You Had to Be There

Top Photo: Hermit thrush surveys its winter quarters near red wolf enclosure at museum.

A hermit thrush can be difficult to spot when sitting motionless amongst branches, twigs, and leaves of trees. Even while it calls out with a chup…chup…chup or slowly repeats a slurry, whistled tone, it can be hard to pin down. Perseverance sometimes pays off when the bird switches perch, the movement catching your eye, and you got him.

Hermit thrush in red cedar.

While walking along a service road out of public view, I spotted a butterfly flitting through the dappled light on the side of the road. It landed, becoming part of the leaf liter. I slowly walked to where I’d last seen the insect. A bit worse for wear, worn at the edges and missing some scales, it was a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta).

Slightly worn red admiral (11/18/21).

Red admirals are associated with nettles, their host plant, though they may be seen in many different habitats, whether nectaring, or most often, perched on the ground. They may be encountered from March to November, more rarely on warm winter days. They are, at least in part, migratory.

One of our resident red-shouldered hawks, in immature plumage, surprised me and several other folks standing at the secondary black bear overlook. We were hoping to see Little Bear, our new black bear cub, when all of the sudden a hawk dropped down to the ground in front of us and just as quickly retreated with a talon full of, what looked like, mostly leaves. The bird settled on top of the bear enclosure fence some twenty feet away.

Unfortunately the young hawk landed with its back to us making it difficult to see what was wrapped in the leaves. It was clear, though, the bird was eating something. I wasn’t able to get a photo of the prey the bird was picking at, but I did get a glimpse of two dangling frog legs. It was probably a pickerel frog, though a bullfrog wouldn’t be out of the question.

Young red-shouldered hawk captured frog.
After-meal bask in sun.

Winter, spring, summer, fall, there’s always something happening on the outdoor loop at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, but you have to be here to see it!

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