Every year, at some point between mid-April and mid-May, a few Wake Audubon members go wild. This is a result of the Wildathon—our version of National Audubon’s Birdathon. The event embodies what you’d expect from any sort of “-athon”—it’s an exercise in endurance. The purpose: To identify as many species as possible in a given time period, to raise money for various wildlife conservation projects, and to have fun and learn. Individuals or teams seek sponsors who pledge either a per-species amount or a flat donation. Wake Audubon doesn’t limit its efforts to birds—teams may count any species they choose, and may make and modify some of their own rules, as long as the rules are clear to the sponsors.
Wake Audubon began participating in this event in 2000. Every year since then, I and at least a few others have looked forward to this special day. Over the years, my team has included various combinations of David Cooper, Ed Corey, Bob Davis, John Finnegan, Stephanie Horton, Todd Pusser, and me. We’ve most often had four team members—sometimes as few as three or as many as five—more than that is too many for this type of event. We all have to get along well together for an entire day and night at full throttle. Some years we’ve had team members drop out or take a break after a long stretch, and we’ve been known to bring in subs from “off the bench.” Our first year’s effort lasted just 18 hours, but every year since then we’ve done a full 24, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just staying awake for 24 hours can be sufficiently difficult, but remaining intensely active, both mentally and physically, for that long, doing everything within reason to turn up just one more species before the time runs out (and it does go by mighty fast) is a real challenge—one we embrace each year. We named our team the “24-Hour Dream Team.” The “dream” part refers not to any illusions of greatness, but more to the late stages of the event, during which our exhaustion can bring on a certain dreamlike state that seems almost surreal. Usually our 24 hours extend over two different dates—i.e., we usually start early in the morning and end at the same time the next morning, although some years we have gone from midnight to midnight. Davis, Finnegan, Horton, and I formed the original Dream Team, sometimes joined by Pusser. In 2007, Ed Corey formed a team that also followed our 24-hour rules. Some years we have combined forces, and other years we’ve run separate teams. This year, our team will consist of Ed Corey, Bob Davis, John Finnegan, Stephanie Horton, and me. We will “run” our event over 5-6 May, beginning Saturday morning and ending Sunday morning. We plan to start at Carolina Beach and will probably end in the Sandhills, somewhere near Hoffman. Friday afternoon, we’ll head down to Carolina Beach, and will sleep in Bob Davis’ beach house that night. After time runs out Sunday morning we will retire to my Sandhills house near Hoffman for a few hours of recoverative sleep before heading back to Raleigh that afternoon.
Our team counts vertebrates (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals), primarily because we can reasonably identify most species in that group. We count every live or dead species that we can identify by sight or sound in 24 hours, anywhere in North Carolina. We count only wild, free-ranging native species or well-established exotics (e.g., House Sparrow, Red Fox, Rainbow Trout). We do not count domestic animals (like dogs, horses, or chickens) or captives (like parrots, aquarium fishes, etc.). Not every team member need see or hear a species for it to be counted, but identifications must be accepted by the entire team. Many other teams count only birds, but some may choose to count butterflies, plants, etc.—whatever the team chooses and is comfortable with. So far, we have limited our efforts to North Carolina, and have focused on the southeastern Coastal Plain and Sandhills regions, where the highest vertebrate diversity is to be found. Of our 12 Wildathons to date, our highest total was 217 vertebrate species, in 2011. Our lowest was 155, but that was our first year (2000), when we only spent 18 hours.
Wildathon proceeds support NC Audubon’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, local chapter projects, and two conservation and research initiatives of the North Carolina Herpetological Society (Project Bog Turtle and Project Simus, aimed at the Bog Turtle and Southern Hognose Snake, respectively, and their habitats). During these difficult economic times, we must work harder than ever to raise funds for these excellent causes.
And that’s where you come in. You can support the Wildathon by forming a team, or by counting birds or other species on your own, in whatever fashion you choose, and soliciting your own sponsors. Or, if marathon counts aren’t among your strong points, perhaps you will consider sponsoring or donating to one of our existing teams—those of us who go wild each year in support of Wake Audubon, and of the wild creatures and wild places we love.
To donate, to form your own team, or to receive more information, contact Jeff Beane (email@example.com), Ed Corey (firstname.lastname@example.org), John Gerwin (email@example.com), or Gerry Luginbuhl (firstname.lastname@example.org).
