3rd Annual Congress of Herpetology

by Crystal Cockman

May 29, 2018

On Friday through Sunday, April 27 – 29, 2018, I attended the 3rd NC Congress of Herpetology Meeting at the NC Zoological Park, Asheboro, NC. This was a joint meeting between the NC Herpetological Society and NC Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

There were a great variety of interesting speakers at this event. The first speaker spoke about results from a decade of Hellbender surveys and conservation efforts in North

Carolina. This was information from Lori Williams, with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and John Groves, with the NC Zoo (retired). Hellbenders are large salamanders present in cool water streams in the mountains. They presented results from 263 snorkel surveys. They found that 127 streams did not have hellbenders present, and 136 did. 101 streams were surveyed, and 481 hellbenders were found. read more…

Turkey Hunting Adventures

by Crystal Cockman

May 18, 2018

I’ve only been turkey hunting a handful of times this spring, but it’s my absolute favorite time of year to be in the woods. The first time I went hunting was with a friend in Montgomery County, and we did not hear a bird. We did however have a red-headed woodpecker dance around in the trees above us nearly the whole time we were out there. It was a beautiful spring day, warm with a slight breeze.

This past week I had the opportunity to go turkey hunting with a friend in Moore County. We arrived before dawn and the whip-poor-wills were calling in the distance. We were hunting on a property that has longleaf pine savanna on a portion of it, the place where we entered the property, with a hardwood forest adjacent. We started walking down a pathway as the sun began to creep into the sky to our east, and then we stopped and listened. Two turkeys gobbled to our southwest but off the property. We were hoping for a turkey in the hardwoods, as it would be much easier to hide from him. My friend, who is an excellent turkey caller, blew on his wingbone call and we heard another bird to our northeast in the big woods. We headed his way. read more…


by Crystal Cockman

May 9, 2018

On April 24, the episode of Jeopardy I was watching was interrupted by a tornado warning for Stanly and Montgomery Counties, from Morrow Mountain through Troy. This reminded of back in 2013, when there was a “straight-line” windstorm that came through that same area. Morrow Mountain was closed for quite a while as they cleaned up downed trees. I remember it vividly because it was our first thru hike of the Uwharrie Trail, and we had to clambor around lots of down trees in our final stretch of trail as we approached the Highway 24/27 trailhead. It was also July, so we were hot and tired by the end of that last day.

So what is the difference between a tornado and a straight-line windstorm? A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. For a vortex to be classified as a tornado, it must be in contact with both the ground and the cloud base. Damaging winds are often called “straight-line” winds to differentiate the damage they cause from tornado damage. Strong thunderstorm winds can come from a number of different processes. Most thunderstorm winds that cause damage at the ground are a result of outflow generated by a thunderstorm downdraft. Damaging winds are classified as those exceeding 50-60 mph. read more…

The Swarm

by Ruth Ann Grissom

May 8, 2018

We were less than a week into spring. The weather was cold and gray, but the landscape in my Charlotte neighborhood was Technicolor – emerald lawns, sunny daffodils, pastel phlox, Yoshino cherries and redbuds. Oddly enough, my eye was drawn to the drab trunk of a single willow oak, one of many lining the streets. About ten feet from the ground, there was a large, oblong cluster, golden against the mouse-brown bark. I recognized it immediately – a swarm of honeybees!

My husband, Marcus Plescia, is an erstwhile beekeeper. Over the past three decades, he’s tended many hives in the Uwharries. His inspiration was both practical and sentimental in nature – a more productive garden and a hobby shared with his English grandfather. In the early days, he ordered supplies from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, but his best bees – and his best stories – came from local sources. There was the inexplicably ill-tempered colony raised by a gentle, elderly man in Asheboro and the laid-back bees he got from a salty guy off Highway 49 who smoked them with an ever-present menthol cigarette. read more…

Hooded Mergansers

by Crystal Cockman


Hooded merganser (USFWS)

Hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) are small ducks with a fan-shaped crest on their head, which makes it look oversized. The head of the male duck is black with a large white patch. They have a white chest and chestnut colored flanks. Female and immature ducks are grey and brown with cinnamon colored heads. Eyes of the males are small and round, and are amber to yellow in color. Females have brown eyes.

