Sunday, April 26, 2015


This year I am monitoring 8 nest boxes that I have mounted on poles at the lab where I work and another 12 boxes or pottery bird houses at home.  Currently at least nine boxes have active nests.  I have been recording my visits to the nests on NestWatch (, a citizen science program conducted through the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.  I usually visit the nest two to three times a week to check for number of eggs or young birds, as well as insect infestations, broken eggs, cowbird eggs, etc.

So let's look at the nests I have found so far:


Lab Box #2 had two nests of Eastern Bluebirds last summer with 5 young birds produced in each nesting.  This must be a preferable nesting site as it was home to the first nest of the year of the nest boxes that I monitored in 2014.  All five young birds from each clutch successfully flew from the nest. 

Lab Box #2 was the first of my nest boxes to have a nest this year, too. I found four eggs on April 8th and five on April 10th.  I suspect the first egg was laid April 5th and the fifth egg probably on April 9th. On April 16th there were still five eggs in the nest.

A week later on April 23rd I found the first two hatchlings with the remaining three eggs.

When I made a little squeaky noise with my lips, both hatchlings popped open their mouths to reveal the yellow linings that the parent bird target when delivering food items to the baby birds in the relative dark of the nest box cavity.  


Lab Box #4 had a nest of five eggs of Carolina Chickadees last summer three of which hatched and successfully flew from the nest.  Later in the summer a paper wasp constructed her nest under the lid of the box.  Her colony grew to include several helpers, and I was not brave enough to remove it until winter was well underway.  I have bought a bar of Ivory Soap to rub on the underside of the roof.  I read that this will prevent future wasp nests from sticking to the wood surface.

On April 8th I found a mossy nest which looked to be fairly complete.  A bit of grassy material was added by April 10th.   On April 14th I got curious and "explored" the fluffy material in the center of the nest with my little finger and detected what felt like at least 2 eggs.  On April 16 there seemed to be 4 eggs.  Finally on April 20th the cup in the center of the nest had been fully exposed and I could plainly see 6 eggs. These are the 6 eggs as I found them on April 23rd.

This is a close-up of the same 6 eggs from April 23rd.


Lab Box #5 had two nests of Eastern Bluebirds last summer with 5 young birds in the first nesting and four in the second. All nine young birds fledged successfully.

I found four eggs on April 14th and five on April 16th.  I suspect the first egg was laid April 11th and the fifth egg probably on April 15th. This is the photo from the 16th.

On April 23rd there were still five eggs in the nest.


Lab Box #6 had two nests of Eastern Bluebirds last summer. The first nest consisted of five eggs of which only three hatched.  These three babies went on to fledge successfully. There were also five eggs in the second nesting last year. None of these eggs hatched and it is unclear why the nest was abandoned.   

On April 14th I found a Carolina Chickadee nest with 2 eggs buried in the soft material in the nesting cup.  Two days later there were at least three eggs present. On April 20th five eggs were plainly visible in the cup shaped part of the nest where the eggs are now being incubated.  My best guess is that the first egg was laid on April 13th and the fifth egg on the April 17th.  If I am able to visit the nest on the day of hatching, I'll be able to make a better estimate of what day the last egg was laid.  

This is the nest showing the soft grasses, fur, feathers, and unusual green fuzz that covered the eggs on April 16th.  Note a small amount of green moss at the lower left corner which makes up the bulk of the base of many Chickadee nests.  

These are the 5 Chickadee eggs as I found them on April 23rd.


Home Box #1 had two nests of Eastern Bluebirds in the spring and summer of 2014.   The first nest held five eggs which all hatched and concluded with the successful fledging of all five young birds. The second nest had a rocky beginning as the first egg was pierced, probably by a House Wren.  I taped a cardboard flap to the front edge of the roof for a few days (supposed to keep wrens out, but not bluebirds).  The next day I found the pierced egg broken into pieces on the ground under the nest box and a fresh bluebird egg in the nest.  Eventually the Bluebirds laid four eggs.  All four eggs hatched and the four young birds fledged successfully.

On the morning of April 8th I found one Eastern Bluebird egg in Home Box #1.  That evening I found a second egg which means that the first egg was laid on April 7th. By April 11th there were 5 eggs in the nest.  These are the 5 Eastern Bluebird eggs as I found them on April 23rd.


Home Box #2 held our first ever nest of Brown-headed Nuthatches in the spring of 2014 (see the earlier post at "Rubber Ducky, you're the one!").  Healthy little nuthatches emerged from the five eggs and successfully flew from the nest about three weeks later.

