By Bob Oberfelder
Lake Betz is a unique habitat with a huge concentration of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is located behind the Cisco Systems and Network Appliance facilities between Louis Stephens Drive and Kit Creek Road (in the Research Triangle Park area). The safest place to park is in a gravel covered recreation parking lot off of Louis Stephens Drive. There are Port-a-potties there as well as some volleyball nets. If you walk across Louis Stephens Drive from the recreation area you will see an asphalt trail that leads over to the lake and swamp area.
There is a small lake here and adjacent to the lake is a swampy area filled with dead snags that have attracted large numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is possible to encounter as many as 7 woodpecker species in a single visit in this area in the winter. I have observed nesting Osprey, Northern Flickers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Common Grackles and Tree swallows. Large numbers of Green Herons appear to spend their summers here. During a recent visit, late May 2015, I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher and Belted Kingfishers are a common year-round sight. For people interested in photography, it is possible to get quite close to the birds since they frequent the foliage between the lake and the swampy area and many of the snags frequented by the woodpeckers are close to the walking trail. I am including a few recent photos taken at Lake Betz to wet your appetite for this unique place.
By John Connors and Bryan England
All photos by Bryan England
In the last week I’ve heard reports of Monarch caterpillars feeding on previous milkweed plantings at Horseshoe Farm, Monarchs flying at Anderson Point, and I saw one flying Saturday at Yates Mill Pond. All good news! So the time has come to add to the inventory of milkweed available at public parks around Wake County.
The Common Milkweed seedlings have arrived and we have flagged the planting zones at both Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve and Harris Lake County Park. The sites look good…Wilkerson has a clay loam soil and lots of open meadow which was formerly cow pasture- once established milkweed should thrive here and attract many monarchs; Harris Lake has easy to dig sandy loam in a meadow that was once farmed- it will be a good late summer breeding site for monarchs. The Wilkerson meadow was mowed maybe a month ago, so we’ll be planting in openings among the grasses. Harris Lake had a prescribed burn across their meadow…it will be a little easier working there.
We will clip openings in the grass, dig the planting holes, add a little soil improvement, plant the seedling, add a little mulch and water. It may take 3-5 minutes to plant each seedling. We will work in teams.
I imagine we should finish our work by noon, although Wilkerson may take a little longer as the soils will be more difficult to work.
You are part of a nationwide effort in trying to restore Monarch habitat- thanks for your willingness to help. See you in the meadow.
5/16/2015 from Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
I want to thank everyone who came and helped with the planting last Thursday, and especially John for organizing it. I hope I will be able to send you all some pictures of monarchs here visiting “your” milkweeds in the seasons to come. We gave all 96 seedlings a drink of about a quart of water each today. The soil was starting to dry, and soaked the water right up, but all the plants looked healthy, with no post-planting wilting at all (although a couple seemed to have been nibbled by something). The flags and plantings in squares really helped us find them all, and made watering a pretty simple job.
5-23-2015 From Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson.
Nine days after your planting, we have Monarch eggs!
Several of the new plants had eggs like these when I checked today, so we may have caterpillars by sometime next week.
Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve only lost 4 to browsers, and they may still re-sprout from the root. Of the 92 visible plants, 16 have had their top leaves browsed but are recovering with side branch growth.
None of the plants appeared diseased or drought-stressed, so the overall cohort appears strong. Thank you all for making these eggs possible!
5-24-2015 John Connors Wake Audubon Society
Well I didn’t see that coming! I did find three medium to full grown Monarch caterpillars at Raleigh’s Anderson Point Park yesterday, on milkweed I had planted several years ago- and that was without looking very hard. So maybe its going to be a good year for Monarchs.
It certainly will be a better future for Monarchs for the work all of you put in to get the milkweed planted at Wilkerson Preserve and Harris Lake…and for the efforts of staff and volunteers to keep the seedlings watered.
Thanks everyone, and thanks Bryan for keeping us informed.
6-2-2015 Bryan England, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson–
Nineteen days after your planting, we have Monarch caterpillars!
