Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Nominate Your Conservation Heroes!

Nominate Your Conservation Heroes!

Wild South Seeks Nominations for 8th Annual Roosevelt-Ashe Conservation Awards for Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Conservation in the South.
Wild South invites the public to submit nominations for the 8th Annual Roosevelt-Ashe Conservation Awards. The awards recognize outstanding contributions to environmental conservation in the South during the past year. Awards will be given and top nominees recognized in each of the five categories:

  •  Outstanding Small Business
  •   Outstanding Journalist
  •   Outstanding Educator
  •   Outstanding Youth
  •   Outstanding Conservationist.

On May 7, 2016, top nominees and award winners will be honored at the 8th Annual Wild South Green Gala at The Millroom in Asheville, North Carolina.

Nominations are accepted from across the South and can be submitted online by April 1, 2016 at www.wildsouth.org/nominations. Top nominees and winners will be selected by the Roosevelt-Ashe Selection Committee. Members of this committee are conservation leaders in the region and include:

  • Katie Hicks, Associate Director of Clean Water for North Carolina (Asheville, NC)
  • Jake Wheeler, Creative Director of RootsRated (Chattanooga, TN)
  • Frank Peterman, Co-founder and Senior Business Manager for the Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
  • Audrey Peterman, Member of the Board of Trustees of National Parks Conservation Association (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
  • Dusty Allison, Digital Publisher of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine (Asheville, NC)
  • Kathleen Williams, Founding Executive Director of Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (Nashville, TN)
  • Pete Conroy, Director of Environmental Policy & Information Center of Jacksonville State University (Jacksonville, AL)
  • Camille Bowman, Architectural Conservator (Gadsden, AL)
  • Mary Topa, Executive Director of Georgia Forest Watch (Dahlonega, GA)
​The nomination form can be accessed directly here. We look forward to reading your nomination and to recognizing your conservation heroes!​

About Wild South:

Wild South is the voice of our public lands, forests, and waters as people across the region band together to save the wild places and wild things that we all love. Wild South’s mission is to inspire people to enjoy, value and protect the wild character and natural legacy of the South. For the past 25 years, Wild South has been a leader in protecting our public lands in the South. Working in eight states, Wild South has offices in Asheville, North Carolina, and Moulton, Alabama, with additional staff in Tennessee and Mississippi. To learn more about Wild South, visit www.wildsouth.org.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers & Tree Damage

The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), also referred to as the red-throated, squealing, and whining sapsucker (McAtee 1911), is a species of woodpecker found across eastern North America. This migratory species breeds in the hardwood and coniferous forests of Canada, the upper Midwest, and the northeastern United States. In winter, yellow-bellied sapsuckers reside in the southeastern United States, Mexico and Central America, and the Caribbean.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (from Audubon)

Sapsuckers are known for their distinct feeding behavior: Excavating rows of holes in trees to feed on sap, cambium, and the insects attracted to these wells. Twenty to 100% of a sapsucker’s diet might be the sap itself, depending on the season (Varner et al 2006), and analysis of stomach contents suggest that the cambium itself may make up around 17% the sapsuckers diet (McAtee 1911). Observational data also shows that sapsuckers also rely heavily on these wells for insects for both adults and their young. After their young fledge the nest, adult sapsuckers will spend about 1 to 2 weeks teaching their young the art of sapsucking (Ehrlich et al 1988, p348).

While the sapsuckers’ work serves to feed them and their offspring, a “suite of animals” usurps these wells to feed on the sap themselves (Eberhardt 2000), including small mammals and other bird species (Varner et al. 2006). Ehrlich et al. (1988) notes that sapsuckers often guard their wells from both mammalian and avian thieves, particularly the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Moreover, there is method to the placement of these sap wells. According to Varner et al. (2006), yellow-bellied sapsuckers in their winter range tend to create wells on the north aspect of tree trunks of larger diameter trees. In addition, some research suggests that sapsuckers choose older, diseased trees within which to excavate wells, perhaps because of the increased amino acid content in the sap of weakened trees (Eberhardt 2000).

