Dedicated to protecting and restoring Ellerbe Creek.

 

Welcome to the bimonthly natural history update from the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.  This update lists up-coming events and describes what to expect from the wildlife and wild plants in the watershed this month.  We hope you enjoy this feature.

 

Upcoming Events

 

Wednesday, May 8 Monthly BOARD MEETING

ECWA board meetings are open to the public.  Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes?  Thinking about becoming more involved, but not sure what it takes?  Come sit-in on one of our board meetings.  The next meeting is May 8 at 7:15 PM. Contact katherine (at) ellerbecreek.org for more information.

 

May 2013

 

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On the Wild Side

 

Birds.− This month, migration season continues. The brilliant hued warblers that pass through North Carolina use directional information gathered from the stars, sun, wind, odors, and the Earth’s magnetic field to guide their course northward. Some of these migrants stop and stay in North Carolina for the summer, including local breeders such as scarlet and summer tanagers, ovenbirds and prairie warblers.

 

To identify the vivid, but elusive, tanagers by ear listen for a throaty “chik burr” or a harsh “pik-a-tuck”. Overbirds make a sweet sounding “cher, teacher teacher teacher” often from near the forest floor, while prairie warblers have a buzzy ascending song that they belt out from the tree tops.

 

Birds vocalize in a number of ways, including calls and songs. Calls are short and brief, signaling danger or keeping flock mates together. Songs are typically longer and more complex, and serve to attract mates. Songs are usually sung by male birds, and Passerines (which include warblers and sparrows among many others) have the best developed songs in the bird world.

 

Bluebirds, Carolina wrens, ruby-throated hummingbirds, brown thrashers, northern mockingbirds, northern cardinals, pileated woodpeckers and barred owls are just some of the species documented to fledge in the Piedmont in May. 

 

Most common songbirds and woodpeckers hatch naked and helpless, relying on their parents for food until they fledge, i.e. have the ability to fly. Fledgling woodpeckers may stay with their parents for several weeks, learning the ropes of insect gathering and hole drilling. Eventually, both songbird and woodpecker parents may have to resort to some tough love, via aggression (commonly seen among cardinals) or by simply ignoring their offspring (in the case of sapsuckers), to drive begging fledglings away and ensure their independence. 

 

Remember: Give those fledglings a fighting chance by KEEPING CATS INDOORS.

 

 

 

Butterflies.− This May, butterfly watchers will delight in the appearance of more skippers, quick and darting butterflies in the family Hesperiidae. Also, expect to see some hairstreaks (e.g., coral, banded and striped), great spangled fritillaries, northern pearly eyes, Appalachian browns, common wood nymphs and little wood satyrs.


This month skipper caterpillars begin to appear. They have large brown heads and skinny necks. They are usually green or brown with faint stripping, making them look like over-stuffed inch worms! Skipper caterpillars construct protective shelters by cutting a flap of leaf, folding it over and fastening the sides with their silk. Look for spread-wing skippers (e.g., silver-spotted skippers) on legumes and oaks leaves. Grass skippers can be found – you guessed it! – rolled up in grasses and sedges.

 

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

 

 

Other Insects.− The first fire-flies often appear in May. Also, be on the look-out for hummingbird moths, a species of moth that hovers and makes an audible humming noise as it feeds. This month, one might find annual cicada shells clinging to tree trunks. You may also find some 17 year cicadas! Visit the Magicicada website to see the projected area of emergence for Brood II. For more information, also check out the Wildlife Profile below.

 

Reptiles & Amphibians.− This month, the eastern five-lined skinks begin to mate, and turtles adorn riverside logs. Also, expect to find snakes out even during the day, especially eastern garter snakes, black rat snakes and black racers. Queen snakes and northern water snakes will be found basking on logs along rivers and creeks. Many people confuse northern water snakes with venomous species (such as copperheads and cottonmouths), but northern water snakes have circular pupils.

 

Choruses of Fowler’s toads, eastern narrow-mouthed toads and Cope’s gray treefrogs can also be heard this time of year, and Fowler’s toad tadpoles begin to metamorphose by the end of the month.

 

May frog call guide:

Cope’s gray treefrog: a short, deep repetitive trill (often heard coming from the trees before it rains!)

Fowler’s toads: long, slightly nasal, crabby trill

eastern narrow-mouth toads: buzzy and sheep-like call (like a Fowler’s toad, but shorter and buzzier)

 

Cope's gray treefrog on Eatern redbud; Photo by N. Cagle (2008)

 

 

 

In Bloom:

JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT (Arisaema triphyllum)

SMOOTH SWEET-SHRUB (Calycanthus floridus var. glaucus)

GREEN-AND-GOLD (Chrysogonum virginianum)

HEART'S-A'BUSTIN' (Euonymus americanus)

LITTLE-BROWN-JUG (Hexastylis arifolia)

BEAKED HAWKWEED (Hieracium gronovii)

RATTLESNAKE-WEED (Hieracium venosum)

BLUETS (Houstonia caerulea)

SUMMER BLUET (Houstonia purpurea)

EASTERN YELLOW STAR-GRASS (Hypoxis hirsuta)

COLONIAL DWARF-DANDELION (Krigia dandelion)

WOOD-SORREL (Oxalis sp.)