Several of these brightly-striped caterpillars were observed on “your” milkweed plants today, all were about 10mm long (they say the camera always adds 10 lbs…). At one caterpillar per plant, they plants seem to be growing faster than the caterpillars can eat them (for now).
Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve currently “lost” 5 to browsers. Of the 91 remaining visible plants, 27 have had their upper leaves browsed, but most are recovering well with side branch growth. Some of the browsed stems are obviously deer damage (rough, stringy bites), but the majority are rodent/rabbit damage (clean-cut, angled bites). The “wild” milkweeds at Wilkerson have also been browsed over the last week, mostly by deer, so that’s just a natural part of the food chain, too.
By Fred J. Eckert
If you live in or near Raleigh you are an easy drive away from the largest bird park in North America and largest waterfowl park in the world.
Did you realize that? Few do.
The scarlet ibis inhabits tropical South America and islands of the Caribbean.
I didn’t – not until just recently when my wife Karen and I discovered and visited Sylvan Heights Bird Park, located in the tiny northeast North Carolina rural town of Scotland Neck (pop. 2,000), a bit east of Rocky Mount between Tarboro and Roanoke Rapids on NC Route 258. It was only about an hour and a half or so drive from our home in North Raleigh, meaning it’s an easy day trip from anywhere in Wake County.
This fascinating and fun park is home to more than 2,500 birds. Included among them are 18 endangered species; more than 30 species of very rare birds; all 8 swan species; 30 of the just over 30 species of geese and more than 100 species of ducks.
And it truly is a park as opposed to some tourist attraction that merely bills itself as a park. The pleasant, neat, well-maintained 18-acre park-like environment is well laid out in a double-8 clearly marked pathway and divided into sectors dedicated to each of the seven continents (except, because of climate, Antarctica) plus sections focused on exotic birds, finches, pheasant, flamingos and swans, geese and cranes.
The knob-billed duck, also known as a comb duck, is found in tropical wetlands in several areas of the world – sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, in Asia from southern China and Laos to Pakistan and in areas of South America, including Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina.
There is no other place in the country quite like Sylvan Heights Bird Park where visitors can observe up-close, and sometimes even interact with, such an amazing array of exotic and/or endangered birds, ducks, geese and swan from all parts of the world.
This great avian collection is the dream and culmination of a lifetime of work devoted to saving birds and waterfowl of Mike Lubbock who founded and directs this not-for-profit operation with his wife Ali and their son Brent and a small handful of staff and volunteers.
Widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on waterfowl, this farm boy from the Somerset area of England became fascinated with birds as a youth and began his career in ornithology at Britain’s prestigious Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust where he served first as a volunteer then as Curator and ultimately as Director of Aviculture. It’s also where he met his future wife, Ali, who was serving as a volunteer.
His rare talent for bird breeding — his successes where others had failed – became widely known and resulted in his being personally consulted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who first turned to Mike for advice about her concern that the red-breasted geese among her bird collection at Buckingham Palace were reluctant to breed. The Queen followed his advice and one day she called Mike all excited about the change she credited him with bringing about. He became her go-to expert from then after.
Mike’s passion to preserve threatened waterfowl and other birds and promote conservation efforts has taken him all over the world and he has worked in this field he loves so much in both the UK and the USA. The International Wild Waterfowl Association, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame – they’ve also inducted Ali Lubbock — and bestowed upon him its most prestigious aviculture award, has said: “Mike Lubbock’s avicultural accomplishments on both sides of the Atlantic are legendary. He has brought many new species and new bloodlines in from the wild. He has accomplished many first breedings and he has been a source of bird and breeding advice to many.”
How Mike Lubbock path in life led him to realizing his and Ali’s dream of creating their own great avian collection park here in North Carolina is a long story and the subject of a recently released book, The Waterfowl Man of Sylvan Heights. What we Wake Audubon Society members need to know is that such a great birding experience that so few of us have been aware of for too long is so near-by and so well worth a visit.