Sapsuckers have been documented to feed from at least 252 species of native trees and vines, and 31 species of non-native trees (Atwell 1911, p53). Mortality attributed to sapsucker damage has been documented among more than 10% of these species (Atwell 1911). In their breeding range, where sapsuckers feed on trees from April until October, tree mortality associated with sapsucker damage may only be 1 to 3% for some species (e.g., hemlock, red spruce), but can reach up to 40 to 67% for thin barked trees (e.g., red maple, paper birch, and gray birch) (Rushmore 1969). According to Atwell (1911), only tree species in the Mulberry family (Moraceae), such as mulberries and Osage orange, have no documented yellow-bellied sapsucker feeding activity.

The feeding behavior of sapsuckers can girdle and kill trees. The sapsuckers drill through the outer bark of the tree, past the bast (i.e., inner bark), into the cambium, sometimes penetrating the wood (McAtee 1911). This means, that a sapsucker – to access the sap of the tree – is actually puncturing the vascular tissues of the tree. The sapsucker is puncturing those straw-like vessels that move food and water, stopping some parts of the tree from receiving adequate water and nutrients.

Sapsucker damage can also provide entrĂ©e for pathogens and insects, making trees more susceptible to fungus in particular. For example, when the fungus Peridermium cerebrum infects a tree through sapsucker holes, it results in large knots protruding from the bark (McAtee 1911). In contrast, some trees will attempt to heal the wounds and grow thicker at the site of the sapsucker damage, resulting in “shelf-like” layers of woody growth (McAtee 1911, p19). This shelving is particularly pronounced in shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) (pers. obs., 10 Feb 2016).

Sometimes the damage done by sapsuckers can extend into the wood itself, leaving the wood “distorted and discolored in such a way as to destroy its commercial value” (McAtee 1911, p19). Anecdotal evidence has suggested that sapsuckers can affect commercial enterprises in other ways, including damage to apple and peach orchards, maples used for syrup production, and timber producing pines (McAtee 1911).

While the most noticeable sapsucker damage is on trees, woody vines may also sustain damage, including grape species (Vitus), Virginia creeper, and trumpet creeper. The news isn’t all bad: Poison Ivy is also affected.

Eberhardt, L. S. 2000. Use and selection of sap trees by yellow-bellied sapsuckers. The Auk 117(1): 41-51.

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

McAtee, W. L. 1911. Woodpeckers in relation to trees and wood products. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Biological Survey no. 39: September 26, 1911.

Rushmore, F. 1969. Sapsucker: Damage Varies with Tree Species and Seasons. USDA Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, Upper Darby, PA. USDA Forest Service Research Paper NE-136.

Varner, J. M., J. S. Kush, and R. S. Meldahl. 2006. Characteristics of sap trees used by overwintering Sphyrapicus varius (Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers) in an old-growth pine forest. Southeastern Naturalist 5(1): 127-134.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Coyotes in North Carolina

Reports of coyotes (Canus latrans) in North Carolina first emerged in the 1930s, often associated with imported specimens intended to help hunters practice for better game, i.e., red fox. Not until 1947, on Cherokee land in Swain County, did a forest ranger make the first recorded wild sighting of a coyote. In the mid-1980s the range of coyotes in North Carolina was primarily confined to some counties on the western boundary of the Piedmont. Yet today, coyotes occur in all 100 counties of the state. Their populations remain highest in the Western counties, but in the last ten to twenty years sizeable populations have grown in the Coastal Plain.

It isn’t difficult to account for recent increase in coyotes in North Carolina. The species is extremely mobile, with individuals dispersing up to 50 miles. Plus, coyotes can adapt to a wide-range of culinary delights. As a carnivore, most of a coyote’s diet is made up of small mammals, but they will also consume snakes, birds and large insects. If live food is scarce, coyotes will eat carrion. If carrion is scare, as it is in autumn and winter, they will eat berries and herbs. Fox hunters, houndsmen, and wildlife officials have unwittingly contributed to the rise of the coyote by releasing adults for training and accidentally introducing very cute coyote pups to gamelands instead of similar looking red fox pups. Moreover, the coyote’s natural predators in North Carolina have either been hunted to extinction (the gray wolf) or nearly so (the red wolf and mountain lion).

