October nights

The clear night skies last week provided the perfect backdrop for this year’s Hunter’s Moon. The Hunter’s Moon is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. This year’s harvest moon fell in September just six hours after that equinox.

The Hunter’s Moon usually appears in October, but remember the lunar cycle is not constrained by our calendar and sometimes the Hunter’s Moon does not appear until November. This moon helps mark the northern hemisphere’s tumble from the sun as the Earth spins into its dark phase of short days and long nights.

According to EarthSky (http://earthsky.org/), the moon normally rises about 50 minutes later each successive day. However, that time is shortened during the Hunter’s Moon and it grows shorter the farther north one goes. Here and in other mid-latitude (between 30 and 60 degrees) areas like Washington, D.C., and Boston that time diminishes to about 30 minutes daily. By the time you make it to Fairbanks, Alaska, the Hunter’s Moon will rise at approximately the same time for several days in a row.

This makes evenings under the Hunter’s Moon a really special time as there is no real period of darkness between the setting sun and the rising moon. The Earth slides uninterrupted from the sun’s golden yellow to the moon’s liquid amber.

As the hunter, Orion, takes prominence in the northern hemisphere sky, one would think he would take great pride in the full Hunter’s Moon, after all it was his ego that got him there. However, there might be a little conflict of interest as this year’s Hunter’s Moon completely whitewashed the Orionid meteor shower. The peak for the Orionids this year was between 1 a.m. and dawn last Thursday (Oct. 21), but only the most devoted falling star catchers would have bothered to stare into the face of the glowing Hunter’s Moon.

The Hunter’s Moon is also obscuring Comet Hartley 2. Named after astronomer Malcolm Hartley who discovered the comet in 1986, Hartley 2 passes through about every 6.5 years. The comet was closer to Earth (11.2 million miles) on Oct. 20 than it has ever been since its discovery. But the bright moon and the small size of the comet made it difficult to see. Hartley 2 is about .8 miles in diameter. If it were the size of Halley’s Comet (5 miles in diameter) it would have been like having two full moons.

However, if you’re late to bed or early to rise there should be decent views of Hartley 2 at the end of October and beginning of November. The comet will be near the constellation Gemini, on the eastern horizon in the pre-dawn darkness. On Oct. 28 the comet and the moon will be very close as the moon passes through Gemini.

If you don’t get a good in-person view of Hartley 2, NASA’s got you covered. After being slingshot around Earth’s orbit in June to gain momentum, NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI is set to rendezvous with Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The close encounter of satellite-kind should provide some outstanding imagery.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Aster-risk*

Blue, white, lavender and purple corymbs, racemes and panicles will glow from shadowy woods and blaze from sunny meadows from now until the first hard, killing frost. Asters comprise a large beautiful complex and challenging group of wildflowers to pin down. More than 20 species of the genus aster have been recorded from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because of considerable variation within species and the tendency of species to hybridize, even competent botanists are sometimes left to a “judgment” call when trying to identify certain individuals.

As a not-so-competent botanist, if I’m without a guide once I get past the half dozen or so I can recognize they are simply, “one of the asters.” That doesn’t diminish their beauty or my delight in seeing them, though.

If you’re a botanist or botany student with a good grasp of botanical terms there is probably no better guide for asters in the region than the most current Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. But one must be really familiar with botanical terms to navigate quickly and correctly through the large dichotomous keys in the guide. And probably not many of us weekend warriors want to carry the five-pound tome along in our backpacks.

A couple of more accessible and easier to hike with guides I always recommend are Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains. Both of these guides have a type of key that aids you in identifying the plant. The Newcomb’s key is a bit more involved — more detailed. Newcomb’s also relies on line drawings for descriptions and has only a few color plates. I actually like the line drawings, particularly when dealing with very similar characteristics that might be overlooked in a photograph.

The Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains uses a general key to group similar plants within a family or genus together and then relies on detailed descriptions to pin down the species. Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains uses photographs to help with ID. And while they are great photos and there are 600 of them it’s easy to see that in the plant world, you are going to be left with a lot of stand-alone descriptions. I believe the guide lists 29 species of asters and has 12 plates.

