Thursday, August 27, 2015

What's to Love About Bats? Eno Discovery Camp Kids Can Tell You!

I love bats. It started when I was a child, playing with my friends under the streetlights on warm summer evenings and watching the bats dive to catch mosquitoes and moths.  One evening I tossed a small rock in the air to see if a bat would chase it, and accidentally knocked one to the ground.  As my shock at what I'd done turned into fascination that it didn't look like the bats from horror movies; rather, it looked like a tiny, sweet and furry bear.  Thankfully, I had just stunned it and the little brown bat took off to eat more bugs.  When I was a teenager a bat caught (and lost) a wing on the antenna of my car, giving me the perfect opportunity to explore the structure and function of said wing.

My infatuation was complete in college when I began working at Appalachian State's Camp Broadstone in Valle Crucis, NC and became a guide into the caves of eastern Tennessee, learning awesome facts about how valuable they are to our ecosystem. Did you know bats eat up to 3,000 mosquitoes and moths a day?  Or that they aren't blind, but use a combination of echo-location, sight and memory to navigate the terrain?

Fast forward to 2015, when White Nose Disease has wiped out almost 80% of the brown bat population.  Our staff is so very fortunate to be able to nurture the same love and appreciation in our Eno Discovery Camp kids through environmental stewardship projects.  This summer, we (kids and staff) constructed, stained and erected the bat houses 13 feet high near tree lines and water throughout the park in an effort to help create save roosts for bats.  This is one of the new strategies thought to be a solution to combating the spread of the disease.  If all goes well, we should have bats roosting within 1-2 years, and the Eno should have many fewer mosquitoes-- and White Nose disease-free bats!

Campers staining the bat houses

Kids fascinated by concrete being poured

Helping Kenny and Keith hold up the post

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What a summer we're having! We're busy, busy with showing the DPR summer camp kids the wonders of nature through canoeing, fishing and nature exploration.  At Durham Parks and Recreation, every summer camp participant is offered the opportunity to touch base with nature through programs offered by our Outdoor Recreation unit, journeying to the Lake Michie recreation area in Durham.  It is quite possibly the most rewarding part of our jobs, seeing faces light up when they discover an Old Man of the Woods, touch moss or feel the glide of a boat on the water for the first time.

Old Man of the Woods 

Checking out a yellow-eyed slider turtle
First Fish!
Moss is super soft.

Smiles at being in a canoe

Monday, June 22, 2015

DPR Adventure Camp 2015

Well, that was a blast! We packed as much adventure as one could have in our week. First, we got to know each other with some light team building, then headed to Lake Michie to play on stand up paddle boards (SUP's) and in kayaks and canoes.  The next morning, we took on the Discovery Course at Bethesda Park and then headed to float down the Eno to beat last week's heat.  Wednesday morning, we left on our mountain adventure, camping at South Mountains State Park near Morganton, NC.  We caved at Worley's Cave in Bluff City, Tennessee, and the next day hiked in the Pisgah National Forest to Upper Creek Falls, where we slid the afternoon away on the natural waterslide at the base of the falls.  All in all, a fantastic week with fun, energetic campers. Can't wait till next year!
First day paddling at Lake Michie--so much to try!

Nimble on the vertical cargo net


Read to climb!

Sliding at Upper Creek Falls
Covered in cave mud at Worley's Cave

Looking for LeRoy's hiding place

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Saturn Has a Moon That Looks Like the Death Star from Star Wars!

Really! But more about that later.  Right now, during this week, Saturn is at it closest point to Earth and is at its brightest.  Jupiter and Venus are also putting on a show in the early evening sky, but to see Saturn through a telescope, these are the perfect conditions. Lucky for all of us, we'll be out at Valley Springs Park in Durham on Friday night with our giant telescopes and knowledgeable staff. 

 If I asked you to draw a planet, odds are that you'd draw Saturn, mostly because it's the most distinctive of the planets in our solar system. Think about it, if I asked you to draw Pluto, you'd most likely...oh, wait....
Saturn is second in size only to Jupiter, is a truly massive feature of our night sky. Despite its incredible size Saturn is made mostly of gas and is so light it would float in a bathtub, if only we could find one big enough! The iconic rings of Saturn are pretty remarkable too. They are made up of ice crystals with a very small amount of rocky material and are often shaped by orbiting moons.
See, it does look like the Death Star!

Find yourself mesmerized by Earth's solitary, lonely moon?  Imagine having 62 to look at! Saturn has 62 known moons, 53 of which are officially named, and over a hundred moonlets and counting. Some of the more unique moons include Enceladus with its surface geysers; Iapetus, which is completely black on one half and white on the other; Rhea, which has an oxygen atmosphere; and Titan, an aptly-named giant that is larger than Mercury.  Our staff favorite, Mimas, looks just like the death star from Star Wars. 

