Nature Note #207: Thoughts of a Nemophilist

When you think of an oak, you might envision a mighty tree standing proudly among its fellow trees, its branches brimming with acorns. Squirrels and jays hop betwixt its limbs in a fervent collection spree to supply themselves with food for the harsh winter ahead. When I think of an oak, I'm used to the oaks of New England especially the towering red oaks that lined a back corner of the yard at my parent's old house in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Over the years that we lived there, we were witnesses to many of nature's little moments that sometimes play out at the right moment. One winter, those trees hid a barred owl that gazed at my dad and I with its deep brown eyes. After my parents had the smelly chestnuts removed one spring morning; later that fall, squirrels and chickens alike scampered over their leaves looking for acorns and other fallen treasures. While the chickens were an addition to the oaks domain, the squirrels were certainly here long before the birds arrived.…

Nature Note #206: The Falcon, The Dove, and The Quest for 200 Species

As Forrest Gump once professed, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

Birding is a lot like that as well. I remember going on a birding trip when I was about ten with a teen birder at Wayland Community Gardens in eastern Massachusetts expecting that his advanced years would clearly be an asset to finding a multitude of rare and unusual species. The birds it seemed, had other ideas. The only bird we saw that day was a lone black-capped chickadee investigating the twigs of a bare oak. I was extremely disappointed to say the least, not only because of the poor turnout, but I was annoyed at myself for not speaking up more. I guess, I was just a shy kid.

Fast forward to about two weekends ago, I spent birding the Trinity Center property looking for birds for: 1. relaxation purposes, and 2. providing a checklist to submit to eBird the next evening in front of an audience of Road Scholars. I had been preparing since Wednesday and was eage…

Nature Note #205: Colorful Wanderers

The sun was already out by the time I arrived at the beach. A warm breeze wafted over the greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) tangles along the shores of Bogue Banks while a sweet perfume of nectar hung gently in the air near the shrubs where towhees and mockingbirds hid chattering.

I sniffed the air; if only I could fully smell it. Having a cold really puts a damper on experiencing the outdoors especially when breathing is kinda of important for one's survival. Wrinkling my nose and blinking sun-sore eyes, I scoured the nearby bushes for any signs of butterflies that had been moving through the past few days.

Initially, nothing moved. Perhaps I had come too early or maybe it was too breezy for these colorful insects. I glanced over the beach and noticed a squadron of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) and infantry of laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla) bombarding a school of fish in the surf zone. Over and over, I saw feathery missiles diving in the crystal blue waters, snat…

Nature Note #204: Web Heads

If you're as tall as I am (6' 3" to be precise) then you have no doubt experienced the horror, dread, and inconvenience caused by a spider web as it wraps around your head and neck. Frantically, you pull at its sticky strands with growing concern that the web's creator is just a short leap from your neck. Nine times out of ten, you're lucky enough to rid yourself of the nefarious net. The other day, I could have sworn I felt the spider moving in a panicked pattern up and down my neck as I tried to free myself from its trap. Later, I thought that maybe it had bitten off more than it could chew. That, of course, was a silly thought, though. If it really wanted to eat me, it would have to be massive and if that were the case, we humans would have bigger problems fighting an army of 6 foot long Shelobs.

There are three web weavers on the island that are frequently encountered: the golden silk spider (Nephila clavipes), the black and yellow orb weaver (Argiope aurantia

Nature Note #203: Fiddlers on the Move

Few animals are as synonymous with the ocean than the crab, ranging in size from the monstrous king crab of Deadliest Catch fame to the minute hermit crab, a favorite childhood and classroom pet. The most enigmatic can be found in the salt marshes of Bogue Sound and is easily recognized by their diminutive size and asymmetrically large claw; the fiddler crab. Of the six species of fiddler crab that can be found along the Atlantic coast line, we have three species: the Atlantic sand fiddler (Uca pugilator), the Atlantic marsh fiddler (U. pugnax), and the red-jointed fiddler (U. minax).

Their name derives from the large claw of the males either in reference its overall size or due to their tendency to move it back and forth like a bow across the strings of the fiddle. In fact, their mating display involves the males waving their large claw back and forth in a bid to attract females.

Given my inexperience with identifying crabs, I would have to say that these little ones were either sand…

Nature Note #202: Fall Flight

As fall draws closer, migration is in full swing with birds, dragonflies, and butterflies traveling hundreds of miles to reach wintering grounds along the coast, towards the interior, or even further south towards Mexico and South America. At the Trinity Center, some of our most noticeable migrants are yellow-bellied sapsuckers, cloudless sulphur butterflies and, green darner dragonflies. Animal migration is triggered by several factors including seasonal changes, food availability, and reproductive needs. During this time of year, I keep my eyes peeled to look out for these incredible travelers, allowing me to catch a glimpse of an important event in Nature’s calendar.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) are common winter residents to the pine forests of coastal North Carolina. While their name is certainly creative, they don’t exactly suck sap. As a member of the woodpecker family, they use their sturdy, pointed bills to peck away at the tree bark to reach grubs and beetle…

Nature Note #201: Blue Cranes and Long Whites

There is a small pond on the Trinity Center property I walk past everyday and is exceptionally buggy. Even when you are covered head to toe with 25% DEET bug spray, it seems to have no effect. The other day, as I rounded a bend, something lifted off from the top of a gnarled cedar. A tall bird croaked with agitation, flying away on long wings and extending a snaking neck. The bird in question was a great blue heron (Ardea herodias), a charismatic and recognizable marsh bird that is familiar to most people. Despite their common presence around wetlands, ponds, and rivers, I have heard them mistaken for another tall marsh bird, and are sometimes called "blue cranes".

Bird misidentification isn't a new issue. Even as naturalists and budding ornithologists like John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson were traveling the country identifying the birds they could; even they used colloquial names to describe their appearance. The title of this post refers to two nicknames, one fo…