There is no silver-bullet, especially in field guide form, when it comes to identifying asters. Both of the last two field guides are good guides. I know some people who use the two in tandem and increase their odds of ID-ing local asters.

And while most of us will never know most of the asters of Western North Carolina at first glimpse that, as I said before, does not diminish their beauty. And they will hold forth till the killing frost. Learn the ones you can, get a key or keys you’re comfortable with and try to learn more — but most importantly get out there and see them — even if they remain always, “one of the asters.”

Scott’s Creek Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway is usually a great place for asters. I have recorded Aster divaricatus, white wood aster, A. novae-angliae, New England aster, A. infirmus, cornel-leaved aster and A. acuninatus, whorled wood aster from this overlook.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

According to a recent report from Chris Kelley, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Mountain Wildlife Diversity Biologist, seven of 12 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons across the mountains of North Carolina successfully fledged chicks. Last year only three of 12 nesting pairs were successful.

NCWRC annually monitors 13 known peregrine territories and searches for falcons in other suitable habitat. This year, according to Kelly, 10 of the 13 known territories were occupied, plus eyries were discovered at Pickens Nose, in Macon County, and Victory Wall, in Haywood County.

These two new nesting sites do have some peregrine history. Victory Wall, here in Haywood County, had nesting peregrines in the 1990s but the birds shifted to Devils Courthouse. Pickens Nose was a NCWRC hack site during the peregrine falcon reintroduction program.

Hacking is the process of taking chicks that were born in captivity to good nesting sites when they’re about a month old. They are kept in a protective enclosure and food is provided. There is minimal human interaction, so the chicks don’t imprint on people. When the chicks can fly, the enclosure is opened. Food is provided until the chicks begin to hunt for themselves.

One male hacked at Pickens Nose nested successfully at Devils Courthouse a few years later. According to Kelly, peregrines were seen at Pickens Nose last year but nesting was not documented. This year two fledglings were documented.

Whiteside Mountain in Jackson County between Cashiers and Highlands is the most successful nesting site in the state. Forty-five chicks have fledged at Whiteside since 1984. Two fledglings were recorded this year. Last year was the first nesting failure at Whiteside in 11 years. There is no way to document, for certain, the cause of the failure but officials know that the closure was violated last year.

When falcons are known to be at a site, authorities close the area to rock climbing and other invasive activities for the duration of the nesting season. Peregrines are very sensitive to disturbance. Adults may leave the eyrie unattended if they are disturbed and frightened chicks have been known to tumble to their death.

Another long-time nesting site was also successful this year. A pair at Looking Glass in Transylvania County successfully fledged three chicks. Looking Glass was home, in 1957, to the last wild pair of peregrines before they disappeared from the state. Thirty-one chicks have fledged from Looking Glass since reintroduction began.

Second-year females were found at three sites this year — Big Lost Cove and Grandfather Mountain in Avery County and North Carolina Wall in Burke County. Nesting attempts at Big Lost Cove and North Carolina Wall were unsuccessful (not uncommon for sub-adult birds.) Kelly reported the results at Grandfather as “unknown.” She stated that a pair was observed at the “usual nest ledge” but it wasn’t clear if they nested. Grandfather boasts lots of remote rock faces that can make it hard for observers to locate birds. Nine documented chicks have fledged at Grandfather.

Grandfather also offered another surprise this year. The second-year female was banded but, according to Kelly, her state of origin could not be determined.

This year’s success is welcomed news. It’s heartening to see these kings and queens of the sky reclaiming their Carolina blue.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Foggy fall morning at Lake Junaluska

I decided to get out and get a breath of autumn air this morning (Saturday, Oct. 2) by taking a quick tour around Lake Junaluska. It was pretty fresh and there was a little white sheen to some of the rooftops along U.S. 23/74.

By the time I reached the Junaluska golf course I was socked in. I decided to stop at the little parking area at Richland Creek on the Waynesville Greenway. The fog was thick and close.

