Wild Things

Reprinted with permission from Pinestraw Magazine. picture of cover of April 2007 of Pinestraw magazine

Wild Things
Sandhills Natural History Society:
Where the Wild Things Are Viewed, Photographed, and Discussed
by Jill J. McCloy  •  Photography by Michael McCloy

Why are there so many pine cones this year? Did I see a coyote running across my golf course? What was that strange long-tailed bird I saw flying above a horse pasture? Are there hummingbirds in the Sandhills in the winter?

If you’re a Moore County or nearby resident with an interest in the natural world around you, you might have asked one or more of these questions during the past year. You could always Google the internet to find the answer. Or you could try a much more vibrant and local source: the Sandhills Natural History Society (SNHS).

SNHS is sure to have a member who can answer or at least talk intelligently about any of the above questions and more. And SNHS can probably provide a whole group of folks who are interested enough in the question to have a monthly program or a field trip on it.
With over 100 members currently, the Society was formed about two years ago from what was then the Moore County Bird Club.

“Bird Club membership and interest was not as active then, and we thought we could provide a spark by expanding the group to include other nature interests besides birds,” said Scott Hartley, Park Superintendent of Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, and a key member of both the older bird club and SNHS.
“It’s worked out great,” he added. “We’re seeing a lot of new members from other fields and we’re providing much more diversity in our offerings.”

SNHS and Weymouth Woods are closely related in their missions to foster knowledge, appreciation and enjoyment of nature and to encourage conservation of natural resources. SNHS meetings are held the fourth Monday of each month at Weymouth Woods, and they provide an opportunity for fellowship, exchange of information, and a featured speaker on a relevant topic. During the past year, the Society has met at other locations while the Weymouth Woods Visitors’ Center has undergone much needed renovations.

“We are grateful to Penick Village and Emmanuel Episcopal Church for helping us out with meeting space,” Hartley said. “But it is good to be home again. We held last month’s meeting in our refurbished auditorium for the first time, and our Visitors’ Center is now open again. We plan to have a Grand Re-opening in the near future.”

During the past year, SNHS meeting speakers have included Ron Sutherland (snake research), Jesse Perry (spiders), John Gerwin (Swainson’s Warbler research), Karen Beck (recent urban wildlife in the area — yes, there are some coyotes in Moore County), Todd Pusser (Antarctica), and Bruce Sorrie (flora and fauna of northern Peru).

“Most of our programs and field trips focus on the Sandhills,” said current SNHS President David McCloy, “but we like to learn about nature in other places, too. We are so lucky to have among our members those who travel and share their experiences with us.”

Among the Society’s membership are many wildlife professionals who work directly or indirectly with area agencies such as Weymouth Woods, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Sandhills Area Land Trust, and The Nature Conservancy. The area’s proximity to the Triangle encourages participation in Society events by staff from NC State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

And then there is Todd Pusser. A local resident, Pusser is internationally known for his wildlife photography in venues such as National Geographic magazine. He travels extensively throughout the world on various projects to research and photograph wildlife species. The January SNHS meeting featured Pusser’s recent trip to Antarctica and set an attendance record for Society meetings with almost 90 people.

In addition to the regular meetings, SNHS sponsors a number of field trips and other events. In the past year, members have visited Aberdeen Lake to look for dragonflies and damselflies, Weymouth Woods to find butterflies, the Sandhills Gamelands to view wildflowers and amphibians, and Ft. Fisher to see wintering waterfowl. In addition to formally organized trips, members stay in constant touch to respond to any interesting phenomena. Members gather in the fall for “Swifts Night Out” to watch thousands of chimney swifts fly down one of several chimneys in Southern Pines at nightfall.

One of the hottest topics last summer was the sighting of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Hobby Field off Youngs Road in Southern Pines. Far out of its native habitat in the Midwest, the flycatcher settled in, found a mate, built a nest, laid eggs, and raised a family. The flycatcher family attracted birders from all over North Carolina, and SNHS members were lucky enough to watch the entire saga daily.

Anyone locally who is interested in hummingbirds probably already knows Susan Campbell and her extensive hummingbird research and banding work. Past President of the Moore County Bird Club and SNHS, Campbell has been instrumental in bringing together birders and encouraging interest in the Natural History Society. Yes, we do actually have hummingbirds in Moore County in winter. Not many of them, but a few. And they are not our common summer residents, the ruby-throats, but Rufous Hummingbirds, who usually winter in Central America.

Campbell holds seasonal banding sessions for hummingbirds and other birds at Weymouth Woods and always welcomes participation from Society members and the general public. She has presented numerous programs on her work for the Society.
In the future, the Sandhills Natural History Society will continue its regular meetings and field trips and would like to increase its community outreach with conservation efforts. SNHS has recently set up its own website, www.sandhillsnature.org, which includes information about upcoming events along with a photo gallery featuring members’ photographs of local flora and fauna. SNHS also has T-shirts and hats with the society logo for sale.

The Society welcomes all new members.

For more information about the Sandhills Natural History Society and any of its activities, please call Scott Hartley at Weymouth Woods at 692-2167.

And why are there are so many pine cones this year? Members discussed this at a recent meeting, some saying it is because of less drought last summer. No, says Hartley, who has seen a lot of pine trees and pine cones. It is a cyclical occurrence, just the continuing saga of nature in the Sandhills.

© 2018 Sandhills Natural History Society
This site last updated on February 4, 2018.