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Dedicated to protecting and restoring Ellerbe Creek.


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


June 2014


Ellerbe Creek



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On the Wild Side




Birds.− Where do birds get their songs? Some species, like flycatchers and phoebes, are born pre-programmed with their song. Other species, like chipping sparrows, learn their songs from neighbors in their new adult territories.


Some birds strictly adhere to their learned songs, while other birds improvise. Robins, gray catbirds, and brown thrashers are well-known for their on-the-spot improvisations. Brown thrashers also break the record for the largest number of songs; they have been recording belting out over 2,400 unique tunes.


Brown Thrasher (image credit here)


Brown thrashers, gray catbirds, and northern mockingbirds all fall into a group known as the “mimic thrushes.” These birds often mimic the sounds of other birds, yet they are easily distinguishable by ear.


Northern mockingbirds usually repeat phrases three or more times, and they often sing at night.


Brown thrashers repeat phrases one to two times. Henry David Thoreau, in “The Beanfield” chapter of Walden, describes thrashers as saying “Drop it, drop it, -- cover it up, cover it up, -- pull it up, pull it up, pull it up.”


Gray catbirds do not consistently repeat phrases, and their song is less melodic than those of the northern mockingbird and brown thrasher. Yet, the catbird’s characteristic “meow” call, from deep in a large shrub, will help you identify this species.


Also look to common backyard birds, like cardinals and robins, to teach us about bird behavior. This month, you can find these species perching with feathers ruffled and bills agape, soaking in the sun. This activity may help them molt or even reduce tick, lice and other parasite loads.


Sunning American Robin (image credit here).


Fledging season continues. The second batch of young-of-the-year bluebirds often fledge in June. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, prothonotary warblers, house wrens, tufted titmice and bald eagles have also been documented to fledge in the Piedmont in June.

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


Butterflies.−Historically, in June, you would find a number of monarchs fluttering across the Piedmont. Recently, however, global monarch populations have plummeted likely due to the wide-spread use of pesticides in association with corn and soybean production in the U.S., loss of habitat to agriculture in the U.S. and Canada, and deforestation in their winter habitat in Mexico.


Here in the Piedmont, we can do our part to help monarch populations rebound by eating organic, buying Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, and by planting milkweed (Asclepias spp.).


Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with its big, round heads of pale pink flowers attracts monarchs, as well as great spangled fritillaries, tiger swallowtails, and silver spotted skippers. Butterfly week (Asclepias tuberosa) is also native to North Carolina and will attract gray hairstreaks too!


Monarch on Common Milkweed (photo credit here).


Don’t forget: The Carolinas are home to five families of butterflies: the skippers (Hesperiidae), gossamer wings (Lycaenidae), brush-foots (Nymphalidae), swallowtails (Papilionidae) and the sulphurs and whites (Pieridae). Each of these families can be divided into a number of sub-families with distinct identifying characteristics.


Reptiles & Amphibians.− Don’t be surprised to see a number of snakes this month, sometimes in odd places. Black rat snakes might be found climbing 50 feet high straight up the side of a pine tree in search of eggs. Northern water snakes could be stuck high in riparian (i.e., river-side) shrubbery following heavy rain. Beautiful pale peach and white copperheads might even be on your driveway in the evening, soaking up warmth from the concrete and asphalt. 


Black Rat Snake on a Pine Tree (Photo credit here).


Also, this month, many reptiles will be laying eggs, including box turtles, yellow-bellied sliders and a number of snake species. This means that turtles will be crossing the road. If you chose to help a turtle in the middle of the road, move the turtle to the side it appears to be going, and remember to BE CAREFUL! Death and injury befall roadside turtle rescuers each year.


Large choruses of northern cricket frogs, Fowler’s toads, eastern narrow-mouthed toads and Cope’s gray treefrogs can still be heard along with bullfrogs and green frogs. Newly metamorphosed Fowler’s toads will be hopping around at the beginning of the month. At the end of the month, look out for 1 cm long Cope’s gray treefrogs. 


Other Insects.− This month, damselflies, which look like dragonflies that close their wings when they land, are out in abundance. Look for the ebony jewelwing -- males have deep black wings and iridescent green bodies, females have tell-tale while spots at the tip of their wings, as well as the American rubyspot – a clear-winged species, painted red near the base with an army-green body.