The 18-acre park which is open to the public is an outgrowth of its adjacent 10-acre Breeding Center devoted to raising rare and endangered species of waterfowl. “The Park is designed to educate people about waterfowl and the importance of preserving them,” says Mike Lubbock. “Our goal is to tell visitors the story of every species–where it comes from, what habitat it prefers and why the species is important to our world. Visitors are also immersed into a wetland setting, so the feel and scope of a primary waterfowl habitat can be fully experienced.” Park generated revenue also helps fund the Breeding Center.
Among the many interesting facts about Sylvan Heights: It is credited with breeding 17 species of waterfowl for the first time in the world and 15 species for the first time in the North America and nearly one-third of the world’s once perilously endangered White-winged Wood Duck population reside here.
Naturally a place where visitors can come see waterfowl and other birds that include endangered and very rare species has to house them in a protective captive environment. For anyone who suggests that it is not a good thing to have birds in such a protected area, Mike Lubbock has a question: “Would you rather view an endangered species alive in a nice park-like environment such as Sylvan Heights Bird Park or dead in some museum?”
It is obvious that great thought and care have gone in to making Sylvan Heights the best possible experience both for those who visit it and for the birds and waterfowl who reside there. Besides being so pleasant and well-maintained the areas are extra good sized with exceptionally high nets. The water is very clear. The design is such as to insure maximum safety for the birds and waterfowl.
And here’s something truly smart that anyone who likes to photograph birds will appreciate: In places where otherwise you would normally expect to have to shoot through a wire fence, ruining any possibility of getting a very good photo, Sylvan Heights enables photographers to open an area in the fence that is wide enough to poke through a long lens and easily move it up or down and from side to side. You’ll need a key, which you can use while your driver’s license is held to insure its return. I thought this was a fantastic plus but asked if it didn’t pose any risk of what was being photographed somehow escaping through the resulting temporary small hole in the fence. No chance – the design prevents such a possibility.
Yet another interesting feature of Sylvan Heights is that within the park you can also observe and photograph birds and waterfowl in the wild. At Beaver Pond Blind, which overlooks a wetland, as its name suggests you can observe and photograph looking out of one of its many blinds. The wheelchair accessible Treehouse is a large roofed viewing platform located over another, larger wetland.
The feature probably most popular with kids in the interactive Landing Zone, a good sized building where parakeets will fly to you if you have a seed stick and you can feed flamingoes out of your hand. Seed sticks for the parakeets and food for feeding to flamingoes cost $1 and are available in the Landing Zone or the Visitor Center gift shop. Besides a variety of parakeets and the American Flamingos inside The Landing Zone visitors encounter parrots, doves, pheasants, pigeons and the white-rumped shama, a small passerine bird.
Tours of Sylvan Heights Bird Park begin at the Visitors Center, where you can watch an introductory video and check out some displays, sometimes baby birds or waterfowl. Its Gift Shop is small but nice. Sylvan Park does not operate any food service – but this very-family-friendly attraction welcomes anyone to bring a picnic lunch and provides a playground for the kids and a couple of picnic areas. It’s only a few minutes’ drive to any one of several restaurants and fast-food outlets in town.
While anyone living in Wake County or close by can do Sylvan Heights as a day-trip, we opted to devote more time and were glad we did. Anyone who enjoys photographing beautiful birds, as I certainly do, really should devote more than just one day to this great experience and take advantage of being able to shoot different sections in different lighting conditions.
What we would not recommend doing is following the accommodations recommendations of some of the reservations booking sites. Most we checked recommended staying in Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount or Tarboro – and each place is a 30 to 40 minute commute to and from Sylvan Heights on small country roads that are pitch black at night and best avoided at night especially, say, during deer season.
We stayed in Scotland Neck at the Scotland Neck Inn which compares favorably to any of the recommend motels that require a long commute. It was comfortable, very clean, good service and it’s reasonably priced, offering a discount for Sylvan Heights visitors. It was hot when we visited the park and it was nice to be able to return to the motel and freshen up during our lunch breaks. There is also a bed-and-breakfast in town.
