Field Trip Reports

Field Trip to Jones Lake State Park - October 5, 2013

Field Trip to Old Carthage Farm - September 21, 2013

Field Trip to Museum of Natural Sciences - August 17, 2013

Field Trip to Town Creek Indian Mound - June 15, 2013

A Natural History Tour of the Northwest Highlands of Scotland May 13–27, 2010.

In May, four members of the SNHS (Cassie Willis, Linda Jones, Andie Rose, and Bennett Rose) took part in the first international field trip—the outback of Scotland, one of the most remote and least spoiled places in Europe. The most memorable highlights of the trip are as follows.

We visited the Hebridian island of Mull for a wildlife safari. Mull is the site of the highest biodiversity in all the UK. With 300 miles of shoreline, it is home to 30 pairs of Golden Eagles—said to be the highest density of Golden Eagles in the world and 26 White-tailed Sea Eagles, which were successfully re-introduced 25 years ago. We were fortunate indeed to see both species not only on the wing, but on nests. Other highlights included a mussel farm, Sea Otters, seals, spectacular scenery, Skylarks, Redshanks, Graylag Geese, Red Grouse, buzzards, gannets, Meadow Pipits, Wheatear, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Shags, Guillemots, Black Guillemots, Great Northern Divers, Red Throated Divers, Razorbills, Grey Herons, oystercatchers, and many other bird species. (For more on Mull and the eagles, see the PBS Nature episode at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/eaglesof-mull/mull-eagle-watch/4968/.)

We spent a day climbing alongside Nevis Gorge to Glen Nevis, adjacent to Ben Nevis, one of the great climbing mountains of Europe. We paid a visit to the Ben Nevis Center, an educational center outlining the history of the Mighty Ben, its climbers, its nature, and its wildlife.

We visited the Isle of Skye, also in the Inner Hebrides. We stayed at the ancestral home of my friend in Portree, a lovely fishing village, and explored what is described as one of the most beautiful islands on earth. Long days were spent exploring every nook and cranny in the area and climbing the lofty ridges of Jurassic Storr Ridge on the Torridan Peninsula—a volcanic wonder, weirdly atmospheric, lunar, and elemental!

We watched ravens doing their amazing aerial acrobatics on the highest ridges, and explored the Black and Red Cuillin Mountains, reserved for the most experienced technical climbers in the world. The rough gabbro rock in these mountains retains magnetic qualities, which throw off compass readings, resulting in a long history of catastrophe.

We learned the culture and respect of the different volunteer Mountain Rescue Teams all over the west highlands. These volunteers can be compared to our own first responders—but their emergency vehicles are helicopters, picking the injured off high mountain peaks and risking their lives every day.

At Shilasdair, an antique spinning and weaving workshop, we learned about natural dyes they use there from wildflowers, herbs, plants, and kelp, and about the ancient sheep shearing and weaving process which remains a significant part of the culture and economy.

We visited Coral Beach, formed from the bleached skeletons of a red coralline seaweed known internationally as maerl, used by farmers to fertilize. More than 430 species have been identified within the maerl beds in Scotland. Coral Beach, like a Caribbean beach, lies just up from Loch Dunvegan, a Marine Special Area of Conservation.

We visited The Museum of Highland Life, which pointed out the direct connection and dependency of the ancient highland culture with nature, throughout the ages as well as currently, both on land and at sea.

Wester Ross was our last stop, back on the mainland, in the far northwest. We stayed in Ullapool, a fishing village and, interestingly, a literary center. On the way there, we stopped at Beinne Eighe Visitor Center at the foot of the mountain of the same name, home to the Scottish Crossbill—a bird found only in old Caledonian forests in these highlands. This was the first National Nature Reserve; these reserves now number more than 70. Eight hundred million years ago, massive rivers in what is now Greenland dumped sand and gravel over ancient bedrock, creating Torridian sandstone, the stone that forms these mountains of Wester Ross. All over Wester Ross we encountered roadside informational panels in pull-off places, explaining the geological history of the view just over the panels.

We investigated the Peninsula of Achitilbuie--the peat bogs, wet grasslands, and stony beaches—for curlews, Ringed Plovers, Lapwings, snipe, oystercatchers (which are everywhere), and Greenshanks. Being a maritime nation, Scotland has over 700 bird species in its waters. We were never far from the sea—or an oystercatcher—the entire trip. One of the loveliest birds in the UK is the Lapwing.

We drove to the far northwest village of Scourie, and took a ferry to the island of Handa, a privately owned island, managed by the National Trust of Scotland, and home to the one of the largest seabird breeding colonies in Europe. We walked the four-mile boardwalk around the 1 x 3 mile island to the far cliffs, where, on ledges hundreds of feet up from the crashing surf below, upwards of 200,000 seabirds—fulmars, guillemots, and kittiwakes—nested on shallow cliff ledges while eiders swam on the bays and inlets and gannets fed offshore. We were treated to amazing displays from both the Great and Arctic skuas, and observed the Arctic Skuas nesting. The Great Skuas, or Bonxies were in huge numbers as compared to my last trip to Handa five years ago.

Linda and I explored the Geopark of Knockan Crag—a globally important area north of Ullapool, including the Rock Route, which is 12 stops on a route with educational panels explaining the geological history behind the stunning scenery before us. Meanwhile, Andie and Bennett climbed Stac Polleidh, a challenging climb up a most famous peak—and a significant accomplishment. This is the area of the Wee Mad Road, where, in springtime, local children form the Assynt Toad Patrol, escorting thousands of young toads across the road from dusk to dark to spawn in Lochan Ordain. They save more than 2,000 toads each year!

On this trip, Linda and I, the birders of the group, picked up some "life" birds. Linda got more than 50, and I am up to over 100 species snagged on my trips in the last dozen years to Scotland, which includes time in Orkney and Shetland over different seasons.

The mission of this trip was to introduce people not only to a place where around every turn is jaw-dropping scenery as a result of nature’s movement over millions of years, but also to a people whose culture has been and continues to be in and of the natural world. The children are born naturalists; it’s how the culture is defined.

The people of the west coast of Scotland, says Monty Halls in his recent book, have an affinity with the hills, streams, trees, sea and animals that some say surpasses normal experience. I have found this to be true, and during this trip, I realized I have just scratched the surface of this culture. My thirteenth trip is already in the planning—the pull of my DNA.

To see photos of the Scotland trip, please click on the SNHS website photo page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snhs. (Cassie Willis)

Carolina Butterfly Society Southern Pines/Sandhills Game Lands Field Trip - April 3, 2010

The Carolina Butterfly Society had a great first-of-the-season field trip on Saturday, April 3, 2010. Eighteen of us explored some of the Sandhills region of North Carolina in the Southern Pines area. We were looking for early spring butterflies, in particular the ephemeral spring species Falcate Orangetip, Brown Elfin, Henry's Elfin, and Yucca Giant-Skipper. By the end of the day we had seen eight species of butterflies including all of our targets except Henry's Elfin.

Our group included people who also were interested in other insects, amphibians and reptile, birds, and native plants. That gave many of us the opportunity to learn about other wildlife of the Sandhills region.

