Friday, November 4, 2011

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: November in the Piedmont

Birds.− By November, the fall migration has usually ended. The wood thrushes have disappeared, replaced by the melodic hermit thrush until springtime. November also marks the return of juncos and a number of sparrows, including tree, fox, white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. You can also expect to see more duck species, especially common golden-eyes and hooded mergansers. If you are very lucky, you might catch a glimpse of short-eared or northern saw-whet owls, which are sometimes spied in the Triangle during the winter months.

This time of year the nuthatch-like brown creeper will start showing up on tree trunks, along with winter wrens (smaller and more shy than our year-round Carolina wrens), and kinglets. In winter, the Piedmont of North Carolina is home to two kinglet species. The ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) is a tiny, olive-green bird with a white-eye ring; males sport a bright red spot on their crown. Always in motion, the ruby-crowned kinglet gleans small insects and their eggs from the branches, bark and leaves of trees. Golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa), also small, olive and constantly flicking their wings, have black stripes going through their eyes and white eyebrows, while the males sport a yellow crown with a bright orange dot in the center.

Woodpeckers make their home in the Piedmont year-round, with one exception, the yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). These active birds can be recognized by their black and white back and wings, red forehead and yellow breast; males also have a red throat. Found throughout the eastern United States, this woodpecker in well-known for drilling a series of small wells in trees, from which it laps up sap and feeds on the cambium of the tree. These wells also attract insects and are used by other birds species.

Butterflies.− Butterfly watchers can expect a decline in butterfly sightings this month, but you might still see some of the sulphurs and whites (family: Pieridae). The few plants in bloom become very attractive for still-active pollinators: sulphurs often feed from our autumn-flowering asters.

Most adult butterflies are very short-lived, surviving only a couple of weeks after emerging from their chrysalises. Some species can survive several months, migrating in winter or over-wintering as adults. Piedmont butterflies that over-winter locally as adults are often seen early in spring on occasional warm days, these include the American snout, question mark, eastern comma, and mourning cloak.

Reptiles & Amphibians.− Expect to find a few copperheads warming themselves on the roads at night this month. Also, look out for red-backed salamanders and box turtles.

Other Insects.− This month, even after a couple light frosts, leaf-footed bugs (Family: Coreidae) can still be seen. Coreids are slow moving, true bugs named for the leaf-like projections on their hind limbs. Many leaf-footed bugs eat fruit, but if you find them on your squash or elderberry bush, beware: they have stink glands! Crickets and cicadas will quiet down this month, and the orb weaver spiders disappear. Watch out for wasps and yellow jackets while hiking and exploring.

In Bloom this Month.− Be on the lookout for these November fruits and flowers:

In Bloom:


BLUE MISTFLOWER - Conoclinium coelestinum

WHITE WOOD-ASTER – Eurybia divaricata

WITCH HAZEL - Hamamelis virginiana

SCARLET ROSE-MALLOW – Hibiscus coccineus

BLACK-EYED SUSAN – Rudbeckia fulgida

GOLDENROD(S) – Solidago spp.

FROST ASTER(S) - Symphyotrichum spp.

In Fruit:

PERSIMMON – Diospyros virginiana

BEAUTY BERRYCallicarpa americana

HEARTS-A-BUSTIN’ – Euonymus americanus


CORAL HONEYSUCKLE - Lonicera sempervirens

PASSION FLOWER – Passiflora spp.

FOX GRAPES – Vitis labrusca (thanks Katie Rose!)

MUSCADINES – Vitis rotundifolia

Wildlife Profile.− Although the Piedmont is home to a number of fascinating squirrel (Family: Sciuridae) species (e.g., southern flying squirrels, eastern chipmunks, fox squirrels and woodchucks), the focus of this month’s wildlife profile is the ubiquitous and ever busy EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis).

A denizen of woodland and suburban habitats, the eastern gray squirrel feeds mostly on the nuts and flowers of oaks, hickories, walnuts and beeches. They also consume the fruits and seeds of other species, and will even eat herbaceous plants, fungi and insects. This time of year, backyard observers might see squirrels busily burying their food in a method called “scatter hoarding,” whereby squirrels bury small amounts of food in hundreds of small caches, which they later find using an impressive combination of memory and smell. Those caches left unused after the lean winter months germinate, thus filling the important ecological role of effectively dispersing the seeds of Piedmont trees.

A promiscuous (i.e., an ecological term, not a personal judgment) species, male and female eastern gray squirrels will both take multiple mates each season. Mating takes place in both winter (December to February) and late spring (April to June), with many females bearing two litters of two to eight young per year. Approximately 44 days after mating, baby squirrels are born naked, except for tiny hairs used for touch surrounding their nose and mouth. After 10 weeks of maternal care, squirrels begin to find food on their own.

Did you know?

  • Eastern gray squirrels are originally native to the eastern United States, but have been introduced to the western U.S., Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
  • They communicate via tail flicking and vocalizations.
  • Eastern gray squirrels use two types of homes: a permanent tree den and nest of leaves and twigs 30-45 feet above the ground.
  • Black-coated squirrels occur more often in the north, while studies show that black animals have lower heat loss than their grey conspecifics.


Cook, Dave. 2001. The Piedmont Almanac. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Mystic Crow Publishing.

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

Ingold, J. L., and G. E. Wallace. 1994. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula). In The Birds of North America, No. 119 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Ingold, J. L., and R. Galati. 1997. Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa). In The Birds of North America, No. 301 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Lawniczak, M. 2002. "Sciurus carolinensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 03, 2010 at

LeGrand, H. E. Jr. 2009. Notes on the Butterflies of North Carolina. Available at: