2012 was a great year for Earthshine Nature Programs! We have had many great high notes, a couple of low points–but change is the way of nature. Scroll down for a recap of last year and a taste of what is to come for the future of ENP!
Tracking Catherine in the spring!
We started off with a wonderful second annual open house and benefit in the spring! We had a great turn out, Potter the Opossum made an appearance and we learned great information about the beautiful and endangered Green Salamander from Alan Cameron–aka “The Salamander Whisperer”–and amazing details on the life of the Eastern Hellbender from NC Wildlife Resources Commission Biologist Lori Williams.
Biologist Lori Williams with a young Hellbender in July!
We ate copious amounts of wonderful Gelato from Kiwi Gelato in Brevard, drank Buchi Kombucha from Asheville and listened to great music from the Naughty Pillows as well as a didgeridoo/drum Concert from didgeridoo master John Vorus, Jason Alfrey and yours truly. Our friend Ben Prater from Wild South spoke to folks about protecting the biodiversity of our beautiful mountains and Jenny and her mom made tie die with the kids while several volunteers gave great tours of the nature center.
Later, naturalist Clint Calhoun and I took a crowd of folks on a turtle tracking hike to find Jimmy Irwin the box turtle and then we took a hike in the forest searching for anything wild an wonderful that we could find.
Visiting naturalist Clint Calhoun showing us the wonders of botany during our annual open house!
The silent auction was a huge success and proceeds funded the operation of the nature center, wildlife rehabilitation program and projects for the summer and fall. Thank you all who visited with us on our second annual fundraiser and supported us with your donations–without you Earthshine Nature Programs would not exist. THANK YOU ALL!
Cayden Calhoun learning all about botany and box turtles!
Throughout this last year I have presented dozens of wildlife and nature outreach presentations and didgeridoo classes all over western North Carolina. The photo below was taken at my first program of the year for Brevard Middle School students.
We have spent hundreds of hours in the field visiting with the beautiful nature and wildlife of the woods, fields and streams surrounding Earthshine Lodge. Many of you joined me on exciting and informative Turtle Tracks tracking expeditions where together we located our radio-tagged Eastern box turtles Jimmy Irwin and Catherine. We are also continuing to follow the travels of Mrs. Bones the box turtle at our other study site in Cedar Mountain. Mrs. Bones has continued to follow here annual patterns as she has done over since 2008. Mr. Bones continues to evade us but I have no doubt that we will find him one day and continue tracking his movements again. In September I replaced the transmitters on all three turtles so we will now be able to track them for another two years. Together with your support we have learned a great many things about nature, ecology, biology and beauty of the North Carolina mountains—especially “our” mountain.
We tracked turtles in the woods…
We tracked turtles in the fields…
We tracked turtles on the hills…
We tracked turtles everywhere!
We even tracked turtles beside houses!
And yes, we did find turtles! Below is the gorgeous Jimmy Irwin–his face is covered in yummy blackberry juice! !
We also tracked the Timber Rattlesnakes…well, I tracked them actually.
I am calling 2012 The Summer of the Rattlesnake because I had so many wonderful encounters with rattlesnakes over the last year and learned so much about their ecology and natural movements. You would think that tracking rattlesnakes would be exciting. Well, it is not. It is loads of hard work scrambling through thick brush and brambles, getting scratched, cut, bit by mosquitoes, spiders and biting flies, falling down and getting almost skewered by pointy sticks, boiling in the heat, drenched by heavy rains, wandering in the dark with only a tiny flashlight and even hitching rides from friends…only to usually find your study subject coiled in a resting coil…in other words, asleep. Yes, that is what Timber rattlesnakes do most of the time…sleep….and wait for prey to come to them.
Now tiger tracking–that would be exciting!
I also helped state biologists install a covert wildlife camera to monitor rattlesnake poaching at a remote den site in the national forest–but that is another story.
I attempted to win a new didgeridoo by submitting photos to a photo contest on Facebook–below were two of my possible entries. Can you find the Timber rattlesnake in the first one?