We met at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, Southern Pines, NC, in Moore County at 10:00 a.m. The weather throughout the day was partly cloudy to clear, with temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s. Our leader and organizer of the trip was David McCloy. David had arranged for us to be guided by Park Superintendent Scott Hartley. Both did an excellent job. One in our group, Bruce Sorrie, has done botanical field work in the area and was very helpful with the plants we saw.

We began by walking part of the main section of Weymouth Woods where Trailing Arbutus and Carolina Ipecac were in bloom. From there Scott led us to the Paint Hill Tract of Weymouth Woods, where we saw one of our target species, Brown Elfin. Sandhills Pixie-moss, a rare Sandhills endemic plant, was still in bloom. We then went to the grounds around Scott‘s residence to look for Yucca Giant-Skipper, which hadn‘t emerged yet. We did see a Falcate Orangetip.

During the morning, birders in the group enjoyed hearing a Bachman's Sparrow singing on at least two occasions. Some folks got to see an American Kestrel, which was probably nesting nearby, chasing and striking a Red-tailed Hawk.

After a picnic lunch, David led us to the Bagget's Lake area of the Sandhills Game Lands in nearby Richmond County. On the way in we came across a mud puddle that was attracting at least six azures that all appeared to be of the same species, probably Spring Azures as well as a couple of Juvenal‘s Duskywings. Golden Club was in full bloom around the edge of Bagget's Lake, and Pitcher Plant was just beginning to send up flower stalks. Bruce guided us to a patch of Yucca nearby where we finally saw another target species, a lone Yucca Giant-Skipper. It was uncooperative for photographers, unfortunately.

Below is a list of butterflies that we saw. Although this was a butterfly field trip, many of the participants were interested in other taxonomic groups, so some of the highlights of other species seen also are listed.

Butterflies:
Moore County (Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 3
Falcate Orangetip 1
Brown Elfin 2
Azure sp. 3
Juvenal's Duskywing 5
Richmond County (Sandhills Game Lands, Bagget's Lake area)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 2
Falcate Orangetip 1
Eastern Tailed-Blue 2
Azure sp. 6
Anglewing sp 1
Juvenal's Duskywing 4
Yucca Giant-Skipper 1
Moths:
Red-fringed Emerald (Nemoria bistriaria)
Red-bordered Emerald (Nemoria lixaria)
Bold-based Zale (Zale lunifera)
Odonates:
Blue Corporal
Mantled Baskettail
Common Green Darner
Stream Cruiser
Fragile Forktail
Other insects and spiders:
Banded Hickory Borer beetle (Knulliana cincta)
Largid Bug (Largus sp)
Scoliid wasp (genus Campsomeris)
Blue-black spider wasp (Pompilidae)
Jumping spider - probably in the genus Phidippus
Herps:
Southern Cricket Frog 1
Southern Toad 1
Interesting plant species:
Pitcher Plant (Yellow?)
Sandhills Pixie-moss
Carolina Ipecac
Golden Club

Thanks to participant Patrick Coin for many of the insect identifications.

It was an excellent field trip. Thanks to David McCloy for organizing and leading the trip, and Scott Hartley for being a great guide and host. Photos from the trip will be posted on the Carolina Butterfly Society website at http://www.carolinabutterflysociety.org.

Dennis Burnette [deburnette@triad.rr.com] Carolina Butterfly Society

Palustris Festival - March 27, 2010

The first Palustris Festival was held in Southern Pines the weekend of March 27th. Events sponsored by SNHS included bird banding, a bird walk, wildflower walk, several hikes to the oldest Longleaf Pine (462 this year), an RCW talk and a birthday party. We had approximately 310 folks for our programs, including at least 125 for the birthday celebration at Weymouth Center! A very successful and fun day.

The cake was awesome - looked just like a tree cookie and was totally consumed. Brady and I did manage to get some and it was delicious. Scott wanted to make sure to thank all of the folks that brought goodies and assisted with any aspect of the event. (Scott Hartley/Brady Beck)

Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park - March 13, 2010

On Saturday, March 13, twelve members of the SNHS drove en caravan to Scotland Neck, NC, approximately three hours from Southern Pines. The sun emerged; the day was mild, perfect for a field trip!

Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park is the world‘s largest collection of endangered waterfowl in the world, and is dedicated to educating people about the importance of conservation and research, focusing on breeding waterfowl and wetland Coastal Carolina habitats. After an introductory film about the development of the Park, we were met by the Founder and Director, Mike Lubbock. Mike and Betty Clemens, one of our members who actually knew Mike years ago, had a great reunion.

We enjoyed a special guided tour through a series of natural walk-through outdoor aviaries for viewing over a thousand birds from six continents. We had the opportunity to see species from North and South America, Eurasia, Australia, and Africa—a total of over 200 species. The birds were amazingly beautiful and colorful. We then enjoyed a picnic lunch on the back porch, and afterwards took photos of species most of us will never see out of captivity. (Cassie Willis)

Coastal South Carolina - February 25-27, 2010

Organized by Cassie Willis, Linda Jones, and Carol Bowman, with a special thanks to Michael McCloy, whose presence and expertise certainly increased our species tally!

Seven intense birders made the trek to coastal South Carolina on February 25 for three days of hardcore birding. Our first stop was on Thursday morning at Huntington Beach State Park, where we were hoping to get a welcome taste of slightly warmer weather than the snow flurries we had been "enjoying" in Moore County. Instead, we were treated to more light snow flurries and high winds when we arrived! This did not seem to bother the birds. A good number of ducks were present along the causeway—mostly Ruddy Ducks, along with a single Lesser Scaup. The birding improved when we walked along the carriage path—Carol Bowman spotted a Virginia Rail feeding in an open patch of mud not twenty feet away. We observed it for about fifteen minutes, all of us getting the best, most prolonged look we have ever gotten of this elusive bird. All of us also got excellent looks at Common Moorhens, American Coots, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and a deceased, bloated alligator grinning at us in the same area as the rail.

As we were leaving the park in mid-afternoon, a large mixed flock of shorebirds arrived at the causeway, giving us up-close and personal looks at several species, including Dunlin, Willet, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Black-bellied Plover. Before checking in at our hotel for the night, we stopped at a local path in Mount Pleasant, SC known as the Pitt Street Causeway, which can be good for shorebirds, waterfowl in season, and wading birds. However, with the wind gusting close to 40 miles an hour, the birds weren't active except for some Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few herons.

We began the day on Friday, the 26th, by revisiting the Pitt Street Causeway. It was still windy, but the birds seemed a bit more active. Several Tricolored Herons, a photogenic Little Blue Heron, and a flyover Osprey were the highlights of this stop. We then proceeded south to Bear Island Wildlife Management Area, a very well known birding location that seems to have a knack for hosting unusual species from time to time. There were flocks of waterfowl throughout the area containing Tundra Swans, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Bufflehead, Hooded Mergansers, and a single Redhead.

