By John Little
Starting this fall, Wake Audubon will initiate its own “Lights Out” program to help prevent the needless deaths of migrating birds. It’s well known that millions upon millions of avian migrants are nocturnal travelers. These night flyers who navigate by the moon and stars encounter barriers to their destinations in the form of well lighted buildings in urban areas. The birds become confused by the artificial light and crash into buildings causing senseless carnage. Raleigh is an unlikely exception which is where Wake Audubon’s “Lights Out” program will come into play. Volunteers are needed to survey a predetermined route in downtown Raleigh looking for dead and injured birds, collecting those poor creatures for delivery to the Natural Science Museum, and recording the findings. When sufficient data are collected, meetings will be arranged with building owners and city officials to gain their support in reducing the number of artificially lighted buildings. In cities where this has been done, the night time death rate has been reduced by as much 80 per cent. Probably more important to the building owners, their energy costs have been significantly reduced. The 2013 fall campaign will take place between 15 September and 15 November.
So, what is needed? Wake Audubon, like the Marines, is looking for a few good women and men–around fourteen–to conduct daily early morning surveys in teams of two. Maps will be provided to show the route and identify the major buildings to examine. The first training session will be conducted at 6:30 AM, Sunday, 8 September in front of the Wells Fargo Building on Fayetteville Street. Winston-Salem ornithologist Kim Brand who has spearheaded that city’s Lights Out program will lead the session. This is one of the most important conservation undertakings Wake Audubon has ever engaged. It’s success totally depends on a strong voluntary response. If you can and are willing to help, please notify John Little (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lena Gallitano (email@example.com.) Remember the training date will be 8 September at 6:30 AM in front of the Wells Fargo Building on Fayetteville Street.
By John Gerwin
I have loved the song of the Gray Tree Frog for as many years as I can remember. And I have been not-so-secretly envious of our neighbors up the street, who have had 2-3 of them in their front yard for all the years we’ve lived here. But that was it for our neighborhood. Just a few frogs in their front yard, singing gloriously in weather like this year, but none elsewhere. I was whining about this to Jesse one day and he said “Not a problem! I have 100’s of tadpoles. I’ll bring you some, and you can raise and release them.” And so he did, and so I did. It wasn’t difficult, as I had a few extra rain barrels, and all I had to do was toss some “fish food” into the water once or twice/day. And so one of the barrels became the tree frog nursery. By August, there were ~100 teenager frogs heading out into the world on their own. I was amazed when two days later I found a Garter Snake alongside the small pond we have by our front porch, which is where I had placed a few dozen of these youngsters. How do they know?
Over the ensuing two years, the gray tree frogs, and their namesake, expanded. The species has been thought of as two species for a long time – frogologists have known of vocal and chromosomal differences for many years – and those in the know, well, knew. Other than voice or genes, the two species are indistinguishable. But it seems only recently that all this has been formalized, and the rest of us now know “ours” as the Cope’s Gray Tree Frog.
We began hearing several individuals along the edge of our neighborhood lake last year. And this year, many more – sometimes I can hear six individuals calling at once. And, this year, we finally had some in our front yard. I was able to get a variety of pictures, and one decent video/audio of one singing away below my home office window.
This is clearly a great year to be a frog, and each night that we walk the dog, we are finding up to 5 species of frogs. And to our delight, these include both Cope’s Gray and Green tree frogs – we have found (and moved) at least 4 gray’s this year (vs. one in the previous 8 years). The Cope’s have a nice splash of yellow (or orange) in the groin area, which is, as you might expect, a bit tough to see unless you pry open some frog legs. Which is precisely what I did the other night, to get some pictures. I was quite elated to get these images and just to be fondling another tree frog – they will often sit perched on my finger while I admire them. After finishing my frog groin exposé, I went inside to get ready for bed, which included removing my contacts. It was very soon thereafter that I was reminded that these tree frogs have a potent little, mucous-membrane irritating skin toxin – their way of saying “Hey, we hardly know each other!” “Mucous-membrane” would include the eyes; and boy did they burn for a while (about an hour). All I could do was keep rinsing with cold water, and wait (oh, and complain vociferously).
