Field Photo Friday!

•04/15/2011 • Leave a Comment

So I thought that instead of posting pictures of my thesis fieldwork I would upload some pictures of work I did as a field technician in Bull Neck Swamp Research Forest, North Carolina. I was privileged to work with a graduate student from North Carolina State University who was studying the effects and efficiency (cost and capture) of various trapping techniques on reptiles and amphibians. This research forest had recently been purchased by NC State University and was in the beginning process of development. Below is a picture of the swamp typical for this forest, only a few feet deep and full of pesky insects. Although, it was refreshing to wade through this after working in the hot summer heat.

I also enjoyed walking to this section of beach. It’s the northern edge of the research forest along North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound.

And finally, I wanted to include this photo as my future wife and I visited this beautiful lighthouse while she was visiting. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is located south of Nags Head and is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks in North Carolina.


Bull Neck Swamp Research Forest 
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Historic Bethabara Park

•04/12/2011 • Leave a Comment

One of the best things about moving to North Carolina has been the abundance of walking trails, greenways, and parks. While the in-laws were visiting we traveled up to Winston Salem and went to Historic Bethabara Park. This is one of more than fifty city parks and greenways operated by the city of Winston Salem and maintained by the Department of Recreation and Parks. Historic Bethabara Park is the site of the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina founded in 1753 and encompasses 115 acres of walking trails, historical buildings, and natural areas.

The photo above is of the Gemeinhaus (1788) just outside a reconstruction of the French and Indian War Fort. Directly behind this palisade is a set of two trails, the first is part of the Bethabara Greenway while the second is connected to Historic Bethabara Park. The Bethabara Greenway trail is paved and spans 2.7 miles stretching across Bethabara Park and Historic Bethabara Park mainly following Mill Creek and Monarcas Creek. We briefly walked this trail doing a bit of bird watching. In fact, this was the first official birding trip for my father-in-law. As part of Historic Bethabara Park the second trail (Woodland Loop) follows along Monarcas Creek and is connected to a series of trails circling around a forest. This great dirt path follows along a riparian zone eventually veering into the woods.

Lately I have been focusing most of my interest in birds looking to the canopy and understory, but I decided this time to do some investigating around the creek bed. Having been warm for weeks I was curious what might be hiding under these rocks. The first rock I flipped proved to be a success!! Although, I lost the salamander in silt and surrounding rocks. Not wanting to give up I flipped the next rock……and sure enough, there was another individual with a special treat!


This is a Southern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) with some eggs. This beautiful salamander is a lifer for me!!! After some reading I found that females lay eggs under rocks in streams and usually stay around guarding their egg clutch. After which the larvae stay in the stream for a year or two until metamorphosis and then become a semi-terrestrial amphibian.

I was able to get a few good pictures at which time I decided that it was a good idea to return her back to the eggs she was guarding. I am definitely interested in going back to this park to do some further investigating and to check out the rest of the trails around this area. Here is the list of birds we spotted, small but still had a fun time.

Song Sparrow

Northern Cardinal

American Robin

Eastern Towhee

Carolina Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

Common Grackle

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Turkey Vulture

Mourning Dove


Historic Bethabara Park
Map of Winston Salem Parks and Greenways
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory
Herps of North Carolina – Salamanders

Field Photo Friday…..Delayed.

•04/09/2011 • Leave a Comment

I have been preoccupied, as family is visiting for the week so I apologize for the delay in posts. It’s Saturday but I figured I would leave you with this one picture. It’s a photo of Gulf Coast Toad (Bufo nebulifer) I caught on the 18th of September of 2009. These are by far an undervalued amphibian.


Field Photo Friday!

•04/01/2011 • Leave a Comment

I have decided that I’m going to start posting photos on Friday that deal with fieldwork and all things dealing with the trials, tribulations, and turmoil associated with conducting research in the “field”. Most pictures will come from fieldwork I conducted during my master’s thesis research in graduate school. Depending upon how many pictures I have I might also include pictures taken while enjoying the simpler things in nature with my wife. I thought it might be fun to start this first Field Photo Friday with a few pictures of an unexpected guest caught in funnel traps.

This individual was caught during May 18-21 of 2010 at Sherburne Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana. I am not an expert on mammal identification but I am betting that it’s a Marsh Rice Rat (Oryzomys palustris). I frequently came across armadillo, opossum, several rats and even more mice during my fieldwork.

While checking traps I came across this little guy in a funnel trap meant for catching reptiles and amphibians. He was very agitated and was a real pain to get out of the trap. He stuck himself into the corner, bared his teeth and refused to be pulled out of the trap. I preceded to open the trap door and decided to continue on checking other traps. When I returned he had left. However, the next day after walking the transect I came upon the same trap and low and behold……there he was. He continued to cause trouble by bracing himself in the corner refusing to leave hanging on for dear life determined not to let go. After a little coercion he came out of the trap and preceded to climb the nearest tree. He sat there while I finished checking traps in the area and was still there when I returned later in the day.


Happy Field Photo Friday!!!

Trillium cuneatum

•03/25/2011 • Leave a Comment

During a friends visit last week we happened upon this flower while walking along a path at Finch Park in Lexington, North Carolina.