RUNNING FIVE-FINGERS (Potentilla canadensis)

BLACKBERRY (Rubus sp.)

LYRE-LEAF SAGE (Salvia lyrata)

SKULLCAP (Scutellaria sp.)

MAPLE-LEAF VIBURNUM (Viburnum acerifolium)

 

Yellow Stargrass, Common Goldstar (Hypoxis hirsuta)

Eastern yellow star-grass Hypoxis hirsuta, Clay Co., NC

 

 

 
Wildlife Profile.− This month’s wildlife profile examines the PERIODICAL CICADAS emerging from the depths after thirteen years of underground maturation. Found only in eastern North America, seven species of periodical cicadas emerge on 13-year (four species) and 17-year cycles (three species). The 13-year cicadas inhabit the south and Midwest, while the 17-year species are primarily found in the North.

 

Right now reports of periodical cicadas in the Eastern Brood (II) are emerging from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. More reports are expected.

 

The last 17-year periodical cicada emergence in North Carolina occurred in 2008 (Brood XIV). Four broods (II, VI, X, and XIV) of 17-year cicadas occur in North Carolina, but their extents are largely limited to western portion of the state. Only Brood II of 17-year cicadas show up in limited areas of the Piedmont; they were last seen in 1996. Our state is also home to one 13-year brood, we won’t see again until 2024.  

 

The United States was historically home to fourteen broods – i.e., those cicadas of the same life-cycle that emerge in a given year – of 17-year periodical cicadas and four broods of 13-year cicadas. Since the 1870s, one brood from each life-cycle has gone extinct, including a 13-year cicada brood (XXI) in Florida and a 17-year brood (XI) in Connecticut. Researchers have suggested that farming, urbanization, and climate change may be responsible for range contractions in other broods (e.g., Brood VII in New York).

 

The purpose of the short-lived adult periodical cicada is to reproduce. Once they emerge, the males have only a few weeks to attract multiple mates with their loud song. If the female is receptive, she responds with wing-clicks and closer proximity. After mating, the female will incise the branch of tree and lay approximately twenty eggs in each of roughly thirty slits. After six to ten weeks, the eggs hatch and the nymphs drop to the ground, burrowing into the dirt. The nymphs will remain up to a foot below ground, sucking juices from the roots of plants, as they change and develop. After thirteen or seventeen years, the nymph will emerge from its burrow on a warm evening in spring. They molt one last time, and then wait in the leaves of a tree for six days as their new exoskeleton hardens. By mid-July, nearly all remnants of these remarkable insects have disappeared until the next generation emerges.

 

Did you know?

  • There are seven species of periodical cicadas all in the genusMagicicada.
  • Most broods contain all four (for 13-year cicadas) or three (for 17-year) species, with a few exceptions.
  • One species of 13-year periodical cicada (Magicicada neotredecim) was described as late as the year 2000!
  • Tree growth often declines the year before the cicadas emerge because of increased feeding by the nymphs.
  • Periodical cicadas have many predators including birds, moles, and squirrels.
  • They neither bite nor sting.

 

Identification: Approximately one inch long with bulging red eyes, black bodies, and red wing veins.

 

***********************
Nicolette L. Cagle, Ph.D.
North Carolina Science Leadership Fellow (2012-2014)
Director of the Environmental Science Summer Program at Duke
Associate Director of First Year Writing, Thompson Writing Program
Lecturing Fellow, Thompson Writing Program
Instructor, Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University, BOX 90025 Durham NC 27708
nicolette.cagle (at) gmail.com

 

 

 

References:

 

Barden, L. S. (1997). Historic prairies in the Piedmont of North and South Carolina, USA. Natural Areas Journal, 17, 149-152.

 

Byrd, W. 1967. Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 640 pp

 

Cook, Dave. 2001. The Piedmont Almanac. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Mystic Crow Publishing.

 

Daniels, J. C. 2003. Butterflies of the Carolinas. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, Inc.

 

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. New York: Simon & Schuster.

 

Lawson, J. (1967). A New Voyage to Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

 

LeGrand, H. E. Jr. 2009. Notes on the Butterflies of North Carolina. Available at: http://149.168.1.196/nbnc/

 

LeGrand, H. E. Jr. and Howard, T. E. Jr. 2011. Notes on the Odonates of North Carolina. 3rd approximation.

 

Noss, R. 2013. Forgotten Grasslands of the South: Natural History and Conservation. Island Press: Washington D.C.

 

Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Predicting Winter Weather: Woolly Bear Caterpillars” Available online at http://www.almanac.com/content/predicting-winter-weather-woolly-bear-caterpillars [Last accessed: 16 Nov 2012]

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***********************
Nicolette L. Cagle, Ph.D.
North Carolina Science Leadership Fellow (2012-2014)
Director of the Environmental Science Summer Program at Duke
Associate Director of First Year Writing, Thompson Writing Program
Lecturing Fellow, Thompson Writing Program
Instructor, Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University, BOX 90025 Durham NC 27708

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