The Hooded Merganser is the smallest of three North American mergansers and the only one restricted to this continent. Hooded mergansers breed from southeastern Alaska, central British Columbia and southwestern Alberta to southwestern Oregon, central Idaho and northwestern Montana; and from central Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, south to Kansas, northern Louisiana and northern Georgia. Hooded Mergansers migrate short distances. They have usually left coastal wintering areas by April and return in mid-November. read more…

Where Food Comes From

by Crystal Cockman

April 18, 2018

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” – Aldo Leopold

I grew up on a small farm, with chickens and cows, and my grandpa also had goats, so I knew in a sense that food comes from these animals. Many children today are so disconnected from the land that they think chocolate milk comes from a brown cow. Many of us grew up with vegetable gardens, sharing produce with family and friends, picking apples off a tree, or collecting eggs from a henhouse.

read more…

Lake Norman State Park

by Crystal Cockman

April 11, 2018

I visited another one of our local state parks this past week. Located only about an hour and a half from Troy and Asheboro, Lake Norman State Park is a convenient place for a day trip. The address for the park is 759 State Park Road Troutman, NC 28166. The park is located in Iredell County and is 10 miles south of Statesville and 32 miles north of Charlotte. You can reach the park by taking exit 42 off I-77 and following the signs. There are a wide variety of amenities at the park and activities that can be done here include hiking, biking, boating, fishing, picnicking, and swimming.

The park was formed in September, 1962, when Duke Power Company donated 1,328 acres of land on the northeastern shore of Lake Norman to the state. Lake Norman is North Carolina’s 11th state park created. Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in North Carolina. The lake itself was created from 1959 to 1964 when Duke Power Company built the Cowans Ford Dam across the Catawba River to generate electrical energy. The creation of the lake led to further industrialization of Mecklenburg County, helping establish Charlotte as a major trade center.

read more…

Year of the Bird

Prothonotary Warbler

by Ruth Ann Grissom

April 10, 2018

April – the month that quickens the pulse of birders across the Piedmont. Songbirds also feel the stirring, the restless urge to head north. In the coming weeks, millions will wing their way from winter homes in the tropics to breeding grounds in the Piedmont and beyond. In the Uwharries, we’ll delight in glorious birds like the indigo bunting and American redstart all summer, and we’ll thrill to glimpses of the rose-breasted grosbeak and black-throated blue warbler as they transit the region.

But there’s a shadow to the joy of spring migration. Even as we raise our binoculars to scan the tree canopy, we can’t escape the fact that many bird species are suffering steep population declines. This harkens back to the early 20th century when wading birds were being slaughtered for commerce. Their feathers were a popular adornment for ladies’ hats. Many were pushed to the brink of extinction. Their possible demise inspired the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which protected the birds and also helped expand the national wildlife refuge system. Their numbers soon rebounded. read more…

Big Tree Hunting

by Crystal Cockman

March 29, 2018

photo by Todd Pusser

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go out with a friend and some big tree hunters. Todd Pusser, marine biologist and wildlife photographer, introduced me to Byron Carmean, a retired biology and horticulture teacher, and Gary Williamson, a retired park ranger. They are big tree hunters extraordinaire. They’ve discovered more than 40 national champion trees, and they’ve nominated more trees to the American Forests Champion Trees national register than any other big tree hunters in the history of the program. American Forests maintains the national register of Champion Trees and works to protect the forests where our champions live. John Bunch also joined us.

Byron and Gary found a bald cypress in Virginia that was over 1,000 years old and was the biggest tree in the state at the time. This find was in the middle of 37 acres of virgin forest, surrounded by logging operations, and they helped preserve this tract, now known as Cypress Bridge Swamp Natural Area Preserve. read more…

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

by Crystal Cockman

March 21, 2018

Last week, I attended the Southeast Biodiversity Conservation Forum at the NC Botanical Gardens in Chapel Hill. It was a great conference with many talented speakers who are experts in their fields. I learned about applying biodiversity data to guide conservation efforts, habitat restoration, landscape conservation, and communicating science with citizens. On the last day, we were able to choose a field trip to any of a number of interesting sites in the area, and I chose to go to Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area.

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is located in Hillsborough NC at 625 Virginia Cates Road. The mountain itself is part of the preserve, and it is the highest point in Orange County, rising more than 350 feet from the Eno River. There are 3 miles of trail to enjoy here, including the Occoneechee Mountain Loop trail, the Chestnut Oak trail, the Overlook trail, and the Brown Elfin Knob trail. The natural area encompasses an area of 190 acres. There are two ponds for fishing, in addition to access to the Eno River, and picnic tables and a vault toilet here. read more…



(704) 647-0302


204 East Innes Street, Suite 280
Salisbury, NC 28144