This next photo was the one I submitted to the contest. Even though it did not win I owe a HUGE THANK YOU to those of you that voted for me and a special thanks to Steve and Mason Atkins for trekking to the waterfall to get the photo for me.
The highlight of my “summer of the rattlesnake” came when I was invited to visit a Timber rattlesnake den site where we saw seven large and possibly gravid (pregnant) rattlesnakes–it was an amazing experience and a great honor to be able to share space with such beautiful creatures. Take a look some video I shot of the encounter below!
One of the biggest reptile discoveries of the summer was that—like Eastern box turtles, Timber rattlesnakes have high site fidelity. This simply means that they return annually to the same places within their habitat to meet their survival needs. I documented both Utsanati and Zoe using many of the exact locations that they have used over the past year, for example–in the spring Utsanati returned to within 30 feet of the site where I first discovered him at about the same time as he did in June of 2011. A few weeks later I found him in the woodpile where he had sheltered for several weeks after his transmitter implantation surgery in the summer of 2011. Then in the late summer he returned to the same area of the power line access-way where he spent several weeks at the same time last year. Then, at the end of the season he moved back to the exact same den site that he used last winter. Zoe, the female rattler also seems to use the same sites time and again.
Although I have only been tracking them for a little over a year and a half it is my belief that, like the box turtles, Timber rattlesnakes are creatures of habit and use the same sites on an annual basis. This knowledge along with the data collected from almost 5 years of tracking the box turtles tells me that moving a wild reptile more than a few hundred yards could be very detrimental to its survival. I also believe that Timber rattlesnakes seem to prefer edge habitat (the edges of fields, forests and areas that have been disturbed or modified by humans) to the cover of the dense woods. These edge habitats provide great cover in the form of dense brush and downed timber as well as rock and brush piles–great places to take shelter and hunt for food. These edges also provide great opportunities for thermoregulation–i.e. sunbathing–which as we all know the reptiles must have due to their ectothermic (cold blooded) nature. What does this mean for those of you with box turtles and rattlesnakes on your land?
Well, you must be doing something right to play host to these remarkable creatures so keep doing whatever it is you are doing and the wildlife will be happy and continue to visit your property. If you encounter a box turtle in your garden or yard simply thank him for eating all the slugs, snails and beetles that would have otherwise eaten your garden veggies. He may occasionally eat a strawberry or tomato or two but I think that is a small price to pay for you to not have to use pesticides to poison your property and your food. The rattlesnake and his kin are a friend of man because they eat countless rodents that would otherwise destroy your crops, invade your homes and spread diseases to your family and pets. It is up to you to watch where you walk when outside during the warm months of the year. Use a flashlight when walking outside at night and use caution at dusk and dawn. If you have small children or pets and believe that you have Timber rattlesnakes and Copperheads on your property–please do not kill them, just call me if you are in the WNC area and I will come out and survey your site and help you decide how to manage the situation in a more sustainable way. If you live far away from my stomping grounds feel free to give me a call and we can chat about snakes anytime.
They cannot adapt to our way of life, so we must adapt to theirs.
Betty the young box turtle was released back into the wild late in the summer. She was one of our head start turtles and had lived with Meredith for awhile, then she lived at the nature center for the last couple of years until she was large enough to fend for herself. Good luck Betty! THANK YOU Meredith and Betty (the human) for rescuing her!
With the good always comes the not so good. Sadly, in the spring I was called on a wildlife rescue to pick up a strangely acting snake. It turned out to be a Black ratsnake and it was acting very lethargic. I immediately rushed the snake to our reptile vet a Dr. Chris Coleman and he treated it but sadly it was too sick to survive.
I believe that it had been poisoned indirectly via a rat or mouse that it had recently eaten and that the rodent had recently eaten rodent bait–which in turn poisoned the snake. Yet another great reason to live an organic lifestyle and not put out poisons and baits to kill wildlife–let the snakes, hawks and other predators live and they will control the rodents for you.
Then, last June, we said goodbye to our sweet friend Potter the Opossum. He was attacked by an unknown predator that broke into his enclosure dealing him great damage that he was unable to recover from. Below are a couple of the last photographs of Potter O. Possum. The first one is from when he made his second appearance on local television just before the open house.
