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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
This iconic wading bird can be seen fishing at the back of the wetland throughout the year. Their majestic grace and striking coloring make this visitor a special treat to watch. They stand statue-like waiting for fish to swim by and then strike with lightning speed. We also glimpse their cousin, the little Green Heron.
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Although common in western North Carolina, it is still thrilling to see these gentle creatures feeding along the edges of the wetland pond or find them drinking from one of the freshwater springs which supply the wetlands. Even when elusive, their hoof prints in the mud tell a different story.
Cattail (Typha sp.)
Cattail is a common plant in ponds across the country and in fact can become quite invasive in wetland habitats. It was an important plant for Native communities since the flower head and tuber are both edible and the thin leaves can be used to weave baskets and mats.
Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)
Blue Flag is just another name for our wetland Iris, cousin to the common garden variety of Iris. Tall and colorful, it adorns the edges of the wetland at the Sanctuary and is a welcome addition to the beauty of the area.
Purple Aster (Aster spp.)
The wet meadow surrounding the wetland is teaming with Purple Aster. When this plant is in full bloom in the late summer, it is a favorite haunt of the Gold Finches that are seasonal visitors to the Sanctuary. Their bright yellow bodies flitting through the vegetation are a stunning complement to the purple flowers of the asters.
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
In late winter, when the weather is still frosty, these Tree Frogs sing out with a chorus of song that can delight the weary of winter soul. Of course, as with most frog songs, it’s all about attracting the perfect mate. However, when we hear our tiny neighbors in February and March, we know that spring is just around the corner.
Though fairy-like in their looks and flight with transparent gossamer wings, these ferocious carnivores help to keep the mosquito population under control. They hunt and consume both adults and larvae of the pesky mosquito along with gnats and other insects.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
This colorful thrush, a cousin of the American Robin, makes its nests in tree cavities or bird boxes. They are insect eaters and prefer to be near open fields where they can catch a meal while flying. The subtle russet throat and belly distinguish this bird from the brighter Indigo Bunting.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
With over 100 species and varieties in North Carolina alone, Goldenrods come in many sizes and shapes. This late summer bloomer adds vibrant yellow hues to complement the purple Joe-Pye in the meadow. It is an important food for insects.
Hawk (Buteo spp.)
Hawks are common in the meadow, particularly the Red-shouldered Hawk. You may hear them calling or see them perching in the tree, where they use their exceptional eyesight to find rodents hiding in the grasses. Listen for the shrill repeating call of a Red-shouldered Hawk as they communicate with family members in the area.
Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.)
Joe-Pye Weed is also known as Queen of the Meadow. And we know why. In late summer and early fall, the hilltop is a mass of these tall purple flowers which are so important to bees and butterflies.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus)
Swallowtails only live about one month, so they spend most of their time and energy eating and reproducing. Their bright color is a form of self-defense, warning would-be predators that they may be a toxic meal.
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)
Believe it or not, this neon Blue Bunting is easy to miss. The males sit high atop a tree defending their territory with their warbling song but can be elusive among the branches. Indigo Buntings are a summer resident, coming to the meadow to nest and raise their young before heading south in the fall.
Tulip Poplar, Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
This tallest of the hardwoods at the Sanctuary is actually a member of the magnolia family and not a Poplar Tree at all. The large yellow and orange flowers appear in April and May and are an important food for honeybees after a winter of relying only on the honey they have stored in the hive.
Praying Mantis (Mantis spp.)
Related to cockroaches and with over 2,000 species worldwide, only 18 species are native to North America. Its posture while stalking prey gives it the appearance of praying. This hungry carnivore eats garden pests and can rotate its head a full 180 degrees while hunting, something no other insect can do. Egg cases are visible on plant stems during the winter.
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
You will likely hear this fishing bird, with it’s rattling call, before you see it flying along the creek. Kingfishers nest in burrows in creek banks and feed almost entirely on aquatic prey such as fish and crayfish. Occasionally, you might be lucky enough to see one fly across the trail to check out a potential meal in the wetland.
Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
Several species of Coreopsis grow in the area and are a cheerful addition to the side of the trail. A member of the daisy family, most have yellow flowers and thin leaves. Prairie Coreopsis has a bright crimson center.
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Sycamores, with their majestic height and silvery-white bark, usually grow with their feet wet, along creeks and rivers. Also called Button Tree, the seed pods which hang on the trees in the fall were used to make buttons during colonial times.
