Sunday, June 7, 2009

GREAT EXPECTIONS: June in the Piedmont

Birds.− This month, fledging season continues. The second batch of young of the year bluebirds may be fledging 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.

By now, a number of sparrow species (e.g., savannah, Lincoln’s, swamp, white-throated and white-crowned) have left North Carolina, only to reappear in September. But lucky bird watchers may be able to spot rare little blue herons and Caspian terns this month.

Between April and July, as the rays of the summer sun begin to beat down on the Piedmont, birds begin the strange habit of sunbathing or sunning. Cardinals, finches, robins and other year-round and summer residents will sit on a perch or the ground with feathers ruffled and bills agape, enjoying the warm rays of the sun. Herons and cuckoos will sit with wings outstretched. Theories abound as to why birds sunbathe. Perhaps sunning reduces parasite loads (e.g., mites, ticks and lice) or maybe it maintains the condition of birds’ feathers and skin. Sunning is most often seen on humid days after a rain, and since humidity often triggers the uncomfortable process of molting, perhaps sunbathing simply feels good.

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

June does not yield too many changes in the butterfly world. This month, abundances of coral and banded hairstreaks, along with great spangled fritillaries, peak. At the end of the June, expect to find little yellows, gulf fritillaries and more common wood nymphs.

Fritillaries, members of the family Nymphalidae, are found throughout North Carolina and are represented by seven species in the state, and only three in Durham County (i.e., gulf, great-spangled and variegated). These medium to large-sized butterflies are distinguished by their brownish-orange wings adorned with black spots and wavy lines. Fritillary caterpillars come in a variety of colors, but usually have six rows of branching spines on their backs. Despite their defensive spines, caterpillars are preyed upon by birds, spiders and other insects. In Durham, the variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) is most commonly seen. Caterpillars feed on violets, maypops and other Passiflora species, and adults feed on the nectar on a wide variety of species. North Carolina hosts 3 to 4 broods each year. Like the great-spangled and variegated fritillary, it prefers open habitat, such as fields, garden and forest edges.

Reptiles & Amphibians.− In June, many reptiles will be laying eggs, including box turtles, yellowbellied sliders and a number of snake species. Fence lizard and skinks are also out in abundance. 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.

Other Insects.− 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. Io moths, with their characteristic eye-spots on the hind wings, can sometimes be seen at the end of the month as well.

In Bloom this Month.− Be on the lookout for some of these great June flowers:

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

Wildlife Profile.− This month’s wildlife profile is the AMERICAN BEAVER (Castor canadensis). By the mid-1800’s, the fur trade and intensive hunting had extirpated the American beaver from much of its native range. Although they are still threatened by water pollution and habitat loss, today beaver populations are on the rise. This native species can be found throughout North America, excluding far northern Canada and the deserts of Mexico and southwestern U.S.
Beavers are known as quintessential “ecosystem engineers” by ecologists: by building dams, they create and maintain wetlands that provide habitat for aquatic insects, plant and other animals. These wetlands also mitigate flooding and reduce stream-bank erosion. Dams are built straight in slower moving water and modified with a curve in faster waters. The dams serve to protect and isolate beaver lodges, which are constructed from branches and mud and can be up to 20 feet wide. Only after dam and lodge construction is complete, will beavers dig out a den with its own underwater entrance. Dens typically have two fairly dry compartments: a lower one for drying off and a higher one for living space. One “colony” or family group of up to eight related individuals will share the lodge and den space. Beavers can also burrow into river banks and fashion dens there that have underwater entrances and tunnels.
Beavers are monogamous, although they will “remarry” if their mate dies. They mate during November and December (or January to March further north), and give birth to one litter of kits in April and May. Young beavers will stay with their parents for two years, sometimes helping care for the next litter of kits, before being driven from the lodge to create a territory of their own. Beavers are also known to communicate via tail slapping and low grunts, while marking their territory with castoreum, a musk-like substance. In the wild beavers live between 10 and 20 years. Their major predators include coyotes and man. Beavers feed primarily on tree bark, cambium and aquatic vegetation.

Did you know?

  • Beavers are the largest rodents in North America.
  • They have transparent eye membranes to protect their eyes and see underwater.
  • Newborn beavers can swim 24 hours after birth.
  • Beavers have bacteria in their cecum (between the large and small intestine) that help them digest the cellulose found in the bark and cambium of trees.
Identification: A large (33-77 lbs and 3 feet long), dark brown, thickly furred rodent with webbed hind feet and a flat scaly tail.


Bill Miller said...

Visiting family in the NC Piedmont and found an interesting large damselfly with black wings and metallic blue body. All field guides are back home - any hints on ID or pointers to online guides?

Thanks, WM

Nicki said...

It sounds like you've found an ebony jewelwing! Here's a link to a great website so you can confirm your finding!