Brief History of Wake Audubon Society

2021 Volunteer Awards

i Apr 20th No Comments by

Authored by Mary Abrams

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, we say “THANK YOU” to all of our volunteers! Of course, we are always grateful for everyone’s contributions, but it’s important to set aside time to crow about the folks who make Wake Audubon great.

This year, we kicked off our celebration early by announcing the first recipients of two special awards that Wake Audubon created to recognize extraordinary volunteers. These awards honor the legacy of two long-time leaders in our chapter, John Connors and Paulette Van de Zande. You can learn more about them and their contributions here (link to awards page).

Marti Kane is the inaugural recipient of the John Connors Conservation and Environmental Education Award. Marti is one of the most energetic, dedicated, and selfless volunteers we know. She has dedicated her life to conservation and education and readily shares her knowledge and love for birds with the community.

In 2020 alone, Marti took over caring for the Bluebird Trail at Wil-Mar Golf Course where she installed predator guards and repaired, replaced, or relocated many existing Bluebird boxes. Overall, she monitored 55 nest boxes between Wil-Mar, Mordecai Historic Park, Durant Nature Preserve, and Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve. Marti also volunteers with the American Wildlife Refuge cleaning cages and rescuing and transporting raptors. She enjoys educating others on how they too  can help birds and is a popular speaker with the Wake Audubon Education and Outreach Committee reaching communities across the county. Marti recently retired from a career in environmental education and conservation culminating as the Director of the Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park in Raleigh, but she’s still working as hard as ever!

Keith Jensen is the first recipient of the Paulette Van de Zande Volunteer Award. We selected Keith because he creates fellowship within the chapter and surrounding community through his hard work and love of birds.

A Research Technician at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Keith works with many organizations and connects people with birds through several outreach programs. He has served on the UNC Wilmington Painted Bunting Observer Team studying the decline of these colorful birds along our coast and banding birds with his brother. He has mentored WAS Young Naturalists and provided outdoor learning experiences for backyard bird lovers and underserved youth through the Smithsonian Neighborhood Nestwatch program. If you’ve been to a banding demonstration at Prairie Ridge, Keith was the early bird who prepared everything in advance and then shared that special experience with everyone there. Similarly, when we host in-person meetings, he covers all of the logistics including inviting our guests into the Nature Research Center. He is quite an artist too, and his carved Brown-headed Nuthatches and Chimney Swift display have raised community awareness across the Triangle of these declining species.

Please join us in thanking Marti and Keith for all that they do when you see them!

Photo credits: Marti Kane’s photo is by Anne Runyon. Keith Jensen’s photo provided by Keith Jensen.

Using nature to mitigate flooding in Downtown Raleigh development

i Mar 11th No Comments by

By Olivia Merritt, Undergraduate at North Carolina State University

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Many families are flocking to Raleigh from around the world making the City of Oaks the second fastest growing city in the United States. In order to account for its growing popularity, more infrastructure is needed to house and provide for future Raleighites.  One such project that was recently approved is Downtown South, located by the intersection of I-40 and South Saunders. This area surrounds the Walnut Creek floodplain raising environmental challenges including flooding, habitat destruction, and pollution. The developers have proposed many innovative circular designs to decrease flooding and preserve natural spaces but there is still room to improve.

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Downtown South is a large development project that was given the go-ahead by Raleigh’s City Council last month. The project will include a soccer stadium for the NC Courage pro soccer team and space for retail, apartments, hotels, and offices.  The area will be a very walkable and bike-friendly area, with “pocket parks” to preserve some natural space and provide residents green space for mental health. While these features make it a very appealing place for people to move and work, there are lingering ecological and social issues that need to be addressed.

Out of three large sections of the project, two fall within floodplains.  Floodplains are flat areas surrounding a river that are subject to frequent flooding making them a risky place for development.  The floodplains also house over 5,000 species of animals that could face death with unmitigated encroachment upon their territory.

Local environmental leaders have voiced their concern for this project while also praising some of the approaches taken by the developer, Kane Realty. Partners for Environmental Justice and the Wake Audubon Society expressed concern over stormwater management and the impact on the animal population. Two out of the three sections of the development are within a floodplain, and there have always been issues with flooding of residential areas in southern Raleigh. So, what has Kane Realty done to address these concerns?

From https://www.tristatewaterworks.com

From https://www.tristatewaterworks.com

Partners for Environmental Justice publicly stated its approval of the stormwater and flood prevention measures that Kane Realty has proposed.  The measures considered by Kane include rainwater harvesting, green roofs, planters, and permeable sidewalks.  All of these methods provide circular solutions to water runoff by providing ways that water can serve the community and ecosystem without transporting pollutants from the road to the river. This regenerates nature and designs systems that eliminate pollution.

The overall impact of Downtown South is a mixed bag. South Raleigh is a historically poor area, and the developers have not granted nearly as much affordable housing as the community has requested. This means that poor people who have been able to afford living in the area in the past will be forced out because of rising housing prices. On the circularity side, flood mitigation, park creation, and innovative stormwater management practices are balanced by lingering environmental concerns which cannot be ignored.  Check out our article on natural overpasses for additional ideas on how nature and urban environments can harmonize.

Unless otherwise noted, this is the source for the article’s information.

Why Are Native Plants So Important?

i Feb 1st No Comments by

Authored by Frances Black

In our eco-conscious age, low-impact gardening is an idea whose time has come. The concept behind it is simple: You plant a landscape that enhances, rather than stresses, the local environment. No tool is more important to the low-impact approach than native plants.

Naturally occurring plants provide familiar food and shelter for local birds and wildlife. But their value extends far beyond that. Native plants, which co-evolved with local fauna, support insects, which even seed-eating birds need to nourish their young. Insects, in turn, serve other purposes besides providing an avian lunch. They pollinate other plants and can digest plant and animal waste. But the bugs that mean so much to the birds cannot survive on non-native exotic plants that inhabit some gardens.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Photo by Byan England

Natural pollinators and other garden friends aren’t limited to the creepy-crawlies. They include some of the most beautiful garden visitors. In addition to birds, the right native plantings will lure a wide array of butterflies  to your wildlife-friendly yard

Common Buckeye on Coneflower. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.

