Monday, April 5, 2010

Where Have All the Naturalists Gone? | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy

An interesting article about the lack of naturalists, and respect for them, was recently posted on the Nature Conservancy's Conservation Blog (see link below). In my own experience, the role of naturalists in science has greatly declined. In the field of ecology, where naturalists once reigned, attention has shifted to the human-nature interface. Once we observed the breeding habits of birds, now we quantify the ecosystem services of the wetlands they inhabitat. Once we developed theories about succession, now we monitor human carbon emissions and ponder the impacts of global warming.

These new avenues of study in ecology are explored because ecologists not only recognize the pressing environmental issues that the current generation must face, but also because budding ecologists seem to think that all of the observational work of naturalists has already been completed. Unfortunately, this isn't necessarily true. As this Nature Conservancy post suggests, the work of naturalists is still needed, both to enhance conservation and advance scientific knowledge.

Finally, the Nature Conservancy post fails to mention one salient point: educational opportunities are dwindling for those who are naturalist-inclined. Even at Duke University, with it's renowned graduate program in ecology, natural history classes are lacking. To take a course like mammalogy or ornithology, not to mention the natural history of North Carolina, one has to look elsewhere -- and this is despite having a talented staff and respected faculty.

Where Have All the Naturalists Gone? Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy

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ROADTRIP: Galapagos Island, Rabida edition

by Nicolette L. Cagle (written 15 February 2010)

Overlooking a pock-marked landscape dominated by grim volcanic scoria partially covered with a crust of scrubby verdure and rimmed with a thick band of maroon sand, for a moment I felt like a visitor to the strange, red planet that is now prominent in North Carolina’s evening sky. Instead, I stood firmly on Rabida, a tiny island covering less than two square kilometers that sits in heart the Galapagos archipelago.

Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

Scoria with crabs on the shore of Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

Hiking to the interior of the scorched island, Opuntia cacti and sparse Palo Santo trees provided meager refuge from the mid-morning sun. Lava lizards with coarse, russet scales seemed to meld into the ground. A small and slender brown snake, a type of West Indian racer with pale yellow stripes running its length, attempted to avoid our gaze. Intimidated by the desolate and parched landscape, we walked back to the Red Beach.

Here, Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) with the thick tan fur of a plush teddy bear and large entrancing brown eyes, welcome visitors to Rabida with agile antics in the sea and intermittent dog-like barking on the beach. Some of the sea lions eschew welcoming altogether, hardly bothering to lift their heads as they lay napping on the warm, brick-red beach.

Galapagos sea lion swimming (Zalophus wollebaeki) off the shore of Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

As my family and I first began to explore the iron-dyed beach, my eyes were drawn to a big, hulking specimen baring the thick neck and prominent forehead-bump that characterize his sex. Male Galapagos sea lions, reaching 7 feet long and weighing up to 800 lbs, are designed to intimidate with shear bulk. After taking a step back, I scanned the rest of the beach. Smaller sea lions were laid out along the 30 meter stretch, and some had pups. Sea lions pups are magnetic. Like puppies and kittens, their big dark eyes, short whiskered muzzle and innocent silliness render them irresistible. I found myself drawn to one of the pups, suckling earnestly from her large, dozing mother. I inched closer and closer, aware that I had been granted a rare privilege, while simultaneously knowing that I was an intruder in this intimate moment between mother and pup. I backed away, caught my husband’s eye and wondered if someday I too would experience the easy tenderness between mother and child.

Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) on Rabida Island, Galapagos, Mar 2004

Check back soon for more from the Galapagos Islands.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pettigrew State Park: photos and species lists

On Saturday, April 3, 2010, my husband, little boy and I visited and spent the night at Pettigrew State Park in Creswell, NC. If you're interested in camping at the park, be sure to reserve a spot in advance. As usual, the park did not disappoint: interesting bird, amphibian and reptile sightings started almost immediately. A list of species seen and heard, as well as some photos of our trip, follows.

Birds.- boat tailed grackle*, mourning dove*, blue jay*, northern cardinal*, northern flicker*, white throated sparrow*, Carolina wren*, downy woodpecker*, red-bellied woodpecker, ruby-crowned kinglet*, tufted titmouse*, common yellowthroat*, American robin*, northern mockingbird*, eastern meadowlark, yellow throated warbler, northern parula, eastern towhee*, eastern screech owl* (note: * marks birds that were seen, no asterisk mean the birds was identified by ear)

Amphibians.- southern leopard frog, Fowler's toads, spring peeper

Reptiles.- northern black racer, copperhead, eastern garter snake, Eumeces spp.,

Butterflies.- zebra swallowtail, falcate orangetip, Polyommatinae spp., Polygonia spp., tiger swallowtail, Papilio spp.

Plants in bloom.- jack-in-the-pulpit, Viola spp.

Other interesting plant species.- devil's walking stick

zebra swallow tail

eastern garter snake

cypress at Lake Phelps

Lake Phelps in the morning mist

black racer

mantid lacewing?


