Animals In Appalachia

Thankful November – The Southern Wildlife Watcher

collage of photos thankful

A few months back my friend Rob Simbeck sent me a copy of his latest book “The Southern Wildlife Watcher: Notes of a Naturalist.” I just loved the book!

Southern Wildlife Watcher

Here’s a short blurb about it:

“The Southern Wildlife Watcher” is a colorful look at thirty-six common and not-so-common animals found in the southeastern United States—from the hummingbird to the bald eagle and from the bullfrog to the bobcat. Rob Simbeck, one of the Southeast’s most widely read naturalists, combines a poet’s voice with a journalist’s rigor in offering readers and intimate introduction to the creatures around us.”

While reading the book I learned so many interesting things about wildlife that I’ve lived around my entire life.

Here’s some of the things I learned from the book.

  • Have you ever noticed a fly rubbing its legs together? I’ve always found the act creepy and as fast as I can I swat at the fly to make it take its weirdness far away from me. Turns out the fly is actually bathing when it does that! According to Rob’s book: “It rubs its legs over its head, thorax, wings, and abdomen, scrubbing its eyes, its antennae, and the bristles on its legs and body, then rubs those legs together and against its mouth to brush away grime.”
  • I’ve heard dragon flies called snake doctors before, but did not know the saying comes from the story that dragon flies can stitch up injured snakes with spider webs.
  • Who knew that male wolf spiders have to dance for their mates! Chitter shared an elaborate story about a couple of wolf spiders in our basement. As she worked at her jewelry bench she watched one of them do strange leg movements. I thought she was silly, now I think she was watching a mating dance 🙂
  • Chatter claims that ground hogs are her spirit animal—the girl just loves to see one on the side of the road or running through the fields. I knew groundhogs burrowed underground…and sometimes under buildings, but I did not know their tunnels can be as long as 40 feet!
  • Did you know all earthworms are not native to America? I had no clue. Rob’s chapter on earthworms is fascinating. I found this especially interesting: “A checklist of earthworms in South Carolina published in April 2014 in Megadrilogica and drawn from 178 sites in forty-three counties listed thirty-four species, just fourteen of which are native. Of the eleven most frequently collected, only two were native.”

Rob has graciously given me an eBook copy of “The Southern Wildlife Watcher: Notes of a Naturalist” to giveaway. Leave a comment on this post to be entered in the giveaway. *Giveaway ends November 27, 2020. Go here to pick up your own copy of this great book!


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  • Reply
    Wayne Hipkins
    November 27, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    I’ve not read anything by Rob Simbeck but am a fan of Jim Casada, who has appraised some books for me & whom I have purchased books from, & have a lot in common with, endorses Rob’s book it must be a winner.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    Those were red tail HAWKS that I watched. I don’t know what a haw might be.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      November 24, 2020 at 9:27 pm

      A haw is the opposite of a hee!

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    I grew up exploring the outdoors – woods, creeks, rock faces, etc. I’ve seen a lot of insects and animals but there are probably 1,000s times more that I haven’t seen. I have been watching two red tail haws in our back yard almost every morning. They are after insects, seeds and mice in the garden. I watched the neighbor’s cat play with a rat for almost an hour recently. That cat awhile back tried to attack a turkey hen.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 24, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    Only creatures, like humans, with opposable thumbs can grasp an object to use to groom themselves. The rest have to use their legs, swish their tails, roll in in dirt or grass or rub against something in an effort to be clean. But “clean” is relative.

    I have always called dragonflies “snake feeders”. I thought they carried food to snakes and if there was a snake feeder around there would also be a snake or snakes. I wonder do snake feeders have to go to school to be snake doctors or is it an innate ability?

    I went coon hunting one time with my cousin JT. His dog treed a something in a hole. The dog got ahold of the critter and tried to pull it out but before he got it far enough it got loose. The next time he went in after it, it was further back in the hole. Finally after several tries the dog was so far back in the hole that it couldn’t back out and we couldn’t reach his legs or tail to pull him out. Nobody goes coon hunting with a shovel, well almost nobody. Anyway we didn’t have any way to get the dog out except out bare hands and some half rotten sticks. The roots and rocks were too big and thick to dig around. We thought we were going to have to leave that poor dog stuck in that hole while we went for the proper tools. We were afraid the dog would suffocate before we could get back. We decided to dig out ahead where we thought the dog would be and pull him out that way. It worked! After digging several holes we heard him and got him out head first. I don’t know for sure that it was a groundhog but I suspect it was and that it had another entrance. It had probably crawled out somewhere and was watching and laughing at us.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    What we could learn just from this book. Nature itself is just wonderful. You see alot of nature in the mountains and in the country .It would be great to read all what’s in this book. Happy Thanksgiving Tipper.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    My kids called dragonflies pond fairies. I thought that was a pretty accurate description.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    I noticed Randy posted exactly what I had wanted to post. I saw many snake doctors near a creek I played in growing up. I rarely if ever see one anymore. The bottom where we played along Pinnacle Creek growing up was loaded with butterflies and honey bees. Grandpa kept bees, and was so in tune with nature they never stung him, but they were everywhere. We children would pull the stingers out of our feet with the knowledge that honey bee would not be able to sting again. What puzzles me is I do not remember so many yellow jackets. This would be an interesting read. What I do not hear about often is the Mountain Boomer, and only heard about them from my Dad.