Coyotes from http://www.orangecountync.gov/departments/animalservices/coyote_page.php

Besides being adaptable, coyotes are also prolific. They reach sexual maturity around the age of one year, and by age two they select a mate for life. Coyotes will begin courtship rituals between January and March, and after a gestation of only 63 days a female will give birth to between one and twelve young (average litter: 6 pups). The pups wean from their mother six to eight weeks after being born, but continue to get food from their father and hunting lessons from their mother until the young disperse after one year.

The clever and cunning antics of coyotes often increase their success. They watch the sky for ravens, letting the birds guide them to carrion. They hunt as a pair, with one partner jumping wildly at a rabbit forcing it right into the mouth of its mate. Coyotes also adjust their behavior to gain from humans: begging in parking lots in Death Valley or attacking pets in the suburbs.

Although coyotes terrorize local neighborhoods, sometimes eat small dogs and chickens, and may carry rabies, they do confer one benefit: coyotes eat feral cats, and thus they could improve depleted song bird populations. Unfortunately, this benefit only further demonstrates the trouble we humans have respecting Mother Nature’s balance…and it doesn’t work out so well for those poor cats either.

Did you know?
·         Coyotes range from three to four feet long, and weight between 20 and 50 pounds.
·         Coyotes can communicate with over ten different sounds.
·         50% to 70% of coyotes die before attaining adulthood

·         Coyotes live between 10 and 14 years in the wild


Hampton, J. 1 Aug 2010. “Studies try to get handle on coyotes in N.C.” The Virginian-Pilot. Available at: http://hamptonroads.com/2010/07/studies-try-get-handle-coyotes-nc.

Hill, E. P., P. Sumner, and J. B. Wooding. 1987. Human influences on range expansion of coyotes in the southeast. Wildlife Society Bulletin 15:521-524.

Ware, J. 12 Nov 2007. “Coyotes make selves at home in our backyards.” StarNews Online. Available at: http://www.starnewsonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071112/NEWS/711120333&template=printpicart [accessed 02 Feb 2011]

Wilsdon, C. 1997. “Gaining Ground." National Geographic World. Feb 1997.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum)

The four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) is listed as a species of special concern in North Carolina. 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 actually protect the eggs from being destroyed by fungus. Reid Harris and Douglas Gill have suggested that female four-toed salamanders may actually eat eggs on which fungus is detected. 

Four-toed salamander by J. D. Willson (http://srelherp.uga.edu/salamanders/pics/hemscu210.jpg)

After one and 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 will take at least one and half more years for the young four-toed salamanders to reach sexual maturity. 

As adults, the four-toed salamander ranged from two to 3.5 inches. The back tends to be a mottled reddish brown with small black spots, with the tail getting progressively redder. The tail, when grabbed, can be disconnected and will continue to writher and wiggle to lure predators away from the fleeing salamander. The belly of the four-toed salamander is white with black spots, and as its name suggest, the four-toed salamander only has four toes on each hind foot. Adults can typically be found under rocks and leaf litter. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nominate a Naturalist!

Nominate a Naturalist!*

"Thomas Say Awards Program 2016
Being an American naturalist during the eighteenth and nineteenth century required skill, intelligence, determination, support, and some luck. Self-taught naturalist Thomas Say (1787-1834), who identified more than 1,500 species of insects and animals unique to North America (including the coyote), was one of these brave naturalists who helped blaze a trail for future naturalists. This award program is named in his honor, as are numerous species such as Say's phoebe, Sayornis saya. He represents innovation, commitment, and a passion to contribute to science.