Not surprisingly there’s not much to do in a town so tiny that it does not have a single traffic light and which, except for a few familiar fast-food spots, looks pretty much as it did in the 1950’s.
What did surprise us, as it has others, is that tiny Scotland Neck has a restaurant serving such outstanding Italian food – LaCasetta. My wife and I know Italian food pretty well, having lived in Rome and having traveled throughout so much of Italy – and LaCasetta, operated by an Italian who hails from Sicily, is great!
For anyone who enjoys birds or anyone who just wants to try something different a visit to Sylvan Heights Bird Park is a wonderful experience. Pretty much everyone who visits it gives it rave reviews.
When’s the best time of year to visit? Anytime. Ducks are at their best colors during the early months of the year, tropical birds during the summer months.
For more information about Sylvan Heights – including information about its hours, fees, events and its various educational programs – visit its website by clicking here.
The photos I’ve submitted to illustrate this feature give you a taste of the sorts of birds and waterfowl you will see, but to try to give you a better feel I’ve created a slide show video using images I took there. To watch it click on A Visit to Sylvan Heights Bird Park. You will be asked to enter a password. Enter: Birds. Capital B then lower case.
By Bob Oberfelder
The Wings Over Water (WOW) festival is an annual event that has provided excellent coastal birding opportunities for 17 years. Up until this year, we (my wife and I) had not been able to participate, but I am glad to report that now that status has changed. Although we would only be able to manage a short, whirlwind trip, we decided to “test the waters,” so to speak. This year we were able to carve out a day and a half from our schedule to sample from the multitude of options that WOW had to offer.
Lincoln Sparrow at Alligator River NWR
We drove to the coast Saturday morning arriving in time to participate in an afternoon trip to Bodie Island and the beach lead by Steve Shultz. In the marsh, Steve played audio recordings to draw out the rails and marsh wrens. Unfortunately we were only able to hear the birds respond, they remained hidden in the marsh grass. Hearing the large number of nearby birds (we were almost stepping on a few of them) was a highlight of that trip. The ducks typically observed in the pond area were not there. We saw and heard about 40 species for the afternoon.
Marsh Wren at Alligator River NWR
The main event on Saturday evening was a seafood buffet dinner at Pamlico Jack’s followed by a presentation by the keynote speaker, Greg Miller, of “The Big Year” fame. Greg’s talk was excellent. He was personable and unassuming but clearly knowledgeable about birding. It was fun to hear him describe his surprise as the events of The Big Year book and movie transpired. He described his developing interest in birding, and his personal Big Year adventures, as well as his experience with being the subject of both the book and the movie. Greg described his strategy (i.e., the top 5 “must” US/Canadian birding spots that provide the opportunity to record over 600 bird species) and the personal and financial costs ($31,000 in travel expenses) of pursuing his big year. He described his surprise at being made one of the subjects of the book (he didn’t actually win his Big Year), which also included descriptions of the experiences of Sandy Komito and Al Levatin, his competitors. He was even more in awe when the movie (loosely associated with the facts of the real events) became a reality. Greg described his joy at being a consultant for the movie and his interactions with the stars of the movie, Jack Black (who portrayed Greg in the movie) Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. Greg held down a full time job and still managed to see 715 species, a total that was third on the all time list. According to the book, Sandy Komito is the only person that has ever seen more than Greg in a Big Year.
Pectoral Sandpiper Alligator River NWR
Sunday morning we visited Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), a trip lead by Jeff Lewis. Our species count was considerably better than the Bodie Island count, but it was more varied habitat, and it was a morning trip so that was not surprising. My one previous experience (on my own) at NWR had been disappointing so I was quite happy with this trip. We saw both marsh and sedge wrens, and a Merlin on the wing. There was a large shorebird collection in a flooded field, which included Wilson’s Snipe, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater, and Lesser Yellowlegs and both Long and Short-billed Dowitchers. There were also a variety of ducks including Northern Shovelers, and Pintails. Perhaps the best bird of the trip, for, me was a Lincoln Sparrow that we saw at our very first stop in the refuge. There were numerous opportunities for photographs at Alligator River NWR. In contrast to my earlier experiences at Alligator NWR, birding with a knowledgeable trip leader made the birding excellent and the photographic opportunities plentiful.