An exotic or invasive plant, no matter how lovely, poses a threat to native plant populations because you can’t control their propagation. Across the region — and the country — vigorous exotic plants have crowded out natural habitats already under stress from development and other human activities. This makes it even harder for birds and other wildlife to survive. The mimosa, tree of heaven, Russian and autumn olive trees are examples of invasives that crowd out the local plants. When you plant natives such as American holly and swamp milkweed, you take a small step in reversing this process. Your native plants help beget others in the larger ecosystem.

Ilex opaca, American Holly. Photo by Will Cook

Ilex opaca, American Holly. Photo by Will Cook

Native plants, by definition, evolved to thrive in the local climate, weathering heat, cold, drought, and floods. This means they need less water than their exotic brethren, saving time, money, and, most of all, water itself. Native plants also are naturally resistant to local diseases, reducing the need for artificial pesticides and herbicides. That’s better for the environment and for you, creating a healthier outdoor human sanctuary right in your own backyard.

North Carolina is home to thousands of native species. Some, such as the dwarf crested iris and eastern blue star, offer beautiful showy flowers. Others, including black cherry and elderberry trees, give us colorful fruits and seeds, and some provide seasonal colors. At the same time, these beautiful plants are also rugged, requiring little maintenance once established. Ardent gardeners, who love to get their hands in the soil and to trim and putter, don’t have to sacrifice the joy of this beloved hobby. In a garden, there’s always something. Time saved in one place can always be used elsewhere.

Chionanthus virginicus - photo by Will Cook

Chionanthus virginicus – photo by Will Cook

Planting with natives is a classic win-win. It’s good for the ecosystem, the economy, and wildlife. It also enhances your property with ease, while expressing your love and respect for the natural world around you.

 

Frances Black is an environmental journalist whose home is filled with native plants and flowers. When she’s not tending to her indoor plants, you’ll find her in her vegetable garden, whose bounty she doesn’t mind sharing with the local wildlife.

 

2020 Christmas Bird Count

i Jan 10th No Comments by

Authored by Brian O’Shea

The 84th Raleigh CBC was conducted on December 19, 2020. The day started off chilly, with temperatures in the mid-20s in some spots, but warmed up nicely under clear skies. It was a great day to be out birding.

Although it was unfortunate that we could not place new participants with existing groups as we normally would, we still had great turnout for the count. All of the usual territories were covered, and a number of new participants turned in lists from parks, greenways, and backyards throughout the count circle. We had 72 participants (four more than last year!) in 32 parties, covering 153 party-miles (89 of them on foot) during 137 party-hours. That’s about 50% more party-hours and 15% more party-miles than we managed during 2019’s rainy morning count. That increase in coverage, plus better weather, improved our results dramatically.

And now what you’ve been waiting for . . .this year’s totals are (drumroll) . . . . 103 species and 16,365 individuals! That is seven more species than we got last year. Highlights of this year’s count were Red Crossbill at Shelley Lake and Vesper Sparrow on Midpines Road. Also notable were 16 Northern Pintail on Lake Benson. Overall, our waterfowl count was a bit lower than usual, owing to high water and generally mild weather to our north through early December, but many of our landbird counts were substantially higher than last year. The five most common species on this year’s count were White-throated Sparrow (1187), American Robin (1124), Canada Goose (943), Double-crested Cormorant (921), and Ring-billed Gull (759). We had a whopping 13 Gray Catbirds – possibly a count record – and four Black-and-white Warblers, tying our count from 2019. As many of you know, this has been a “superflight” year for Red-breasted Nuthatch and many finches, and we had great counts of both Purple Finch and Pine Siskin, both of which are easy to miss entirely during non-flight years. That king of winter finches, the Evening Grosbeak, eluded us on count day this year – but one was seen the following day at Shelley Lake, and so will make our “count week” list for the first time since 1998.

Pine Siskin on red maple. Photo by Kimberlie Dewey.

Pine Siskin on red maple. Photo by Kimberlie Dewey.

Orange-crowned Warbler. Photo by Sharon Kennedy.

Orange-crowned Warbler. Photo by Sharon Kennedy.

Five parties provided the only reports of 13 species: Lake Benson (Wild Turkey, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Wilson’s Snipe, Bonaparte’s Gull, Herring Gull, American Coot); Midpines Road (Red-headed Woodpecker, Horned Lark, Vesper Sparrow); Theys Farm (American Wigeon); Shelley Lake (Red Crossbill); and Prairie Ridge (White-crowned Sparrow). With the possible exception of Lesser Scaup (seen only during count week), we did not miss any of the regularly occurring species on this year’s count. Great job everyone!

I have appended the final list below.

A big thanks to everyone who participated on this year’s count! The 85th Raleigh CBC will be held on Saturday, December 18, 2021. Registration details will be available on Wake Audubon site, or you can contact me directly if you’d like to participate. Hope you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2021! All the best, Brian