Thursday, April 1, 2010

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: April in the Piedmont

Birds.− Avid birders may have already noticed the arrival of some early warblers, perhaps catching a glimpse of the Louisiana waterthrush’s “bubble-gum” pink legs or hearing the melodic song of the yellow-throated warbler. This month, more spring migrants are headed our way. These species may be seen during the next couple months, as they head north: some wood-warblers (including golden-winged, Nashville, chestnut-sided, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, bay-breasted and blackpoll), herons (e.g., little blue heron, black-crowned night heron, cattle-egret), thrushes (e.g., veery, grey-cheeked and Swainson’s) and sandpipers (e.g., spotted and solitary). Also be on the lookout for sora, Virginia rail or a rare glossy ibis.

Some species will be arriving this month with the intention of staying the summer and breeding here in the Piedmont; these include: whip-poor-wills, chimney swifts, ruby-throated hummingbirds, eastern wood-pewees, Acadian flycatchers, eastern kingbirds, northern parulas, prairie warblers, summer and scarlet tanagers and yellow-breasted chats.

Butterflies.− In April, butterfly watchers may begin to find some of the skippers (e.g., zabulon, dusted, pepper and salt), duskywings (mottled, zarucco), cloudywings (southern, northern, confused), satyrs (gemmed, Carolina) and pearlyeyes (southern and northern). Silvery checkerspots can be spotted in moist floodplains or sometimes near drier woodland borders, where adults glean nectar from, and caterpillars feed, on sunflowers (Helianthus) and rosinweeds (Silphium spp.). Look for red-spotted purples in hardwoods forests and forest edges; adults may be found taking sustenance from tree sap or damp ground, while caterpillars feed on cherries (Prunus spp.) and other members of the Rosaceae. Butterfly aficionados will continue to see a number of sulphurs and hairstreaks this month, as well as questionmarks and commas.

This month, the most spectacular visitors may be the monarchs, which can be found in a variety of habitats. Adult monarchs feed on the nectar of milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) and other flowers, while later in the year, monarch caterpillars will strictly feed on milkweeds. Also be on the lookout for the viceroy, a monarch mimic. Viceroys have adapted the same orange and black coloring of monarchs that warns predators of their toxicity (cardenolides are the bitter compounds in milkweeds that make monarchs toxic to vertebrates), but these mimics are normally found in wet areas near their primary foodplant: willows (Salix spp.)

Reptiles & Amphibians.− This month, you may start to hear northern cricket frogs, eastern narrow-mouthed toads and Cope’s gray treefrogs. Also, expect to continue hearing American and Fowler’s toads, spring peepers, bull frogs, green frogs, southern leopard frogs and eastern spadefoots. The large choruses of southeastern chorus frogs will begin winding down this month. Be on the lookout for basking yellow-bellied sliders and painted turtles. Snakes will be out as well, be sure not to step on the diminuitive and well-camouflaged northern brown snake (Storeria dekayi) when walking on preserve trails.

In Bloom this Month.− April is a wonderful month to test your tree identification skills. Try to identify trees by their bark or buds before they flower and leaf out!

In late March and early April, woodland hikers may notice a robust small tree or large shrub, with large hand-like leaves (i.e., palmately compound) and upright clusters of tubular yellow flowers. What is this vigorous woody plant? Most likely, you are seeing the painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica), a southeastern Piedmont endemic (i.e., exclusively found in the Piedmont of the southeastern United States). The moniker “buckeye” is derived from the similarity between the seed of the buckeye to a male deer’s (or buck’s) eye. These same seeds are quite toxic, and in the past they were ground up and thrown into creeks to stun fish. Some animals, including deer and squirrels, are resistant to the toxin (called aesculin, which destroys red blood cells) and can eat the seeds. The showy flowers are visited by ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies (e.g., eastern tiger swallowtail) and bees.

In Bloom:
BUCKEYES (Aesculus spp.)
WINDFLOWER (Anemonella thalictroides)
SWEET-SHRUB (Calycanthus floridus)
MUSCLEWOOD (Carpinus caroliniana)
FLOWERING DOGWOOD (Cornus florida)
RATTLESNAKE-WEED (Hieracium venosum)
QUAKER-LADIES (Houstonia caerulea)
DWARF CRESTED IRIS (Iris cristata)
CORAL HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera sempervirens)
HAIRY WOODRUSH (Luzula echinata)
VIRGINIA PENNYWORT (Obolaria virginiana)
MAY-APPLE (Podophyllum peltatum)
EARLY SAXIFRAGE (Saxifraga virgininiensis)
AMERICAN BLADDERNUT (Staphylea trifolia)
GIANT CHICKWEED (Stellaria pubera)
FOAMFLOWER (Tiarella cordifolia)
CATESBY’S TRILLIUM (Trillium catesbaei)
LITTLE SWEET BETSY (Trillium cuneatum)
MAPLE-LEAF VIBURNUM (Viburnum acerifolium)
DOWNY ARROW-WOOD (Viburnum rafinesquianum)