There were a few chirps emanating from the fog; the occasional roar of traffic along the four-lane; the tink of golf balls being launched by metal woods from the fog-obscured fairway across the creek and then, the unmistakable twittering of hummingbirds. A pair of lingering female ruby-throated hummingbirds were chasing each other around a batch of Japanese honeysuckle that had been coaxed into blooming by the spring-like vernal period.

A mewing gray catbird soon appeared from the middle of the honeysuckle tangle. A Tennessee warbler passed by hawking insects in the brush along the far side of the creek, and a pair of gray squirrels were busy plucking the few remaining walnuts from a nearby black walnut tree. There were a few song sparrows, a couple of cardinals, some crows and blue jays, an eastern phoebe and a female belted kingfisher was stationed on a dead branch just above the creek.

I left the greenway and headed for the fog-shrouded lake. The silhouette of a double-crested cormorant was barely visible. When I stopped to get a better look I could also pick out a few pied-billed grebes through my binoculars. Continuing around the lake, it became apparent that the pied-billed migration was in high gear. I didn’t count individuals but I must have seen at least 15. The winter population of coots is also growing by leaps and bounds.

I took a quick side trip to the Corneille Bryan Native Garden. Pink and white turtleheads, deep blue gentian and white and blue asters joined the blazing red euonymus berries like colored candles in the fog. The liquid “whoit!” of Swainson’s thrushes mingled with the gurgling brook and the fog dripping from leaves. There must have been a half-dozen Swainson’s foraging in the garden.

I decided to make one more stop at the small wetlands behind the dining hall at the lake. It was nice to see the new NC Birding Trail sign dedicated by the Great Smoky Mountains Audubon chapter. Lake Junaluska is site number 37 in the mountain guide to the NC Birding Trail.

Lake Junaluska has a way of always surprising you, and this trip was no different. I spied a couple of warblers flying into a large black cherry adjacent the wetlands. Binoculars revealed a couple of bay-breasted warblers. As I approached to get a better look, I noticed movement in the tag alders along both sides of the small ditch at the wetlands. There was a mixed flock of migrating warblers chasing insects. Bay-breasteds made up the bulk of the flock, but I also saw one Cape May, one black-throated green, one blackpoll and a couple of chestnut-sided warblers. And to top it off, at the end of the wetlands was a pair of wood ducks.

When I threw in the starlings, mockingbirds, a couple of woodpeckers and the other usual suspects, I wound up with 39 species. Not bad for a quick, foggy trip around the lake.

The Naturalist's Corner

North Carolina’s loss – Louisiana’s gain

Chris Canfield has stepped down as executive director of Audubon North Carolina to assume the position of vice president for Gulf of Mexico Conservation and Restoration. Canfield took the helm at Audubon North Carolina in 2000 and during his 10-year tenure the organization has grown in scope and stature to become one of the premier conservation/environmental organizations in the state – its influence reaching from the mountains to the sea.

Canfield was awarded National Audubon’s Charles H. Callison Award in 2009 for his outstanding leadership and service. John Flicker, then National Audubon president, noted, “He [Canfield] has made Audubon North Carolina a model for Audubon’s state programs nationwide.”

Some of Audubon North Carolina’s accomplishments under Canfield’s watch include spearheading a grassroots coalition to stop the U.S. Navy from building an airfield adjacent to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge; working to improve natural resource management at Cape Hatteras National Seashore; implementing a statewide Important Bird Area program that includes four million acres at 96 sites across the state and helping, with partners, to establish North Carolina’s Birding Trail that stretches from the Outer Banks, across the Piedmont to the peaks of Western North Carolina.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done in North Carolina,” Canfield said. He noted that it was especially rewarding to work with local Audubon chapters, individuals, groups and agencies across the state. Canfield saw North Carolina’s IBA program as a way to assimilate, enhance, expand and incorporate different natural resource goals and land ethics into an overarching conservation initiative that could simultaneously meet a myriad of ecological and environmental needs. “And I believe it’s as good a model as any out there,” he said.

