Wednesday, June 1, 2011

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: June in the Piedmont

Birds.− This month, look for sunning birds. Common backyard birds, like cardinals and robins, perch with feathers ruffled and bills agape, soaking in the sun. This activity may help them molt or even reduce tick, lice and other parasite loads.

Also, fledging season continues. The second batch of young-of-the-year bluebirds often fledge 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.

Have you ever noticed the sound of a crow with a strikingly nasal call? Then you may have heard a fish crow (Corvus ossifragus). The Piedmont of North Carolina is home to two crow species, the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), with its clear cawing voice, as well as the fish crow. The two birds are difficult to tell apart, both are year-round residents that don all black plumage. The fish crow is slightly smaller and its bill is slightly thinner, but the most diagnostic way to tell these two species apart is by ear.

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

Butterflies.−. This month, you will find some butterfly species busily visiting flowers, in search of nectar. On common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) alone, expect to see multiple butterfly visitors including great spangled fritillaries, tiger swallowtails, monarchs and silver spotted skippers. In June, the abundances a few species peak, including the coral and banded hairstreaks and great spangled fritillaries. By the end of the month, expect to find little yellows, gulf fritillaries and more common wood nymphs.

The North Carolina Piedmont hosts a number of broods of variegated fritillary. With the peak in fritillary (members of the Nymphalidae) activity this month, it might be useful to identify their distinctive caterpillars. Variegated fritillary caterpillars are longitudinally striped with orange and white bands, and are sparsely peppered with black spines. They can be found on violets and Passion flower vines. Although the great spangled fritillary is out this month, this species won’t begin laying eggs until late summer and early fall. The black caterpillars, with orange spines, can sometimes be found on violets in the winter and early spring.

Don’t forget: The Carolinas are home to five families of butterflies: the skippers (Hesperiidae), gossamer wings (Lycaenidae), brush-foots (Nymphalidae), swallowtails (Papilionidae) and the sulphurs and whites (Pieridae). Each of these families can be divided into a number of sub-families with distinct identifying characteristics.

Reptiles & Amphibians.− Don’t be surprised to see a number of snakes this month, sometimes in odd places. Black rat snakes might be found climbing trees, in search of eggs. Northern water snakes could be stuck high in riparian (i.e., river-side) shrubbery following heavy rain. Beautiful pale peach and white copperheads might even be on your driveway in the evening, soaking up warmth from the concrete and asphalt.

Also, this month, many reptiles will be laying eggs, including box turtles, yellow-bellied 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. Newly metamorphosed Fowler’s toads will be hopping around at the beginning of the month. At the end of the month, look out for 1 cm long Cope’s gray treefrogs.

Other Insects.− Expect to find tiny green-winged stoneflies and giant stoneflies gathering at night by the light. Giant stoneflies, gray bodied insects stretching about 1.5 inches long with uniquely netted veins, may look intimidating, but are completely harmless. In fact, the adult giant stonefly only lives a few weeks and doesn’t eat at all. The presence of giant stonefly larvae in a rivers and creeks indicates that the stream is healthy and not very polluted.

This month, 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. Luna moths have been observed emerging at the beginning of June, while Io moths, with their characteristic eye-spots on the hind wings, can sometimes be seen towards the end of the month.

In Bloom this Month.− Be on the lookout for some of these great June flowers and their pollinators, including a variety of bees, wasps, beetles and bugs!

In Bloom:

TALL THIMBLEWEED - Anemone virginiana

MILKWEED(S) - Asclepias spp.

NEW JERSEY-TEA - Ceanothus americanus

SPOTTED WINTERGREEN –Chimaphila maculata

GREEN-AND-GOLDChrysogonum 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

Piedmont Habitats.− Have you ever wanted to identify characteristics of a forest or habitat by a few key plant or animal species or cues from the landscape? Close observation of species composition (i.e., the species present) and structure (i.e., the spacing and size of plant species) can tell you a lot about a place. For example, xeric (or dry) forests in the Piedmont can be identified by the presence of blackjack oak and chestnut oak. Dry-mesic (slightly drier than intermediate) sites are often identified by the presence of post oak, black oak and southern red oak.


Burt, W. H. and R. P. Grossenheider. 1980. A Field Guide to the Mammals, 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, MA.

Cook, D. 2001. The Piedmont Almanac. Raleigh, NC: Barefoot Press.

Conant, R., and J.T. Collins. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, MA.

Daniels, J. C. (2003). Butterflies of the Carolinas. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, Inc.

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

Goodpaster, W. W. and Hoffmeister, D. F. (1954). Life History of the Golden Mouse, Peromyscus nuttalli, in Kentucky Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Feb., 1954), pp. 16-27

Wagner, D. L. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