In the fourth year of this awards program, we strive to honor naturalists who have demonstrated the highest accomplishments of our profession and have inspired greater understanding, awareness, and stewardship of our natural resources. Nominees have to be NAI Interpretive Naturalist Section members. It does take a little time to prepare a good nomination and put it together with accurate information and clear details. However, the results last a lifetime. 

These awards of excellence not only provide much deserved recognition for our fellow section members, but they also bring to the attention of administrators that they have outstanding employees, whose abilities and talents are recognized by other outside professional individuals and organizations. And, at times, it helps sway agencies and their budgets to be able to send these award recipients to the conference to receive the award in front of their peers.

It is now YOUR turn to make the effort and nominate someone (or something). The awards for will be given during the section meeting at the NAI national conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, November 8-12, 2016

The award nomination information can be found at http://naiinsection.wordpress.com. You don't have to wait until the deadline, which is July 1, 2016, send to Awards Chair Lori Spencer, bflyspencer8@gmail.com.  You can nominate someone or something today!"

*from the NAI Interpretive Naturalist Section publication The Naturalist

Need more information? Please visit https://naiinsection.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/in-section-awards_2016_individual.pdf

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana)

Beech Drops (photo by Stan Malcolm, available at

Plant Profile.− This month’s plant profile in a parasitic plant called Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana). Beech Drops clump around beech trees, grow about six inches high, and look dead. They look dead because they lack leaves and chlorophyll, but luckily for Beech Drops, they do not need to make their own food because they can get nutrients and carbohydrates from the roots of Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia).

Beech Drops may not look impressive at first, but if you look closely you’ll find tiny pink flowers. The flowers near the base of the stem seem closed up tight. These flowers are known as cleistogamous and they are self-fertilizing. The flowers near the top of the plan are open. These flowers are chasmogamous and are fertilized by nearby plants. A recent study suggests that those chasmogamous flowers may actually be pollinated by ants!

While Beech Drops are fascinating in their own right, they also have been used medicinally for thousands of years. American Indians would steep the whole plant in hot water to great a tea to treat diarrhea, dysentery, mouth sores and a variety of other complaints. Some people have even used the plant as a poultice to treat wounds and arrest the on-set of gangrene.

Beech Drops are found across the eastern United States and Canada. They are also found in all three provinces of North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nominate an Environmental Educator!

"Greetings members and friends of EENC,

We are now accepting nominations for the 2014 EENC Awards. These awards will be presented at the 2014 Annual Conference/Regional SEEA Conference this September at Caraway Camp and Conference Center.

Use this link to reach the nomination form: https://iyha.wufoo.com/forms/eenc-2014-award-nomination/

The awards are separated into two categories, those available to the general public, and those available to EENC Members only. The descriptions of the awards are listed below, as well as on the nominations form.

The following awards are open to all organizations and the general public.

Environmental Educator of the Year recognizes an educator who stands out among environmental educators as a professional who exemplifies excellence in environmental education and lends credibility to the field. Through valuable contributions and professionalism, the environmental educator is regarded as an ideal example that other EE practitioners should strive to emulate.

Exceptional Environmental Education Program recognizes a program, education center, organization, partnership or educational system that exemplifies excellence in environmental education. The program reaches far beyond the usual magnitude and degree of scope and scale to create: a sustainable commitment to environmental education, a more environmentally literate public, a stronger profession for environmental educators, and otherwise supporting EENC’s mission and objectives.

Outstanding Partner recognizes a business, non-profit, or governmental agency that have partnered with EENC to support the mission and growth of EENC.  This organization has made significant contributions to EENC by providing in-kind contributions; donations of employees’ time, talent, and materials; monetary support to the EENC Board or Board Training; or by providing significant funding or services to EENC’s annual conference. This partnership enables EENC to experience a growth in professionalism and/or membership, which may not have been possible without this contribution.

            Membership in EENC is required for the following awards.

Outstanding Newcomer recognizes an Environmental Educators of North Carolina member of five years or less who has made significant contributions to EENC during his or her short time with EENC.