A location within the Wildlife Management Area, known as the Hog Island unit, held some of the best birding. Here the group was treated to a large flock of American Avocets, as well as several Glossy Ibis, and a flyover American White Pelican. And of course, the ever-present flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers! As a nightcap, we all were treated to a fantastic dinner by John and Leslie Watschke, two members of our birding group, at a house they rented outside Beaufort. Thanks for the great food and hospitality!

Saturday morning, we made the drive to the southernmost tip of South Carolina to visit Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. There we were greeted by a Great Horned Owl sitting on its nest right beside the main parking lot. Apparently, it has been using the same tree for years, providing great views and photographs for many birders.

In the same group of trees, we found a Black-and-white Warbler and a Palm Warbler. The best birding at the refuge was in the hammocks, where we found several large, mixed species songbird flocks. One of them held a Baltimore Oriole, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Yellow-throated Warbler.

This turned out to be a fantastic trip, with our group‘s final count coming to an impressive 112 bird species. Thanks to Carol Bowman, Marjorie Ludwig, Linda Jones, Cassie Willis, and John and Leslie Watschke for terrific company and fellowship. (Michael McCloy)

Riverbend Park, Conover, NC - March 7, 2009

On March 7, 2009 a group of four birders from the Sandhills Natural History Society made the trip to Riverbend Park. Riverbend Park is a 450-acre county park located along the Catawba River, near Conover, NC. A diversity of habitats promised to produce a variety of bird species, and even though the birding was a bit slow, we did in fact have several notable sightings. For starters, Riverbend Park has an elaborate bird feeding station, where we saw, among other species, numerous Pine Siskins and several Purple Finches. We then walked about a two-mile loop along some of the park’s trails, where we saw yet another uncommon winter bird, a Brown Creeper. Further along the river, near where park ranger Dwayne Martin pointed out a Bald Eagle nest, we saw an immature eagle, and judging by the extensively dark coloration, it was probably a local bird from last year. After an interesting morning of birding, we ate lunch along the river to cap off a productive day. Thanks again to Carol Bowman, our trip leader, and to Dwayne Martin, who graciously donated his morning to leading our group around the park and pointing out some interesting birds along the way. (Michael McCloy)

Endor Iron Furnace - March 8, 2009

On this warm (80°F) day, the intrepid band of David McCloy, Bruce Sorrie, and Audrey Pennington traveled to Cumnock in Lee County to the old Endor Iron Furnace. The young Loblolly Pines and Sweetgums along the entrance path suddenly gave way to unbroken hardwoods as we neared Deep River. We noted mesic mixed hardwoods on the upland and on the steep slope facing the river. Trees included White Oak, Red Oak, Red Maple, Southern Sugar Maple, Hop Hornbeam, Beech, Pignut Hickory, Redbud, and Dogwood. Christmas Fern and Trout Lilies were numerous. Alluvial forest originally covered the floodplain terrace, but has been altered (and reduced in size) by large deposits of waste material (slag piles) from the furnace. This tall forest included Hackberry, Swamp Chestnut Oak, Cherrybark Oak, Sycamore, American Elm, Tulip Poplar, Black Walnut, Boxelder, and Bladdernut. There were many large grape vines, but, fortunately, not much Privet. Aside from some Spring Beauties and Chickweed, there was not much flowering, but abundant Sweet Cicely, Yellow Harlequin, violets, and other plant species will be out in a couple of weeks.

The impressive old furnace is composed of big blocks of stone and some of its original construction has collapsed. This furnace smelted pig iron for the Confederacy during the Civil War. A supply of iron ore and coal was nearby. Critters observed were: Upland Chorus Frog (many in man-made depressions) and American Toad (amphibians); Falcate Orangetip, Cloudless Sulphur, and Mourning Cloak (butterflies); and Pileated Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Crow, American Robin (many), Turkey Vulture, and Carolina Wren (birds). (Bruce Sorrie)

Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge - February 14, 2009

The 16 members of the Sandhills Natural History Society who participated in this field trip had a chance to see waterfowl not normally seen by the general public. We greatly appreciate the efforts of JD Bricken, the refuge manager, who made this trip possible and led the group from 8:15 a.m. to almost 10:00 a.m. Although the weather was cloudy, damp, and cold and the birds were skittish and mostly seen on-the-wing, we did have good looks at some stationary individuals. Afterwards our visit to Gaddy's Mill Pond was interesting from a historical perspective and we did see a large number of Canada Geese and five Hooded Mergansers. After the weather warmed we birded along Wildlife Drive from about 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (members left at various times according to their schedules).

In addition to the waterfowl, the largest category of birds that we saw/heard was the woodpeckers. However, we had a wide variety of species (as listed below) with a final tally of 58. Many thanks for everyone's contributions on this field trip. (David McCloy)

WATERFOWL (5,000 to 6,000 individuals): Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Widgeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, WOODPECKERS: Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Pine Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, and American Goldfinch.

Jordan Lake - February 7, 2009

Four folks made the short drive up US 1 to Jordan Lake. Our first stop was the dam area. Good numbers of Bald Eagles, over 25, had been reported to be congregating at the tail race to catch fish. We didn’t have that many, but got really great looks of several birds. Only a few made forays up to the tail race area. There were a lot of people fishing, which may have deterred them. Land birding was good. We had lots of winter stuff and the highlight for me was 8-10 Purple Finches associated with Goldfinches in Sweet Gum trees. We also flushed a small flock of American Pipits below the dam.

We left the dam area and went to Ebenezer day use area. There we saw lots of Ring-billed Gulls, many Bonaparte’s Gulls, and Cormorants out the ying-yang –no loons, but a few Horned Grebes. From there we made a quick visit to the newly renovated Jordan Lake State Recreation visitor center. They have a neat exhibit area with several interactive exhibits.

I don’t have the total species seen, but I think we were close to 50 species. This is an area that is easy to explore, and we hope to visit more often at other times of the year. (Scott Hartley)

Birds & Bears at Pungo - January 24, 2009

Seventeen early risers made the long haul to the Pungo unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, the Snow Geese flock of 80,000 birds was not feeding in any of the fields around the lake. So we spent the first part of the morning checking the south side of the lake from the observation platform and the impoundments near the west boundary road. The birds seen from the platform were very distant and were tucked up into the west corner of the lake. There were lots of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese. Other waterfowl seen from this location were Mallards, American Widgeon, American Black Ducks, Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Northern Shovelers, Canada Geese, and Ring-billed Gulls. The highlight of the morning was a spectacular showing of Bald Eagles on the north side of the lake. There were easily 30-plus birds flying and diving into the flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds. The majority were non-adult birds. We tried, or at least I tried, to make some of them into Golden Eagles, but—not! A couple of us also got a brief glimpse of a Black Bear as it crossed the road.

Other than the Eagle, the birding was relatively slow species-wise. So we decided to drive to Lake Mattamuskeet, eat lunch, and bird the causeway. This turned out to be a good move. We got excellent looks at most of the puddle ducks, lots of both species of Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and White Ibis. There had been a Common Black-headed Gull frequenting the causeway, but we saw only Bonaparte’s. Michael McCloy and Jeff Beane found a very cooperative Orange-crowned Warbler.

