Authored by John Gerwin, Research Curator, Ornithology, Museum of Natural Sciences; Treasurer, Wake Audubon.
As many of you know, Wake Audubon has supported a youth group for about 6 years now (the Young Naturalists Club). The Museum of Natural Sciences has supported such groups for many years (e.g. Junior Curators). As part of my job as a bird researcher at a public institution, I get to work with these groups, helping to co-lead various activities. Over the past two years I have been working with a handful of kids from each group. They have been assisting with activities in the bird specimen preparation lab, the bird collections, and bird banding at Prairie Ridge. This year, I was able to offer them a “field camp” to one of my research study sites, to provide additional experiences.
For this, we spent 5 days in mid-June in the Uwharrie National Forest, which is about 30 minutes southwest of Asheboro. The Uwharrie Mountains are the oldest known mountains and as such are well-worn. That makes them small by mountain standards – the highest peaks are only ~1000’ in elevation, with most of them topping out at 700-900 feet. But height is not the only factor – indeed, part of the camp was to see firsthand how the “aspect” of a mountain affects the habitat on that slope (the aspect is the direction the slope faces). And the see firsthand how steep some old mountains are! The bird I study primarily in this region is the Black-throated Green Warbler (BTNW), which is characterized as a bird of “northern” forests. This species is common in the higher Southern Appalachians, on up to Canada. Many such “boreal”, or northern, birds occur at the higher elevations because the habitats they seek are found on the north-facing slopes. BTNW’s in the Uwharries represent a disjunct population and are quite uncommon there. And there is yet another disjunct group in the Coastal Plain, from southeast Virginia to about Charleston, SC. I and colleagues are conducting habitat and genetic studies to understand more about this species across its range, and specifically, its behavior in the Uwharries region. One interesting thing I and my colleagues have documented over the past few years is that the BTNW occurs only on the north, northeast, and east slopes of Uwharrie mountains, but not on all mountains in that region.
3 members each from the Young Naturalists and Junior Curator programs came along. Our activities included the following:
In the end, we had no rain the entire time, which was a pleasant surprise as mid-June usually brings some rain, at some point, in a 5-day period. We had a great time experiencing some elements of doing field work to study a bird species. In addition, we took time to enjoy other aspects of nature, such as the skinks and toads that abound, other species of birds, and the many plants around. We allocated time for journaling, reviewing photos, and just chatting around the picnic table. We probably stayed up too late a few nights, but a campfire has a way of causing one to stay up a little longer at night. Of course we did some S’mores one night – I tried out some vegan marshmallows, along with Rainforest Alliance chocolates, and organic graham crackers or flatbread (your choice). The marshmallows were pretty tasty, although I don’t think they toasted quite the same. I hope to do this again in 2015.