This photo was taken by friend of ENP Steve Atkins on the day of the Open House. That is Steve’s son Mason feeding Potter a treat.
A few months after Potter passed away we acquired a hand raised young Opossum named Crash from our friends at the WNC Nature Center. Like Potter, Crash is very sweet and has a gentle personality and wants to eat everything all the time. Here is a photo of Crash and I the day I brought him home.
Crash is much larger now and he has become a wonderful education Opossum. He will live with us at ENP in a large, custom built, heavy duty enclosure that our friend Jim Hardy is building as I write this–THANK YOU Jim! . If you would like to meet him just contact us and we can set up an appointment with Crash. Below is a great photo of my friend Saya–Mo and Jenny’s daughter–Crash and I in September.
Over the summer I also worked part time at Camp Illahee as a naturalist and environmental educator. I worked to teach the girls about the value of nature, reptiles, opossum’s and the didgeridoo–it was a wonderful summer at a wonderful camp!
With the help of the campers at Camp Illahee we rehabilitated seven baby Opossums during the summer and then released them at Earthshine. It was a great learning experience for the girls and life for the young Opossums. If you are looking for a great resident summer camp to send your daughter to please consider Camp Illahee in Brevard, NC.
During the summer I was awarded the Turtle of Change award from “Salamander Whisperer “Alan Cameron–that is Alan passing the turtle to me in the below photo. I feel greatly honored to have been a recipient of this beautiful award promoting good and lasting change in the world–we need it now more than ever.
Over the next few weeks I carried the Turtle of Change with me on my travels and in my field work. The turtle was with some friends and I as when we played didgeridoo for the turtle on the street in Asheville, NC and then journeyed to a very powerful performance by folk/didgeridoo musician and wildlife conservationist Xavier Rudd.
Check out this video of our Turtle of Change/didgeridoo experience in Asheville and Pisgah Forest!
Below is a photo of the Turtle of Change with Veterinarian Dr. Lee bolt and Dr. Ron Davis just before we implanted a radio transmitter into a Timber Rattlesnake in the name of wildlife conservation and education.
John Vorus and I playing didgeridoo for the Turtle of Change on a remote rock outcrop in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I then passed the turtle off to John Rucker and his Turtledogs so that it could continue it’s travels across the earth. I wrote three different blog postings about the turtle of change and it’s journey with me. You can read those postings by following these links: part 1, part 2 and part 3.
Speaking of change we know that the only thing constant in nature is change and that without change things stagnate.
That being said…things are going to change for Earthshine Nature Programs. We are in the process of moving most of our operation to the campus of The Academy at Tails Carolina near Dupont State Forest in Little River, NC. As you can imagine, this is a HUGE change for us however, we believe that change is good. This move will be a good thing for many reasons. At the Academy we will have three times the space as in the Rabbit Hole at Earthshine–space in which to expand in the future! We have already moved almost all of our animals and habitats to the new site and built a predator proof, walk-in Opossum habitat for our resident Opossum “Crash.” We will use his previous, smaller habitat as a rehab pen for the orphaned and injured opossums we will undoubtedly take in during the spring and summer. We have also built five, 8 foot long heavy duty tables for all of our habitats and aquariums and we will soon be building a custom walk-in tortoise and Iguana “jungle room” habitat so that we can house large tortoises and iguanas that have outgrown their suburban homes. ENP friend and supporter Steve Atkins was instrumental in setting up a donation to ENP that included a 225 gallon aquarium with all hardware that will be used as a habitat for “Crikey” the Cayman! Coming in the early spring of 2013 will be an outdoor box turtle rehabilitation enclosure similar to the one at Earthshine–only it will be larger and have a quarantine area for new arrivals as well as an area for non-releasable “wildlife ambassador” education turtles. There will be two ponds with solar powered water circulation/filtration systems and several wild blueberry bushes for the turtles to munch on. We also have plans to set up a box turtle tracking program similar to Turtle Tracks project and possibly a snake tracking program as well. We plan to stock the new nature center with new education and science exhibits, a larger resource library as well as technology such as a flat screen TV and USB microscope and now we even have a full size refrigerator (donated by Earthshine!), and a dedicated storage, food prep and triage room for injured wildlife–how is all that for moving up in the world!