At first we noticed one or two, however, after looking closer the whole hillside turned out to be covered. We both knew that this was a species of Trillium but were unaware of the exact identification. After looking it up online (Googled it!) we found that this was most likely Trillium cuneatum Raf. commonly known as Toadshade or Little Sweet Betsy. Personally my favorite name for this flower is Bloody Butcher. It’s distribution ranges across most of the Southeastern United States flowering in mid spring (early March to mid April). The plant consists of three main bracts several inches above ground mottled green and maroon in color. Flowers sit in the middle of the leaves and range in colors from maroon, maroon-purple, brownish purple, bronze, greenish purple, clear green, yellowish green, pale lemon yellow, or are even 2 colored. I will have to go back and check it out once it’s gone to fruit. The fruit is supposed to be green or have purple streaks and is ovoid in shape.

This is definitely a beautiful flower and is a great sign that spring is here and warm weather is upon us. I can’t wait to go back and look for more Trillium. According to North Carolina Native Plant Society there are 14 other trillium species in North Carolina. The one species I am hoping to see is Trillium undulatum.


North Carolina Native Plants Society
United States Department of Agriculture, PLANTS Profile
Flora of North America:

Back on the blog!

•03/05/2011 • Leave a Comment

I am back on the blogging scene. It has been hard for me to stay motivated to write a blog post on a regular basis. It’s my hope that this will be the start of a continual, perhaps once a week, blog post on issues concerning my masters thesis, birding trips with my wife, or just observations made while “in nature”.

Having moved to North Carolina in the past month or so I have felt a rejuvenation to write a blog on observations made in nature. Louisiana, as warm and sunny as it was, wan’t conducive to the style of outdoor life my wife and I are accustomed to. Growing up in the Midwest we are both used to spending hours walking through city, county, state, and national parks. Louisiana, even with its extensive “outdoor” lifestyle, is more geared to the recreational hunter/fisherman. There is a lack of areas set aside for the avid birder, hiker, and backpacker. This is possibly due to topography of the state, with much of the state well below sea level, making it hard to provide trails and greenways that don’t become flooded for 3/4 of the year. The other possibility is that the state mentality is more set on the utilitarian aspect of nature seen more as what can the environment provide me, rather than what the environment does for me. This is seen in the overwhelming abundance of hunters, fisherman, ATV riders, and outdoor camps.

Spending most of my time in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge/Sherburne Wildlife Management Area which was the central location for my masters thesis research it became apparent how locals use state and national parks. I had to take particular care to avoid prime hunting times, setting my field work around times like opening season for deer (both gun and archery) and turkey. I can honestly say that while out conducting field work I encountered less than ten “non-hunters” during my entire field season. Most of these non-hunters were fellow researchers studying other organisms in the park or random birders. It was a surprise that I didn’t see more birders as the Atchafalaya is a major migration path for birds. In fact, the state and national parks erected a sign at the south entrance specifically noting the various birds using the river basin as a migration path.

In any case, I am glad to be in a state that values my style of outdoor recreation. My wife and I have spent every weekend since moving here out exploring a new city, state, or county park. North Carolina has so much to offer that we will be hard pressed to run out of things to do.

To close of this post I am going to include some pictures I have taken from fieldwork in the Atchafalaya NWR/Sherburne WMA. This is only the tip of the iceberg of pictures taken of my sites, organisms caught, and miscellaneous encounters over a years worth of fieldwork.

These little guys were fairly common in pitfall traps. They are by far one of the loudest calls for such a small body size. When listening to a Gastrophryne carolinensis call, it sounds as though a sheep/goat is being strangled or is trapped under a rock.


This last picture is of A. crepitans, a very cryptic frog. I have seen a wide variation of color patterns ranging from brown speckles to match mud and sand to black with green stripes that blend in with black soil and green vegetation. I had intended to do a side study on how phenotypic plasticity creates a wide variation of vertebral stripes in A. crepitans resulting in coloration that blends into various environmental backdrops (i.e. mud, detritus, vegetation, sand). I will post a longer explanation of this research idea in a later blog. Until then, back to nature.

Cardinal and Wrens: Feathered Captures

•02/26/2010 • Leave a Comment

Conducting field work in Sherburne WMA (Wildlife Management Area) over the past year I have come to accept the odd captures in both the five gallon pitfall traps and wire funnel traps. The most interesting of these unexpected guests were not small mammals like mice, shrews, or even a baby armadillo (post coming soon!), but birds. Yes, I said birds. To date I have captured two species: the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) and the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) in T1A Funnel Trap

Another Carolina Wren in a Funnel Trap

The Carolina Wren above was the first capture of its kind. On June 17, 2009 I was conducting my routine trap check and found this unexpected guest in trap T1A. Subsequently I have captured three other Carolina Wrens each in a different trap. The second capture (September 18th, 2009) was caught in T2D. This time I took a video of the capture and noted that this individual had damaged the section between its forehead and upper mandible.

As these these birds are full of energy and spend most of their time bouncing around on the forest floor it’s no surprise that as they tried to escape they damaged their beaks. Fortunately, there wasn’t  enough damage to cause serious injury. The final capture of Carolina Wrens came on September 24, 2009. This time two individuals were captured in a funnel trap (T2B). Both individuals had similar damage to their beaks and forehead as previous captures.

The second species: the Northern Cardinal, was caught today while  checking traps as usual. This time I found the bird along the third transect in drift fence array B. The male Cardinal must have ended up in the trap through its daily foraging on the ground. It’s not uncommon to see several individuals bouncing around in the underbrush and lower canopy.

Male Northern Cardinal in Funnel Trap

In addition, over the past months I have noticed numerous flocks of mixed species foraging along or just interior to the forest edge. These flocks consist of Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White Throated Sparrows, and various warblers and vireos. Many times I have also seen large flocks of single species groups like the Northern Cardinal or other small passerines (sparrows, warblers, vireos).

As my field research is not finished I look forward to seeing what other interesting critters I’ll capture.