Species list – 84th Raleigh CBC, 19 December 2020

Wild Turkey 1
Mute Swan 12
Canada Goose 943
Wood Duck 41
Green-winged Teal 169
Gadwall 38
American Black Duck 18
Mallard 516
Northern Pintail 16
Northern Shoveler 37
American Wigeon 1
Ring-necked Duck 8
Lesser Scaup CW
Bufflehead 66
Hooded Merganser 120
Ruddy Duck 268
Pied-billed Grebe 16
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 420
Mourning Dove 160
Killdeer 79
Wilson’s Snipe 1
American Woodcock 4
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 759
Herring Gull 2
American Coot 5
Common Loon 2
Double-crested Cormorant 921
Great Blue Heron 63
Great Egret 8
Black Vulture 34
Turkey Vulture 99
Bald Eagle 16
Sharp-shinned Hawk 8
Cooper’s Hawk 8
Red-shouldered Hawk 55
Red-tailed Hawk 33
Great Horned Owl 8
Barred Owl 10
Belted Kingfisher 31
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 90
Red-headed Woodpecker 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 203
Downy Woodpecker 157
Hairy Woodpecker 16
Northern Flicker 94
Pileated Woodpecker 39
American Kestrel 10
Merlin CW
Eastern Phoebe 50
Blue-headed Vireo 3
Blue Jay 227
American Crow 323
Fish Crow 4
Common Raven 3
Horned Lark 1
Carolina Chickadee 373
Tufted Titmouse 261
Red-breasted Nuthatch 21
White-breasted Nuthatch 127
Brown-headed Nuthatch 132
Brown Creeper 19
House Wren 2
Winter Wren 18
Carolina Wren 389
Golden-crowned Kinglet 115
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 253
Eastern Bluebird 350
Hermit Thrush 46
American Robin 1124
Gray Catbird 13
Brown Thrasher 44
Northern Mockingbird 123
American Pipit 11
European Starling 739
Cedar Waxwing 445
House Finch 177
Purple Finch 82
Pine Siskin 535
American Goldfinch 391
Red Crossbill 1
Evening Grosbeak CW
House Sparrow 24
Chipping Sparrow 323
Field Sparrow 28
Savannah Sparrow 32
Fox Sparrow 17
Dark-eyed Junco 392
White-crowned Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 1187
Vesper Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 430
Swamp Sparrow 48
Eastern Towhee 150
Baltimore Oriole 13
Eastern Meadowlark 35
Red-winged Blackbird 179
Rusty Blackbird 84
Brown-headed Cowbird 466
Common Grackle 68
Black-and-white Warbler 4
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Palm Warbler 6
Pine Warbler 65
Yellow-rumped Warbler 283
Northern Cardinal 517

103 species (plus 3 count week (CW))

16365 individuals

Help Build a Homegrown National Park

i Dec 3rd No Comments by
Many thanks to Jim George from the New Hope Audubon Society (NHAS) chapter for sharing how we all can help create a Homegrown National Park as envisioned in Douglas Tallamy’s latest book, Nature’s Best Hope. Many of the bird-friendly native plants found in the enclosed links will be available through Wake Audubon’s spring plant sale and it’s not too early to start planning!
Please note that the NHAS Bird-Friendly Habitat Certification program referenced in the blog is only available in Chatham, Durham, Orange, and parts of Alamance county.

Author: Jim George

Imagine a huge, interconnected National Park that provides vital habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife. A park that includes your own yard.  A park that helps mitigate the climate crisis. A park that may take a step toward saving us from an ecological collapse that some see as the start of a sixth mass extinction. Is this some sort of fantasy? Not according to Doug Tallamy in his latest book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. He imagines “Homegrown National Parks” in our country and other nations that will go a long way to restoring so much that has been lost as humans have built sprawling cities and suburbs and devoted so much of the land to grazing and industrial-scale agriculture. It’s become a land stripped of native habitat; taken over by invasive species of plants, insects, and other animals while we lose our own native species; polluted without regard to protecting life; and poisoned by overuse of pesticides.

Natures Best Hope

Natures Best Hope

The beauty of Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park is that it involves your own landscape and the landscapes of businesses, towns, and the cities in which you live. Certainly, our current national parks, national wildlife refuges, state parks and many other local parks and preserved pockets of land remain a vital part of this picture. But they are fragmented and often under attack. A Homegrown National Park would provide the critical connectivity of native habitat that birds and other wildlife need to survive.  As Tallamy writes: “What if each American landowner made it a goal to convert half of his or her lawn to productive native plant communities? Even moderate success could collectively restore some semblance of ecosystem function to more than twenty million acres of what is now ecological wasteland.”  According to Tallamy, twenty million acres would be larger than “the Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Canyonlands, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Badlands, Olympic, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Denali, and the Great Smokies Mountains National Parks” combined.

We need to get beyond the notion that somehow we are separate from the natural world, that we don’t need to have it all around us, that it is fine to confine it to parks, refuges and preserves. For we are not somehow separated from nature but completely intertwined with all life around us in a deeply connected way that provides the oxygen we breathe, the clean water we drink, and the food that we eat. And the natural world is in decline with extinctions of species from insects to larger animals occurring at an alarming rate. Life as we know it is under threat unless we take action.

                              Native bees are in severe decline.

And one way you can take action is to participate in creating a Homegrown National Park. The solution is simple because it starts with what you have control over, your yard. Let’s delve into some details of how you can help be a part of a Homegrown National Park. Along the way, I will note how these efforts dovetail with the work of the New Hope Audubon Society (NHAS) and its Bird-Friendly Habitat Committee, which Barbara Driscoll and I co-chair. I also will provide links to relevant NHAS blog articles and other resources so you can take a deeper dive into any of these subjects. Here are Tallamy’s ten ways that you can participate along with my notes and thoughts about each of his ten points.

“SHRINK THE LAWN”

Lawns are not native and require water, fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides and need frequent mowing to have that perfect look promoted by the ads from the companies selling lawn products. Lawn care harms the environment, and lawns don’t support our native insects that are a vital link in the web of life since they pollinate our plants and provide the food that birds and other wildlife need to survive. We’ve allowed lawns to become the definition of beauty for a property as a holdover from centuries past where only the rich could afford to have non-productive acreage in a mowed lawn. You should try to reduce lawn area and turn that land into something productive for wildlife by planting native plants. Grass can have its uses since it holds up well to foot traffic and can be used for paths through your garden. Borrowing from another author, Tallamy suggests you should think of your lawn less as wall-to-wall carpeting and more as area rugs.

“PLANT KEYSTONE GENERA”

                            Field of goldenrod and frost aster.