Outstanding Practitioner recognizes a member of the Environmental Educators of North Carolina who works regularly as an environmental educator, lending their skills to the growing body of environmental education as a profession. The individual will have made significant contributions to the Environmental Educators of North Carolina through statewide participation, leadership in their region, and being an advocate for high quality education through how they teach, live, and do.
Outstanding Service recognizes an active member who has served in several key leadership roles making a significant contribution to further the mission of EENC. This individual has given many hours of dedicated service to help shape EENC into a viable statewide professional organization.

Melva Fager Okun Life Achievement recognizes member who has served EENC in key leadership roles for over three years on the Board of Directors. This individual has made very significant contributions in furthering EENC’s mission to serve as a leader in building a statewide network of EE practitioners, providing excellent professional development, strengthening EE throughout North Carolina, and serving as an active state affiliate to the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Please reply to this email if you have any questions.

Thank you so much for your support of EENC!"

(from Michelle Pearce)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Paean to a Walnut Tree

In a North Carolina neighborhood, constituting one small portion of a corpulent suburban empire, a young walnut tree bows to the wind. The rain pelts its leaves, but those leaves hardly quiver. The rain is not the walnut’s king. The walnut kneels like a courtier only for the wind, and when the wind decamps, the walnut stands tall again, the master of its domain.

In its front-yard fiefdom, the walnut must wage war. At first the walnut unwittingly welcomes its enemy. When the walnut caterpillar moth lays its eggs, they appear small and harmless. In ten days, the eggs explode with hundreds of larvae that live to devour. Soon the writhing mass of young caterpillars disperses, attacking the food stores of the tree. The walnut struggles to survive until its powerful ally – the weather -- arrives. With one hard freeze, the long war ends.

The walnut also craves conquest. It aggressively ferrets out new territory, dispatching long roots to pilfer resources from its neighbors. The walnut fights without mercy, using chemical warfare to vanquish its enemies. Lively columbines and gentle lilacs succumb quickly to the poisonous exudate; the spice bush fights back, but in the end, the walnut stands victorious.

The walnut courts and conquers, but it also gives generously to its neighbors. Each year, the walnut doles out rich nuts to squirrels and raccoons. It offers shelter to nervous Carolina wrens and boastful bluebirds. Without recompense, the walnut encourages every passerby to revel in its shade. Without shame, the walnut tempts voyeurs to contemplate its trials and tribulations, its annual cycle of dieback and growth.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), photo by Alicia Lamborn available at http://baker.ifas.ufl.edu/Arboretum/BlackWalnut.html

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pettigrew State Park (Creswell, NC) & Pocosin Lakes NWR (Columbia, NC)


Each Spring, I make my way to Pettigrew State Park (Creswell, NC) to explore the rich vernal wildlife around North Carolina’s 2nd largest natural lake, Lake Phelps. Lake Phelps is one of the Carolina bay lakes – elliptical lakes aligned on a northwest-southeast axis of uncertain origin, hypothesized to have been carved out by ocean currents, wind or comets.

Highlights of this year’s visit, included the installation of new boardwalk, plus large singing choruses of Southern Toads, blossoming Pawpaws, and Zebra Swallowtails.

Birds seen:
  • pileated woodpecker
  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • northern cardinal
  • white-throated sparrow
  • mourning dove
  • common grackle
  • boat-tailed grackle
  • Carolina chickadee
  • American crows
  • laughing gulls

  • American robin
  • blue-grey gnatcatcher
  • eastern meadowlark
  • yellow-rumped warbler
  • white-eyed vireo
  • turkey vulture
  • eastern bluebird
  • brown thrasher
  • purple martin
  • northern mockingbird
  • American goldfinch
  • brown-headed cowbird
  • European startling
  • eastern towhee

Birds heard only:
Silver-spotted skipper at Pettigrew State Park (Creswell, NC)
  • yellow-throated warbler
  • northern parula
  • eastern screech owl
  • grey catbird
  • tufted titmouse
  • red-shouldered hawk
  • red-eyed vireo