Greater Yellowlegs Alligator River NWR
Our first experience with Wings Over Water was a success. The trip leaders were excellent, the birding was good, and the photography opportunities were plentiful. The dinner was enjoyable and the keynote speaker was outstanding. The consensus was that the earlier date for the festival, October instead of November, probably attenuated the total bird count and decreased the number of species as well. If our schedule permits, we will certainly participate in Wings Over Water next year.
By Gerry Luginbuhl
Two Downy Woodpeckers have been visiting the suet feeder regularly this winter. They are a male and female and are looking very beautiful. The female was a bit camera-shy, but the male spent a long time at the feeder just outside the dining room window, allowing me to get this photo. The female looks almost the same, just missing the dab of red on the back of the head. This time of year, their feathers are still looking fresh although they probably molted last summer. Downys forage for insects along small branches and even on the stems of weeds. According to many sources, the males take the better spots and the females are more likely to forage on the trunks of trees. Downys can live in the same areas as larger woodpeckers such as Red-bellied Woodpeckers because the larger woodpeckers are too heavy to glean along small branches and stems. With this cold January weather, it’s a good thing Downys can find trees with roosting holes. They spend the night in such holes, usually bedding down separately. They may already be scouting out home-sites for the coming nesting season. He will do most of the excavating and will be looking for a snag, preferably soft wood such as pine. I haven’t been able to locate their roosting holes or new nesting holes yet. There are quite a few pine snags in our yard and in the neighbor’s yard, so hopefully they will find a suitable place to settle down and raise a family.
By Gerry Luginbuhl, Board President
Thanks to all of the folks who donated money to have their bird feeders cleaned this November. Judy, at Logan’s Nursery, contacted me a few months ago to suggest a fundraising idea. She offered to collect people’s birdfeeders during the month of November and keep track of the feeders to make sure everyone got the right feeder back after it had been cleaned. We decided on a suggested donation of five dollars per feeder, and worked out a biweekly pick-up schedule. We put a notice about the cleaning on our web site and Logan’s also sent out a notice in their monthly email. We ended up with 40 feeders (and many baffles). Judy collected the donations as they came in and handed me an envelope full of checks on December 2nd. At five dollars/feeder, that would have brought Wake Audubon two hundred dollars, but, due to the generosity of many, we collected three hundred and forty-five dollars! Way to go! Look for us to repeat this fundraiser next year, probably in October rather than November. We will be looking for some volunteers to help me next time; I have learned how to disassemble and reassemble a bunch of different types of birdfeeders and am happy to do this again next year.
If you missed this year’s feeder cleaning, here is how to do it yourself.
Rinse off loose dirt and seed
Soak feeder in mild detergent solution and scrub inside and out with appropriate sized brush
Sanitize by soaking feeder in a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to 9 parts water)
Allow the feeder to dry completely before refilling it with seed.
By Annie Runyon, Board Member
This summer I received a beautiful gift. The Bluebird Effect, Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) written and illustrated by Julie Zickefoose. Ms. Zickefoose writes about her life with the wild birds she rescues and releases. She blends her own personal observations with natural history, using humor, words and art. Her sketches reflect her careful observation, and her watercolor paintings color her stories beautifully.
Reading The Bluebird Effect prompted me to reread two beloved older, but still in print, books about bird life with illustrations by the authors.
Joe Hutto’s Illumination in the Flatwoods, A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey (The Lyon’s Press, 1995) is a companion to the PBS Television Special My Life as a Turkey.
Bernd Heinrich’s Ravens in Winter (Vintage Books 1991) is one of many beautiful books written by an this extraordinary academic field biologist.