  • Reply
    Dan O’Connor
    November 24, 2020 at 11:50 am

    I have found nothing to be as interesting as nature. I remember when the kids were young and I volunteered to help with after school activities. One of the things I did was take the kids to a field and ask them if they Saw any animals. They would always say no. They we would go about finding all kinds of insects and worms and woolly worms and occasional rodent. They were always so excited when we got back. Much better than a video game!

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    November 24, 2020 at 11:45 am

    I would love to win a copy of the ebook on wildlife.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    November 24, 2020 at 10:39 am

    When I was a kid, we thought seeing a snake doctor meant an actual snake was near. Working in a corn patch as a youngster, I almost stepped right on top of a really big snake. Never knew I could jump so high. It was probably harmless but not to me.

    I was cleaning out a flower bed a few years ago and carried an armload to the barrel . When it fell in a small snake crawled out of it. I can never just pick up old stems, etc. anymore.

    I grew up using an outhouse and having farm animals. I shudder to think of all the flies that were around.

  • Reply
    Leslie Haynie
    November 24, 2020 at 10:18 am

    New book on my “to be read” list. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Leonard Barnett
    November 24, 2020 at 10:17 am

    I’m 70 year’s old and I am from western Kentucky,,,have always been interested in animals and all other bugs and var it’s,,,,as a kid growing up in the country I would follow a tumble bug for hours and once dug down in the ground to see where they took there ball of manure they had rolled so far and to my amazement I found maybe 12 to 15 balls.Found out later on they lay their eggs in the balls and their young eat the balls! Yes I would absolutely love a book on wildlife.Tipper please keep the stories coming,,, I love them all

    • Reply
      November 24, 2020 at 11:08 am

      How interesting. I have a granddaughter who is a senior in college who loves all the creatures God made. I would love this for her!

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Interesting topic today, never thought about the origin of earthworms in this neck of the woods. Wonder if that is true of the night crawlers as well ? Watching the wild things is the main reason I built our retirement cabin back in the woods it’s amazing when you get just a short distance away from the hustle and bustle of humans what you witness from your rocking chair.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 9:52 am

    Always heard dragon flies called Snake Doctor but no one explained why. I’m not too crazy about bugs even though I know they are all here for a reason.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    November 24, 2020 at 9:16 am

    I agree with TMC – the flies aren’t cleaning themselves, they’re spreading stuff (for lack of a more accurate four letter word) all over themselves.

    Chatter has an open invitation to come over and rescue all of her spirit animals she can find on Black Hill and haul them over to Cherokee County and let them try out the Blind Pig and the Acorn garden for awhile. I use the word “rescue” with intent, because if I spot them in the open, they’re going to stay there until I get to it to chunk into the thicket down the hillside. That is, unless the neighbor’s mini doberman which is about half the size of one of those sorry whistlepigs, gets to it first. Back in the summer, I dealt with one as was clearly needful. But before I got around to getting rid of the carcass, our neighbor’s mine doberman, which is maybe half the size of his load, hauled it over next door and proudly dropped it at the feet of his master.

    And Ron Stephens, I wish you could’ve heard Pap, with a twinkle in his eye, tell the story about the spider that “charged” Chitter (her words). I’m not sure that she and spiders are on comfortable terms with one another.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 9:09 am

    I love the books you share! I would love if you started a book list.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    November 24, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Oh I am very interested in wildlife! I am an Entomology specialist trained by the US ARMY. Arthropods are my passion and I love spiders!!! Basically any bugs that could cause harm to troops were my specialty. I have a collection from ECUADOR from 1987 and there are insects in there as big as my fist. God made a perfect world down to every tiny detail! Isn’t HE worth living for??? And I think to myself WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD!

    • Reply
      November 24, 2020 at 11:12 am

      I forgot to mention that my Dad always called Dragon fles Snake Doctors. I always wondered why. What a story!