On the morning of April 8th I found the beginnings of a Brown-headed Nuthatch nest.   I was able to see three partially covered eggs on April 11th and four on April 12th. On April 16th and 20th six eggs were visible in the open nest cup.  It appears the first egg was laid on April 9th and the last probably on April 14th.  These are the six eggs as I found them in the beautifully decorated nest on April 23rd.


Home Box #3 had a nest of Carolina Chickadees in the spring of 2014.  Six tiny eggs were laid and hatched into delightful little chickadees which all fledged successfully. 

On the morning of April 8th I found what appeared to be a complete Brown-headed Nuthatch nest.   I was able to find one partially covered egg on April 12th and four on April 16th. On April 20th five eggs were visible in the open nest cup.  It appears the first egg was laid on April 9th and the last probably on April 14th.  This is the nest on April 23rd.  The eggs were partially hidden again, but I was able to see them through the "wings" of pine seeds that covered them.


Home Box #5 is a box that I actually built last spring, hoping to attract a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers.  A male flycatcher spent a week to ten days attacking his reflection in our kitchen window.  I suspected he might have a mate and that the pair might be influenced to nest in the yard if I provided an appropriate sized nest box.  The bluebird boxes have a 4" by 4" floor and a 1 1/2" entrance hole, while the flycatcher box has a much larger 6" by 6" floor with a 1 5/8" entrance hole.  I mounted the box on a telescoping pole that has the box at about 10 feet off the ground.  As luck would have it, or not, we had no occupants in this box at all last summer.

This spring there have been many cavity nesting birds checking out this box.  When I lowered the box on April 13th to monitor the nest, I was surprised to find a Carolina Chickadee Tufted Titmouse nest which was composed of a 6" by 6" mat of green moss that was only about 3/4" thick with some soft grassed and fur packed in the back left hand corner of the box.  Still this seems to be a huge amount of moss, and the little chickadees titmice must have been making a huge number of flights to gather that much material. On April 16th I "felt" three eggs way in the back corner of the nest.  These are the 6 chickadee Tufted Titmouse (!) eggs as I found them on April 23rd in the brooding cup that the adult has fashioned in this roomy dwelling.  (It took me a while to figure this nest out.  Since it is an elevated box back in the trees from our house, I only got fleeting glimpses of the adult birds.  These were definitely Tufted Titmouse eggs!)


Home Box #6 is a newly erected box this year.  The box was visited early on by Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and Carolina Wrens.  As the nest was being constructed, the materials had me convince that Carolina Wrens had staked a claim to this box.  A few days later, on April 11th I found one Eastern Bluebird egg in the nest.  By April 16th there were 4 Bluebird eggs.  I suspect the fourth egg was laid on April 14th.  When I monitor the nest box to confirm that no more eggs have been added, the male does its dive-bombing routine complete with clicking sounds made with his beak. These are the four eggs as I found them on April 23rd.

Sunday, April 19, 2015



This is a fairly new word for me, so I thought I'd share it along with two mid-April examples of ophidians and one from November 2013.  See link below for definition and pronunciation.


Over the weekend I found this little Dekay's Brown Snake just inside the basement door mostly buried in the fluffy light blue pile of a small throw rug.  At first I thought I was seeing a couple dried willow oak leaves atop the rug.  Just the snake's head and a short portion of its mid-back were exposed.  Of course, I snatched up the little snake.

Outside on the deck railing, it held a pose long enough for me to get a picture of the dark "crescent" mark behind its eye.

From a different angle, one row of the paired spots along its back is fairly evident.

This is a sleek little snake that appears to be about 9-10 inches long, perhaps just a year or two old.  They grow to about 13 inches at maturity although some individuals may grow longer. These guys eat mostly earthworms and slugs.

When this picture is enlarged, the keeled scales are more evident.  A keel is a ridge that runs down the center of most of the scales along the back and sides of the snake giving the reptile a rather textured feel.  This angle also highlights the snake's nicely rounded nose.

The Dekay's Brown Snake is a fairly docile snake.  I have never had one to even offer to bite, and of course, they are so small it would not be of any consequence if they did bite. It's April in North Carolina.  Note the smudge of pine pollen on my finger.

The little Dekay's Snake slithered off into a pile of mulch behind the house after its photo session.


As I was making the rounds on Tuesday to the eight Bluebird nest boxes I've placed along the perimeter of the NC State Laboratory of Public Health campus, I was delighted to come upon the special pairing below.  At first I thought there was a "pile" of snakes.  On closer inspection it was apparent that the "heart-shaped" form on the ground before me was a pair of Black Racers.