Join us this Friday, May 22 from 10:00pm – 11:00pm at Valley Springs Park to get up close and personal with Saturn. We will be joined by staff from NCCU (and their very powerful telescopes) to take a look at Saturn, its rings and if we’re lucky maybe even a few moons. Friday is looking like a great night for star gazing; we hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Poison Ivy and Baby Animals--What to Watch for This Time of Year

Now that we're all (hopefully) out and about in Durham's natural areas, it's time to have a conversation about poison ivy and baby animals in the wild.  First, the most exciting subject, poison ivy.  Most people know the mnemonic "Leaves of three, let it be" that guides us away from the plant, but the problem is, there are lots of plants that have a cluster of three leaves.  So how does one tell the difference to avoid days of blistering misery?

If we look at the picture below, you'll see three different 3-leaf clusters.  Confusing, right? The key to poison ivy is that on the plant/vine, there are only three leaf clusters, and those leaves have serrated (jagged) edges with a fine point.  So in the picture below, poison ivy is in the bottom right corner.  If you look further down the stems of the other two plants, there are pairs of leaves that accompany the 3-leaf groupings.

Which is the poison ivy?
Interestingly, poison ivy will also start at the base of a tree and become a large, fuzzy vine that runs up the tree toward sunlight. These will have large, mature leaves and white-to-purple berry clusters like the one below.  Pretty, but definitely something we want to avoid.

Poison Ivy vine with mature leaves and berries
 Another topic of wonder, and concern, in the Spring is the abundance of baby wildlife.  This picture below was taken in a tree near Morreene Rd. in Durham.  A significant concern is that well-intentioned folks see baby birds, deer or other animals without a mother present, make an assumption that the babies have been abandoned or the mother has been killed and take the baby into their care. What we all need to know is that mothers give their children room to grow, explore and learn in order to become capable on their own.  You may see a baby deer on it's young legs in your back yard with no adult in sight, but odds are that the mother is watching carefully from a short distance away, camouflaged by her surroundings.  So if you see babies in the wild, leave them be, please!
Baby robins waiting for mom to bring breakfast

Friday, April 24, 2015

After Earth Day--Now What?

Earth Day, the annual day we honor that which sustains our lives, came and went on Wednesday, April 22.  You may have gone to DPR's Earth Day festival at Holton Career and Resource Center, or went to any of the numerous events around the Triangle.  Now that Earth Day has passed for another year, what small, regular steps can we all take to take care of this fragile ecosystem that sustains us?
  • Turn off the water when you're brushing your teeth.  Gallons of water go down the sink when in the minute that you're brushing. 
  • Don't throw food trash out your window.  That apple core may seem a nuisance in your vehicle, but those birds of prey--hawks, owls, falcons--are waiting for the rodents who wait on the roadside for our tossed apples, burgers, fries and gum.  They swoop down to get the rodents and BAM! meet the grill of a car.
Hawk on Power Line
  • Install a bat house on your property.  About 80% of the brown bat population  (almost 99% in Pennsylvania!) has been annihilated by White Nose Syndrome, a fungus that kills hibernating bats.  The disease is spread two ways: by humans carrying the fungus from one cave to another, or a bat from a contaminated cave roosting in a new cave. Bats eat about 3,000 mosquitoes per day and help pollinate the planet--in other words, the world would be pretty darned miserable without them.  Help give them a safe place to roost, and keep your yard free of mosquitoes! 
    A bat house provides a safe roosting place for bats.
  • Water your lawn when it needs it rather than on a schedule.  In the humid southeast, our lawns need far less water than we think they do.  Better yet, install native plants, mosses and grasses which thrive in local conditions.  I'm letting a native grass take over my front yard and I have a lush, green lawn without herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers.  A very interesting article from NASA about lawns and watering can be found here.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

DPR Sky Watch Astronomy Program Postponed Due to Weather

The Sky Watch astronomy program scheduled for this evening is postponed to Sunday, April 12 from 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm due to a truly rotten forecast for star gazing--cloudy skies and a high potential for severe storms during the hours of--you guessed it--8 pm to 10 pm.  It may or may not rain, but as you might imagine, moving large telescopes quickly isn't the easiest proposition, so we can't take a chance of getting caught in the rain. If you'd like more detailed information,  Durham Clear Sky Chart has an excellent page that shows the transparency and cloud cover of the sky at the various hours of the day. Sounds a little wonky, but it's really very cool.  So, until Sunday evening at 8:30 pm, here's a great image of our solar system to tide you over:

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Big Week of Programs for Outdoor Recreation--Astronomy and City Lakes Season Opening Party

