Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chasing Venus Flytraps: A One Day Trip to Southeastern North Carolina, Pt. 2 The Animals

The last post described the plants that Tom Feild, Jared Satchell, and I found on a short trip to southern North Carolina to find Venus Flytraps.  This post is going to be on the animals we saw during the trip.  Because our trip focused mainly on plants, we didn't get as many animal photographs.  For the purpose of this post, I have used a few photos to illustrate the species we saw, even though the photos may not have been taken on the trip. If there is an asterisk by the photo description, it means that the photo was not taken during the trip.

Most of our day was spent exploring the Nature Conservancy Preserve at Green Swamp in Brunswick County.  This area is dominated by Longleaf Pine savannas that are periodically burned to reduce understory flora that if allowed to grow would block the rare plants that are prevalent in this type of habitat.  It was still early in the spring season so animal life was sparse, but we did see a few very cool species.

When we pulled into the Nature Conservancy's parking lot in the predawn the first bird songs we heard were coming from Bachman's Sparrows.  Bachman's Sparrows are residents of Longleaf Pine savannas and can be tricky to spot.  We were lucky to have four birds singing all around our car. Once it got light we were able to get fairly close to one singing bird.

 Photo: Bachman's Sparrow, Jared Satchell

Even though birds were not our main priority, you couldn't help noticing all the singing birds.  Pine and Yellow-throated Warbler songs were being heard from almost every pine tree.

*Photo: Yellow-throated Warbler, Bill Hubick

Most of the birds we saw or heard were fairly common species.  When we walked through an Atlantic White Cedar swamp later in the day there were a few Black-throated Green Warblers singing.  I believe that these birds were the waynei subspecies that breed on the coastal plain from southern Virginia through South Carolina.  They are a disjunct population from the nominate population that breed in the conifer forests of the northeastern United States and Appalachian Mountains.  The waynei subspecies is smaller and has a shorter bill than the nominate population.  Since most of the Atlantic White Cedar swamps, which the birds seem to favor, have been lost to logging and urbanization, the subspecies is in serious decline.  Alligator River NWR in North Carolina is considered by many to be the last area where there is a large breeding population of this unusual bird.  I couldn't find any photos of the waynei Black-throated Green Warbler to use in the blog, so I am going to use one of Bill Hubick's great photographs that shows the nominate race of the Black-throated Green Warbler.

*Photo: Black-throated Green Warbler, Bill Hubick

Other neotropical migrants that we heard or saw included White-throated Vireo, Northern Parula, and Black-and-white Warbler.

When we arrived predawn at the Nature Conservancy's Preserve at Green Swamp there was a frog calling from the small pond by the parking area.  Tom called it out right away, Southern Cricket Frog.  When it got light we went down to the wet area and tried to find one of the small frogs.  We were lucky. Tom was able to catch one and it sat nice and still for a photograph.

Photo: Southern Cricket Frog, Jim Brighton

Southern Cricket Frogs reached their northern limit in southeastern Virginia.  In the Mid Atlantic region they are exclusive to the coastal plain.  Below is a range map for Southern Cricket Frog provided by the USGS National Amphibian Atlas.

Map: Southern Cricket Frog, USGS National Amphibian Atlas

Just after a period of heavy rain had ended Tom heard a Squirrel Tree Frog and we also heard Little Glass Frogs calling.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to see these two species.

Other than viewing the Venus Flytraps, the highlight of the trip was an Eastern Glass Lizard that we were able to catch and photograph.  We were fortunate to be walking in the pine savanna when an Eastern Glass Lizard decided to slither across the trail right at our feet. Tom was able to scoop him up without damaging the lizard's tail.  Glass Lizards are so named because they have a defense mechanism that causes their tails, which make up half their body length, to easily break off, often into several pieces.  The lost tail will grow back over the months.  The other cool thing about Glass lizards is they do not have any legs or feet.  They look like a snake.

