Thursday, February 23, 2012

Moonlight Paddle, Lake Michie

Well spring seems to be here in full force just a couple of days after our only snow.  Did the groundhog say only 6 more days of winter?  I am about to go and try to experience winter out in Colorado for a little over a week  I don't want to forget what winter is...

Before I leave I wanted to let everyone know that we will be having a Moonlight Paddle program on Friday, March 9, from 7-9pm.  This is a great chance to get out and take a relaxing paddle on Lake Michie and listen for the sounds of nature at night.  Frogs, beavers, heron, owls are just some of the animals we might hear and have heard on past programs.  The cost is $5(city residents) and $7(non-city).  You can sign up for the program at this link https://online.activenetwork.com/dprplaymore/Start/Start.asp you can find our programs under Environmental Education after you click browse/register for programs. 

The last moonlight paddle we did not see the moon thanks to the clouds and drizzle, but we got to see beavers up close.  The moonlight paddle before that we actually saw a shooting start/meteorite that got really bright and seemed unusually close.  You never know what you might see or hear on this program. 

I'll be back to the blog in two weeks, enjoy the weather and go outside and play in nature. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Teens in Nature are back in Durham

So our Teens in Nature program started back up last weekend.  We have a full group again and it looks like another great group. We went up to Hill Forest and learned about the NSCU Forestry Department and how they manage the forest.  I will elaborate more on the program next week once I get the pictures uploaded.  It was a cold day, but a fun day, and I think that they learned a lot.  I learned some new things. 

Get out and enjoy this beautiful weather we are having.  My suggestion is to go out and walk around a new park and here is my suggestion, Sandy Creek park.  The location is http://g.co/maps/y9ygp and once in the parking lot there follow the paved trail that runs along the creek all the way to Pickett Rd.  You can also cross the new wooden bridge and explore a couple of wetland areas.  There is also an old road bed that you can hike on if you go across the open field towards the cell tower, once at the woods follow the road bed up the hill.  Keep following the road bed paralleling the large wetland to the left.  You will come to a second creek and at that point vere left and follow the sewer line cut back to the paved path.  Go explore.

There are lots of places to explore and maybe most interesting, lots of birds to see.  Bring your binoculars and relax by one of the large wetlands and see what you can find flying around.  Here are some pictures from the park.








If you think that you know what kind of snake this is, let me know.  I am curious to see our readers snake identification skills.  Unfortunately this snake was dead, I think that a sudden cold snap got it last year when we found it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spring Frogs and Toads

Yes I know it is still technically winter, but it feels like spring, the plants are acting like it is spring (daffodils blooming in January), and the Spring Peepers are out in full force.  The past week or two lots of  frogs have out and talking to each other.  The Spring Peepers and the Upland Chorus Frogs are the two that I have been hearing the most. 

Both of the frogs love the seasonal wetlands that form in the winter and usually last into late spring.  What better place to to lay your eggs than in a body of water with no fish to worry about.  Well there are some hazards to these seasonal wetlands, with drought being a big one.  Sometimes in dry winters, if the wetlands form, they don't last very long.  Maybe it is wet while the frogs are laying eggs, but then with out the continuing rain, the wetlands dry up before the eggs can hatch, or if they have hatched, the wetlands get dry before the larvae can become adults.  It seems pretty sad, but it is part of nature.  Of course there are natural predators too that the frogs and their eggs must worry about.  Spotted Salamanders will eat the eggs when they get the opportunity.  Dragon fly larvae can and do eat the tadpoles.  Sometimes birds can be predators too.  So when you really look at it, the seasonal wetlands can be a pretty tough place to live.

The Spring Peeper is a very small frog and is distinctive not only due to it's call, "peep", but also due to the X mark on it's back.  Here is a picture

photo credit JD Wilson from Herps of NC website

The Upland Chorus Frog has a unique call too, here is a picture of one

photo credit RW Van Devender from the Herps of NC website

To learn more about these and other amphibians in North Carolina check out this website, the best for our state http://www.herpsofnc.org/   This is also the best site for information on NC reptiles.

There is a large seasonal wetland just below the amphitheater parking lot at West Point on the Eno.  If you park at the amphitheater lot, get out and walk down the gravel road to the paved path, take a left on the paved path and when you are about 2/3 of the way through the open meadow take a left through the grass and you will come to it.  There are lots of other places to explore in the park and other parks too. Now go out and find some small bodies of water or even big puddles and start looking and listening.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Night Hike, Bright Hike!
        The conditions Friday night were perfect for a night hike through the forest at West Point on the Eno.  Although some of the younger hikers wore shorts, most of us bundled up for the 46 degree chilly night and took to the trails.  We left behind our flashlights and navigated with nothing but the light of the moon and the night vision monocular that Chris brought along.                                                                                  
          As we started the hike, we were sure we heard the footsteps of a deer running through the leaves just across the bridge.  We all got quiet, but the deer was on to us...there was no chance it was going to let us spot it.  Before we could blink, it ran for the hills!  As we hiked into the woods, our eyes slowly adjusted, and with the help of the moon it felt like we were in a spot light.  Like many nocturnal animals, the rods in our eyes picked up low levels of light and allowed us to see objects and movement.                
          As we reached half way, I passed out some slips of colored construction paper with the hope of proving that our night vision does not see colors.  I challenged everyone to guess the color of their slip of paper and even allowed them to compare to the paper of people around them.  I thought for sure the moon was going to help us cheat...I was keeping my fingers crossed that the moonlight didn't stimulate the cones in our eyes too much allowing us to see the color.  We put the paper in our pockets  and didn’t look at it until we got back to the EE center.                  
          Upon returning to the EE center, we all pulled out our paper and to my surprise, almost nobody guessed right.  I would have put money down on my guess that my paper was green, but in the light it was blue!  Many nocturnal animals have eyes that are adapted to night vision, it’s a good thing an owl doesn’t need to know what color the mole is that it swoops down to catch!                                                                    
          Thanks to everyone who attended, perhaps you will take a night hike again and spot some wildlife...just remember to stay quiet and leave your flashlights behind!     
          Our next night program will be on March 9 and will be a Moonlight Paddle.  Contact us if you are interested

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Night Hike and Nature Preschool Classes...Outdoor fun in Durham

 So coming up this Friday night, February 3 we have a night hike at West Point on the Eno.  The hike is from 8-10pm and you must pre-register for the hike since we cap the hike at 15 people.  If you are interested in joining us on this hike give me a call at 919-475-2427 or email me at Christopher.Shepard@durhamnc.gov
We just got a Night Vision monocular and are going to try it out on the hike.  Let's hope it works.  Maybe we will see some deer, a coyote, or even a bigfoot...  ;-)

Next week on February 7 we begin our Nature Preschool classes.  The classes meet from 10-11am and the cost is $5(city resident) per child or $7(non-city resident) per child per class.  Each week we have a different nature theme/topic that we learn about.  We focus on being outdoors and hands-on learning.  The class is for ages 3-5 and we ask that the parent stay for the class too.  Program dates are as follows:
Feb 7, Feb 21, March 6, March 20, April 24, May 8, May 22.
See contact info above if you have other questions. 

Both of these programs meet at the Environmental Education Center at West Point on the Eno Park.  You can also register online for these programs at https://online.activenetwork.com/dprplaymore/Start/start.asp

You will have to set up an account which will take about 48 hours.  Once you have your login information you can click register for programs, then click Environmental Education, and then look under programs. 


See if you can guess where these two pictures came from.  We are going to start this as a new game for 2012.  All the pictures we use in the games will be from past programs.  Send me a comment if you think you know the answer.