Each book offers careful observation, humor and thoughtful questions yet to be answered. Perfect for a winter’s evening read, and for a good gift.
by Annie Runyon (photos and sketches by the author)
Back in the fall of 2011, I decided to collect a few slugs and snails from my yard to study. I needed to illustrate “Slippery, Stealthy Slugs” written by Susan Carl for Wildlife in North Carolina magazine.
Top left to right: white-lipped globe snail, 2 three-toothed snails. Lower left to right: sow bug, and several three-band garden slugs.
The three-tooth snails laid a few eggs in the moss and I had tiny snails after a while. The white-lipped globe snail, Globe, was a bold explorer and loved to munch on mushrooms. The juvenile three-band garden slugs were speedy and devoured fresh lettuce.
One chilly evening in January 2012, I went outside to bring in firewood and discovered a handsome slug snuggled in the woodpile. I placed it in my terrarium. It was quite different from the non-native species I had collected.
Art Bogan, from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and Megan Paustian, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, helped me identify this native as a changeable mantleslug, (Megapallifera mutabilis) … or Slide for short.
This is Globe.
The leopard slug was too large, active and slimy to live comfortably in my small terrarium. After drawing, I released the leopard on a holly trunk.
Slide seemed upset by the other non-native slugs. Slide moved to a corner, produced copious slime, scrunched up and stank off! So I put the slugs in separate terrariums, and soon released the non-natives. Slide and Globe lived peacefully together …
Changeable mantleslugs (Megapallifera mutabilis) forage for fungi and lichen in the tree canopy. I gathered fallen branches with fungi for Slide to eat. These native slugs shelter together in moist nooks and crannies in the trees and under logs on the ground. They stretch way out and twist all about; gliding up, over and under with grace. Mantleslugs sometimes contract into a hard lump when frightened. All slugs breath through an opening, called the pneumostome, located on their right side, shown in my sketch below.
On February 11, 2012 at midnight, Slide laid a cluster of eggs (more than 20) in my terrarium. Then she rested. (I figure I can call this hermaphrodite a female while laying eggs!) Next morning she stretched and nibbled on lichen. Slide laid more eggs on February 26, 2012 and on March 9, 2012 her first eggs began to hatch.
Slide and her babies, of various ages, eat together.
Slide continued to lay egg clusters for the next three months. Whenever the weather was wet and warm, I would release her babies onto my maple trees where other slugs roamed. I finally released Slide after she laid her sixth egg cluster. At midnight on May 4, 2012, Slide glided up a big wet maple and disappeared in the canopy. Her offspring are growing and doing well.
Certain predators are happy to thin the backyard slug herd!
Look in mesic wooded habitats (well-supplied with moisture) for these handsome native slugs. In the morning after a rain, you may find them moving down the trees. During the night, look for them climbing up to search for food and mates.
By John Little
Starting this fall, Wake Audubon will initiate its own “Lights Out” program to help prevent the needless deaths of migrating birds. It’s well known that millions upon millions of avian migrants are nocturnal travelers. These night flyers who navigate by the moon and stars encounter barriers to their destinations in the form of well lighted buildings in urban areas. The birds become confused by the artificial light and crash into buildings causing senseless carnage. Raleigh is an unlikely exception which is where Wake Audubon’s “Lights Out” program will come into play. Volunteers are needed to survey a predetermined route in downtown Raleigh looking for dead and injured birds, collecting those poor creatures for delivery to the Natural Science Museum, and recording the findings. When sufficient data are collected, meetings will be arranged with building owners and city officials to gain their support in reducing the number of artificially lighted buildings. In cities where this has been done, the night time death rate has been reduced by as much 80 per cent. Probably more important to the building owners, their energy costs have been significantly reduced. The 2013 fall campaign will take place between 15 September and 15 November.
