A Few Fall Encounters

Top Photo: Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern phoebes can be seen in every month of the year in central North Carolina. Here at the museum, they nest under the boardwalk each spring/summer and are present in all but the coldest months of the year, although some years I see them regularly throughout the four seasons.

Eastern phoebe keeps eye out for flying insect prey.
Green tint to underside plumage of freshly molted phoebe will quickly fade to white.

The phoebe above is in fresh fall plumage. You can see the distinctive greenish belly and chin on this newly molted bird. The green tint will soon fade to white.

Another creature which has been seen in all months of the year is the northern or DeKay’s brown snake. They max out at about 20 inches. The one pictured is a small one, about 8 inches, and was hurrying across the path when I came upon it. When disturbed they may coil up and threaten to strike. But of course, they’re harmless.

Harmless brown snake’s attempt at intimidation.

Brown snakes eat snails, slugs and earthworms among other small invertebrates. When not crawling across a hiking path they may be found under rocks, logs, discarded backyard lumber and underutilized yard or farm equipment.

Most butterflies do not fly all year, ceasing activity when the cold north winds blow. Of late, there’s certainly a chill in the morning air, but there are many species which are currently active and will be for several more weeks.

The two butterfly species highlighted here are the clouded skipper and least skipper. Both are grass skippers, or folded-wing skippers. They typically perch with their wings partially folded, the hindwings held flat out to the sides and the forewings folded up over the back.

Often its the presence of or lack of spots on the skipper’s wings which help to distinguish the different species of grass skipper.

Clouded skipper.
Dark area crossing center of wing on this clouded skipper engaged in a late season honeysuckle flower, is characteristic of the species.
Note the placement and shape of the whitish spots on the forewings of this clouded skipper.

The least skipper is very small. The undersides of the wings are more orange than brown in color. The upper surfaces of the wings are gray-brown and darker than the lower surfaces. There are no spots on the wings of this species.

The small and plain least skipper.

Watch for these two butterflies skipping along low to the ground, especially the least skipper which has a weaker and slower flight than clouded skipper.

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