Sundown is just the beginning for many species of wildlife.
The sun is setting on what looks like a peaceful beaver pond bordering a well-traveled interstate highway. Most travelers barely glance as they whiz by this time of day, covering their eyes from the intense descending summer sun. Some may tap the brakes with the hope of seeing an alligator. These are usually rewarded with at least a great blue heron.
What they may not see is precisely what the beavers, herons, alligators and other pond residents are doing this time of day. A closer investigation reveals anything but peace and quiet.
A disturbance along the bank causes a mother Canada goose to leave her eggs in a carefully constructed nest along the bank for the temporary safety of the pond. She honks loudly with legitimate alarm. A gosling pokes its beak through the tough outer shell, hungrily chirping for its temporarily absent mother while marveling at the enormity of sky and trees overhead.
Perched gingerly from tree branches and proudly posted along the bank, bird-voiced tree frogs, green tree frogs, bronze frogs and leopard frogs issue calls loud enough to shake the surrounding leaves.
Beneath the rotting logs along the bank, slimy salamanders find an appropriate dark, damp crevice in which to lay their eggs.
Along the water’s edge, a raccoon decides that a crawfish will be a suitable supper. It eats voraciously but positions itself close enough to scale a nearby water oak should its meal be interrupted by a predator.
On top of the water, fishing spiders, water striders, dragonfly nymphs and other invertebrates search for vegetation to fill their dietary needs.
Farther out, floating carnivorous plants suck in tiny zooplankton with bladders suspended carefully beneath the surface.
Brilliantly-colored warmouth and sunfish shimmer in the murky wet underworld, darting about, trying to eat and not be eaten.
A beaver’s head breaks the water’s glassy surface as it swims proudly with a sweetgum branch in its mouth, en route to its dam, a work in progress.
Taking advantage of these established beaver runs, some of the largest salamanders in the Southeast swim silently beneath the water’s surface, searching for crawfish, frogs, fish or another one of its kind to consume. Primarily nocturnal and incredibly aggressive, these smooth-skinned amphiumas are among the denizens of the deep that this pond has been home to for more than 40 years.
Less elusive than the amphiumas, reptiles such as pond sliders, painted turtles, cottonmouths and Midland water snakes surface occasionally to find food closer to the bank.
While the rest of the world is preparing for evening repose, these pond inhabitants are preparing to take advantage of the upcoming period of darkness. For these restless natives, sundown is just the beginning.