We grudgingly left Mattamuskeet and headed back to Pungo to walk to the lake shore on the north side. Bear tracks and bear scat were everywhere. At the lake shore we saw a huge flock of Green-winged Teal and several Horned Grebes as well as the usual and already seen suspects.

While we where scoping the lake, someone in our group said, “Hey there’s a bear.” A fairly small bear was walking to the lake shore using the same path we had used. Jeff Beane was 10-15 yards from it and got a couple of pictures. The bear evidently figured Jeff wasn’t a threat or worth eating and ambled away. On the hike back to our vehicles we saw four more bears at a distance, as well as a Gray Fox. At our cars, we were treated with seemingly endless lines of Snow Geese flying back to roost on the lake right at sunset. Most of the 80,000 Snow Geese present at the refuge flew right over us. The stark gray winter sky filled with thousands of these white and black birds was truly a beautiful spectacle and a fine way to end our day. (Scott Hartley)

Woodlake - December 13, 2008

On December 13, Scott Hartley led a group of ten other avid birders to Woodlake for a morning of very productive birding. Upon arriving, we saw a small flock of Canada Geese in a golf course pond along the entrance road, although two of these birds seemed odd. As we parked in the parking lot beside the clubhouse, the flock took flight and we were able to identify these two “oddballs” as young Snow Geese!

As the group took a short walk, the vegetation alongside the driving range beside the parking lot produced passerines such as Palm Warblers and Eastern Phoebes. When we walked out onto the point, a third-year Bald Eagle was perched in a tree along the lakeshore. As we progressed to the south side of the lake, we also saw an adult eagle. The south side of the lake also produced two Bonaparte’s and two Herring Gulls, which we were able to pick out from a larger flock of Ring-billed Gulls. The dam at the southern end provided us with a good vantage point for waterfowl, such as two Horned Grebes. A good variety of ducks were seen from various points along the lake during the course of the morning, such as Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, and Ruddy Ducks.

On the way back, a few of us stopped at the field across from the BP gas station near Woodlake, where we saw several Horned Larks and American Pipits. The trip list numbered about 55 species. (Michael McCloy)

Owl Prowl - November 29, 2008

The forecast predicted a dark and stormy night, although a light drizzle was the only outcome. The setting looked right for creatures of the night, but owls were laying low. Perhaps it was a demonstration of their reputed wisdom??

On Saturday, November 29, at 6:30 p.m., Scott Hartley led a group of eight: Brady Beck, Michael McCloy, Barbara Simpson, John & Leslie Watschke, and guests Fred & Sandra Brown. The group made five roadside stops near likely owl habitats west of Aberdeen near the Sandhills Game Lands area.

Scott made outstanding calls for Barred, Great Horned, Screech-, and Saw-whet owls. His voice imitations and taped calls brought no live results except a distant answer from two Screech-Owls. Even though owl voices were quiet that evening, it was an outstanding opportunity for novice “owlers” in the group. We could listen to each call repeated in settings that were representative of owl habitat. The trip was well worth the time and damp conditions for that experience alone. (Leslie Watschke)

Huntington Beach State Park, SC - November 8, 2008

On Saturday, November 8, five early birders got up well before the crack of dawn to travel to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, SC. These brave birders were Carol Bowman, Marjorie Ludwig, Dave Verner, Pru Williams (who met us there), and I. The other four traveled (in style) from Southern Pines and arrived just after 8 o'clock. First we birded the causeway, which always yields the most birds on the trip and didn't disappoint. Both the Wood Storks and White Ibis were gathered there, as well as the Semipalmated Plovers and some peeps which we clearly determined were Western Sandpipers. I also spotted a Black-bellied Plover which we discussed for a while, trying to make it an American Golden-Plover. To our disappointment, the ducks had not arrived yet at HBSP, except for a pair of Green-winged Teals at the far end of the south side of the causeway (a lone Greater Yellowlegs was there as well). But the best treat of the causeway wasn't a bird at all, but an enormous Alligator swimming around in the south pond. Dave was thinking it was less than 15 feet, but I thought it was at least that! That thing reared almost its entire bulk out of the water and started bellowing, as Alligators occasionally do. Don't worry . . . it didn't get any of the birds, who looked like they could care less anyway. There was only one other gator, and he (she?) wasn't bellowing in the other's direction. Why do Alligators bellow? I guess because they can.

We next went to the Maxwell viewing platform overlooking the marsh at the end of the road through the park. This is where we've seen a Sora and the briefest glimpse of a Least Bittern in the past. Today, there were just Coots and a Common Moorhen, otherwise known as the Common Gallinule. Then it was off to the jetty. This is the spot in the park from which one can see Purple Sandpipers. Of course, you really only have a 10% chance of seeing them, but if you're leading a group, you should strategically leave that part out as it's a 1.2 mile walk one-way. Not that there wasn't a lot of bird activity. Along the way, you see Sanderlings darting in and out of the surf. Just before we had almost reached the jetty, three waves of Black Skimmers flew overhead! Most prevalent on the jetty were the Ruddy Turnstones, which will come to within a foot to see if you have any fish to give them. A Royal Tern flew overhead, and there was some debate over another tern, whether it was a Forster's or a Common. I think it had the light orange bill (with no black) to indicate the former. There was a lone Great Black-backed Gull on the beach on the other side of the jetty, and, way out on the water, hundreds of Northern Gannets were diving for fish. Only Dave had a single Loon sighting, though.

We walked back along the jetty inland. In the marsh, we heard a Clapper Rail, and in the fields we saw a Kestrel, a Phoebe, and a pair of Northern Harriers. Then we walked back through the sand and grass to end up back at the beach about halfway between the jetty and the path back to the parking lot. I went on ahead, only to find out that Pru had gotten her American Golden-Plover on the beach! As soon as everyone had returned to the parking lot, we went to the visitor's center, which has the feeders where Painted Buntings are seen (but not today), for a picnic lunch. After lunch, we made our way out onto the pier, from which we saw two Bald Eagles and an Osprey carrying his meal. All in all, it was a beautiful day for birding, and our final count was 55 species. (Patrick Shaffner)

Sandhills Game Land - October 11, 2008

Thirteen participants joined me for a day of fall botany in the western portion of the Sandhills Game Land. We concentrated on upland flats and slight depressions—areas which support high species diversity due to their loamy sand soil. We had a major highlight before even getting to US 1: a bobcat crossed Bethesda Road near the junction with Saunders Road!

Birds were scarce—just a couple of Kestrels, Mourning Doves, and a Red-tailed Hawk.

Asters and grasses were the day’s stars, with autumn gentian, golden-asters, spotted bee balm, chaffhead, and goldenrods close behind. Not everything we saw was in bloom, but there was enough left to see their characteristic features. Click here for a species list. (Bruce Sorrie)

Ridge Junction & Mount Mitchell - September 13, 2008

Carol Bowman and I drove up to Ridge Junction on Friday, September 12. On the way we stopped at Riverbend Park in Catawba County, NC where we saw the following: Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, American Crow, House Finch, Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Dark-eyed Junco, Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Osprey, Spotted Sandpiper, Chipping Sparrow, House Sparrow, European Starling, Chimney Swift, Eastern Towhee, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Pileated Woodpecker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. This was my first visit to Riverbend Park. It is a 450-acre passive recreation park partially located on the Catawba River with 3.2 miles of streams and creeks located throughout the property, as well as a freshwater wetland and a ¾-acre pond. If you’ve never been there, it is well worth a trip.