— Jeff Beane
One of my favorite spring wildflowers is the Little Brown Jug, or Arrow-leaved Heartleaf (Hexastylis arifolia). It’s also one of the most common wildflowers in the Raleigh area. You’ll see them growing in deciduous and mixed woodlands over much of Wake County and the surrounding area. What you generally see are the leaves, which are triangular in shape and somewhat fleshy, nestled in the leaf litter on the forest floor. For most of the year, the leaves have distinctive pale patches between the major veins. This time of year, when the new leaves are unfurling, you’ll see the pale blotches only on last year’s leaves. It takes a while before the new leaves develop their mature coloring. The leaf blades are two or three inches long, with a leafstalk that’s usually about six or eight inches long. The leafstalks lop down on the ground.
What you don’t usually see are the flowers, but they’re blooming this month. If you bend down, brush the fallen tree leaves away, and follow the leafstalks to the base of the Little Brown Jug plant, you’ll see the jugs, the flowers that give the plant its name: brown, vase-shaped, and about an inch long, with three pointed lobes at the mouth of each jug. Within those jugs, some of the most interesting facts about the plant’s life reside. The whole plant has a gingery odor, and this odor attracts fungus gnats, which crawl inside the flowers and pollinate them. Although the plants are self-fertile, they still need the gnats to transport the pollen from the anthers to the stigmas. After about a month and a half, seeds develop at the base of the jug. Each jug produces, on average, about twenty seeds, and each seed is about eight tenths of a millimeter long, hardly longer than a poppy seed. However, the plant now needs help from a different insect: ants. Like many forest wildflowers, the Little Brown Jug uses ants to disperse its seeds, and to entice the ants it produces a small, fat-rich appendage on each seed. The ants carry the seeds off, eat the appendages, and leave the rest of the seed near their nest.
The first year after the seeds sprout, only the cotyledons appear. During the second year a single leaf grows. It may take seven or eight years before a plant is ready to bloom. The plants are fully perennial, though, and can live for up to twenty years. Watch for them the next time you stroll through a forest here in the Triangle, and bend down to see if you can find the jugs.
Erik Thomas, Wake Audubon Board Member
It is hard to believe, living in Raleigh, NC, that when I was growing up the first time I saw a bluebird was as a college student in upstate NY, and what a thrill it was! What a joy to see the beautiful bright colors of what at the time, was a rare bird, and actually is the state bird of New York.
From the 1940’s until the 1970’s, bluebird populations were in decline, due to competition for nest sites from non-native house sparrows and starlings, as well as the use of DDT. Habitat loss increased as well, and outdoor cats were and continue to be a threat to bluebirds as well as other species. However, with the discontinuation of DDT spraying, and the establishment of bluebird trails and increasing use of nestboxes by individuals around the country, the beautiful birds have made a comeback.
If you are interested in seeing some unique birdhouses for bluebirds and other birds, be sure to come out to the 12th Annual Birdhouse Competition on Saturday and Sunday April 14-15 at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh.
Beth Gaffer, Wake Audubon Board Member
24-hour Grand Opening of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Research Center
Volunteers are needed to staff the Wake Audubon Society booth for the opening of the Nature Research Center, which is being held on April 20-21. The booth will focus on the chimney swift fundraising/education efforts. This booth will have both educational elements (faux chimney that opens up to show you a swift at a nest) as well as a fun game or two (chimney swift bean bag toss into a chimney, like the corn-hole game everyone is playing these days). We will have prizes, an educational activity packet designed by Annie Runyan for sale, etc. WAS will have a booth on Saturday, April 21 from 8 am-6 pm. The Museum expects 100,000 visitors at the NRC opening.
Prior to the event, WAS needs help on this event committee.
If you would like to help with the event and/or serve on the event committee, please contact Anita Kuehne at email@example.com
The new 80,000 square-foot wing of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will connect people to research by bringing scientists and their work into the public eye, helping demystify what can be an intimidating field of study, better prepare science educators and students, and inspire a new generation of young scientists.
The mission of the NRC is “Connecting People to Research.”
Early in August, my husband and I traveled to the old family homestead, which is located deep in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. It is a lovely getaway, with active trains passing by at different times of the day. We do a lot of birding up there during our stays and have seen some life birds there too. The “Big Deal” every morning/evening while you are there, is to go outside and wave at the passengers of the Amtrak coaches.