So, what is needed? Wake Audubon, like the Marines, is looking for a few good women and men–around fourteen–to conduct daily early morning surveys in teams of two. Maps will be provided to show the route and identify the major buildings to examine. The first training session will be conducted at 6:30 AM, Sunday, 8 September in front of the Wells Fargo Building on Fayetteville Street. Winston-Salem ornithologist Kim Brand who has spearheaded that city’s Lights Out program will lead the session. This is one of the most important conservation undertakings Wake Audubon has ever engaged. It’s success totally depends on a strong voluntary response. If you can and are willing to help, please notify John Little (email@example.com) or Lena Gallitano (firstname.lastname@example.org.) Remember the training date will be 8 September at 6:30 AM in front of the Wells Fargo Building on Fayetteville Street.
By John Gerwin
I have loved the song of the Gray Tree Frog for as many years as I can remember. And I have been not-so-secretly envious of our neighbors up the street, who have had 2-3 of them in their front yard for all the years we’ve lived here. But that was it for our neighborhood. Just a few frogs in their front yard, singing gloriously in weather like this year, but none elsewhere. I was whining about this to Jesse one day and he said “Not a problem! I have 100’s of tadpoles. I’ll bring you some, and you can raise and release them.” And so he did, and so I did. It wasn’t difficult, as I had a few extra rain barrels, and all I had to do was toss some “fish food” into the water once or twice/day. And so one of the barrels became the tree frog nursery. By August, there were ~100 teenager frogs heading out into the world on their own. I was amazed when two days later I found a Garter Snake alongside the small pond we have by our front porch, which is where I had placed a few dozen of these youngsters. How do they know?
Over the ensuing two years, the gray tree frogs, and their namesake, expanded. The species has been thought of as two species for a long time – frogologists have known of vocal and chromosomal differences for many years – and those in the know, well, knew. Other than voice or genes, the two species are indistinguishable. But it seems only recently that all this has been formalized, and the rest of us now know “ours” as the Cope’s Gray Tree Frog.
We began hearing several individuals along the edge of our neighborhood lake last year. And this year, many more – sometimes I can hear six individuals calling at once. And, this year, we finally had some in our front yard. I was able to get a variety of pictures, and one decent video/audio of one singing away below my home office window.
This is clearly a great year to be a frog, and each night that we walk the dog, we are finding up to 5 species of frogs. And to our delight, these include both Cope’s Gray and Green tree frogs – we have found (and moved) at least 4 gray’s this year (vs. one in the previous 8 years). The Cope’s have a nice splash of yellow (or orange) in the groin area, which is, as you might expect, a bit tough to see unless you pry open some frog legs. Which is precisely what I did the other night, to get some pictures. I was quite elated to get these images and just to be fondling another tree frog – they will often sit perched on my finger while I admire them. After finishing my frog groin exposé, I went inside to get ready for bed, which included removing my contacts. It was very soon thereafter that I was reminded that these tree frogs have a potent little, mucous-membrane irritating skin toxin – their way of saying “Hey, we hardly know each other!” “Mucous-membrane” would include the eyes; and boy did they burn for a while (about an hour). All I could do was keep rinsing with cold water, and wait (oh, and complain vociferously).
I have found surprisingly little info reported on the Internet about the toxin itself. Indeed, via a “frog forum” where a few folks wrote in to describe their own membranous experiences, one person posted a link to a research poster from 2011 that claims to be a report of the first chemical characterization of the peptide contained within the skin secretion. That peptide is the main culprit. I found this intriguing to say the least. There is so much for us to learn…….. Which could include listening to what your Mother told you – “please wash your hands before you…….”
I have included 4 images. There are a few more, which you can view at this link:
The link will take you to my Dropbox account where I have set up a folder for this blog. Included is the R-rated “thigh” shot (not to be missed….). I’ve also included a video with audio of a gray tree frog singing on one of our tables out front. This individual, also in some of the images, appears to be missing one (the left) eye. The video is ~50 seconds. The filesize is large at 25MB so can’t be attached!
We found, and I promptly fondled, another Gray TFrg tonight while walking the dog. Just sitting in the intersection of Melbourne/Ravenwood/Grove. I must say, the really blend in well with the asphalt. I moved it……. to the side of a tree of course.