From there Carol and I drove to Ridge Junction, hoping to get in some late afternoon birding. We were totally fogged in—could hardly see to drive! We did manage to find our hotel—The Switzerland Inn—where we joined three other SNHS members. Saturday morning we arrived at Ridge Junction about 7:30 a.m. and the birding was wonderful. Birds were coming up the valley and over our heads—sometimes too quickly or in too many locations at once to be able to ID them. We sure were glad when Scott Hartley arrived!!! There were seven of us in all—this was the weekend of the great gas shortage and some folks stayed home.

Here’s our list from both Ridge Junction and Mount Mitchell: Gray Catbird, American Crow, Mourning Dove, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Common Nighthawk, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Wood-Pewee, American Redstart, Song Sparrow, Chimney Swift, Scarlet Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Wild Turkey, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Turkey Vulture, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Hairy woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, and numerous other unidentified migrants. We kept trying to find a bird which was noisy but elusive—well, until Scott informed us it was a red squirrel. We were all delighted to hear a pack of coyotes working their way up the valley. Scott called out a couple of times in “coyote” and they answered him each time. They were quiet for a while, and the next time they called out, they seemed to be closer to us. Scott didn’t answer them that time!

Carol and I again stayed overnight at the Inn and, despite the gas shortage, decided to bird Jackson Park in Hendersonville, NC. On the way we saw about 20 Wild Turkeys in the middle of the road. Here’s what we saw in Jackson Park: Carolina Chickadee, Gray Catbird, Mourning Dove, House Finch, Northern Flicker, Alder Flycatcher, American Goldfinch, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee, American Redstart, American Robin, Scarlet Tanager, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Towhee, Veery, Turkey Vulture, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Carolina Wren. (Linda Jones)

Swift Night Out - September 9, 2008

About 25 people gathered at Southern Pines Elementary to watch and estimate swift numbers roosting in the middle of the three chimneys at the school. The birds slowly gathered and the numbers grew to an impressive mini 3 hurricane like swirl which flew as a group in circles around the chimney. A cooper’s hawk flew in towards us and the swifts, as a group, dove down at the Cooper’s which landed in a nearby pine. The birds resumed their circling and by 8:05 p.m. started to enter the chimney. One bird evidently flew into a low power line and fell to the ground – apparently injured or stunned and could not fly. We captured it and made a call to a local rehabilitator who instructed us to hold in a box in a warm dark quiet place overnight and she would be able to take it in the next morning. Brady produced a small bug box to hold the swift. Scott agreed to keep it over night and take it to the rehabilitator the next day. Everyone got a great look at this bird, and we were all impressed with the long narrow wings and stiff tipped tail feathers. Meanwhile, the number of swifts had increased, and they were dropping into the chimney so quickly that, as usual, it defied our ability to count them. We estimated between 700 and 1,000. The next morning when Scott checked on the injured swift, it seemed much stronger and active. Scott took it to the school chimney and released it to see if it could fly on its own, and it flew away strongly and – well – swiftly.

Digital Photography Workshop - August 16, 2008

Six people attended a morning photography workshop at Weymouth woods. We discussed in generalities the principles of exposure, composition, light, and photography equipment. Lots of good discussion was generated by the group. We plan on having more of these workshops with the next one being completely in the field. (Brady Beck)

Landsford Canal State Park - May 31, 2008

Several people from the Sandhills Natural history Society joined Carol Bowman for the two-and-a-half-hour jaunt to Landsford Canal State Park. Located outside of the town of Catawba, SC, the park is along a particularly beautiful portion of the Catawba River. An endangered plant species, the Rocky Shoals Spider Lily, has a stronghold along this portion of the river, and we were lucky enough to witness them in full bloom. There was about a mile walk back to where the lilies were, but is sure was worth it to be able to look towards the river and see fields of these gorgeous white flowers.

Bird-wise, it wasn’t too exciting along the river, with common lowland species such as Acadian Flycatcher, Northern Parula, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Prothonotary Warbler giving us the most entertainment. On several occasions we witnessed waterthrush fledglings being fed by adult birds. Other notable bird species observed included Great Egret, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Barn Swallow. Michael McCloy

Wildflower Walk at Methodist College, Fayetteville - April 12, 2008

The weather gods favored us and held off drenching thunderstorms until just after we completed our trek.  About a dozen folks participated on a warm and breezy day to these woods along the Cape Fear River.

We were treated to a fine show, although too late for Trout Lilies and most violets.  Spring Beauty, Violet Wood-sorrel, Wild Geranium, False Garlic, Wild Ginger, Starry Chickweed, Licorice-root (Osmorhiza), Britton’s Violet (rare in NC), Painted Buckeye, and others gave us plenty to look at and photograph.  By all accounts, the favorites were Atamasco Lily and Gray’s Sedge (Carex grayi); there were hundreds of the lilies in full bloom and more on the way, while we walked through knee-high swaths of the sedge.

The setting energized us as well:  tall (120’) bottomland hardwoods and mesic mixed hardwoods of Tulip-poplar, beech, Hackberry, Shumard Oak, White Oak, Ironwood, sycamore, Florida Maple, Boxelder, etc.  These trees were farther advanced in leafing out than I had expected--I’d say a week ahead of similar forests on the Pee Dee.  Massive grape vines, plus Crossvine, Trumpet-creeper, and Poison Ivy climbed up out of sight.  We saw many mature trees, none bigger than a Shumard Oak 5 feet dbh!  These hardwoods are very impressive, and an amazing contrast to our fire-driven Longleaf Pine/oak/Wiregrass woodlands.  To boot, we had an impressive lesson in geology, what with the dramatic topography, clay soils, and a double waterfall at a tributary creek.

Birds were relatively vocal, but not cooperative.  We heard Pileated and Red-bellied woodpeckers, Prothonotary and other warblers, Ovenbird, Red-eyed and White-eyed vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, etc.  Cope’s Gray Treefrog was the only herpster.  Zebra, Tiger, and Spicebush swallowtails, Green Tiger Beetle, and a natural hive of Honey Bees in a Black Walnut tree were among the insects present.  And who can forget the “kitty barf fungus”?   (Bruce Sorrie)

Pungo - January 19, 2008

Eighteen SNHS members made the 3.5-hour trek east to Pungo National Wildlife Refuge about 20 miles southeast of Plymouth, NC.  With temps in the mid 60s, it felt more like March than mid-January.  In fact, Tag Alder was in bloom and maple was getting close.  The roads were a bit muddy from the previous day’s rain, which made getting through one spot a little exciting.  Our first stop was at the observation tower on the south side of the lake.  The majority of the waterfowl was tucked way up in the west corner of the lake and was too far away even with scopes.  A handful of duck species were visible from the tower, including American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, and Ruddy Duck.

