Thursday, March 5, 2009

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: March in the Piedmont - Fauna

Birds.− As spring arrives in the Piedmont this month, we begin to see some profound changes in the composition of our avifauna. Wood-ducks, blue-winged teals (local breeders), double-crested cormorants and ospreys become more abundant. Also expect to begin seeing vireos, ruby-throated hummingbirds, purple martins and other swallow species this month. Lucky observers may even catch sight of a snowy egret, little blue heron, Mississippi kite, blue grosbeak, indigo bunting or some sandpiper species and early warblers (e.g., black-and-white, prothonotary, yellow-throated, blue-winged, Tennessee). However, don’t expect to catch any more rare sightings of snow geese or mute swans.

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 spp.), although adults may fly out to the forest edge to enjoy nectar from a variety of sources including milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) and the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).

Lucky observers may find Henry’s elfins and eastern pine elfins, while definitely spotting a lot more cabbage whites, sulphurs, spring azures, question marks, eastern commas and mourning cloaks. Towards the end of the month, keep your eyes open for sleeper, Juvenal’s and Horace’s duskywings, adults of which are often seen perched on bare ground, including dirt roads and trails, where they glean minerals.

Reptiles & Amphibians.− This month, expect to continue hearing southeastern chorus frogs, spring peepers, northern cricket frogs, American toads, pickerel frogs and eastern spadefoots. Fowler’s toads, bullfrogs and green frogs will start calling this month, but don’t expect large choruses until April. Continue to look for breeding salamanders. Also, be on the lookout for basking yellow-bellied sliders and the occasional black-rat snake or racer.

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