Brief History of Wake Audubon Society

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.

Awards Honoring Long-time Wake Audubon Volunteers

i Aug 26th No Comments by

Wake Audubon announced the creation of two awards that will recognize extraordinary volunteer efforts and environmental stewardship carried out by our volunteers. The PAULETTE VAN DE ZANDE VOLUNTEER AWARD honors Paulette for her many years of contributions to governance, fellowship, and fund-raising for Wake Audubon. The JOHN CONNORS CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AWARD honors John for his leadership in many of Wake Audubon’s conservation initiatives and his commitment to environmental education.


The full document creating the Paulette Van De Zande Volunteer Award reads as follows:

WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Board of Wake Audubon Society to honor and show gratitude to Paulette Van de Zande for her commitment and many years of volunteer service; and 

WHEREAS, Paulette has been a loyal and devoted member and Board member of Wake Audubon Society since 1978; and 

WHEREAS, Paulette has baked homemade cookies and cakes for refreshments after nearly every monthly meeting for more than 30 years, donating both time and years of expenses to this endeavor; and

WHEREAS, Paulette worked to support Wake Audubon activities through her membership in the Raleigh Garden Club by planning birding outings and asking for financial support for various projects from their members; and

WHEREAS,Paulette supported other Wake Audubon fundraising projects by seeking in-kind and financial contributions; and

WHEREAS,Paulette manages her home landscape for wildlife in addition to feeding and sharing wildlife observations in her yard and garden with others; and

WHEREAS, Paulette’s actions embody the spirit of the Wake Audubon mission, “To foster knowledge, appreciation, and enjoyment of nature; to encourage responsible environmental stewardship; to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.”

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Wake Audubon Society hereby establishes the Paulette Van de Zande VOLUNTEER AWARD.  Through the establishment of this Award, members and friends of Wake Audubon Society hereby convey the deepest expression of gratitude and appreciation for the volunteer contributions of Paulette. Recipients of the Paulette Van de Zande VOLUNTEER AWARDwill be chosen by a suitable committee of Wake Audubon Society members on an annual basis (or as otherwise deemed appropriate). The recipient will embody a similar spirit of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes and interests and will demonstrate a commitment to the initiatives and goals of Wake Audubon Society to further its mission. 

This Resolution will be entered into the official record and minutes of Wake Audubon Society and in addition will be published in appropriate manners for the public record. 

Presented on behalf of Wake Audubon Society on this 13th day of August, 2019.


The full document creating the John Conors Conservation and Environmental Education Award reads as follows:

WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Board of Wake Audubon Society to honor and show gratitude to John Connors for his commitment and many years of service in both conservation and environmental education activities with Wake Audubon Society and the broader Wake County community; and 

WHEREAS, John has been a loyal and devoted member, Board member, and two-time president of Wake Audubon Society since 1975; and 

WHEREAS, John has been a part of conservation initiatives and environmental education in his professional life as City Naturalist with Raleigh Parks & Recreation, as Coordinator of the Naturalist Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences,  and in his personal life through volunteering since graduating from North Carolina State University; and

WHEREAS,John has promoted conservation through his involvement in Trees Across Raleigh, NC Non-game Advisory Board of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, WakeNature Preserves Partnership, and Wings Over Water, among others; and

WHEREAS,John has coordinated the Wake Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and Butterfly Count for many years; and

WHEREAS,John has worked annually on conservation and education for specific species by organizing workdays to plant milkweed for monarch butterflies, by leading walks and workdays to establish American Woodcock mating grounds, and by helping to install Chimney Swift nest towers at parks and the Chimney Swift roosting tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation; and

WHEREAS,John has supported and guided park planning efforts for Wake Audubon Society’s participation on Raleigh Parks & Recreation planning boards leading to the establishment of nature parks; and

WHEREAS, John through his professional life has conducted thousands of environmental education programs reaching both children and adults inspiring many to become advocates for birds and conservation; and

