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March Wildlife Report

On the Wild Side

Trees as Habitat. - This month, take a look at all those trees that are beginning to flower and leaf out. These trees provide habitat for many animals.

For example, tree hollows or semi-enclosed natural cavities in the trunks of trees, can be used as diurnal (daytime) or nocturnal (nighttime) shelter sites for animals. They can also be used to rear young, to feed, and for thermoregulation. For example, in holes high up in the tree, you might find chickadees. Chickadees will go into a hole, puff out their feathers, go into a state of hypothermia with body temperatures of about 20 degrees F, and wait out the cold weather.

Image of a habitat tree showing various features
Image from Arboriculture International

The bark of a tree is also habitat for animals. In fact, five species of bat in the Piedmont roost in trees: the Seminole bat (year-round resident), the silver-haired and hoary bats (winter residents), and the red and evening bats (summer residents). Bark can also provide habitat for insects and spiders, including the broad-faced sac spider, funnel-web spiders, and lynx spiders lying in wait to catch their prey.

Tip-up-mounds (or mounds formed when a large tree is uprooted) can also provide unusual animal habitats. For example, amphibians can breed in the holes left behind by the dispossessed root ball. Tip-up-mounds also provide habitat for small mammals and ground nesting birds. Winter wrens, a winter resident in the Piedmont, have been known to nest in tree roots at their summer grounds.

Finally, the stabilizing nature of tree roots means that animals can often burrow under trees. In fact, squirrels are usually seen at their day nests high in trees, but they prefer to nest in tree holes at the base or beneath trees. These holes are usually two to four inches in diameter. Chipmunks, too, will nest in burrows beneath trees, storing up to 10 quarts of nuts, berries, and other goodies in their winter den.

Birds. - Many bird species will be migrating this month. Migration is different from other types of avian movements because it is “seasonal, predictable, and repeated each year *”. Other types of avian movements lack these qualities. For example, some species fly long distances to forage – or search for food – but their foraging is not seasonal. Other species move to new sites after they hatch – this is called dispersal. Since an individual bird does not disperse each year, this is not migration either.

Approximately five species of wood-warblers (Family: Parulidae) pass through the Triangle in March, ending their journeys further north, including the blue-winged, Tennessee, orange-crowned, yellow, and black-throated green warblers. Other species of wood-warblers will arrive this month and stay to breed, including the northern parula, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, prothonotary warbler, worm-eating warbler, ovenbird, and Louisiana waterthrush.

Head shots of 11 Eastern Wood Warblers
Image from Bur Oak Botanicals Blogger

By the end of the month, you may see both male and female woodpeckers excavating their nests (although the males often do most of the work). Woodpeckers usually excavate a new nest cavity each year, while starlings, sparrows, and titmice quickly appropriate old, empty cavities. Although the trees that woodpeckers excavate may look alive, research has revealed that most woodpecker species chose to excavate trees with dead heartwood. One exception, found in the North Carolina sandhills, is the red-cockaded woodpecker, which prefers to dig into live pine trees.

If you look carefully up at the holes that woodpeckers make, you can identify the species. For example, pileated woodpeckers excavate holes that are rectangular and often several feet long. In contrast, the downy woodpecker may have a hole that is only a half-inch in diameter.

* Elphick et al. 2009, p59

Butterflies. - This month, butterfly watchers may begin to find hairstreaks (including the red-banded, gray, juniper, and great purple) and swallowtails (e.g., black and eastern tiger). If you want to find zebra swallowtails, be sure to look in the right sort of habitat: breeding takes place in rich, moist woodlands often near rivers and swamplands. In fact, zebra swallowtail larvae will only feed on paw-paw (Asimina species.), although adults may fly out to the forest edge to enjoy nectar from a variety of sources including milkweeds (Asclepias species) and the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).