I have found surprisingly little info reported on the Internet about the toxin itself. Indeed, via a “frog forum” where a few folks wrote in to describe their own membranous experiences, one person posted a link to a research poster from 2011 that claims to be a report of the first chemical characterization of the peptide contained within the skin secretion. That peptide is the main culprit. I found this intriguing to say the least. There is so much for us to learn…….. Which could include listening to what your Mother told you – “please wash your hands before you…….”
I have included 4 images. There are a few more, which you can view at this link:
The link will take you to my Dropbox account where I have set up a folder for this blog. Included is the R-rated “thigh” shot (not to be missed….). I’ve also included a video with audio of a gray tree frog singing on one of our tables out front. This individual, also in some of the images, appears to be missing one (the left) eye. The video is ~50 seconds. The filesize is large at 25MB so can’t be attached!
We found, and I promptly fondled, another Gray TFrg tonight while walking the dog. Just sitting in the intersection of Melbourne/Ravenwood/Grove. I must say, the really blend in well with the asphalt. I moved it……. to the side of a tree of course.
The NC Wildlife Federation has chosen Jeff Beane as its 2012 Wildlife Conservationist of the Year. Jeff Beane is Wake Audubon Society’s Vice President and is a hero of North Carolina conservation.
“The Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards Program, sponsored by the NC Wildlife Federation and now in its 50th Year, honors those individuals, governmental bodies, associations and others who have exhibited an unwavering commitment to conservation in North Carolina.”
Jeff has terrific expertise in the amphibians and reptiles of North Carolina, in particular their natural history and conservation. He serves as an important resource to numerous councils, committees, and government agencies that deal with the natural heritage of North Carolina, as well as to members of the public. He is the lead author on the 2010 guide Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia (UNC Press), has published numerous scientific papers on the natural history of amphibians and reptiles in North Carolina, and is a regular contributor to many popular publications, in particular the magazine Wildlife in North Carolina.
Jeff’s award will be presented to him at the NC Wildlife Federation’s Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards Banquet on Saturday evening, September 7th.
Congratulations to Jeff on his very well-deserved award!
By John Gerwin
I love serendipity, especially when it involves nature. One of my former field technicians, who worked for me for four different seasons, still lives and works in Raleigh (and pet sits for us now and then). Sarah and Kathy are in a book club together, and Kathy had asked her if she would help pull some ivy vines. So the other day, Sarah drove over very early in the morning, and was rather excited as she came in, exclaiming “Come see this adorable moth on my car!” So we did, and indeed, it was adorable, and then some. Adorable is a good word because this moth was clinging to a door, her car door, and had done so while Sarah drove from her house near Cameron Village to ours. Sarah proudly announced: “I drove really slow so it wouldn’t get blown off.” Now, that’s a good field tech! (But can you imagine the look from a police officer when hearing THAT explanation…..?).
When a moth, (or butterfly), emerges from its pupa and gets it wings stretched and ready, the animal is “fresh” and looks its best. Over time, scales will be scraped off, the wing edges become a bit tattered, perhaps a bird has taken a chunk of wing out, and such an individual looks rather ‘weathered’. The moth on Sarah’s car door had clearly emerged recently, as it looked spectacular.
The images show an Oakworm Moth, a fairly common “species.” This individual is a female (and the “head” shot reminds me of something from Alice in Wonderland). Upon checking a couple good Internet sources, I found there is some intriguing uncertainty about what we call the taxonomy, and “relatedness,” of this and other similar species. As we develop more sophisticated tools to study nature, and how species have evolved, our idea of what constitutes a “species” has evolved as well.
I couldn’t quite tell how many species of “oakworm” moths are in our area, but it looked like 3. They are in the genus Anisota. The one pictured appears to be the Spiny Oakworm type. I conferred with 1 entomologist with the Natural Heritage program, and this is the species he thinks it is. He also relayed that this species prefers a drier oak-hickory forest, which would include Post Oak. Post Oak is a common oak around Raleigh, at least in Avent West and nearby neighborhoods.