We had permission to walk into a closed area near the west end of the lake and headed there.  On the walk out to the lake edge we added a few land birds, and several Wood Ducks flushed out of the canal as we walked out.  Bruce also found a leaf of a Swamp Cottonwood, though we couldn’t locate the tree.  We saw several piles of fairly fresh bear scat.  At this point I knew I was with folks who truly like every aspect of nature.  We examined the contents of the bear scat and tried to identify the different seeds.  Before the day was done, nearly everyone would stop and pick at a pile of bear scat.  Besides corn, the most dominant identifiable item, we think they had been feeding on Tupelo Gum, Smilax, and possibly bay berries.  At the lake’s edge we were able to look back into the western side of the lake and see probably all of the estimated 85,000 Snow Geese.  Large groups of Snow Geese would flush when a Bald Eagle would fly over, and the sight and sound were truly amazing.  As far as eagles go, any time we stopped during the day you couldn’t look up and not see one.  Earlier in the week I had been at Pungo very early in the a.m. and we were able to count at least 35 eagles that were perched in trees on the north side of the lake.  They are feeding on dead and injured waterfowl.  We got good looks at more waterfowl, Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, Ringed-neck Ducks, Shovelers, Gadwall, and a big flock of Ring-billed Gulls resting on the lake.

Other highlights included my favorite bird--a Merlin that Bruce Sorrie spotted feeding on what appeared to be a Red-winged Blackbird.  We all got good looks at it through scopes.  Next, a bittern that flushed out of a canal as we were watching huge flocks of blackbirds.  Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks were constantly spooking these birds.  The fluid, synchronized movements and flashing epaulets of the male Red-wing Blackbirds were mesmerizing.  We ended up on the north side of the lake, where we got stunning looks at eagles and saw lots of bear sign, but sadly, no bears.  Our total for birds was 61.  We had Nutria and deer, one group saw otters, and lots of sliders/cooters were seen.  Good wildlife, good company, and a long but very good day.  (Scott Hartley)

Stargazing 101 - January 12, 2008

The weather was great for our second attempt at stargazing.  About 16 members came and we talked about what stars actually are, their brightness, magnitude, light-years, and other basic astronomy terms.  Next we learned to orient ourselves by locating the North Star, locating and naming the brightest star in each of about 12 constellations, and learning how to connect or trace out the patterns/pictures they make in the sky.  This is challenging and takes practice.  Orion, the hunter--with his shield held out in front, the three stars of his belt, and the sword hanging from his belt--is fairly easy.  Seeing Andromeda, the “chained lady,” is harder.  We were able to see the Andromeda Nebula and Orion Nebula with binoculars.  The Andromeda Nebula, at 2.7 million light-years, (a light-year is the distance light travels in a year--about 6 trillion miles--you do the math; I don’t have enough fingers and toes!), is the most distant space object that the human eye can see without binoculars or scopes.  You need a very dark sky to see it with the naked eye.  Thanks to everyone who came out.  (Scott Hartley)

Pinehurst Greenway – October 6, 2007

The trip was led by Carol Bowman on a section of the Pinehurst Greenway Trail.  Seven of us started at the parking lot of the fitness center and walked eastward to US 15-501 and back, taking a couple of side trails en route.  The trail winds through a fair bit of longleaf pine, crosses several stream-heads, and along backyard shrub thickets.  One of the thickets had lots of wax myrtles which attracted a bunch of Cardinals and Robins.  A couple of bird feeders were also busy with Chickadees, Titmice, House Finches, and Nuthatches.

After a slow start, bird activity was generally good.  Brown thrashers and Towhees were common in shrubby stream-heads and eventually gave us good looks.  We noted few signs of migration.  For example, no White-throated Sparrows, no Juncos, no Kinglets, but we did have close looks at two Redstarts.  One or two Red-breasted Nuthatches were heard briefly.  The most unusual bird was an immature Red-tailed Hawk which hunted out in the open near a parking deck.  Twice it sailed down and pounced in the grass but missed its prey (presumably mice or voles).  This same bird later allowed even closer approach as it perched in a tree; see photo at the SNHS website. 

Botanically, we got to see three kinds of pines (loblolly, longleaf, and pond) and a number of shrub species, including a possum haw heavily laden with ripening fruit.  Goldenrods and several asters bloomed in stream-head openings, but this year’s extreme drought has put a strain on plants and we saw very few wildflowers in the uplands. Submitted by Bruce Sorrie.

Pilot Mountain State Park – September 22, 2007

On Sept. 22, nine SNHS members carpooled to Pilot Mountain State Park, NC to observe the annual count of southbound migrating raptors.  We arrived early to walk the Big Pinnacle trail to look for migrating warblers where we saw seven species including Blackburnian and Bay-breasted.  From the trail we also were able to compare soaring Ravens overhead with Turkey and Black Vultures.  We then spent several hours on Little Pinnacle Overlook where the raptor count is conducted by the Forsyth Audubon Society.  Migrating raptors follow mountain ridges and rivers on their migration and at Pilot Mountain they can be observed flying overhead and occasionally at eye level between Little and Big Pinnacle Overlooks.  The official days’ count was 66 raptors, a slow day that began with fog.  However our group was treated to sightings of 11 raptor species as they winged their way toward their wintering grounds.  While on the pinnacle we also observed  Red-Spotted Purple and Monarch butterflies on their migration and Chimney Swifts passing so close we could hear the “rush” of their wings! Submitted by Carol Bowman.

Calloway Tract – September 15, 2007

On the morning of September 15, several members of the SNHS attended the dedication ceremony for the Calloway Community Nature Park, a 15 acre portion of the 2700 acre Calloway Forest owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC took over management of the property from the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) who purchased the property in for 5.3 million dollars in September of 2001 as a mitigation land for RCW habitat taken in highway building projects near Fayetteville. The prior owner of the Calloway Tract farmed much of it for pine straw. This owner in turn purchased the Calloway Tract from the Calloway family.

TNC provided for a sightseeing tour of the Calloway Tract.  Seating was over straw bales in a pick-up truck and a tractor-pulled hay wagon.  Much of the tract was in even-aged longleaf pine.  Previous herbicide use to control under-story growth for pine straw farming led to the present scarcity of under -story plant species except for wiregrass.  Bird species observed were sparse as well.  These species included Red-shouldered Hawk, Turkey Vulture, American Crow, Fish Crow, and Brown-headed Nuthatch.  There was also an interesting geologic observation.  Concentrations of sandstone boulders provided evidence of the Orangeburg Scarp which separates the coastal plain-derived Cape Fear Formation from the overlying piedmont-derived Middendorf Formation.

The Calloway Tract and nearby Raft Swamp Farms have the potential for a greater observation of fauna and flora during future SNHS fieldtrips. Submitted by David McCloy.