Other wildlife encounters:
  • zebra swallowtail
  • tiger swallowtail
  • falcate orange-tip
  • silver-spotted skipper
  • southern toads
  • Fowler’s toads
  • Zebra swallowtail at Pettigrew State Park (Creswell, NC)
  • southern leopard frogs (heard only)

  • bullfrog (heard only)
  • yellow-bellied slider
  • eastern box turtle
  • eastern musk turtle
  • redbelly turtle
  • eastern grey squirrel
  • cotton rat
  • opossum
  • eastern cottontail
  • raccoon (tracks only)
  • clearwing moth spp.
  • phantom craneflies (mating)

Jack-in-the-pulpit at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

Pawpaw (Asimina spp.) at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

Sensitve fern at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

American sycamore at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

Southern toad at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

Eastern box turtle at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

Eastern musk turtle at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

Redbelly turtle at Pettigrew SP (Creswell, NC)

This year, we also visited the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, NC. The short boardwalk, which starts at the visitor center, allowed for close encounters with Red-bellied Watersnakes, Eastern Musk Turtles, and Spotted Turtles.

Spotted turtles at Pocosin Lakes NWR (Columbia, NC)
Birds seen:
  • American robin
  • European starling
  • boat-tailed grackle
  • purple martin
  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • yellow-rumped warbler

Birds heard:
  • yellow-throated warbler
  • laughing gull

Other wildlife encounters:
Red-bellied watersnake at Pocosin Lakes NWR (Columbia, NC)
  • eastern painted turtle
  • eastern musk turtle
  • redbelly turtle
  • spotted turtles
  • yellow-bellied slider
  • red bellied water snakes
  • northern watersnake
  • cabbage white
  • falcate orange-tip

Watersnakes (possibly Northern) at Pocosin Lakes NWR (Columbia, NC)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Braving the Bitter Cold for the American Bittern

On my birthday, in mid-December, I dragged my entire family -- parents, husband, and 4-year-old son -- to find an American Bittern. We drove to Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh, NC, following a trail of eBird and list-serv sightings of this bulky brown and tan bird in the Heron family (Ardeidae).

On a crisp, clear winter's day, we slowly walked around one cattail fringed pond, stopping every so often to carefully eye the reeds. We knew that the American Bittern was a camouflage expert: its brown and tan vertical stripes help it fade into the winter-bleached cattails just as much as its awkward stance, with its long beak pointed into the air. The first pond yield no bittern. We walked on to the next. Eventually, fingers chilled and faces frozens, we walked back across the stark field to our car, heads hung with the weight of failure.

Over a month later, I saw another posting about the American Bittern at Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Again, I dragged my family back out. This trip ended in failure too. I was devasted because I knew the bittern wouldn't stick around much longer. American Bitterns will spend the winter in much of North Carolina, feeding on crayfish and frogs without having to bore through a thick layer of ice. But in spring, the American Bitterns leave North Carolina, and head to their breeding grounds in the northern United States and Canada. Lamenting another lost opportunity, we ate away our sorrows at the local Ben and Jerry's.

Yesterday, I saw another posting about the American Bittern. A lady, much like me, had visited the site three times before finally seeing it. I decided to drag my family out to Prairie Ridge Ecostation one last time. As we walked around the first pond, my heart began to sink. Nothing. We headed to the smaller, cattail-filled pond. We walked halfway around this little pond when I saw a strange bit of dark brown mixed into the pale cattails, my eyes finally focused in on the elusive American Bittern.

At first it seemed frozen in its strange beak-up pose. Then it was comfortable preening in front of us, and the bittern even ate a little something it grabbed out of the shallow pond. The bittern moved with great speed and precision, each movement efficient and graceful.

I had finally found the American Bittern at Prairie Ridge. And I even got to take it home with me. When we discovered the bittern, my son magically transformed himself from a little boy uninterested in birds into a keen mimic of the American Bittern. Later he told me that "the bird" was the most beautiful thing that he had seen today.