Oakworm Moth larvae feed on a variety of oak species. Adults are seen in our area primarily from late June through August. An interesting behavior is that other Oakworm males fly during the day; whereas the Spiny will fly at night, and thus is generally the only Oakworm that is attracted to lights. Females will fly day or night but are often seen during the day, when mating typically occurs. Another interesting tidbit is that this moth is also a “silkworm moth.” So, it is related to the Luna, Cecropia and Polyphemus moths; and helps explain the “no mouth” look – indeed, it has no mouth parts for feeding. Silkworm moths do not feed as adults. As adults, they live about a week during which time they mate, the females lay eggs, and that’s it.
THIS JUST IN! Gerwin found a larva getting ready to pupate…cool, huh?
By Vanessa and Olivia Merritt (Young Naturalists)
On Saturday, June 1st, John Gerwin took some members of various NC Audubon chapters, as well as a few Young Naturalists from Wake Audubon, to bird band at Prairie Ridge Ecostation. It was about 7:30am, because birds are most active in the early morning. Earlier that morning, many nets had been set up and opened by Keith Jensen, a research technician with the Museum of Natural Sciences. The nets are like volleyball nets, with very small holes and made of fine material. Two groups went out to check the nets, in different areas, during the morning hours. Olivia and I, as well as the other Young Naturalists went with John so that he could teach us how to take the birds out of the nets. Since it was windy, the birds could see the nets more easily than usual, and we only got a few birds on the last net we checked that first round. We got a few goldfinches, and two juvenile starlings. The first step to get birds out of the net is the feet. One male goldfinch didn’t struggle, but it was difficult to get the fine strings untangled with the claws. This starling’s feet were very strong, but once getting the hind claw free, the grip loosened. Next is the tail, wings, and head. Each case varies, but the tail and head are usually the easiest to get free. The wings are harder, because if the bird struggles, the wing’s individual feathers get more tangled. After the bird is out of the net, he/she is put into a cloth bag to be taken to the banding station.
Juvenile Starling caught in the net
John Gerwin showing the young naturalists how to untangle the bird’s feet
Female goldfinch being taken out of the net. She was already banded; that’s important because we can see how she has changed since the last time she was caught. Recaptures are vital, because scientists can find out more information pertaining to the species.
At the banding station, more goes on than just the banding. We have to weigh, measure wing length, check body fat, brood patch (bird may be breeding), cloacal protuberance (to check the breeding status), age, sex, and molt.
A male goldfinch’s wing being measured by Olivia Merritt. To measure the true length, we do not spread the wing open, but instead gently place the slightly open wing on the ruler without any pressure.
A female goldfinch being inspected, while the scribe in the back writes down the bird’s band number, weight, sex, etc.
A male goldfinch being banded.
A male goldfinch being checked for molt and fat on the stomach (we blow through a straw to part the feathers).
Juvenile bluebird actually getting weighed.
An orchard oriole having its wing measured.
The orchard oriole getting weighed.
A huge Comet Darner dragonfly that was caught in the net (we didn’t have small enough bands to band it, though!).
This was a wonderful experience for both young naturalists and Audubon members. Everyone was so nice, and we had a lot of fun!
Going to the Uwharrie Mountains was a really interesting time for me. I learned how to identify toads and insects that I had never heard of before. The best part was when we were at the river trying to catch the salamanders. I thought it was really funny when the stag beetle pinched one of the campers fingers! I was not expecting to find him in the bathroom!
I had an amazing time at the Uwharrie Mountains. I learned so much and was actually able to see up close willy worms, cricket frogs, baby toads, the toebiter, a hog-nose snake, scarlet tanager, crayfish, salamanders, and all sorts of mushrooms. The Uhwarrie Mountains has been the best trip so far this summer.