Reptiles & Amphibians. - Throughout March, expect to hear Southeastern chorus frogs, Northern cricket frogs, American toads, pickerel frogs, and Eastern spadefoots. Fowler’s toads, bullfrogs, and green frogs will start calling this month, but do not expect large choruses until April.

Also, expect to hear the exuberant harbingers of spring: spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer). These small, copper-colored frogs, with a dark X across its back, announce spring with loud peeps. Armies of peepers – the proper name for a group -- can be heard as far as 2.5 miles away.

Found throughout North Carolina, spring peepers prefer woodlands with ample forest litter and breed in ponds, swamps, and ditches. The female spring peeper lays about 900 eggs per complement, attaching each egg singly to submerged wood and vegetation. In a few days, the eggs hatch, releasing impossibly small, dark tadpoles into the water. After three or four months, the tadpoles metamorphose into adult peepers

Adult spring peepers are carnivorous, preying upon worms and small arthropods. In most areas, they are nocturnal hunters, but in humid environments, they also hunt during the day. Adults are vulnerable to predation from spiders and birds and, in some areas, spring peeper populations are declining due to habitat loss.

March frog call guide:

  • Southeastern chorus frog: raspy, rising call like someone dragging their thumb over the teeth of a comb
  • spring peepers: a loud, medium pitched “peeep”
  • Northern cricket frogs: clinking like two small metal balls being tapped together
  • American toads: long, musical trill
  • pickerel frogs: drawn out snore
  • Eastern spadefoot toads: a crabby, deep “eeeerrrr”

In Bloom

In Bloom this Month. - March is a great month to brush-up on your herbaceous plant identification, starting with the spring ephemerals – fragile wildflowers that disappear after a brief vernal resurgence.

One of the first flowers to bloom in March is round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana). Other March ephemerals include the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) and trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) with their yellow nodding flowers emerging from a pair of dark green, spotted leaves. If you are exploring richer woods, you might find red trillium (Trillium cuneatum), may-apples (Podophyllum peltatum), a few species of wild ginger or heartleaf (Hexastylus spp.) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Photograph of early spring Bloodroot
(Photo provided by N. Cagle)

Bloodroots are fascinating plants with clasping, multi-lobed dark green leaves from which emerge a delicate 8-12 petaled white flower. Small bees and flies pollinate its flowers, and ants disperse its seeds in a process known as myrmecochory. The ants are attracted to a fleshy, edible organ on the seed known as an elaiosome. Ants bring the seed back to their nest, where they eat the elaiosome, and then deposit the seed in their fertile nest debris!

In Bloom:

  • RED MAPLE (Acer rubrum)
  • WINDFLOWER (Anemonella thalictroides)
  • CUT-LEAF TOOTHWORT (Cardamine concatenate)
  • EASTERN SPRING-BEAUTY (Claytonia virginica)
  • EASTERN REDBUD (Cercis canadensis)
  • AMERICAN HAZELNUT (Corylus americana)
  • AMERICAN TROUT-LILY (Erythronium americanum)
  • ROUND-LOBED HEPATICA (Hepatica americana)
  • LITTLE HEARTLEAF (Hexastylis minor)
  • QUAKER-LADIES (Houstonia caerulea)
  • HAIRY WOOD-RUSH (Luzula acuminata)
  • MAY APPLE (Podophyllum peltatum)
  • BLOODROOT (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • GIANT CHICKWEED (Stellaria pubera)
  • RED TRILLIUM (Trillium cuneatum)
  • DOORYARD VIOLET (Viola sororia)

Wildlife Profile

Photograph of four-toed slamander
(Image from SREL Herpetology)

In North Carolina, the Wildlife Resource Commission has listed the four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) as a species of special concern. Although some populations have been found in the Coastal Plain and Mountains, the four-toed salamander predominantly occurs in the Piedmont, where it prefers marshes, swamps, and ephemeral ponds surrounded by forest.