Well, the warm weather is here finally!  So exciting to have warm days, leaves and blossoms on the trees and a wave of very cool outdoor recreation programs for Durham.  First up this week is our Star Watch program at Old North Durham Park Friday night, April 10. As a part of the North Carolina Science Festival, this sky gazing program is focusing on our solar system this year.  In particular, we'll be looking at Jupiter and Venus Friday evening through North Carolina Central University's 10- and 12-inch telescopes and we'll have a solar system walk with crazy facts about our solar system. It's pretty amazing just how much we can see in the middle of Durham. When we were first scouting locations for the program, we were pleasantly at just how much we were able to view.   Below are some images of last year's event--unfortunately, no night-time shots because, well, it was really dark and a flash would have interfered with night vision.  If you're curious and would like more information about the night skies, is a fun site to find what celestial events are happening on any given day.
Staff Testing a Telescope and Astronomy Binoculars

Star Watch viewing station
Diane and David Markoff of NCCU Mathematics and Physics

Our second big event is our City Lakes Season Opening Party at Lake Michie this Saturday, April 11 from noon--3pm.  Come try out canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards (SUP's) and paddle bikes as well as fish from the banks for free on this day. We'll also have food and prizes from Dick's Sporting Goods.  If you haven't been to Lake Michie or Little River lake you're missing some of Durham's most peaceful and beautiful natural resources.  More information about the City Lakes can be found here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Seen a Wild Turkey in Durham?

It's turkey mating season and the turkeys are out and about in Durham and elsewhere in North Carolina.  They blend pretty well with the early spring brownish landscape, but you may have seen them along the roadside or flying across a field. Two days ago, driving down 15-501 towards Chapel Hill, a large wild turkey flew just in front of my car, no more than twelve feet off the ground.  That's the second time that's happened to me, although the first time was a much closer encounter in Yadkin County. That one almost came through my passenger side window, which, since the top speed of a flying turkey is 55 mph, would have been a very, very bad day for my car.

Wild turkey flying
A lesser known program called the Wildlife Restoration program through the NC Wildlife Commission has worked hard for the last ten years to restore the wild turkey population in the state. We humans are hard on wildlife, clearing land, building roads and otherwise destroying habitat.  Our tax dollars have been returned to naturalists and hunters alike through this program.  The photos below show the gains the wild turkey population has made in the last ten years in previously unpopulated areas:

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources has a page on their website, here, where you can report sightings, which is very helpful to track the progress of programs that the Wildlife Commission does. I have three to report now just after this past weekend!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Paddling the Tar-Pamlico Water Trail

Recently, our staff was invited to paddle the Tar-Pamlico River Water Trail by Heather Deck, riverkeeper for the Pamilico-Tar River Foundation, and Daniel McClure, an intern with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation.  What a cool experience that was.  I've paddled many places but I truly saw more wildlife on this ten-mile paddle than I have on most rivers in the area.  The day initially looked sketchy weather-wise with forecast highs in the upper 40's and rain, but the rain cleared out and though we didn't really see the sun, we were comfortable in our boats when the temperatures rose into the upper 50's.  
We put in in Rocky Mount in a nice, wide stretch of the river. The water level was up enough that the current kept us clipping along at a good pace without having to work too terribly hard, which made for decent photo opportunities.  Even in the overcast, chilly weather, the wildlife were hopping: wood ducks, mallards, a pileated woodpecker,kingfishers, barred owls, hawks, turtles and beavers all made appearances. Well, saw might be overstating the beaver sighting on my part, at least--one created a ruckus as we passed by, sliding down the bank and then briefly stalking us under water, which we could see from the air bubble trail it left behind.  I think Daniel and Ryan were quicker on the draw and saw the beaver clambering down the bank.

A beaver slide along the banks

Heather and Daniel were fantastic hosts, knowledgeable about the local wildlife and fauna and easy paddle partners. It takes a great deal of work and salesmanship to fund efforts like this one, and a good rapport with volunteers willing to give of their free time to help build structures. The platforms are pretty sweet camping locations--screened in sleeping areas with a nice deck and picnic table. Take-outs are easy, too.  Starting at the head of the Tar River and ending in Beaufort, the Tar-Pamlico Water Trail will eventually have platforms 8-15 miles apart once it's completed so that paddlers on this end of the state will have multiple routes and campsites to choose from.  Platforms must be reserved and there is a minimal fee; more information about that is here.  
All in all, a great day on the water--is there such a thing as a bad day on the water?  We're grateful to our hosts for sharing this with us, and DPR Outdoor Recreation is definitely planning a fall trip down the river, so keep an eye out for the fall programming schedule!

Giant fungi on a downed tree
Having a picnic at the Vollmer Farm platform with Daniel and Heather.