One morning, while drinking my cup of espresso on the front porch, we noticed these beautiful butterflies flying/landing on the railing. They were black/blue and marked very prettily. We watched them for over an hour and my husband took their picture. I have guessed that they were Dark Swallowtails. Then during lunchtime we noticed this other odd looking thing on the plants which I have been told was a Butterfly Moth. Again, my husband took its picture. Then during the afternoon, as we exit the stonecutter’s sales shop, my husband spotted this female Killdeer on a nest in his front yard. We did not want to disturb her but she surely made us aware she was not happy with him taking her picture!
Since that day, I now search for large & small butterflies everywhere we go. My new butterflies field guide is always with my birding guide. While outdoors enjoying nature, it is now more fun for us, with or without birds present. Guess I’ve been a little slow to catch on with butterflies, but I have added them to my birding walks. “You are never too old to learn something new and have fun at it”. Oh, Oh! I just saw a dragonfly!!!
It is an unfortunate consequence of human’s dominion over nature that sometimes wildlife is harmed. Luckily for us, we have some local resources that can help injured wildlife. It seems like I am always coming across some poor bird or other critter that is in obvious distress.
NC State Vet School’s Turtle Team will accept all injured herps (reptiles and amphibians). They are wonderful! They even let you release the animal back where you found it once it is healed. I once found a box turtle at Anderson Point Park (our Adopt-A-Park) with an aural swelling. I was leading a bird walk at the time-I am sure the participants thought I was crazy! I brought him to Turtle Hospital (at the NCSU Vet School Animal Emergency Clinic) and hoped he would be OK. Months later I get a call that he’s ready to go home! It was such a delight to pick him up and bring him back to Anderson Point Park. I watched as he wandered off towards the point and wished him luck.
Once I hit a toad with my bicycle and injured his eye. I brought him to the Turtle Team and time faded away. About a year later I get another call. Unbelievable, Genghis Toad was ready to go home. I’m not sure why he got that particular moniker (he was a small toad) but I thought it was pretty cute that he had been named. He had been living and recuperating with one of the vet students. He was blind in the injured eye but was a good eater so it was time to come home. I let him go in my backyard, just a short distance from where his injury had taken place.
Other animals can be taken to Triangle Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. I have brought them birds and bunnies. They will accept all native wildlife. They will also allow you to release the animal back where it was found which is vital for the animal’s success.
Some tips if you find an injured animal:
-Be very careful handling injured wildlife. You do not want to get bit!
-Do not offer food or water.
-Keep animal in a ventilated cardboard box in a warm, dark, quiet area away from children and pets.
-Please support the institution with a donation. I read once that it costs, on average, $40 to rehabilitate an injured animal, so I always write a check for $40 with each animal I bring to a rehabber.
One other very important thing to keep in mind is that many of the animals that are brought in to these clinics are injured by cats!! Please do your part to keep wildlife (and cats!) safe; keep your cat indoors!
NCSU Turtle Team: 919-513-6500
Triangle Wildlife: 919-544-3330
Thanks for doing your part to keep our wild animals safe and happy!—Kari Wouk, WAS Board Member
By Sean Higgins, Wake Audubon Board member
In April, 15 teens joined the Mysterious Carolina Bay Lakes excursion cosponsored by the Wake Audubon Young Naturalists and the Museum of Natural Sciences Junior Curators. Many people generously contributed resources, time and energy to make this a Spring Break to remember for these youth.
Lynn Cross has an absolutely amazing rapport with high school students (not to mention her expertise in the art of smores)! Big props to staff at Singletary Lake State Park and Lake Waccamaw State Park. Staff of both went way out of their way to accommodate our group and make us feel quite welcome… despite both parks having major events on the same days including a county-wide Environmental Field Day at Lake Waccamaw. Ranger Lane Garner gave a great overview of “What is a Carolina Bay?”, Superintendent Chris Helms guided us in a freshwater mussel survey, and I&E Specialist Brittany Whitaker guided night activities. We even had an impromptu live alligator program onboard the bus when N.C. Museum of Forestry educator Kellie Lewis flagged us down on the side of the road.
Who knows where Spring Break 2012 could take these groups? Bear Island? A river trip? Or will the groups brave the unpredictable spring weather in the mountains?