After mating in the fall, some female four-toed salamanders cooperate with each other during the spring nesting season, preferring to lay eggs together on moss-covered logs and roots draped over still water. This communal nest allows one female to leave for a short period, while the other stays behind to tend to the eggs. While it may look like the females are guarding the eggs from predators, researchers have suggested that the females protect the eggs from egg-destroying fungus. Reid Harris and Douglas Gill have suggested that female four-toed salamanders may even eat fungus-infected eggs (1, 2).

After one and a half to two months of protection, in the warmth of early summer, the larvae finally emerge from the eggs and drop into the still water where they transform into small adults in about 6 weeks. It takes at least one and half more years for the young four-toed salamanders to reach sexual maturity (2). Rocks and leaf litter typically provide habitat for these adults.

As adults, the four-toed salamanders range from 2 to 3.5 inches. Small, black spots speckle their mottled, reddish-brown backs, and their tail shows the brightest red. That tail, if grabbed, can disconnect from the body and will continue to writhe and wiggle to lure predators away from the feeling salamander. The belly of the four-toed salamander is white with black spots, and as its name suggests, the four-toed salamander only has four toes on each hind foot.


  • k, D. 2001. The Piedmont Almanac. Chapel Hill, NC: Mystic Crow Publishing.
  • (*) Elphick, C., Dunning, John B., JR., Sibley, D.A. 2009. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 588pp.
  • (1) Harris, R. N. and Gill, D. E. 1980. Communal nesting, brooding behavior, and embryonic survival of the four-toed salamander Hemidactylium scutatum. Herpetologica 36(2): 141-144.
  • LeGrand, H. E. Jr. 2009. Notes on the Butterflies of North Carolina. Available at:
  • Martof, B. S., W. M. Palmer, J. R. Bailey, and J. R. Harrison. 1980. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC.
  • (2) Meyer, Rachelle. 2008. Hemidactylium scutatum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [Last accessed 13 Jan 2015].
  • National Geographic Society. Spring Peeper Profile. Available at: [Last accessed 27 Feb 2011].

About the Author

Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D. is a passionate ecologist and environmental educator on the faculty of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke Univ

To learn more, please visit her website.

Beaver Marsh Trail


About the Beaver Marsh Trail

Learn Your Trail
A Beaver Marsh Project

Learn Your Trail is a project designed and developed to help create a more interactive experience for visitors here at the Beaver Marsh. As you travel along the preserve trails, you will find 8 individual posts with signs on them. The signs point out different site topics and each will have a QR Code on it. The QR Code can be scanned using your mobile device, which will connect you directly to interesting tidbits on the sign’s subject matter. Here you will access information related to the Beaver Marsh Preserve on various topics: Mammals; Amphibians/Reptiles; Birds; Insects; Native Plants; Stormwater Runoff; Wetlands; and, of course, ECWA’s organization.

With the right tools and a bit of curiosity, we hope you find this exploratory experience worthwhile and fulfilling. So get yourself ready and give it a go.

What You’ll Need

Smartphone loaded with a QR-code app. That’s about it.

Where Can You Get a QR-Code app?

If you don’t have a QR-code app on your smartphone, you will need to download one of the following apps to your smartphone. There are other apps as well that will work if you search “QR Code Scanner” on the App Store/Google Play Store/Marketplace:

  1. iPhone: QR Reader

  2. Android: QR Droid Code Scanner

  3. Windows: QR Code Reader

NOTE: If you do not have one of these phones, you can access the content as well by simply going to:

How Do You Use the App?

  1. Walk right up to one of the eight signs along the trail.

  2. Open up the App on your phone.

  3. Direct your phone toward the sign and Scan the QR-code.

  4. Voila!! Your phone will be redirected to the host site and information content will magically appear before your eyes (on your phone of course).

  5. Proceed along the trail to the next sign and Repeat.

We hope you find this project informative and enlightening.
Enjoy and have a wonderful adventure!

"Learn Your Trail" was developed for ECWA as an Eagle Scout project by
Mathew Jacob of BSA Troop 316 of the Occoneechee Council in Apex NC.

