Turtles in Winter

While most species of aquatic turtles are inactive, tucked-away on the bottom of a pond in the leaf litter and mud, our resident sliders tend to become active throughout the colder months. All it takes is a few bright sunny days. Among the local turtles, yellow-bellied and red-eared sliders, eastern painted turtle, common musk turtle, and common snapping turtle, it’s the sliders that are most often seen out basking in late fall and winter. The water is shallow in ourRead more

Something To Get Excited About

Near the end of the day, while searching in the woods for browse for the insects in the Butterfly House Insectarium, Insectarium Manager Leon discovered a rather large mushroom growing on a sweetgum tree. He, very excitedly, called me on the radio to invite me to come have a look at it. I swiftly called Ranger Martha to do the same. I had to run off to take care of other duties, but Ranger Martha, our resident mycologist, met withRead more

A Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s hawks are not uncommon here in Durham. Even so, I was surprised to see one perched in a willow 15 – 20 feet off the path in a black willow. The hawk watched intently as a dozen or so butter-butts flitted around the nearby wax myrtle bushes. Cooper’s hawks are almost exclusively bird eaters. When the warblers moved on, the hawk settled in for a bit of preening. Cooper’s hawks are one of three accipiters (long-tailed, forest hunting hawks)Read more

The Howling

Top: Father and three of his sons from this year’s liter enjoy a group howl. Our ten red wolves howl regularly. We don’t howl at them, but their howling has become a nearly daily routine. The museum happens to be located within a quarter mile of a hospital. We hear a lot of sirens. Most are off in the distance, but our wolves hear them just the same, and they react to the sirens by howling. It’s quite an experienceRead more

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