Swift Night Out - September 8, 2007

On September 8, Scott Hartley led a group of almost forty naturalists and birdwatchers to Aberdeen Elementary School in order to watch a great spectacle of nature-migrating Chimney Swifts coming in to roost.  We arrived at the school in the evening about a half hour before dusk, only to witness still, clear, bird-free skies.  Before long though, a few swifts began to trickle in and circle above the school’s chimney.  In the next thirty or so minutes we all were privileged to observe hundreds of swifts come in and join the already-circling birds above the chimney.  Then, uncertainly at first, a few swifts began to drop into the chimney, doing a full body twist in order to enter feet-first, to make roosting on the completely vertical surface easier.  Following the lead of those few brave souls, the remainder of the circling flock dove into the chimney, scrambling for the best positions left in the roost.  Final estimates for the number of birds varied widely, but a number around 2000 was agreed upon for the official consensus.  I would love to see these guys emerging from the roost in the morning- it must be just as spectacular! Submitted by Michael McCloy.

Stedman Sod Farm – Mud, Sweat, and Killdeers -  August 25, 2007

The Sandhills Natural History Society, represented by Carol Bowman, David and Michael McCloy, Vim van Eck and me, went to the Stedman Sod Farm in Stedman, NC to look for shorebirds.  Unfortunately, after a record drought, there was no water in the fields, so we saw no shorebirds but the Killdeer.  However, I did see my first Horned Lark in the field before the bridge, and later, we saw 12 more in the field further back in the property.  Its yellowish throat and face markings stood out so clearly, but no one saw any horns.  We also had good sightings of the American Kestrel, first of an adult male perched on a bush in the distance, then a female on the wire.  Both male and female Blue Grosbeaks were flitting about and singing in the field next to the road.  We saw a huge murder of Fish Crows, about sixty strong, which flew to the tops of the trees at the edge of the field.  A Red-bellied Woodpecker could be heard a couple of times coming from that same patch of woods, and we also heard a Great Crested Flycatcher.  A Carolina Wren was alternating between call and song in the same field as the Grosbeaks, only much closer, and later that day a White-eyed Vireo sounded off.  And, of course, there were the Mourning Doves and Killdeers, both flying overhead and perching on the ground.  But there were no raptor sightings (other than the Kestrel) until the inevitable Turkey Vulture.

In the butterfly department, we fared much better.  There were multiple sightings of the Sleepy Orange, the Cloudless Sulphur, the Palamedes Swallowtail, enormous Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, the Monarch, the Red Admiral, the Viceroy, and one lone Variegated Fritillary.  The first Sleepy Orange we saw was perched on a blade of grass, from which Michael was able to pluck him.  Michael put him on his finger so we could get a good look at the inner wings.  We figured he was sluggish from having just emerged from the chrysalis.  There were also quite a few dragonflies, the most prevalent among them the Common Whitetail, and we saw at least three pairs of dragonflies mating in midair.  There were also lots of Eastern Amberwings and a few eastern Pondhawks.  Michael picked up a mud turtle hanging out in the muck at the bottom of a ditch.  Unfortunately, I don’t know my wildflowers as well as I know my birds, but the standout flowers that day were the pink, white, and yellow rhexia, and orange milkwort. Submitted by Patrick Shaffner.

Cape Fear Kites and Beyond - July 21, 2007

A group of ten or so drowsy SNHS members left Wally World bright and early for a day of chasing kites and other feathered critters through the Coastal Plain of NC.  First stop was the Oakland Plantation sod farm in where killdeer were the most popular species seen.  We also saw a small flock of wild turkey crossing the road in roughly the same place as last year.  The group did get close looks at both male and female Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies.

Next we headed to Lock and Dam #2 On the Cape Fear River.  No kites were seen this year, but there is always next year!

Our third stop took us to Sunset Beach in search of wood storks.  As soon as the group parked, there were numerous large black and white birds in the trees around the Twin Lakes.  The group got good looks at Wood Storks, Common Moorhen, Great Egrets, and a few alligators.  All that was missing from the previous year’s trip was the Roseate Spoonbill.

Lake Waccamaw State Park was our last stop on the whirlwind tour of the coastal plain.  We had hoped to catch the tail end of Susan Campbell’s hummingbird banding demo, but just missed her.  It was pretty quiet birdwise, so we walked a half mile to see the native venus fly traps.  It was a warm walk, but worth the trip.  A few folks stayed behind, after most of the group left for home, to look in the canals around the Lake for basking alligators.  We got several good looks and photo opportunities of the reptiles.

All told we saw or heard 61 species of birds, several dragonfly species and four living reptiles. Submitted by Brady Beck.

Weymouth Woods 11th Annual Butterfly Count – June 9, 2007

Have you ever wondered how to tell the difference among the King’s hairstreak, Edwards’ hairstreak, gray hairstreak, banded hairstreak, and coral hairstreak butterflies? What does all of this have to do with New Jersey tea, a plant that was in bloom on June 9? What about the difference between the attenuated bluet and turquoise bluet damselflies or between the blue dasher and slaty skimmer dragonflies? When was the last time that you saw a blister beetle, an eastern hognose snake, or heard a Bachman’s sparrow?

Thirteen butterfly enthusiasts spent the morning of June 9 at Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve observing butterflies as part of an official North American Butterfly Association tally for that day. However, their interests weren’t limited only to butterflies. As illustrated above, odonates, other insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and plants were also greatly enjoyed by the participants. Submitted by David McCloy.

Blue Ridge Parkway Birds, Blooms, and Bugs – May 26, 2007

It is becoming a tradition for SNHS to make a May pilgrimage to northwestern North Carolina along a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This year the portion extended from Deep Gap south to Linville Falls. Trout Lake at Moses Cone Memorial Park, Julian Price Memorial Park, and Lynn Cove Viaduct were visited in between. There were four SNHS participants with Scott Hartley as the leader.

We tallied 67 bird species on the trip. Especially noteworthy were good looks at a singing alder flycatcher, a soaring juvenile bald eagle, old-time-named fire-throats or torch-birds (Blackburnian warblers), and two wild turkeys as well as a chorus of two or three veeries. This trip also provided a good opportunity to identify bird songs and calls, especially among the 12 warbler species that were seen and/or heard.

Several of the plant species we observed were an Angelica, a variety of daisy fleabane, a dogbane, false Solomon’s seal, elephant’s foot, fireweed, flaming azalea, golden ragwort, hay-scented fern, jack-in-the-pulpit, jewelweed, a lily (Clintonia sp.), a parsnip, rue anenome, Solomon’s seal, spicebush, a spiderwort, a Trillium, Turk’s cap lily, wild Geranium, and wild yam.

The butterfly species we observed were Appalachian tiger swallowtail, clouded sulfur, eastern tailed-blue, pearl crescent, and silver-spotted skipper. A stream channel at Moses Cone Memorial Park with partially flowing water provided the opportunity for us to overturn rocks. We discovered crayfish, crane fly larvae, mayfly larvae, an unidentified species of salamander, southern pygmy clubtail (a dragonfly), and stoneflies.

Needless to say, SNHS will be back again next year, if not at these locations, then elsewhere in the North Carolina Mountains. Submitted by David McCloy.