Photo: Eastern Glass Lizard, Jim Brighton

Photo: Tom Feild holding an Eastern Glass Lizard, Jim Brighton

From the above photo you can get an idea of the length of the lizard.  It was probably around 18" long.  It was not mean and never tried to bite.  Eastern Glass Lizards reach their northern limit along the Virginia / North Carolina border.  They are limited to the coastal plain.

Photo: Eastern Glass Lizard, Jim Brighton

Butterflies, while not numerous, were found flying in a few locations.  The most numerous species was Red-banded Hairstreak.

Photo: Red-banded Hairstreak, Jim Brighton

Most of the Red-banded Hairstreaks we saw were nectaring on a flowering shrub that I think is a type of Vaccinium (blueberry), but I'm not positive of the shrub's identification.

Photo: Vaccinium sp? (blueberry), Jim Brighton

Red-banded Hairstreaks are a fairly common spring hairstreak on the coastal plain and piedmont from New Jersey south through the Mid Atlantic into Florida and into the Mid West.

In each of the pine savannas there was usually one or two Palamedes Swallowtails flying about.  Like most swallowtails, we never saw one land so no photos were obtained.

*Photo: Palamedes Swallowtail, Bill Hubick

Palamedes Swallowtails are limited to the coastal plain. They reach their northern range in Worcester County, Maryland and continue south into Florida and the gulf states.

Cloudless Sulphurs were also observed flying.  We were lucky enough to watch one land on a small shrub.  We were amazed at how well the butterfly was camouflaged.  

Photo: Cloudless Sulphur, Jim Brighton

Cloudless Sulphurs are the largest sulphur of the Mid Atlantic region.  The are very common on the coastal plain and become incresaingly rare from the piedmont into the mountains.  The farther south you go the more common they become.

Another common butterfly that we saw flying in the pine savannas were Azures.  The Azure complex is a very confusing group of species that are all very similar but have different food plants and flight times along with minute structural and scale color differences.  I photographed this azure resting on an ilex sp? (holly species).  I expect that this is an American Holly Azure.

Photo: American Holly Azure, Jim Brighton

We also observed a few Pearl Crescents.  These crescents are very common throughout the Mid Atlantic region. Here is a photo of a Pearl Crescent that I took on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

*Photo: Pearl Crescent, Jim Brighton

Once we left the pine savannas and began exploring some of the roadsides, we found a few more butterfly species. Along a small road that ran through an Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, Jared spotted an Eastern Pine Elfin.

*Photo: Eastern Pine Elfin, Bill Hubick

When it wasn't raining we occasionally saw an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail flying along the roadside.

*Photo: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Jim Brighton

We observed a single Silver-spotted Skipper feeding on a flowering Sweetleaf Tree.

*Photo: Silver-spotted Skipper, Bill Hubick

The last butterfly of the day was observed nectaring along the roadside by a small creek.  I was surprised to identify the bug as a Clouded Skipper.  In Maryland, I normally do not see Clouded Skippers until the end of summer and into fall.

*Photo: Clouded Skippers mating, Lynette Schimming

Even with the cloudy cool weather we were able to observe a few dragonflies and a single damselfly.  At the parking lot to the Nature Conservancy Preserve there was a pond with a few boggy areas where we saw Blue Corporals flying and a single Fragile Forktail damselfly.

*Photo: Blue Corporal, Bill Hubick

*Photo: Fragile Forktail, Bill Hubick

At a small stream we were able to finally get decent enough looks to identify a flying Stream Cruiser.

*Photo: Stream Cruiser, Bill Hubick

To round out the insects, we saw a single tiger beetle, which turned out to be the very common Six-spotted Tiger Beetle.  Often, when a lot of time is spent in sandy areas, tiger beetles can be very common.  I was shocked that we didn't see more, but the weather might have been a factor.

*Photo: Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (mating), Bill Hubick

I would like to thank the photographers who made this post possible.

The map I used for the Southern Cricket Frog was obtained through the USGS National Amphibian Atlas.  Lots of great amphibian information can be found on their website.  It can be viewed at

There isn't a ton of information out there on the Green Swamp area.  Here are a few websites I used to plan the trip.

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