Luna moths have been observed emerging at the beginning of June, while Io moths, with their characteristic eye-spots on the hind wings, can sometimes be seen towards the end of the month.

Expect to find tiny green-winged stoneflies and giant stoneflies gathering at night by the light. Giant stoneflies, gray bodied insects stretching about 1.5 inches long with uniquely netted veins, may look intimidating, but are completely harmless. In fact, the adult giant stonefly only lives a few weeks and doesn’t eat at all. The presence of giant stonefly larvae in a rivers and creeks indicates that the stream is healthy and not very polluted.




In Bloom this Month.− Be on the lookout for some of these great June flowers and their pollinators, including a variety of bees, wasps, beetles and bugs!


In Bloom:

TALL THIMBLEWEED - Anemone virginiana

MILKWEED(S) - Asclepias spp.

NEW JERSEY-TEA - Ceanothus americanus

SPOTTED WINTERGREEN –Chimaphila maculata

GREEN-AND-GOLD – Chrysogonum virginanum

TICK TREFOIL(S) – Desmodium spp.

MOCK-STRAWBERRY - Duchesnia indica


WHITE AVENS – Geum canadense

ST. ANDREW’S-CROSS – Hypericum hypericoides

SESSILE BLAZING-STAR - Liatris spicata

MILKVINES – Matelea spp.

SOUTHERN SUNDROPS - Oenothera fruticosa

PASSIONFLOWERS – Passiflora spp.

AMERICAN LOPSEED – Phryma leptostachya

HOOKED BUTTERCUP - Ranunculus recurvatus

BLACK-EYED-SUSAN - Rudbeckia hirta

ELDERBERRY – Sambucus spp.

SKULLCAP - Scutellaria sp.

FIRE-PINK – Silene virginica

INDIAN-PINK - Spigelia marilandica

STOKE'S-ASTER - Stokesia laevis

SMOOTH SPIDERWORT - Tradescantia ohiensis


Animal Profile.- Coyote-Wolf Hybrids.


DNA studies suggest that the hybrid offspring of coyotes and wolves have been spreading steadily from the Great Lakes east toward the mid-Atlantic states. More recently, these hybrid have been found in Washington D.C. and Virginia.


Some researchers worry that hybridization between coyotes and wolves might be the death knell for the federally endangered red wolf. While the most recent research suggests that not much interbreeding is occurring between red wolves and coyotes, hybridization between the two species has been reported.


Historically, red wolves ranged across the eastern U.S. from the Atlantic coast to Texas. Today, their range is limited to less than 2 million acres in eastern North Carolina, which house less than 200 individuals.


While the range of the red wolf has steadily contracted, the range of the coyote, a western prairie species, has expanded steadily eastward. In 1965, no wild coyotes were known from the southeastern states. Today, coyotes have moved to the east coast, due to a number of human-influenced factors including the removal of other large canine species (e.g., wolves), the introduction of coyotes into some parts of the southeast, and habitat change.


Last summer, coyotes were seen across Durham prompting news reports by ABC 11. If you see a coyote, remain calm and keep your distance.



EABC11. 18 Jul 2013. Coyote Sighting in Durham.


Burt, W. H. and R. P. Grossenheider. 1980. A Field Guide to the Mammals, 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, MA.


Cook, D. 2001. The Piedmont Almanac. Raleigh, NC: Barefoot Press.


Conant, R., and J.T. Collins. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, MA.


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


Dell’Amore, C. 7 Nov 2011. Hybrid offspring of coyotes and wolves have spread south along the eastern seaboard, a new DNA study confirms. National Geographic News.


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


Wagner, D. L. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ


Thoreau, H. D. 2004. Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition.  Yale University Press: New Haven, CT.

Peterson Field Guides: Birding by Ear (Eastern/Central)

Nicki Cagle

Nicolette L. Cagle, Ph.D.
North Carolina Science Leadership Fellow (2012-2014)
Director of the Environmental Science Summer Program at Duke
Lecturer, Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University, BOX 90025 Durham NC 27708
nicolette.cagle (at)

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