September 2016


Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
331 W. Main, Ste. 511
Durham, NC 27701

These web pages are the Eagle Scout project of Mathew Jacob.
Thanks Mathew!


Beaver Marsh Trail - #1 - History and Organization


What does ECWA stand for and what does it do?

ECWA (Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association) is a nonprofit conservation organization. With the Ellerbe creek as it focal point, ECWA’s goals include:

  • Maintain a healthy living creek with diverse group of native flora and fauna;
  • Create a network of preserves and trails along the creek;
  • Connect Durham’s diverse neighborhoods and communities using Ellerbe Creek as a link;
  • Help adults and kids have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate being outdoors in a learning and safe environment.

What are the different preserves and trails that I can explore?

You can learn a lot and have a fun time in the following ECWA Nature Preserves:

Eastern Bluebird - Photo by D. Kaplan

Eastern Bluebird - Photo by D. Kaplan

Beaver Marsh Nature Preserve is located between Club Boulevard and Interstate 85. This is a great place for bird watching with over 75 species of migratory and resident birds.

17-Acre Wood Nature Preserve covers 20 acres of floodplain forest. It is located in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood. Some interesting sights include wild turkey, great blue heron, deer, & fox.

Glennstone Nature Preserve borders Ellerbe Creek’s floodplain. This preserve is located 15 minutes east of downtown Durham and is about 83-acres large. This nature preserve has nearly 3 miles of trail and a rich variety of native wildflowers and grasses, helping to make it one of the most attractive parts of Ellerbe Creek.

Pearl Mill Nature Preserve is a 3-acre corridor of wetlands and floodplain woods bounded by the Trinity Park, Old North Durham and Duke Park neighborhoods. The existing canopy of native trees is diverse, including oaks, hackberry, walnut and persimmon.

I would like to get my kids interested in nature.
Does ECWA have any organized activities?

2014 Creek Tour Image

2014 Creek Tour

ECWA’s Family Explorers Club is a great place to do so. The goal of the club is to inspire children and their families to connect with the natural world while spending quality time together outdoors. The Club meets one Saturday of every month at different natural areas in the community.

I am amazed by all that ECWA does.
What can I do to help?

YCC at Glennstone

Youth Conservation Corps at Glennstone

ECWA always need help from volunteers for our many projects. Sign up by clicking here and we will notify you about our volunteering opportunities. You can also become an ECWA member by registering at our website. Finally, donations of any amount and sponsorships are always appreciated.

For further information, please visit


Thank you for your support!!



Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
331 W. Main, Ste. 511
Durham, NC 27701

These web pages are the Eagle Scout project of Mathew Jacob.
Thanks Mathew!


Beaver Marsh Trail - #2 - Native Plants


What is a Native plant? What is so special about native plants?

Native plants are plants that can grow in an area naturally without human influence or by being brought from another region in a specific location. They often serve as the foundation for ecosystems including wetlands and have important interactions with other members of an ecosystem. Most of the times, this interaction is being a source of food for many animals. They can convert solar energy into a form that is useable by plants and other organisms and this useable form is transferred throughout the ecosystem when animals eat plants or other animals. Native plants also help to improve the aesthetic of an environment and help make it unique from other regions.

Native and Non-native plants at Beaver Marsh

Native and Non-native plants at Beaver Marsh

What is an indicator plant?

Plants can be used to indicate the conditions of a local ecosystem. For example, Q. stellata is a tree species that does not grow well in sterile, sandy soil. Evergreen forests only grow in areas with high rainfall throughout the year and grasslands can be found only in regions where it rains mainly during the summer. Species like Utricularia, Wolffia grow only in very polluted regions and plants like Agrostis, Eupilobium, Pium Plum usually grow in areas with frequent wildfires.

Why are non-native plants a problem?