Birds need to feed their young on a high protein diet of insects or other animal prey. For example, Carolina Chickadees may need 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to fledge one nest of chicks and then many more as they continue to feed the fledglings. Tallamy has developed the case for the use of native plants to support both pollinators and other insects in his previous two books. Now in his third, and perhaps most important book, he’s developed the concept of keystone genera of native plants to describe the native plants that support the most moth and butterfly caterpillars, the most nutritious food for baby birds. Tallamy writes, “Landscapes that do not contain one or more species from keystone genera will have failed food webs, even if the diversity of other plants is very high.”

Thus, you definitely should try to have some keystone plants on your property along with your other native plants. We’ve developed a Keystone Plants spreadsheet that takes all the larval host plants from the New Hope Audubon list of recommended native plants and then rank orders them from the most caterpillars supported to the least. The “keystone” plants in each category are the ones at the top of each section. You can review the keystone spreadsheet and then look up detailed information from our recommended native plant lists. As examples of great plants to have, oaks (Quercus genus) host 488 caterpillars, the most of any trees, and goldenrods (Solidago genus) host 102 species, the most of any flowering perennial. Note: goldenrods have gotten a bad rap for causing allergies, but they don’t! Instead, it is wind-pollinated ragweed, which blooms at the same time, with its inconspicuous, tiny green flowers that is the real culprit.

“REMOVE INVASIVE SPECIES”

Invasive plant species crowd out the native plant species that support our native insects and for the most part, support very few insects themselves. Many invasive plants are escapees from yards where we’ve planted them simply for their decorative value. Several NHAS blog articles address the very serious issue presented by invasive plants in much more detail and give information on their removal, so I’ll refer the reader to these articles including: “The Alien Plant Invasion,” “Invasive Plants are NOT for the Birds,” and “Now Is the Time to Remove Invasive Plants.”

Wooded Area behind my House

Wooded Area in my back yard.

“BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR PLANTINGS”

An important part of landscape design with native plants is to have all the layers present because each in turn supports its own population of specialist insects and pollinators. Birds also specialize in which layers of the landscape they nest and feed. It starts with the canopy trees, then down to the understory trees, the shrubs, the perennial flowers, the grasses, and the vines. This is so important that having all layers present in your yard is required to be certified in our Bird Friendly Habitat Certification program. Try to simulate native plant communities in the Piedmont that originally consisted of a mix of woods and prairies. I have less than 1/3 acre in an older neighborhood in Chapel Hill and still am able to have a wooded area in the backyard with 12 species of native trees, important forest edge environments as the woods transitions to open areas, and some sunnier areas in front where garden beds can be planted more like Piedmont prairies. Adding a native plant garden to even the smallest of lots can make a difference, since your lot will interconnect with your neighbors and with other neighborhoods as they become part of the Homegrown National Park.

Redbuds offer vital nectar for bees in early spring

Redbuds offer vital nectar for bees in early spring

Plant not just one tree but several together to form a more forest-like environment and have the trees lock their roots together to prevent toppling in a storm. Test out new perennials with a few plants of a species, maybe 3 to 5 in a location, and if they do well, increase their numbers until you have a drift or significant clump of that species. This makes it easier for pollinators to find and browse their flowers with less energy expended and models the beauty of a natural landscape. Plant natives that bloom sequentially from March to October. Bees and other pollinators depend on a food source throughout the growing season so you will need to plant a variety of flowering plants, including trees, that bloom at different times of the year. My blog article titled “To Every Plant There is a Season” addresses this in detail.

“PLANT FOR SPECIALIST POLLINATORS”

Black swallowtail caterpillar on golden alexander – photo by David George.

The caterpillars of butterflies and moths have developed methods to overcome the defenses that plants have evolved to keep from being eaten, but many only can use a narrow range of plant species to feed. Monarch butterflies are a well-known example since they only lay their eggs on milkweeds. Black swallowtails have to lay eggs on a member of the carrot family, and golden alexander is the only species in that family on our recommended list of native plants for this area (note: they also love parsley). For more information about pollinator gardens and what plants support what pollinators, check out NHAS’s blog articles, “Your Yard Is Your Pollinator Garden” and “Creating a Pollinator Friendly Yard” and the NC Botanical Garden’s brochure, “Creating Your Pollinator Garden”.

“NETWORK WITH NEIGHBORS”

Tallamy cites one example of a person influencing a neighbor whose yard was the epitome of unnatural and just didn’t get why that could be a problem. The key was monarch butterflies. After the neighbor was told about their plight, he planted some milkweed, and sure enough the monarchs came. He was very excited to see and to be helping monarchs, so then he planted more milkweed. He was hooked.

Monarch Caterpillars on Milkweed - photo by Barbara Driscoll.

Monarch Caterpillars on Milkweed – photo by Barbara Driscoll.

Most of us probably have neighborhood email listservs or have neighbors that use apps like NextDoor, and these can be great places to start a conversation about restoring native habitat for bird, pollinators, and other wildlife through the use of native plants and removal of invasives. You even can refer neighbors to this “Home Grown National Park” blog article as a starting point.  Another good way to network with neighbors is to share native plants. I explore this idea further in my recent blog article, “Keeping Up the Tradition of Passalong Plants”.

“BUILD A CONSERVATION HARDSCAPE”

In addition to plants, Tallamy recommends making your yard more friendly to wildlife by taking the following steps:

  • Use covers over deep window wells to prevent small creatures, e.g. toads, from getting trapped and starving to death.
  • Rather than keep floodlights and other bright outdoor security lighting on all the time, use motion sensor lights. This will keep your lights from being traps for moths.
  • Mow grass no lower than 3 or 4 inches for a healthier lawn and potentially to spare wildlife like box turtles. After years of working on the habitat in my yard, I’ve been seeing box turtles for the first time this year and even a chipmunk! Also avoid mowing near dusk when you might be mowing down some creatures that emerge at twilight.
  • Use a bubbler water feature to attract birds. Make sure though that it is placed so it does not put your birds at risk for cat predation.
  • Use many bee hotels with only 4 or 5 holes each instead of one large one to make it harder for predators and parasites to find the bees in one location and for diseases to spread.
Eastern box turtle in my yard.