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Chatter would have a ball looking for groundhogs in my barn. The problem would be walking around on the ground that those critters made to feel like marshmallows under your feet. About the only thing I know about groundhogs is what a KY Fish and Wildlife agent told me. He said a smoke bomb is one way to drive them out of their hole but they could exit a mile away. I think he exaggerated the distance a bit.
    When I was a kid I loved to watch the pretty blue snake doctors dancing on the water in the creek until someone told me their presence meant a snake was close by.

  • Reply
    Cheryl W.
    November 24, 2020 at 8:40 am

    We have found several black snake skins way back on our property by some stacked railroad ties. I’ve never had problems with rodents or seen any copperheads so far, and rightly or wrongly will thank the black snakes for that. So, as much as I hate snakes, the black snakes are welcome to stay at the back of the property. Of course, I know they don’t stay in my imaginary boundary line, but they are wise enought to stay out of sight 😉
    Wouldn’t it be something to see a snake doctor tend to a snake?

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 8:15 am

    If someone will be in the woods or outside and sit very still and quiet at sun up he will see and hear animals he may not see at any other time. I used to see a lot of snake doctors at the creek I played in when growing up, but now I don’t see them. Something else we would see in the creeks were bright red minnows with yellow fins. They were called red horse minnows and said to be no good to use as fish bait. I am ashamed to say as a boy with a BB gun I would shoot at the snake doctors, but never hit many of them. I would enjoy reading the book.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 24, 2020 at 8:10 am

    Worms get moved around as fish bait and in potted plants, mulch, hay etc. There is big money in nightcrawlers. Some are grown in northern states and shipped in tractor trailer loads to the south. Fisherfolks tend to take unused ones home to ‘get a start’ in their yard or garden. It can get discouraging to begin to learn just how crammed the landscape is with non-native plants, animals, fungi, molds, etc.

    Guess Chitter and Chatter don’t freak out over spiders. Our daughter does. They give her the heebie jeebies. By the way, we now have a non-native spider here in Hall County, discovered this year. It is called a “joro spider”. It is yellow and black with some blue or red on the abdomen. The web is three layers and is gold color. I have found three webs over at Don Carter State Park in the last few weeks.

    Had heard snake doctor but had never heard what it meant.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 24, 2020 at 7:58 am

    Tipper–I was fortunate enough to get to write a Foreword to Rob’s book. Blind Pig readers can rest assured it’s a dandy. Rob is a masterful writer and has the research and observational skills to make seemingly the most ordinary things from nature extraordinary. This is a work which would make a great Christmas present for any wildlife enthusiast. I’ll guarantee, no matter how much you know about the natural world, that you’ll learn some new things.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    William Dotson
    November 24, 2020 at 7:42 am

    Always heard dragon flies called snake doctors when I was as a kid in the 1950’s, there was another type and they looked a little different but don’t remember what they were called.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 24, 2020 at 7:39 am

    Tipper, how in the world do non native earth worms get here and where do they come from, I mean they can’t take a bus or airplane! I had no idea there were so many different species though I will admit I have seen earthworms of different colors. I suppose they are the non-native ones.
    Who would have have thought this! This must be a pretty interesting book!

    • Reply
      Rob Simbeck
      November 24, 2020 at 9:26 am

      Hi Miss Cindy,
      The wooden ships coming across the Atlantic often needed ballast, and the handiest thing was dirt! It would be shoveled into the hold for its weight, and with it came earthworms–as well as many of the non-native plants (like dandelions) that found North American soil so inviting!

  • Reply
    Rick Shepherd
    November 24, 2020 at 7:33 am

    Sounds like Rob’s nature book is a good chance for me and the grandkids to have fun and learn something interesting doing it….Well, especially me. Haha

  • Reply
    Suzanne Nelson
    November 24, 2020 at 7:20 am

    The book looks interesting, thanks for sharing… non-native earthworms? Who knew?

  • Reply
    John Hart
    November 24, 2020 at 6:57 am

    Send that free book down to Columbia, SC!

  • Reply
    Amanda Burts
    November 24, 2020 at 6:26 am

    Sounds like a delightful book!

  • Reply
    November 24, 2020 at 5:56 am

    O yea, the fly will clean itself but the key is what is in its mouth used to clean itself, I use to be a Pest Control-man, we had to go thru an Entomology / Rodent behavior class, gets pretty gross the amount of disease these little creatures can spread. Mice and Rats will not only eat various things but when they get their fill they will defecate or urinate on what’s left to try to deter another from coming along and stealing its food source, that’s why they leave behind their dropping in a bait tray. So when you see ole no shoulders crawling around in your garden just remember he or she’s just trying to keep those disease-spreading creatures from overpopulating, That may have been a little too much info before breakfast.

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