Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. He subsequently received his PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University, thanks to a career spent teaching and researching the physiological ecology and ecotoxicology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. Join him as he observes our better nature on the Island, his newest home.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
A Close Encounter with Early Spring in NC
I am a huge advocate for enjoying and studying nature wherever you
find yourself. So when you make trips to visit family, it is a great
opportunity to expand your horizons in understanding of natural
history. While watching our grandson in NC in middle February we
encountered some very frigid and icy weather but then a touch of spring
appeared that lifted our spirits and I am sure those of our wild animal
friends. Indeed there is nothing so thrilling as the first arrival of
spring in a cold climate.
we arrived in the Piedmont region of NC in Chapel Hill, the frozen bird
bath told it all. The area was in the icy grip of a cold front from
Canada and the prospects of local birds seemed grim. We enjoyed
watching backyard bird feeders which were thronged by hungry patrons.
A robin pecked at the suet. Pine siskins from more northerly climes
were especially interested in the thistle seeds. There were even two
warblers, yellow rumps and this pine warbler that were feeding on suet,
fruit and seeds and not on their usual insect prey.
behavioral signs of spring among the birds were a pair of brown headed
nuthatches that were working on a nest cavity in a dead pine tree. Two
mallard ducks were paired up in preparation for breeding and the male
seemed especially brightly colored and thus sexually attractive to the
But the most distinctive signs of
spring were the calling of chorus frogs from marshy areas and the
appearance of egg masses of spotted salamanders in fishless pools. You
will not see the adult salamanders unless you go out at night when it is
initially thawing and raining. I found an adult male under a log after
he had bred. There were many egg masses in a shallow marshy area which
would dry up later. In a close up view you can see the individual
embryos inside a gelatinous mass. They are in early stages of
development so had likely been laid about one week before. The adults
are brightly colored with large yellow spots, likely as an advertisement
of their toxic skin secretions. They are "mole" salamanders and spend
most of their lives burrowing in the forest soil litter.
take whatever opportunities that come your way to travel, but do not
forget to study and appreciate the amazing natural world that is so
different in various locations.