Eastern box turtle in my yard.

Two things Tallamy does not mention, but we consider very important in NHAS, are to prevent bird collisions with windows and to keep your cats indoors or provide safe spaces outdoors. See the NHAS blog articles, “Preventing that Dreaded Thump” and “Living with Cats and Birds” for details.

“CREATE CATERPILLAR PUPATION SITES UNDER YOUR TREES”

Many insects are dependent on leaf litter for at least part of their life cycle. Whenever possible, let the leaves stay where they fall. It’s especially important not to have grass under trees since most of the caterpillars that feed in the trees then drop to the ground to form pupae in the leaf litter or soil under the tree as they overwinter. Fireflies also pupate in the leaf litter, emerging only to breed in the summer and delight us with their evening show. Tallamy states, “if you have more leaves each fall than your beds can accommodate, that’s a good sign that your beds are not large enough”. Also important is to leave some fallen branches, often referred to as “nurse logs,” to provide habitat for other species. These topics are explored in detail in two NHAS blog articles: “Leave the Leaves” and “Littering with Leaves.”

White-throated sparrow feeding in leaf litter – photo by Barbara Driscoll

White-throated sparrow feeding in leaf litter – photo by Barbara Driscoll

“DO NOT SPRAY OR FERTILIZE”

In general, you should try to minimize or eliminate pesticide use in your yard. It’s a requirement of our Bird Friendly Habitat certification program that you do so. Native plants have evolved to coexist with the native insects and will not be damaged by their feeding. Even though oak trees support 488 species of native caterpillars, most of us will not see any sign of their feeding on the oak leaves. Mosquito spraying uses broad spectrum insecticides that can kill or weaken anything flying at the time of application. The best way to deal with mosquitoes is to eliminate their breeding sources in yours and neighbors’ yards. The issue of spraying for mosquitoes and alternatives to spraying are explored in detail in the blog article, “The Invasion of the Asian Tigers

Along with avoiding use of pesticides yourself, you should also try to avoid buying plants treated with neonicotinoid insecticides or “neonics” for short. These systemic insecticides are taken up through the roots of the plants after a soil drench and remain in the tissue and pollen of treated plants up to several years. They have been shown to harm the insects browsing on their leaves and the bees and other pollinators exposed to the pollen. We are working with a number of local garden centers to stop selling plants treated with neonics or to at least identify any treated plants to the customer. When shopping for plants, you will need to ask if the plant has been treated with neonics before buying. Ideally, the plant should have been treated with only topical insecticides and not have been treated with any systemic insecticides that can be absorbed into the plant tissue. For more detail on neonics read the blog article: “Neonics, Bee-Killing Insecticides that also Harm Birds.”

Tallamy’s recommendation to avoid fertilizing is less obvious, but native plants have adapted to growth without added chemical fertilizer, and simply mulching with leaves, nature’s fertilizer, can usually suffice. High-nitrogen, inorganic fertilizers run off into our streams and rivers from our yards and create deadly algal blooms in our lakes. Jordan Lake is considered highly polluted now partially due to storm-water runoff. If you must fertilize, only use organic fertilizers until you build up your soil, if needed, and your plantings are self-sustaining. Use a mulching mower to add grass clippings back to the soil instead of bagging them for pick-up. That also saves you a lot of unnecessary work! Grass clippings quickly decay and do not contribute to problems with thatch.

“EDUCATE YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD CIVIC ASSOCIATION”

If your house is in an area that is controlled by a Homeowners Association (HOA), their rules can be a significant barrier to having complete control over what you plant in your yard. Many HOA boards of directors have bought into the concept of yards needing to have a significant portion of frequently mown lawn to meet their standards of beauty. Try to get on the board of the HOA and convince other board members that having non-native lawn grass is a standard foisted  upon us by the lawn care industry and that native plantings are critical for the environment and can have greater beauty. If the HOA does not have a landscaping subcommittee, volunteer to form one. On the flip side, HOA’s can be very helpful in creating lists of what can be planted and what should not. They should ban the planting of invasives and strongly favor the planting of native species. Again, your involvement will be critical.

Also consider also working with your town, city, and county governments on their landscaping ordinances and plant lists and encouraging them to stress the use of native plants, remove invasive plants from their lists, create plans for invasive plant control, and more. Working with local businesses on their landscaping is also an important step in creating a connected ecosystem in our towns and cities.

Some final words. Don’t be deterred or overwhelmed by the thought that this is just too much to undertake. You can start by just planting a few native plants this fall since this time of the year is a great time to do so. Over the winter months, plan to start removing a few invasive plants since most invasive plants are evergreen and easier to identify then. Just take one step at a time and together we can build a fantastic Homegrown National Park.

“If we can destroy habitat with blinding speed, we also have the intelligence, knowledge, and ability to restore it. It remains to be seen whether we have the wisdom to do so.” – Doug Tallamy, Natures Best Hope.

“It’s simple: By gardening with native plants, no matter where you live or how small or large your space is, you can help sustain wildlife.” – Doug Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants

Note: This article builds on the concepts presented in my earlier blog article, “Saving the Birds, One Yard at a Time.” That article was based on a talk by Doug Tallamy at the NC Botanical Garden given well before “Natures Best Hope” was published. It  had a focus on preventing an insect apocalypse but led to several similar recommendations. This article takes a different focus and adds all of the new concepts presented in the latest book and all of the resources NHAS has developed since then.

Photos: All photos not labeled as such are by the author.

 

Birding for All – President’s Message

i Aug 24th No Comments by

Authored by Erik Thomas.

Much of the birding I’ve done in recent years has consisted of roadside bird counts.  Some is for the Christmas Bird Count or the Spring Count, some is for the Lumber River Important Bird Area monitoring, some is for the Breeding Bird Survey, and some is so that I can fill in gaps in eBird’s coverage, ordinarily in rural areas.  It’s not unusual for a local person to stop me and ask what I’m doing, to which I normally put on an “Aw, shucks” grin and say “Oh, I’m just doin’ a bird count!”  Often, the other person will respond by telling me about a bird they’ve seen around their home—a Bald Eagle sighting is a favorite rejoinder.  On a couple of occasions, someone has demanded to know why I was taking pictures of their property and I had to explain that I was using binoculars, not a camera.