You are receiving this email because you play a valuable role in these programs, perhaps behind the scenes. Cheers to a new generation of conservationists!
Canoeing at Singletary Lake. With the fierce wind, we made it all the way around the lake in about 2 1/2 hours. Next time we’ll bring a catamaran.
Collecting and observing aquatic critters as the sun sets on Singletary Lake. You can almost hear the voice of Otis Redding through the trees.
Add Tidewater Fatmucket to your life list!
Don’t pick up hitchhikers… especially the crocodilian kind.
Log… log… log… whoa, there’s a gator!
by Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member
A talk that may be of interest to birders in the area is coming to the Museum of Natural Sciences. Legendary evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant present highlights of their life’s work on in a free program in the auditorium at 7 pm on April 11.
Peter Grant is professor emeritus of zoology, and Rosemary Grant is a retired senior research scholar, both in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton. In their dogged study of a population of birds popularly known as “Darwin’s finches,” the Grants have won renown for detecting and recording evolution in action, and proving and extending the theories of pioneering evolutionist Charles Darwin, work for which they were recently awarded the prestigious Kyoto Prize.
For much of the public, the work of the Grants first came to light in Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of their efforts, “The Beak of the Finch.” Published in 1994, the book detailed the couple’s arduous, yearly six-month stay in tents on Daphne Major, a desolate volcanic island 600 miles west of Ecuador. There, since 1973, they have undertaken what was described in Weiner’s book as one of the most intensive and valuable animal studies ever conducted in the wild.
“We choose a single group of related species for close scrutiny,” the Grants wrote, “and attempt to answer the following questions: Where did they come from, how did they diversify, what caused them to diversify as much as they did (and no more) and over what period of time did this happen?” What the Grants have shown through their relentless study and cataloging of 14 varieties of island finches is how beak size and shape evolve through natural selection within a dramatically changing environment, according to certain mechanisms and conditions.
This presentation is made possible through a partnership between the Museum, North Carolina State University’s WM Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent).
By Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member
Birdwatchers in North Carolina’s Piedmont should be on the lookout for the eminent return of Chimney Swifts from their wintering range in Amazon South America. Historically, Swifts nested in hollow snags across eastern North America but quickly took to residential chimneys as a replacement, from whence their common name is derived. The birds are actually quite nice to have around for homeowners as they feed on thousands of small and annoying flying insects per day.
Unfortunately, chimney caps and screens have become more prevalent as some homeowners either don’t want swifts nesting on their property or don’t understand that caps can have an effect on locally nesting swifts. But by taking a few steps you can easily encourage swifts to come to your own chimney where you can enjoy them all summer. And besides, you weren’t using your chimney in the heat anyway, were you?
Wake Audubon member Erla Beegle has put together some tips borne of experience; she fledged 3 chicks in her chimney last summer!
Chimney Swift Checklist:
– Do you have a suitable chimney? (brick inside – not slippery metal or porcelain, and a “cap” that can be easily removed. Any chimney eight feet or taller is high enough. )
– BEFORE YOU REMOVE THE CAP: Call a chimney cleaning company before late April and get the chimney cleaned out! (Dirty chimneys can lead to nest failure, as the nest can break off with a big flake of creosote when the babies get big)
– Get the metal lid (“cap”) off your chimney before late April (save the cap for the winter). The cleaning company might remove it for you for a small fee, or ask a contractor, if you do not want to climb onto the roof.
– Keep the flue CLOSED during the nesting season (just in case a baby swift has to climb back up.)
– Do NOT use the chimney during the nesting season (gas fireplace owners: put a sign on the switch so guests do not make that mistake! I put a sign on the flue handle for my wood-burning fireplace.)
– If you are lucky enough to have a pair of swifts in your chimney: Congratulations! You will hear peeping and chattering for several weeks (any time in May and June). This wonderful sound can be quite loud, and goes on from dawn to dusk. Turn up the radio and you won’t notice it. They are quiet once the sun goes down.
– There’s only one pair of swifts per chimney, and it will be their home all spring and summer. The parents and “kids” may roost in your chimney throughout the late summer, so keep the cap off until late fall.
– To keep your insurance company happy: re-attach the chimney cap in late fall before you start using the fireplace again. The cap prevents sparks from landing on the roof.
Thank you for opening your hearth to swifts!