WHEREAS, John’s actions embody the spirit of the Wake Audubon mission, “To foster knowledge, appreciation, and enjoyment of nature; to encourage responsible environmental stewardship; to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.” 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Wake Audubon Society hereby establishes the John Connors CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AWARD. Through the establishment of this Award, members and friends of Wake Audubon Society hereby convey the deepest expression of gratitude and appreciation for the many conservation and education contributions John has made to the broader Wake County community. Recipients of the John Connors CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATIONAWARDwill be chosen by a suitable committee of Wake Audubon Society members on an annual basis (or as otherwise deemed appropriate). The recipient will demonstrate participation in conservation and environmental education activities as a result of sharing common attitudes and interests, and a commitment to the initiatives and goals of Wake Audubon Society to further its mission. 

This Resolution will be entered into the official record and minutes of Wake Audubon Society and in addition will be published in appropriate manners for the public record. 

Presented on behalf of Wake Audubon Society on this 13th day of August, 2019:

The Faces of a Burrowing Owl

i Mar 29th No Comments by

Authored by Bob Oberfelder

A recent trip to Phoenix Arizona provided an opportunity for my wife and I to check out the Burrowing Owls at Zanjero Park. This was one of several places that we birded, and future posts will display our sightings in those other locations. The park is an unassuming place with about a mile of horse trails and a walking/bicycling path as well. It has been made into habitat for Burrowing Owls by installing pipes in the ground (along the walking/bicycling trail) that serve as burrows for the owls. Since the owls are diurnal, they are visible throughout the day. According to the locals, at least a few owls can typically be seen throughout the day. We were there in the early afternoon and saw two that were lounging in front of their burrows. There appear to be at least 50 burrows, but I do not know how many are occupied. We viewed these owls from about 15 feet away and they did not seem to be disturbed by our presence. These owls are small, with a total height of 9.5 inches but they were kind of sitting down so they were probably only about 7 inches tall. The noonish light was probably not ideal, but we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see and photograph them.

The entrance sign to this park which sits right next to the 202 Loop Highway.
The entrance sign to this park which sits right next to the 202 Loop Highway.
One of the Burrowing Owls standing in front of the artificial burrows. There were probably 50 or so burrows and they were not far apart. Some were only 4-5 feet apart. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
One of the Burrowing Owls standing in front of the artificial burrows. There were probably 50 or so burrows and they were not far apart. Some were only 4-5 feet apart. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The "I'm not worried" pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The “I’m not worried” pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The "I've got my eye on you" pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The “I’ve got my eye on you” pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The "You will blink first" pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The “You will blink first” pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The "I see you" pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The “I see you” pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The "You don't see me, I am invisible pose." The legs and chest are facing forward, but the head is turned 180 degrees around. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The “You don’t see me, I am invisible pose.” The legs and chest are facing forward, but the head is turned 180 degrees around. Photo by Robert Oberfelder.
The "I'm getting some rays" pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder
The “I’m getting some rays” pose. Photo by Robert Oberfelder

Let the Games Begin

i Mar 12th No Comments by

John A. Gerwin, Wake Audubon board member

On March 5, I was out of bed by 4 a.m. to get ready for an early flight, and it was 36 degrees outside! It may not feel much like spring these days, but a few days of low temperatures does not dissuade our local birds. They are tuned to multiple factors, and it seems clear that daylength is one that sends a strong if not the strongest signal that it is time to get the house ready – the kids are coming. 

For the past 2 weeks, folks have been emailing or otherwise telling me about their observations of a couple species that are indeed conducting nest building activities – the Red-shouldered Hawk, and the Brown-headed Nuthatch. The former is our Bird of the Year, and the latter of course has been a focus for several chapters selling “nuthatch” nest boxes (Wake Audubon has sold many hundreds!). 

In a “normal” year around the Piedmont of NC, Red-tailed hawks begin nest building (or refurbishing last year’s nest) in mid-to-late January, which can go on for a week or two. The Red-shouldered Hawk begins 2-3 weeks later and thus this year, they are “on time” as some folks reported watching adults carrying sticks to nest locations, in mid-February. 

