A Familiar Face and a New Face

What is becoming an increasingly familiar face here at the Museum is that of the local barred owl. I’ve encountered this owl seven times since October, each time alerted to its presence through the harassing calls of crows, blue jays and various dickey birds. This time, the owl was in the swamp across from the Main Wetlands Overlook in Explore the Wild.

The owl seemed to be resting, but apparently at least one eye and both ears were acutely tuned in to the environment. As I watched, the owl must have heard something over its right shoulder. It rotated its head towards the apparent sound. Quickly, the bird turned on its perch, devoting all its attention to the sound. I never caught sight or sound of the bird’s focus as I was called away to duty elsewhere, but I hope the owl was able to follow through and secure the object of its scrutiny.

The owl hears something off to its right.
Steady focus.

I came across the bird again, later in the day, a few hundred yards away in a swamp between the back side of Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind.

Very near this same swamp, in the leaf liter alongside the path, I spotted a new face, a marbled salamander. Unfortunately, it was a dead marbled salamander. In the nine years of service here at the Museum, I’ve come across only one other salamander, a red-backed salamander discovered by a summer camper a few years back. I thought I might see red-spotted newts, perhaps red-backed salamanders, and both marbled and spotted salamanders when I first surveyed the campus nine years ago. I was wrong. So, far, the list includes one red-backed, and now, one marbled salamander.

Expired marbled salamander

All of the above mentioned salamanders can be found in our area, the Piedmont of North Carolina. And, I know of many breeding locations for marbled and spotted salamanders. So, they’re not uncommon. Admittedly, I haven’t searched for salamanders here at the Museum in a way that I should have. Perhaps now, I will.

Marbled salamanders are fall breeders, which makes it more surprising to find one in mid-January. I might expect a spotted at this time of year, although it’s early for them. They typically begin breeding in February or March. The temperature on the day I discover the salamander was close to seventy degrees, the day before was over seventy. This comes after several days of unusually cold weather.

Although there are several ephemeral pools of water on site (the favored breeding sites for these salamanders), I haven’t found eggs or larvae in those pools over the years.

For whatever reason the salamander was out and about, and although it was not a living specimen, I was glad to have discovered it. This sighting proves that they are here, I simply have to be more vigilant in my search for them.

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