, but one that I definitely earned with many outtakes!

Dragonflies at Yale Road Park

And finally, what post about Yale Road Park would be complete without one of its most frequent inhabitants…this dog.

Dog at Yale Road Park

I was looking at dragonflies when I heard it barking across the pond, and I looked up to find it staring daggers at me. It promptly jumped in the pond and started menacing the geese, and then began trotting over toward me with a sinister look. I managed to evade it while running back to my car.  Basically, when I see this dog I feel it’s my cue to beat it. And so we’ll apply that principle to this post and come to a close here.

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