Canfield’s new position was not on any Audubon job board and Canfield did not apply for it. “At the (Audubon NC) annual meeting in Highlands, I spoke from my heart about the oil spill and the environmental impacts along the Gulf Coast,” Canfield said. “Next thing I know, I got a call from Audubon headquarters in New York saying we want you to coordinate the work going on in the Gulf.

“It threw me, at first. I thought, uh-oh, the universe is calling my bluff. But,” he said, “I have Tabasco in my soul,” referring to the fact that he was born in Baton Rouge and spent the first 20 years of his life in Louisiana and south Alabama.

Canfield toured the area with National Audubon president David Yarnold and said, “I am humbled by the work going on in the Gulf and what I’ve been asked to oversee.”

The position is a work in progress. “There’s a lot, yet, to be figured out,” Canfield said. “There’s a lot of great work going on along the Gulf from Texas to Florida, and it’ll be my job to codify and coordinate all these parts to create an in-depth program to benefit the entire region.

“We know how to deal with oil on a beach. But we don’t know what the long-term impacts could be.”

Canfield said that BP should step up and do more to assist in restoration in the Gulf. He said it would be part of his job to figure out how to work with the myriad oil and energy companies that are as much a part of the gumbo of Gulf coastal life as the marshes and estuaries they drill in. “We know we can do it better,” he said.

My North Carolina mountain heart will miss Chris, but the Tabasco in my Louisiana soul welcomes him home.

The Naturalist's Corner

Panther Top fire tower

My family spent a wonderful sunny Sunday afternoon this week in the Tusquitee Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest just west of Murphy.

Our first stop was the Panther Top Lookout tower on Forest Service Road 85. The 30-foot high former live-in tower was constructed in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Panther Top is the western-most fire tower in the state.

Its 2,293 feet elevation will fool you. In fact when we arrived at the summit, Denise remarked, “It’s like we’re at the top of the world.” The illusion is created because you are overlooking low-lying valleys all around with mountains in the distant background.

I’ve been doing spring bird-point counts for the Forest Service in the Tusquitee District for four years now and almost every fall I get back for an afternoon to look for migrating raptors simply because there are a couple of places where you can see lots of sky.

In the past I have focused my attention on the north end of the Beech Creek Seed Orchard. And each trip has resulted in a few migrants. I believe the biggest day was between 30 and 40 broad-winged hawks and three bald eagles.

This trip I decided to scope out the fire tower. After about 20 minutes I caught a bald eagle that was already south of the tower and watched as it continued to track to the south-southwest. It was probably another half-hour of scanning the skies, watching little girls gambol on the grassy knob and tracking butterflies that danced over the bald (a couple of monarchs, some sulphurs and great-spangled fritillaries and two black swallowtails) before I found two more black specks through the binoculars. These were so far in the distance that I couldn’t find them without the bins.

But as I watched them circle and glide they came nearer and nearer till we could make them out with the naked eye and soon there were five broad-wings that lazily circled and then streamed off to the southwest.

Soon after the hawks another mature bald eagle appeared, and as it circled the sun sparkled brilliant-white from its head and tail. I lost this bird and don’t know if it was migrating or checking out the draw-down Hiwassee Reservoir for a meal.

We left the fire tower and went to a spot where there is a colony of redheaded woodpeckers. We played a tape and soon three redheaded woodpeckers were over the truck checking us out.

It was getting late for migrants, around 5 p.m., when we left the woodpeckers and made one last stop in the seed orchard. We didn’t add any raptors to our list but did see one more migrant monarch and one bright, fresh Gulf fritillary.

All in all a wonderful Sunday afternoon.

The Good, The Bad and The Deadly is one of five classes that will be offered by the Asheville Mushroom Club (AMC) during its annual FungiFest, which will be held Sept. 18 at the North Carolina Arboretum.

The day-long event will include displays, classes and workshops. At 10:15 a.m. there will be a large display of a variety of regional mushrooms all identified. A mycologist will also be on hand to answer questions. The display is free and open to the public. Classes and workshops will be available for a fee. The classes are:

Meet Your Mushrooms: The Good, The Bad and The Deadly — an introduction to fungi, 9:15 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Cost: $15 for the public, $11 AMC members.