By Brandt (Wake Audubon Young Naturalist since 2010)
Participation in the Young Naturalists Club’s outings has given me some of the best adventures of my life. Take the last excursion, for example. We went on an over-night trip to explore and camp in the Uwharrie National Forest, an ancient and almost mystical place in the center of our state. Mr. Gerwin and Mr. Sean were our intrepid leaders. Their knowledge about every living thing we encountered was amazing. My favorite discovery on the trail was the purple coral fungus, clavaria zollingeri:
Isn’t it cool? I read that it grows in coniferous areas all across Canada and southward in mountain areas. So that’s why we found it in the Uwharrie’s.
At a stream on our first hike, Lily, The Fearless, and Sean showed me proper crayfish holding technique. It was the first time I ever held a crayfish. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Crayfish was a good size for a beginner – not big enough to pinch hard:
Camping was fun. We enjoyed roasted marshmallows over the campfire. One of my marshmallows turned into a chemistry experiment as it reduced itself to a black mass of carbon – I guess I toasted it a little TOO long. We were all tired out from the day, but it was hard to get to sleep because some of the neighbors were pretty noisy until late at night. Around 5 am we had a surprise visitor. A whip-poor-will flew right into our campsite and landed on the picnic bench! He gave a rousing serenade before flying off again. He must have received word that we were all disappointed about not hearing any Nightjars during the YNC Nightjar Survey at Jordan Lake. He made up for that!
On Day 2 of our trip, we visited the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area. That’s a nice unspoiled area; a place where you can escape the crazy, noisy, hustle and bustle of modern life. We saw a great specimen of a Hognose Snake:
Even in these mountains, it was getting hot and sticky by the end of the trail. We all felt like Roger, the guide dog puppy, and wanted to cool off in the stream:
The one thing I would have liked to have missed on the trip were the chiggers. I’m still itching! The whole idea that a mite too small to see can unleash enzymes that turn parts of me into its personal protein smoothie is just gross. Dealing with the leftovers of its stylostome “straw” in one’s skin is maddening, to say the least. Next time, I’ll be ready with more bug defenses.
I’m looking forward to the next YNC outing to Grandfather Mountain. I love the Boone area. See you there!
(The Wake Audubon Young Naturalist Club offers youth ages 12-18 opportunities to explore nature together. Monthly outings include environmental service projects, local bird walks and full-day adventures from the mountains to the coast.)
by Angie DeLozier
Birding with my niece, on The Point of the Outer Banks many years ago, she gave me some advice that has resulted in many pleasant discoveries while birding. “When you look at a flock of gulls, terns or whatever, don’t forget to look over their legs, you might spot a stranger.”
This year I had the pleasure of attending a weekend 15th birthday party for the oldest grand daughter of one of my sisters in Puerto Rico. We spent the weekend in a beach house in the town of Aguada on the West Coast. One morning, some decided to go snorkeling, so we all headed north of town and found a lovely cove which was well attended by people, vendors and Magnificent Frigate Birds.
While enjoying the sun, surf and birding, I noticed a group of pelicans following a very tanned man wearing a wide straw hat and carrying a small bag of treats, which he would give one or another of these pelicans on their return from following his whistles and hand signals to fly out to different perches around the cove.
As they got closer to where I was sitting, I remembered my niece’s advice and began scanning the legs of this group of 12 to 16 pelicans. To my surprise, I could see some blue specks within the tan ones, so I continued t0 focus until they were close enough for me to see there were actually two Blue Footed Booby birds in the group!
I had never seen anyone feeding/rewarding pelicans on a beach and never imagined you could do it to a Booby bird. Now what we did realize was that the pelicans would follow the commands of this man, but the Booby birds did not and still got rewarded! They finally passed our area and continued to the end of the cove. We left with a sense of satisfaction and feelings of wonder and awe.
So, if you are up for an enjoyable experience, and are in Puerto Rico anytime, make time to drive over there to experience this delightful circus show during the months of wintertime. The Magnificent Frigate Birds were so low you did not need binoculars to watch and we assumed that this man must do this often enough that he has a large following in the bird world.
Wake Audubon has awesome members; we know that. It is great to see them recognized at the state level for the wonderful work that they do.
