Drop-In Ducks

Above: common goldeneye (top center) with hooded mergansers. Hooded mergansers are regular winter waterfowl visitors to the museum. But, we occasionally have other waterfowl drop in. On Thursday, November 7, I spotted a female common goldeneye mixed in with the regulars. Goldeneyes are not common here on the Piedmont. In fact, they’re listed as rare to uncommon in our area at this time of year, which means some goldeneyes may be in the area, but you may or may notRead more

Mergansers Are Back

I saw the first hooded merganser of the season on Saturday, 2 November here in our wetlands. It was a single male. Today, three days later, there are seven of the fish eating, diving waterfowl. Besides fish, hooded mergansers eat aquatic insects, amphibians, crustaceans (that includes the invasive, dreaded, red swamp crayfish), mollusks and even some vegetation. Here in our wetlands the mergs typically arrive by mid November, with an occasional visitor in the latter part of October being theRead more

The Local Squirrels

The common tree squirrel in our area is the eastern gray squirrel. And yes, there is a western gray squirrel. It occupies parts of the western states of Washington, Oregon, and California. The eastern gray lives in the central and eastern states, wherever there are trees. Besides the two already mentioned, there are tassel-eared squirrels of the southwest and various forms of fox squirrels, mainly in the east but also in some of the western states. And there are theRead more

Taken For Granted

(Above: red-shouldered hawk wipes bill on railing after eating red swamp crayfish, on post behind hawk) I recently spent a few days at a coastal Virginia hawk watch witnessing hundreds of hawks passing overhead on their migratory treks south. Osprey, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, harriers, bald eagles, merlins and kestrels made up the bulk of the cast. And, of course, there were lesser birds as palm warblers, parula, kinglets, flickers, as well various butterflies, like monarch, buckeye, and fiery andRead more

What’s to Eat

The grasshopper in the above photo is being disassembled by a yellowjacket. The meaty parts of the hopper will be transported back to the hive where it’ll be placed in cells containing larvae within the hive. The female wasps are busy this time of year as the hive is perhaps at its largest of the season. I found the parts of a red swamp crayfish on the railing of the boardwalk leading to the Black Bear Overlook. It too hadRead more

Snapping Turtle Roll

As I walked on the boardwalk past the entrance to the Black Bear Exhibit I heard splashing noises and low hissing sounds beneath me. Looking over the railing I could see two snapping turtles rolling in the water below the walkway. Common in our wetland and any other water habitat in the area, common snapping turtles typically breed in the spring to early summer. I’ve seen what appears to be mating attempts once in August and again this month (September).Read more

Early Fall

The bullfrog in the top photo was one a four spotted yesterday at the end of the boardwalk in Explore the Wild. Bullfrogs can sit very still while waiting for prey to come along then spring forth with lightning speed to capture and swallow that prey. They eat just about anything that comes close enough to snatch, insects, fish, smaller frogs, crawfish, even birds. Up until this week I’d only seen two snakes in our wetlands the past season, anRead more

Spider Wasp

The spider in the above photo is immobile. It’s not moving. It’s not dead, but it can’t move. It’s been stung by a spider wasp and is now paralyzed. The spider is one of two different spiders I’ve found in the past two weeks on the path that winds through Catch the Wind and Explore the Wild. Both spiders, fairly large arachnids, were in the center of the paved path, or nearly so. In the first instance, the wasp wasRead more

Great Egret

Great egrets are not rare in our area, a trip to one of the nearby reservoirs should turn up several. Green herons and great blue herons nest locally. Great egrets do not. Any great egret you see in this area is probably part of a post breeding dispersal from further south. In fact, that’s true for most of the other species of heron or egret seen here in summer like, little blue heron, reddish egret, snowy egret, tri-colored heron, orRead more