On this schedule, for those young who make it “all the way”, the Red-tails will fledge in late May, whereas the Red-shouldered’s will do so in mid-to-late June. May is a noisy month with many begging Buteo’s around town. 

Similarly, I received my first “Nuthatch alert” in mid-February – an adult was excavating a cavity in a dead snag in a neighbor’s yard. In addition, Wake Audubon board member and Flickr manager Bob Oberfelder found an adult excavating along the American Tobacco Trail on February 21. Once again, these birds are “on time”.  Bob got some great shots of the adult tossing wood chips out of the cavity, which I include here. I’m also including a shot or two of eggs from a nest box I installed at a nearby elementary school. Another neighbor and her pre-teen daughter have been checking this and 10 other boxes I put up, for the past 2 seasons. Our small bit of data show that nuthatches can be incubating eggs from the second week of March into late-April. That is, some lay as early as mid-March, whereas others, for some reason, lay in mid-April (you may recall it takes about 10 days for a BH Nuthatch egg to hatch). 

Brown-headed Nuthatch excavating nest hole. American Tobacco Trail-21Feb2019. Photo by Bob Oberfelder
Brown-headed Nuthatch excavating nest hole. American Tobacco Trail-21Feb2019. Photo by Bob Oberfelder
Brown-headed Nuthatch_American Tobacco Trail-21Feb2019. Photo by Bob Oberfelder
Brown-headed Nuthatch_American Tobacco Trail-21Feb2019. Photo by Bob Oberfelder
Brown-headed Nuthatch eggs in nest box at AB Combs School. Photo by John Gerwin.
Brown-headed Nuthatch eggs in nest box at AB Combs School. Photo by John Gerwin.

Hopefully, you have your ‘nuthatch’ boxes up, but if not, now you know there are some late layers out there. So go ahead and put up another if you wish to. 

Purple Martins at Prairie Ridge

i Mar 4th No Comments by

Authored by Courtney Rousseau

It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday, March second, out at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and it was perfect for erecting a brand-new Deluxe 12 gourd rack with 12 Excluder gourds from the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA). The sun was a welcome sight after the grey, rainy days of late. Rob and I arrived around 1:00pm to get the equipment out of the shed and down to the area next to the outdoor classroom. We took all of the parts out of the boxes and read over the instructions to make sure we understood what to do before the kids showed up. We decided to divide them into two groups: one would work on the pole and the gourd rack hardware, and the other would prep the gourds for mounting.           

Most of the kids showed up around 1:45pm. We sent them on a brief walk on the trails while we waited for the last scouts to arrive. Once everyone was there, we got to work. We had 5 scouts.  Rob led the hardware group, and Courtney showed the other group how to prep gourds. First, we got out the non-stick cooking spray and sprayed and wiped the upper inside area of the gourds to keep wasps from hanging nests there before martins move in. After each gourd was sprayed, another scout put in a handful of pine straw as a pre-nest. After these two scouts were finished, another scout looked over their work to make sure they didn’t miss any spots or get too skimpy with the pine straw.  Shortly after they finished the gourds, the pole was ready to erect. Rob and 2 scouts set the pole upright, and then all of the scouts helped to hang the gourds. We wrote numbers on each gourd for easy record-keeping. Each scout took turns at the winch handle, since everyone wanted to raise it up. After the rack was up, we hung the predator guard on the pole. It’s 4 ft from the ground to the top of the predator guard, which is the recommended distance. However, we know they have some big rat snakes out there, so the guard should be waxed, at the very least! We discussed why a predator guard was necessary with the scouts.  Today, the scouts learned about teamwork, martin conservation, carefully following procedures, and quality control to assure uniformity of their work. They are all excited to come back later in the season to watch banding or to see the martins using the new rack. While we were there, a few members of the public also came up to ask us about the gourd rack, so it was a good opportunity to engage them as well.

Photos here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/xrVCSB8scg1hFgoi9