While native plants are usually very important for an ecosystem, non-native plants, which are often invasive plants, can be extremely harmful. Not only do they compete for nutrients and other resources but they can disrupt an ecosystem. Invasive plants are currently one of the biggest threats to biodiversity because they are much more capable of utilizing native sources than native plants and though can make an area filled with many different plant types become an area with only one or two plant types.

English Ivy growing in a natural area

English Ivy growing in a natural area

What native and non-native plants grow in Beaver Marsh?

Native Plants


  • Swamp chestnut oak
  • Red and white oak species
  • Persimmon
  • Sassafras
  • Black gum
  • Ironwood


  • Deciduous holly
  • Arrow-wood
  • Hearts-a-bustin’
  • Black haw
  • Blueberry
  • Swamp rose
  • Painted buckeye


  • Moonseed
  • Cross vine
  • Cucumber vine
  • Yellow passion flower


  • Crane-fly orchid
  • Groundnut
  • Seedbox
  • Lizard’s tail
  • Soft rush
  • Jewelweed
  • Arrowhead

Non-Native Plants

  • Uruguayan primrose
  • Garlic mustard
  • Japanese knotweed
  • Chinese privet
  • Japanese privet
  • Chinese Wisteria
  • Kudzu
  • English ivy
  • Japanese honeysuckle
  • Mimosa (aka silk tree)

What can I do to help promote native plants?

Non-native plants pose a big threat to local ecosystems but their harmful impacts can be reduced. One way to do so is to simply verify that the plants you use are not a non-native invasive species. Planting native plants can help restore the function and health of an ecosystem. Another way to help is by volunteering at parks or other wildlife areas to help remove any non-native plants.

A Native Plant Garden

A Native Plant Garden


More Info

Headshot of Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D.
Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D.

Looking for even more information?

Check out Nicolette Cagle's September Wildlife Report

Check out Nicolette Cagle's September Wildlife Report

Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D. is a passionate ecologist and environmental educator on the faculty of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. She provides periodic Wildlife Reports on the flora and fauna in the Ellerbe Creek Watershed.



Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
331 W. Main, Ste. 511
Durham, NC 27701

These web pages are the Eagle Scout project of Mathew Jacob.
Thanks Mathew!


Beaver Marsh Trail - #3 - The Importance of Wetlands


What are Wetlands?


Swamps, fens, marshes, and bogs are wetlands; areas where the soil is saturated with water for at least some part of the year. They are ecologically important ecosystems, home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. It was originally thought that wetlands were useless or even harmful to human health. As a result, many were drained and converted into dryer landscapes for agricultural purposes. However, today we know otherwise. They are actually considered some of the most active ecosystems in the world and have many important functions that are beneficial to humans as well. They help to filter, clean, and store waste water and help to store water from floods.


Tell me more about the Wetland in Beaver Marsh.

As mentioned earlier, there are many different species that live in wetlands. Some plant species that are native to the Beaver Marsh area include Indian hemp, boneset, jewelweed, swamp rose, elderberry, button bush and silky dogwood. There are also many invasive plant species as well such as Microstegium, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese and Japanese privet, rose of Sharon, Iris pseudacorus, and Lysimachia nummularia. One important animal species in the area is the beaver, which helps to control the flow of water and transform wetlands with its construction of dams.

Beaver Marsh comprises of over 25.5 acres of wetlands and flood plain. The Beaver Marsh’s water is supplied primarily by groundwater springs, but there are also streams that flow from the north through storm water culverts at Club Boulevard and Ambridge Street.

Native plant in a wetland


More Info

Headshot of Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D.
Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D.

Looking for even more information?

Check out Nicolette Cagle's September Wildlife Report

Check out Nicolette Cagle's September Wildlife Report

Nicolette Cagle, Ph.D. is a passionate ecologist and environmental educator on the faculty of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. She provides periodic Wildlife Reports on the flora and fauna in the Ellerbe Creek Watershed.



Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
331 W. Main, Ste. 511
Durham, NC 27701

These web pages are the Eagle Scout project of Mathew Jacob.
Thanks Mathew!


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