Recycling & Composting with Mushrooms: Learn how to grow mushrooms using ordinary household materials, 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Cost: $17 for the public, $13 AMC members.

Cooking with Mushrooms: Enjoy a cooking demonstration and tasting featuring recipes from the cookbook “Cooking with the Asheville Mushroom Club,” 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Cost: $19 for the public, $15 AMC members.

Medicinal Mushrooms for Immunity and Well-Being: Discover the health benefits and medicinal uses of mushrooms, 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Cost: $15 for the public, $11 AMC members.

Growing Your Own Shiitake Mushrooms: Master the basics of drilling, inoculating, stacking and caring for shiitake logs, 2:45 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Cost: $15 for the public, $11 AMC members.

The AMC was founded in 1983. The club motto is “fun, fungi, friendship, forays, freedom and spaghetti.” By the end of 1983 membership had grown to 11. But those 11 kept foraying and having fun — not to mention learning a lot about mushrooms — and today there are probably more than 100 dues-paying members.

The Western North Carolina Nature Center at 75 Gashes Creek Road in east Asheville has been home to the AMC since its inception. Monthly meetings are still held there from March through October at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month. Meetings are free and open to the public. Forays, on the other hand, require membership. To learn more about the AMC drop in on one of their meetings, check out their website at www.ashevillemushroomclub.com/index.asp or visit the FungiFest at the Arboretum for a little fun, fungi and friendship.

Class space at the FungiFest will be limited. To register call 828.665.2492, Ext. 314 or go to www.ncarboretum.org.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Naturalist's Corner

Fall migration is heating up

It looks like last week’s long-billed curlew was a harbinger of things to come. A quick perusal of the Carolinas Birding List at http://www.birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/CARO.html#1283714291 showed fall migrants popping up all across the Carolinas.

I guess as far as real rarities go the Say’s phoebe at Bald Head Island in Brunswick County just south of Wilmington tops the list. But nearby fall migrant hotspots are producing good birds. Some good finds for Ernie Hollingsworth of Hendersonville at Jackson Park last Sunday included, among others, yellow-bellied flycatcher, blue-winged warbler, Cape May warbler and Wilson’s warbler. Ron Clark of Kings Mountain was also at Jackson Park last Sunday and his sightings included blue-gray gnatcatcher, Swainson’s thrush, magnolia warbler, Cape May and two Baltimore orioles. Simon Thompson of Asheville also reported Cape Mays from his yard.

The mass exodus has begun and within the next month somewhere between 9,000 and 12,000 broad-winged hawks will soar over Caesars Head State Park in South Carolina. Wing Nuts, a self-named group of volunteers who count migrating raptors at Caesars Head each year are already there getting cricks in their necks and are always happy to share with visiting birders and/or interested sightseers.

Caesar’s Head State Park is located on U.S. 276 in South Carolina just below the North Carolina border. To contact Caesar’s Head to see what’s flying call 864.836.6115.

A great place to get a look at migrating passerines (songbirds) is Ridge Junction Overlook near the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park at milepost 385 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ridge Junction is unique because, much like a hawk watch, you can bring a chair and get comfy at the overlook and wait for migrants to come through the pass up and over the parkway.

To get to Jackson Park from Waynesville take Exit 49 B off of I-26 East. Continue on U.S. 64 West towards downtown Hendersonville, go through the traffic light at end of exit ramp onto Four Seasons Boulevard (U.S. 64) for 1.6 miles (passing four more traffic lights). After a wetland area on the left, turn left at the fifth traffic light (Harris Street). Go 0.2 mile to stop sign at end of street. Turn left onto E. 4th Avenue, enter park and follow road to administration building (red-brick house on left) and parking.

And don’t forget that migrant waterfowl will begin gracing Lake Junaluska any day now. It’ll be mid-October before large numbers begin passing through but wandering herons and/or egrets, terns and gulls could appear now as well as a teal or two.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Birders are a restless, impatient lot. From the end of June till the end of August they walk around in a kind of stupor. You will see them occasionally stop shuffling, cock their head with hand cupped behind their ear, mutter “wren” and shuffle on, or suddenly, reflexively jerk their head upwards as the shadow of a pipevine swallowtail dances on the path beneath their feet.