Imagine, however, if I didn’t look phenotypically European—if instead I were African American or Middle Eastern.  What sorts of responses might I encounter then?  Would the local person be equally polite to me?  Alternatively, how many of them would call the sheriff’s office to send a deputy out to investigate me?  If that happened, would the officer speak cordially to me or, perhaps, use a less friendly voice?  Would a landowner assume that, instead of a camera, I was pointing a firearm at their house?  Fear can bring out the worst in people.

Minorities in this country, especially African Americans, frequently find themselves the objects of such fear.  Consequently, they also find themselves the objects of the adverse responses to that fear, as a variety of recent events across the nation has demonstrated.  Even in ostensibly friendly gatherings, minorities always carry around a nagging sense that white Anglos in the group are watching them, waiting for any false move that might reinforce a negative stereotype.  They know that they’re seen as the “other.”  A member of a minority can never shed the perception that he or she is different—not necessarily unwelcome, but someone who stands out conspicuously, unable to blend into the crowd.  What person would want to experience that sensation on a constant basis?  Is it any wonder that members of minorities ordinarily feel most comfortable in groups of their own ethnicity?

A barrier that looms so high for everyone, whether of a minority or of European extraction, is difficult to surmount.  Overcoming it is not as simple as inviting a few token minority members to an event.  We need to acknowledge that our environmental priorities, such as saving particular species and promoting green energy projects, may not coincide with minority concerns about a paucity of parks in their parts of town, about heavy polluters locating near their neighborhoods, or even about the prohibitive cost of good binoculars.  It is necessary to meet people on equal terms, to understand their lives, and, importantly, to dispel the sense of otherness.  Doing so must be part of the Wake Audubon Society’s mission from this point so that, in our diversifying community, we may expand and perpetuate our work on the three foundations of our chapter—environmental advocacy, conservation, and environmental education.

The Wake Audubon Society has created a committee on diversity and inclusion to address these issues.  We are working with the National Audubon Society and Audubon North Carolina in this effort.  Audubon North Carolina has created special Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion workshops for this purpose, and the Wake Audubon Society was one of three chapters chosen to participate.  Our own planning will accelerate this fall.  The National Audubon Society has formulated the following statement on equity, diversity, and inclusion:

 

The birds Audubon pledges to protect differ in color, size, behavior, geographical preference, and countless other ways. By honoring and celebrating the equally remarkable diversity of the human species, Audubon will bring new creativity, effectiveness and leadership to our work throughout the hemisphere.

 

If you’d like to learn more, see https://www.audubon.org/about/edi.  Other informative websites include the following:

 

Rules for the Black Birdwatcher, With Drew Lanham https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4thb2zGuOnU

 

A City Girl’s First Time Birding https://nc.audubon.org/news/city-girl%E2%80%99s-first-time-birding

 

“Black Women Who Bird” Take the Spotlight to Make Their Presence Knownhttps://www.audubon.org/news/black-women-who-bird-take-spotlight-make-their-presence-known

 

Erik Thomas

President

 

 

President’s Message – July

i Aug 24th No Comments by

Authored by Erik Thomas

The COVID 19 crisis has compelled us to retreat to the solitude of our homes.  Gone are the friendly gatherings at which we used to breathe in the rejuvenating aroma of the natural world together, the fellowship by which we bonded amid its restorative splendor.  None of us can know at this point when this exilic state will end or whether it serves as a harbinger of the life that awaits us in the future.

Yet even as we stumble forward through the dark uncertainty of this abrupt alteration of reality, we should find solace in the fact that, though events have led us to retreat from the networks and activities that had sustained our minds, the outdoor life that fosters tranquility has not left us.  Lacking the means for extensive outings, we nonetheless gain the time to contemplate the less conspicuous denizens of our abodes.  Just beyond our front doors we may watch a pillbug scurry about under a stone or marvel at the intricate symmetry of violet petals on patches of earth that we had hitherto passed by carelessly.  We can fathom how a great oak depends on miniscule mycorrhizae for its very livelihood, or take note of the varied colors of the lichens growing on the same oak’s bark.  What seemed mundane before may now express its uniqueness to us.  Where once we rushed to explore habitats in distant locales, now we can attune our ears to the catbird that beckons from the bushes with its chatty, prolonged music.

The necessity of adapting our perspective during this peculiar phase is not lost on the Wake Audubon Society.  While we cannot proceed as we have previously operated, we have maintained the spirit of our mission and have acclimated to the limitations of the present.  Our monthly programs continue as online Zoom presentations, with Ashley Dayer speaking on the effects of bird feeding in June and Mary Frazer on wildlife-friendly yards in July, as well as a slide show of photos by members in August.  Bob Oberfelder’s album, “Nature of Bob,” grows steadily on Wake Audubon’s Facebook page.  We have never ceased to advocate for wildlife, from Brown-headed Nuthatch boxes and Chimney Swift roosts to broader initiatives promoted by the National Audubon Society such as the Lights Out program.  We even have a book club now, led by Mary Abrams, for those interested in reading about environmental topics.  Regardless of disruptions, the Wake Audubon Society steadfastly perseveres as a link between people and nature.

 

Erik Thomas

President

Wildathon 2020

i Apr 28th No Comments by

Authored by Jeff Beane

Dear friends, loyal past supporters, and potential sponsors:

For the past 20 consecutive years, the “24 Hour Dream Team” has participated in an annual “Wildathon” for Wake Audubon Society. The Wildathon is a marathon event that evolved from National Audubon’s Birdathon. The objective is to identify as many species as possible (birds, in the case of the original Birdathon; vertebrate species in the case of our Wildathon) in a given amount of time.

