Saturday, May 8, 2010

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: May in the Piedmont

Birds.− This month migration season continues. Most of the brilliantly colored warblers are just passing through, but some migrants stop and stay in North Carolina. Local breeders include the scarlet and summer tanagers, ovenbirds and prairie warblers.

This may be the last opportunity (at least for a couple of months) for birders to see some of the plovers (e.g., black-bellied and semi-palmated) and sandpipers (e.g., spotted, solitary, least, white-rumped and upland). Also, be on the look out for lingering snowy egrets, little blue herons and black-crowned night herons.

Many birds also fledge this month. Bluebirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, brown thrashers, northern mockingbirds, cardinals, pileated woodpeckers and barred owls are just some of the species documented to fledge in the Piedmont in May.

Butterflies.− This May, butterfly watchers will delight in the appearance of more skippers, quick and darting butterflies in the family Hesperiidae, including the swarthy, clouded, least, fiery, tawny-edged and crossline skippers. Skippers are often challenging to identify, but careful observation and quick photography can help butterfly watchers discern the differences among species. Still, some species, like the tawny-edged and crossline skipper, are so similar in appearance that even photographs may prove difficult to differentiate.

Also, expect to see some hairstreaks (e.g., coral, banded and striped), great spangled frittilaries, northern pearly eyes, Appalachian browns, common wood nymphs and little wood satyrs.

Reptiles & Amphibians.− This month, expect to find snakes even during the day. The hot weather of mid-summer makes must of our snakes crepuscular (i.e., active at dawn and dusk), but this time of year many snakes will be out in the middle of the day. Large choruses of northern crickets frogs, Fowler’s toads, eastern narrow-mouthed toads and Cope’s gray treefrogs can also be heard this time of year. Also expect to hear bullfrogs and the characteristic three beat banjo-like call of the green frog.

Other Insects.− The first fire-flies often appear in May. Also, be on the look-out for hummingbird moths, a species of moth that hovers and makes an audible humming noise as it feeds. At the end of the month, one might find annual cicada shells clinging to tree trunks.

Mammals.− A number of bat species, including the little brown myotis, silver-haired bat, red bat and big brown bat are courting this month. Also, expect to see some young rabbits and opossums.

In Bloom this Month.− As the spring ephemerals disappear, May floral displays may initially seem less impressive, but there are some gems among the flowers blooming this month, including the high-contrast green-and-golds and the pitcher-shaped jack-in-the-pulpits.

In Bloom:
JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT (Arisaema triphyllum)
SMOOTH SWEET-SHRUB (Calycanthus floridus)
GREEN-AND-GOLD (Chrysogonum virginianum)
HEART'S-A'BUSTIN' (Euonymus americanus)
LITTLE-BROWN-JUG (Hexastylis arifolia)
BEAKED HAWKWEED (Hieracium gronovii)
RATTLESNAKE-WEED (Hieracium venosum)
BLUETS (Houstonia caerulea)
SUMMER BLUET (Houstonia purpurea)
WOOD-SORREL (Oxalis sp.)
RUNNING FIVE-FINGERS (Potentilla canadensis)
BLACKBERRY (Rubus sp.)
LYRE-LEAF SAGE (Salvia lyrata)
SKULLCAP (Scutellaria sp.)
MAPLE-LEAF VIBURNUM (Viburnum acerifolium)