Beidler Forest – April 14, 2007

If you ever wanted to study the differences among banded water snakes, brown water snakes, cottonmouths, and redbelly water snakes from the safety of a boardwalk, Francis Beidler Forest/Four Holes Swamp in Dorchester Co., SC is the place to go. It is also a good place to observe differences among eastern mud turtles, eastern musk turtles, “Florida cooters,”, striped mud turtles, and yellow-bellied sliders.

Thirteen individuals from SNHS, including the co-leaders, Jeff Beane and Todd Pusser, marveled at the beauty and species diversity of the area. Prothonotary warblers especially were easily seen and heard along with hooded warblers, northern parulas, pine warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, and yellow-throated warblers. A total of 54 bird species were tallied. Atamasco lily and jack-in-the-pulpit were in bloom. Spruce pine was a new species for many individuals. Of special note at an open pond were the American alligator and bowfin and chain pickerel fishes.

No doubt SNHS will be doing a return trip next year. Submitted by David McCloy.

Soil Identification - November 11, 2006

Soils are a basis for the study of plant and animal communities. On Saturday morning, November 11, 2006, Jeff Beane, Brady & Karen Beck, Bruce Sorrie, David & Michael McCloy, and Ranger Kim evaluated soils as an ecological component at the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve (WWSNP). The first stop (near the Pine Island Trail) was a dug exposure of a soil profile on a sideslope. Consideration was given to various soil properties as well as to different landscape positions. The remainder of the field trip was spent observing (by means of a soil auger) the five soil series that are mapped at WWSNP. We saw the Ailey, Bibb, Candor, Gilead, and Vaucluse soil series, discussed their classification, and learned how to distinguish among them. In addition, birds and plants were observed as illustrated by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Northern Flicker near the soil profile and Winterberry along a stream. Submitted by David McCloy.

Coastal South Carolina - October 20-22, 2006.

Cassie Willis, Carol Bowman, and David and Michael McCloy teamed up for an extended weekend of birding along the South Carolina coast from October 20-22, 2006. Our first stop was Huntington Beach State Park, a well-known birding locale just south of Myrtle Beach on Highway 17. Along the causeway, we were immediately greeted by a very photogenic flock of around 125 Wood Storks, mostly juveniles, and several American Alligators. Some other birds seen along the causeway included Osprey, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, and Little Blue Heron. We then proceeded to hike out to the jetty, where we were disappointed to find no more than several Willets and Ruddy Turnstones.

That evening we stopped at a local birding hotspot in Mount Pleasant, known as the Pitt Street Causeway or Pitt Street Bridge. We ended up stopping there three times over the course of the weekend, and turned up numerous Clapper Rails, Seaside Sparrows, Great Egrets, and a Cooper’s Hawk, along with the ever-present Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, etc. At high tide, a flock of shorebirds flew in to a nearby sandbar, and included numerous Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, American Oystercatchers, and Marbled Godwits. We also had the opportunity to witness several Black-crowned Night-herons fly over the marsh over the course of our three visits.

On Saturday, October 21, we decided to take the ferry out to Bull Island, a popular birding spot that is part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The two knowledgeable tour guides in charge of the ferry accompanied us for several hours in the morning, showing us some of the island’s birding hotspots. While we were with them, we were lucky enough to find a beautiful Roseate Spoonbill sitting in the top of a dead tree in full view not 30 feet from us. We marveled at this spectacular sight for approximately half an hour before we moved on. Several ponds on the island held large flocks of shorebirds, waders, and ducks, including Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser and a single Greater Yellowlegs, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, American Black Duck, Blue-winged Teal, and oddly enough, a very early Redhead. American Alligators were also abundant on the island; we even saw several babies!

Sunday was spent at Caw Caw Interpretive Center, an educational facility that has several flooded impoundments providing great habitat for sparrows, wrens, ducks, and waders. Some interesting birds seen at Caw Caw included Winter Wren, Osprey, Wood Stork, Anhinga, and several large mixed flocks of wintering passerines, among many others.

Our grand total for the weekend was 98 species of birds with insect life being relatively slow. Herp life was slow as well, with a Rat Snake and probable Black Racer being the only creatures of interest. Submitted by Michael McCloy.

Pinehurst Greenway - September 9, 2006

On September 9, 2006 a group of 14 birders/hikers/naturalists assembled for a familiarization trek on the Pinehurst Greenway, an area recently developed to focus on and preserve the natural habitat in Pinehurst. We started at the Arboretum entrance on Magnolia Rd., hiked thru Wicker Park, crossed Hwy. 211 to the trail behind the First Health Fitness Center, over the wetland footbridges and continued on the trail skirting Village Acres subdivision, approximately 4 miles roundtrip. The group saw/heard 25 species of birds, observed the native plant specimens along the trail that have been identified with signage and found numerous spiders/webs, dragon and damselflies and had excellent observations of several Phanton Crane Flys in one of the wet areas. Check out this website for a treat in spider web building: www.conservation.unibas.ch/team/zschokke/movie.html. Submitted by Carol Bowman.

Sandhills Turf Farm - August 19, 2006

On Saturday, August 19, 2006 Brady Beck, Carol Bowman, Linda Jones, David & Nancy Kilpatrick, David McCloy, Kaye Swafford, George Thompson & friend Thelma, and Pru Williams braved a heavy early morning fog to bird an area which potentially can have many fall migrant shorebirds. At 7:00 a.m. visibility was very poor in the open turf fields. It was decided, until the fog lifted, to search for passerines in the smaller fields along a service road/driveway and at a small pond. This area was on the west side of the property. Shortly before 9:00 a.m. the fog began to lift so that in a short time visibility became quite good. The open turf field immediately to the east of the office and maintenance buildings was searched at first and gave the best results. Near a small wet spot in the field three Horned Lark and a Pectoral Sandpiper were spotted as well as very prevalent Killdeer and European Starlings. Afterwards the remaining turf fields were searched. The trip ended with a search of a brushy area at the rear or north end of the turf fields.

The following is a list of the bird species seen/heard: Great Blue Heron 1, Red-tailed Hawk 2, American Kestrel 1, Northern Bobwhite 1, Killdeer 55, Pectoral Sandpiper 1, Mourning Dove 6, Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1, Red-bellied Woodpecker 1, Downy Woodpecker 1, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Eastern Wood-Pewee 4, Eastern Phoebe 1, Eastern Kingbird 1, Horned Lark 3, Blue Jay 2, American Crow 5, Fish Crow 3, Carolina Chickadee 2, Brown-headed Nuthatch 5, Carolina Wren 6, Eastern Bluebird 10, Northern Mockingbird 1, European Starling 130, Red-eyed Vireo 1, Pine Warbler 11, Northern Cardinal 2, Blue Grosbeak 3, Indigo Bunting 1, Eastern Towhee 2, Chipping Sparrow 20, Field Sparrow 6, and American Goldfinch 15. In addition, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Variegated Fritillary, Common Buckeye, and Monarch butterflies, a Six-lined Racerunner, and Halloween Pennant and Common Whitetail dragonflies were seen. Submitted by David McCloy.

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