For the past 20 years, the Dream Team has held 24-hour events (except for the first year, 2000, when we did only 18 hours). We not only survived each, but managed to (mostly) stay awake and active for the entire 24-hour period each year. These activities have frequently straddled, even crossed, the boundaries of wisdom and safety, and as our team members have continued to age, the 24-hour events have become increasingly difficult and dangerous, to the point that most team members began to dread the final hours and agreed that our health and safety should be prioritized. Following last year’s event, long before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lifestyles, the Dream Team had decided that 20 years of 24-hour Wildathons was sufficient to demonstrate our dedication to the event, and we decided to modify our effort to a “Wildathon Weekend,” which would give us more time not only to sleep, rest, and eat, but also time to cover areas more leisurely and thoroughly and seek out species at a pace that was not only more enjoyable, but far better for our health and safety. Since a weekend, by most standards, begins at 5:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon and ends at midnight on Sunday night, that is what we had planned for—a total of 55 hours, of which probably no more than about 36 would be spent actively searching. This was the modified event we had planned on.

But we had not planned on COVID-19. With sheltering and social isolation restrictions being what they are, we have decided to do a Socially Isolated Wildathon Weekend this year, each of us covering whatever area we can, given restrictions, and compiling all our efforts into a single list. We will maintain contact by cell phone, and some us will be together or may meet at some sites during the event, while maintaining safe social distance.

This somewhat handicapped Wildathon will represent our 21st consecutive annual effort. This year’s team will consist of Jeff Beane, Ed Corey, Bob Davis, Stephanie Horton, and Judy Morgan-Davis.

This year’s effort is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on Friday, 1 May through midnight on Sunday, 3 May 2020.

Wildathon is a fund-raiser. But we aren’t begging for money—we’re willing to work long, hard hours for it. Our objective is to identify as many vertebrate species (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes) as possible during the event, and enlist sponsors to pledge a certain monetary amount per species (or a flat donation). As always, we will restrict our efforts to North Carolina, and will spend most of our time in the Piedmont, southeastern Coastal Plain, and Sandhills (much of it in Wake County this year).

The rules (same as always):

We will NOT count:
– humans or their domestic animals, such as cattle, horses, dogs, house cats, chickens, ostriches, etc.
– anything in captivity.
– “signs” such as tracks or nests–some portion of the actual animal must be seen or heard (i.e., known to be present during the event).
– Anything we are not certain about the identification of (to the satisfaction of our entire group).
We WILL count:
– species that are heard and positively identified, though not seen.
– Identifiable eggs, larvae, etc. – road-kills or otherwise dead vertebrates, or their readily identifiable remains, including “pieces and parts.”
– established, introduced, non-domestic species (e.g., European starling, house sparrow, Norway rat, redear sunfish).

-any species we can detect by any legal, reasonable method (trap, seine, dipnet, telemetry, Anabat detector, etc.).

Our team’s proceeds will be divided between support for management of Audubon’s NC Coastal Island Sanctuaries (>20 islands between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras, supporting >1/3 of NC’s nesting waterbirds, as well as other wildlife; see http://nc.audubon.org/conservation/coast-islands-and- sanctuary-program); local Wake Audubon conservation projects; and the NC Herpetological Society’s two main conservation/research projects–Project Bog Turtle (conservation and research initiative focused on protecting the bog turtle and its diminishing habitat in the Southeast; www.projectbogturtle.org) and Project Simus (conservation and research initiative developed to gather information on the natural history, status, and distribution of the southern hognose snake and other species tied to upland longleaf pine sandhills habitats; http://ncherps.org/project-simus/).

If you can sponsor us, please reply as soon as possible with your pledge (no need to feel pressured; we all get too many requests for donations and these are hard times for many; we won’t be offended if you don’t sponsor us). There are different ways of sponsoring. You can pledge a certain amount per every vertebrate species we record, or for herps only, birds only, etc.; or you can pledge a lump sum (e.g., $25 regardless of how many species we record); or you can pledge “up to” a certain amount (e.g., if you pledge $1 per reptile and amphibian species up to $30, and we see 40 species, then you would just owe $30, or if we only see 20 species you would just owe $20). No amount is too small; even if you pledge a penny per species and end up owing only a dollar or two, that will help, because we will (hopefully) have many sponsors. Every bit counts. If you can’t donate this year, just send some positive thoughts our way. We have especially enjoyed the more “creative” pledges from some of you in past years. If you work for a company that matches charitable gifts, you can have them match your pledge or donation. Wildathon donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

We expect to end up with at least 200 species (our average over 20 years has been just over 205), but much will depend on weather and various other factors. The fact that we will be separated, and that we will have more time, could potentially offer us better chances at more species, depending on what areas each of our team members are able to cover, but travel and sheltering restrictions will probably mean that we actually cover less area, so there is no guarantee that we will do any better (or as well) as past years, despite the increased hours. Our best-ever total was 248 species (in 2014), and our lowest-ever was 155 (in 2000).

As always, I’ll send a summary of our effort and a complete list of all the vertebrates we observe to everyone who sponsors us.

Pledges will be due in early June. Send your donation by check or via our website.

By check written to “Wake Audubon” and mailed to Wake Audubon, PO Box 12452, Raleigh, NC 27605 Through the Wake Audubon website (www.wakeaudubon.org) by clicking on the “donate now” icon. Be sure to indicate that your donation is for Wildathon. Please let me know if you donate this way, so that we can keep track of all donations. My email is jeff.beane@naturalsciences.org

In the past, some have indicated a desire to support only the NCHS projects (Project Bog Turtle and/or Project Simus); if you want to do that, you can make a check out to “NC Herpetological Society,” indicate what the donation is for, and send to either me or Ed Corey (same address as above), or you can donate online at https://ncherps.org/donate/(choose a fund, or indicate in the “comments” line where you would like the funds to go).

Please contact me at the above email address if you have any other questions.
For even more information on the Wildathon, and an account of our 2002 event, see p. 16-19 of the April 2004 issue of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. You can also read about our 2016 effort in the May 2016 blog on the Wake Audubon website. Thank you!