You may be asking yourself what will happen to the Nature Center at Earthshine? It will continue but it will be small at first with only a few animals and habitats. Over the next few months I plan to construct/purchase and install several new habitats when funds allow and then stock them with ex-pets and other non-releasable rescue animals that need forever homes. The outdoor box turtle enclosure will remain at Earthshine with Tripod, Rowdy, Crash and the other resident turtles so you will still get to visit with your favorite turtles when you visit Earthshine. I will also be switching out animals from time to time to give the ones at each location a rest form the daily grind.
As far as for me–sadly, I will be leaving Earthshine as a full time employee. My time with you at Earthshine I will always cherish as one of the most important and productive times in my life and you have all touched my life as I hope I have touched yours. The winds of change are taking me in a new direction and now I will be working with the Academy at Trails Carolina / Trails Carolina as a science, nature and ecology teacher/field educator. I will continue to work for Earthshine as a part-time employee and if you want to see me at the lodge during your visit please contact the lodge and make arrangements in advance so that I can make it a point to be there for you if at all possible. I will continue to assist Karen and the crew in the maintenance of the nature center and turtle habitat and I will also be continuing to track Catherine and Jimmy Irwin the Eastern box turtles and Usanati and Zoe the Timber rattlesnakes for as long as possible.
If you are interested in going on a turtle tracking expedition please contact the lodge well in advance and ask for me by name to lead your “turtle tracking/critter hunt” and we will make it work if at all possible. I will also continue to run Earthshine Nature Programs as a non profit separate from Earthshine. I will continue to present my wildlife, nature and didgeridoo outreach programs and edit the ENP website, Facebook page and this blog in order to bring the wonders of nature to you so you can count on many more interesting nature stories in the future.
The last group of Turtle Trackers of 2012 with one of the largest trees on the property!!
Speaking of stories, the most recent stories I have for you are actually videos! The first one is “Crikey” the Cayman eating his lunch!
How cool was that!
The next two videos are on Vimeo so you will have to follow this link to view the first one. It is a professional clip done by friend of Earthshine Kevin Wild of Drawbridge Media–it is very well done! Here is another great video about Earthshine by Drawbridge–Thanks Kevin!
The biggest change is not that I am leaving–it is MUCH bigger than that. If you did not already know the news–Benny has left Earthshine as manager and Karen and her sister are taking over management. They will be running the show from now on.
Things will change–but only for the better! We have changed our name to Earthshine Discovery Center and we even have a new logo (below) so look toward the the future of Earthshine with the same great atmosphere, new activities and much, much more!
With all these HUGE changes at Earthshine and Earthshine Nature now is the time for you to consider making a donation to help us fund the new Earthshine Nature Programs. We are currently holding a fundraiser on a crowd funding site similar to Kickstarter called RocketHub. Please check out our latest fundraiser project for the details and donate if you are able. If you are unable to donate, please feel free to share our information with friends and contacts who may want to support our cause. Monetary donations are gladly accepted but if you you have supplies/materials that you think we may be able to use or unwanted pet reptiles/amphibians that are looking for a new home please contact us anytime so we can discuss it. Receipts available upon request. Earthshine Nature Programs is 100% volunteer operated so 100% of your donation will be used for the care and feeding of our rescue and resident animals and in support of our wildlife conservation projects and outreach programs at both nature centers and on the road.
THANK YOU ALL for making Earthshine Nature Programs a reality!
MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone!
Earthshine Nature Programs
I leave those of you that have read this far a quote from my favorite musician Xavier Rudd:
“Our world keeps spinning round and round it goes, human nature keeps spreading its disease, and our children keep growing up with what they know through what we teach and what they see.
And so its only a question of the time we have, and the lives that our children need. As they can only keep growing up with what they know through what we teach and what they see.”–from Better People by Xavier Rudd