Black Racers are known for being faster than most snakes when they are "exiting the scene".  But I read recently that their top speed is only about 6.5 miles per hour, the rate at which humans move when they are taking a quick walk. 

Black Racers have smooth scales, that is, their scales do not have keels like many of the snakes I've described on this blog.  These snakes are solid black except for a white chin (not seen here) and a gray belly.  Their eyes appear larger than those of many snakes and they have prominent brow ridges. To me, they are a rather handsome snake.

About 30 minutes after I found this pair my coworker, Becky, asked me to take her out to see them.  The two racers were not at the spot I had previously found them, but within a minute or two I found the larger snake just 15 feet down the hill at the wood's margin.  The two of us stood there, talking and taking pictures of this four and a half foot individual from about 4-5 feet away.  For 10-12 minutes the racer remained motionless.  Eventually, the racer slithered off into the grasses in the edge of woods behind him.

In the spring, a mature female Black Racer will release pheromones from special skin glands that attract male Black Racers.  It appears that these "odors" play a role in selecting the males with which she will bond.  Female snakes can store reproductive material from matings with several males in special "pockets" in her body and choose which she will use at the time she is fertile.  The female snake can store this material for up to five years.  Racers are egg layers and deposit from three to as many as 36 eggs in early summer. The hatchlings emerge in late summer or early fall.

There is evidence that a similar mechanism of attraction may be at work in humans as well. See link below:


The appearance of young Black Racers is quite different than the adult of the species.  In November of 2013 two coworkers brought me this young snake that they found on their lunch break stroll along District Drive.  

Its grayish-olive body was boldly patterned with brownish-black (almost chocolaty) rather ovalish blotches along three quarters of the length of its back.  Two of these blotches were conjoined and had a "Mickey Mouse-like" appearance. It had smooth scales with no keel.   Black Racers lose this pattern when they are about a year old.

And it had the most remarkable eyes.  They were quite large in proportion to its head.  The Racer's well developed vision aids in its success as a daytime hunter. Adult snakes are known to travel with their heads elevated perhaps a foot above ground level as they search for prey and look out for predators.

Sadly, this little snake had an injury to its tail, perhaps from a roadside mower's blade.  Although initially vigorous, it died the next day.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


On Friday of last week I spotted this yellow object in the middle of the road near the lake at the back of the NC State Fairgrounds.  Under this creamy coating of pine pollen and pine needles, I found a turtle.  

I took it to work and gave it a proper bath.  Of course the first thing that popped out at me were these long curved toe-nails on its front feet.  This is a male.  Now, what kind of male turtle is this?

Behind the eye there is a bit of a yellow blotch that connects to a yellow stripe that curves down the jaw toward the neck.

Another view of the head shows the yellow blotch behind the eye and more yellow striping on the turtle's jaw and foreleg as well as the marvelous toe-nails.  The slotted appearance of the turtle's eye is captivating to me.

The belly (or plastron) is uniformly yellow.  In the upper right corner of the picture you can see a dark spot on each of the two small V-shaped plates (gular scutes) nearest the turtle's head. There is a larger dark spot in the center of the somewhat squarish right pectoral scute.  The each of the marginal scutes have a dark spot or a dark ocelli (eye-like spot). 

The back feet also have yellow markings and are webbed for powerful swimming. The tail which is curved up to the right side is heavily marked with yellow.

The turtle's upper shell or carapace is blackish brown with yellow-orange markings.  The carapace is divided into 13 larger plates (scutes).  Down the back of the turtle are five scutes called "vertebralsthat encompass the spine .  On each side of the vertebrals are four costal scutes (a total of eight) that are associated with the rib-cage. There are 26 smaller marginal scutes along the edge of the carapace and a slender nuchal scute just above the turtle's head.  The marginal scutes along the back end of the turtle form a rather notched, jagged, or serrated edge.

Looking at the back end of the turtle there are vertical stripes of yellow next to the tail.  These are sometimes referred to as "yellow striped pants" in some reptile field guides.

This is another view of the "yellow striped pants" with the turtle's tail pointed in the opposite direction.

After consulting three long time turtle experts, it looks like what we have here is a Yellow-bellied Slider perhaps hybridized with a few Red-eared Slider genes.

Many thanks to Jeff Beane, Ed Corey, and Alex Netherton for their patience and help with interpreting the markings on this "pollinated" turtle.  After two days at my home he was released near where he was found.