Ways to Preserve Nature While Hiking

i Nov 15th No Comments by

By Eric Minghella

Hiking has become one of the most popular outdoor sports. Every year millions of people take a break from the stressful pace of modern life and slow down by hiking. There are hiking trails everywhere from national parks that dot the country to local hiking and biking trails that are popping up in new planned neighborhoods all over. But all that foot traffic can cause a lot of damage to the local environment. If you love to hike but also want to be sure that you’re not damaging the environment when you’re hiking do these five things:

Leash Your Dog

Bringing your dog on a hike makes hiking even more fun. Dogs love the chance to get outdoors for a long walk just like humans do. However, dogs can cause a lot of destruction to the environment. Keep your dog on a leash at all times so that your dog doesn’t run amok through the land, dig up plants, eat the bark off of trees, or chase the local wildlife. Remember to clean up after your dog too and dispose of their waste properly.

Wash Your Boots

Without even realizing it you could be carrying bacteria and seeds that are killing the environment. When you hike in one area then hike in another area bacteria, seeds, and spores from your boots will get deposited in a new area. If those seeds take root that could lead to a toxic or non-native plant species taking hold and killing off the vegetation in that area. All you need to do to prevent this is wash your boots after you hike. Get in the habit of rinsing your boots after each hike.

Bring A Trail Map

If you don’t have a trail map and you get lost, you could seriously damage the environment as you crash through it trying to make a trail. Pick up a paper map at the trail head and keep it with you so that you can find your way if you get lost. GPS doesn’t always work in the wild so trust your paper map more than your GPS if you get lost.

Camp Carefully

If you’re going on a multi-day hike and you’re going to camp in the wilderness only camp near a trail shelter. Trail shelters are usually set up about a day’s walk apart so that you should always be able to get to one. Camping in the shelter area minimizing the damage to the environment and protects the water sources that the animals use to drink from.

Take Trash with You

Even if you’re just going for a day hike you should have plenty of water and some healthy snacks with you. After your snacks and drinks are gone make sure that you take all that trash out with you and dispose of it the right way. Pack your snacks in reusable containers if you can, but if you can’t always take all of your trash with you when you leave the area.

This article was provided by www.personalinjury-law.com, an organization dedicated to providing the public with information about personal injury and safety information. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice, and it is intended for informational use only. 

25th Annual Butterfly Count

i Sep 2nd No Comments by

25th Annual Butterfly Count

Authored by John Connors

At 9 o’clock on Friday, August 16 a small group of butterfliers met in the parking lot of the NCSU Arboretum to begin the 25thAnnual Wake County Butterfly Count. Three other groups were also beginning their survey at parks across the northern half of the county…Umstead State Park, Durant Nature Preserve and Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve. The morning was warm but cloudy and since butterflies are creatures of the sun, the first hour was pleasant but rather fruitless in terms of butterflies.

For those who’ve participated in a Christmas Bird Count, a Butterfly Count will sound familiar. There is a 15-mile diameter circle and groups fan out at the most likely hot spots within that circle and count every butterfly they see. There are differences though. You don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn for butterflies nor do you keep going after sunset; they don’t make a sound to give you a clue to their presence or identity; and they are often more closely tied to one or a few sets of plants than birds ever would be.

Around 10 am the first rays of sun broke through the clouds and the flurry of butterfly activity increased. Tiger Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtails and Monarchs arrived to nectar on the abundant flowers at the Arboretum. Further on there were Cloudless Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, Silver-spotted Skippers and more. If sparrows are the difficult to identify “little brown jobbies” of the birder’s world, the skippers fill that niche in the butterflier’s world. Clouded, Fiery, Sachem and Ocola Skippers were zipping here and there among the flowers. On beyond the gardens, in the weedy grass and trial beds, we sought and found Common Checkered Skipper and Common Sootywing.

Male Monarch on Coreopsis at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, Raleigh. Photo by John Gerwin
Male Monarch on Coreopsis at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, Raleigh. Photo by John Gerwin
cloudedskipper_sideview John Gerwin
cloudedskipper_sideview John Gerwin

Meantime, our colleagues were hiking the powerline near Big Lake at Umstead in search of native grassland specialties like Swarthy, Tawny-edged and Crossline Skippers, and the large peek-a-boo presence of the Common Wood Nymph. They tallied the skippers but alas, the Wood Nymph is not Common in Wake County anymore and on this count at least, it failed to show up. At Durant additional woodland skippers were found: Little Glassywing, Dun, Zabulon and Least. Horseshoe Farm produced butterflies of the switchcane lowlands- the Southern Pearly-Eye and Creole Pearly-eye- along with the beautiful Dion Skipper which colonizes sedgy wetlands along river floodplains. Gulf Fritillary showed up at Prairie Ridge.

zabulonskipper-female_wingsopen Allie Stewart
zabulonskipper-female_wingsopen Allie Stewart

In the afternoon, visits to the Buckeye Trail along Crabtree Creek yielded Viceroy among the willow and Hackberry Emperor on their namesake, and then Anderson Point Park where a patch of nut sedge hosts a colony of Appalachian Brown. Often you just have to know your plants, habitats, and think like a butterfly to do well on a butterfly count.

By 3:30 pm an approaching thunderstorm chased all of us from the field. Despite the shortened outing we tallied 52 species of butterflies with a total count of 1274 individuals.

The Annual Butterfly Count is designed to monitor trends in butterfly populations so any given year doesn’t tell us much. Our peak count was 59 species in 2012. We feel it is important to track these changes in the rapidly urbanizing Wake. This year we recorded the third highest total of Tiger Swallowtails (173), and the second highest number of Monarchs (41) (last year, 49). But at least one species, the Checkered White, seems to have disappeared altogether.

Mostly it is a fun time in the field tallying butterflies with friends.

Special thanks to site leaders: Harry LeGrand, Tom Howard, Chris Moorman, Brian Bockhahn, John Gerwin and Chris Goforth.