John Connors received the Audubon NC Bird Lore Conservation Education Award
John recently retired from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences where he was a tireless advocate for environmental education (especially birds), for decades. In his role as the Coordinator of the Naturalist Center, John had the opportunity to conduct literally thousands of programs for probably tens of thousands of children and visitor’s over his career. He is perhaps most famous for his interpretation of the annual Ground Hog day ritual where we get to see John in coat and top hat making his predictions. He has also been very active and engaged with Wake Audubon for years including his current passion of the Chimney Swift tower project. He has helped Audubon North Carolina get our work in Nicaragua established through his work with Finca Esperanza Verde and the Sister Cities program. He continues to work for birds including helping with our Bird Friendly Communities (BFC) Implementation team. In fact he had only been officially retired a few days when he attended his first BFC meeting and jumped right in. This award was presented for John’s lifetime of bird education activities and for the years of programs to come.
Mark Johns received the Audubon NC Honorary Warden Award
Mark Johns has spent his career working with wildlife, birds, and habitat management. As North Carolina’s Partners in Flight Coordinator, Mark deftly worked to coordinate the various partners that make up the collaborative, including academic researchers, non-profits, and agency representatives. Mark left that position to go to the Town of Cary and serve as a program specialist at the Stevens Nature Center at Hemlock Bluffs. Mark’s easy-going manner, organizational skills, and sense of humor moved bird conservation forward in North Carolina by leaps and bounds. His work included helping establish the North Carolina Birding Trail, working for on-the-ground partnerships that included agreements with private industrial forest owners, helping with the Forest Land Bird Legacy Program and many other projects. He left those pursuits to go back to what he loved and that is working at a local park, doing habitat management work and working with kids. Mark exemplifies the commitment to stewardship that makes him an ideal Honorary Warden.
Wake Audubon was contacted by Maggie Yates from Rocky Nook Inc. to see if anyone from the group was interested in reviewing a new book on bird photography, suitably called “The Handbook of Bird Photography” by Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomaki and Bence Mate. Ms. Yates sought someone with an interest in both birding and bird photography, so Gerry Luginbuhl suggested that I review this book. I shopped around to see if someone with more photography skills than those that I possess was interested in reviewing this book, but I found no takers. Once Ms. Yates sent me a free copy, and now that I have read this book, I am glad that I had the opportunity.
The purported goal of this book is to provide practical general tips for photographing birds with an emphasis on specific tips associated with photographing specific classes of birds, such as waterfowl, birds of prey (including eagles, hawks and owls) and fast flying, small passerines. Irrespective of the practical recommendations provided in this book, these three photographers have included a set of amazing photographs. The evidence is in and their techniques are clearly quite successful. The interesting poses, the exceptional clarity and the well-planned composition were all quite impressive. Unfortunately for me, the equipment that these photographers use to achieve these results runs in the 10s of thousands of dollars, an investment that is difficult to justify unless you are trying to make it a profession. It was, however, interesting to see how wide a variety of lenses were used successfully to take photographs with quite different perspectives. Bird photography often focuses on huge and extremely costly telephoto lenses but in this book they demonstrated very effective and engaging use of wide-angle lenses. Many of the photos shown in this book were taken in blinds and this is a technique that has permitted these photographers to achieve some awesome pictures. I did find it quite encouraging that they were also successful with using a car as a blind, a technique that I have also used successfully. Living and birding in North Carolina, it was a bit challenging for me to relate to the snowy conditions highlighted by some of their owl photographs.
In conclusion, I believe that this book deserves a look, if for no other reason than it has some spectacular photographs of birds. It provides good advice concerning strategies for successful bird photography. This advice extends to suggestions for specific locations around the world, advice about what the camera settings should be employed to achieve certain effects, and it describes useful strategies to employ to achieve certain kinds of photographs. The authors of this book clearly know their trade and have been successful in it. The book also succeeds both as a visual feast and as an instruction manual. One cannot learn to be a photographer from this book, but it certainly provides insights that will make you a better bird photographer.