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
The common Snapping Turtle is a freshwater turtle found throughout the southeast and across much of the Midwest United States. It is known for its tremendous jaw strength and scrappy tenacity. If you see one on the trails, give it a wide berth!
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
Another member of the daisy family, Black-eyed Susans grow right along with coreopsis. They are a Sanctuary fan favorite, hardy and happy to return year after year.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Redbuds, a member of the pea family, are a stunning addition to the spring landscape at the Sanctuary. The tiny purple blossoms cover the limbs of these small trees, giving way to seed pods that look much like their cousin, the garden pea.
The Northern Woods
White Pine (Pinus albus)
These woods are dominated by pine trees. For now. Pines don’t live as long as hardwoods and these pines are dead or dying. As they come down, they will be replaced by the hardwood saplings already gaining hold and the woodland character here will change.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
This medicinal mushroom grows on fallen logs throughout the region. It has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to slow the growth of tumors and cancers. It can be found in tinctures and capsule form on many grocery store shelves.
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Foxes are beautiful and very shy. It’s a rare treat to see our resident fox trotting down the trail. Their large fluffy tail can be a third of their body length and is helpful in keeping the fox warm in winter as it wraps itself in a luxurious fur stole. They use their extraordinary hearing to locate prey.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
This flowering shrub is one of the most common medicinal plants on the planet, used by cultures around the world. The blue-black berries can be gathered in the fall to make a syrup that helps guard against colds and flu. The flowers can also be made into a simple syrup which can be added to sparkling water to make a refreshing summer drink.
Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Eastern Gray Squirrels can often appear reddish brown, despite their name. They are the most abundant tree squirrel in North America. Their bushy tail helps them balance on tree limbs and power lines and their hind feet can turn backwards allowing them to scramble head-first down tree trunks. Their propensity for hoarding nuts and acorns makes them an essential forest regenerator.
Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
The American Black Bear lives throughout much of the country in many different habitats. In our area, they have become urban neighbors, roaming through streets and yards looking for an easy meal. They have an acute sense of smell, are excellent climbers, and generally do not pose a threat to humans if we give them their space. Our staff has yet to see a black bear at the Sanctuary, but one was spotted in the evening going towards our property.
The Southern Woods
Club Moss (Lycopodium dendroideum)
Related to ferns, this low growing plant has many common names – Club Moss, Ground Pine, or Creeping Cedar. Club Moss is part of a group of vascular plants without flowers or seeds that reproduces with spores. Because it is evergreen, it adds vibrant color to the winter landscape. The Creeping Cedar trail, located in the southwest corner of the Sanctuary, is named after this plant, which is one of the only areas where it grows.
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
Though small, Chickadees are fearless and curious. They are common in the woodland setting and at backyard feeders across the southeast. As you wander through the forest, you may hear them scolding or calling the alarm against predators, warning everyone in the area. “Chickadee-dee-dee”
Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)
Orchids are one the most prolific of all flowering plants with thousands of species across the globe. Our small Cranefly Orchid grows in deep shade along Creeping Cedar trail. You’ll find the small russet flower on footlong stems in June and the elliptical leaves with green tops and purple undersides in the dead of winter.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Although this Woodpecker sports a red patch on its head and nape, it’s the subtle red blush on its belly that gives it its name. A medium size woodpecker of the region, it is often seen traveling from trunk to trunk in search of insects that it can pull out of holes with its long sticky tongue.
Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)
Also called simply Black Snake, this nonvenomous neighbor can grow to six feet long and feeds on small mammals, frogs, and birds. Because they are territorial, they can be helpful at keeping venomous snakes out of the area. When threatened, they will shake their tails vigorously, making a sound much like a rattlesnake. But in truth, they can be very shy and would much rather avoid any contact with humans.
Black Pine (Pinus rigida)
Also called Pitch Pine or Loblolly, this coniferous tree grows in the mountainous regions of North Carolina. Young trees have scaly reddish-brown bark which turns black with age and tufts of needles sprout from the trunks of mature trees. Pines provide habitat for deer, turkey, gray squirrels, rabbit, quail, doves and songbirds. Osprey and bald eagles often nest in tall pines.
Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)
Box turtles live about 30 to 40 years and some have made it to 100. They eat plants and berries, insects and worms. The orange and black or brown patterns on their shells are unique to each individual, much like our fingerprints. Males can be told by their bright red or orange eyes while females have dark red or brown eyes.