Then, late August comes and imperceptibly, at first, the afternoon and evening light begins to shift hues as we wobble out of the sun’s direct glare. The wind has a different feel and a different smell; birders’ gaits quicken and lighten and binoculars are dusted off and stashed in the car or left out on the kitchen table. Migration is coming!

Some of the earliest migrants are shorebirds. I think it was Peter Matthiessen who coined the term “wind birds” in reference to shorebirds in his 1967 book The Wind Birds.

“The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures. I think of them as birds of wind, “as wind birds.”

And wind birds can cover great distances in a short time and sometimes wind up in odd places.

And what better to stir the blood of WNC birders and jolt them from their summer doldrums than to have one appear magically on the green turf of Hooper Lane’s Super Sod farm, as if conjured from the wind itself – a long-billed curlew.

The long-billed curlew is a large (raven-sized) shorebird with a long (up to eight inches in adults, shorter in juveniles) decurved bill. The long-billed curlew is cinnamon to tawny-brown above and buff-colored below. It nests on high plains from southwest Canada to the northwestern U.S., across the plains states, down to the Texas panhandle. Most of the population winters from the southwestern U.S. to Central America. A few make it to the East Coast each fall and winter.

But according to Harry LeGrand, chair of the North Carolina Bird Records Committee, the Hooper Lane bird would be the first-ever documented record of an inland long-billed curlew in the state. And according to Catawba park ranger Dwayne Martin of Hickory, who couldn’t resist temptation, the curlew was still present at Hooper Lane as of Monday, Aug. 30, at 6:30 p.m.

To get to Hooper Lane, take the Asheville Airport exit (exit 40) off of I-26. Go west on N.C. 280 approximately 4 miles to a traffic light at the intersection of N.C. 191. Turn left, travel approximately 1/2 mile, turn left onto Jefferies Road. Continue about 2 miles and Hooper Lane is on the right. The bird was last reported from the field near the intersection of Hooper and Jefferies.

If you go, please remember to stay on the gravel road or on the edge of the field. Super Sod has been quite birder-friendly over the years, all they ask is that you do not walk or drive on the sod fields, do not block gates and park only along Hooper or Jefferies, not on any of their turn-rows!

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

On Aug. 17, federal judge Royce C. Lambeth ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the federally threatened piping plover in areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore were in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. The ruling was in response to a suit filed by the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance. Defendant-intervenors in the lawsuit were Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The habitat will cover a little more than 2,000 acres in Dare and Hyde counties including areas on Cape Hatteras, Hatteras Inlet, Oregon Inlet and Ocrakoke Island.

Critical habitat for the imperiled piping plover has been a contentious issue along the Outer Banks for years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed critical habitat for the plover in 2001. CHAPA challenged the designation in federal court and prevailed. The court said that Fish and Wildlife had not justified the designation and in 2004 remanded the action back to the agency to correct errors and for clarification. In 2008, Fish and Wildlife published its revisions and CHAPA sued again. This time, Judge Lambeth ruled that Fish and Wildlife had met all of its requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

The piping plover is a small (bluebird-sized) shorebird. It is gray to grayish-brown above and white below. Males and females are similar in appearance. During breeding season they show a dark (black or brown) neck band (sometimes incomplete, especially in females), a small black bar across the forehead and a black tip on the tail. The black bands fade in the winter.

The piping plover breeds on the Great Plains from Alberta, Canada to Oklahoma and along the northern Great Lakes and down the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to the Outer Banks. Coastal piping plovers like the ones on the Outer Banks nest above the high tide line at the end of sandspits, on gently sloping foredunes, on sparsely vegetated dunes and in protected areas behind primary dunes.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, major contributors to the decline of the Atlantic Coast piping plover include loss and degradation of habitat due to development and shoreline stabilization. The Service also states that disturbance by humans and pets reduces the functional suitability of nesting habitat and can cause direct and indirect mortality of chicks and eggs.

When the Atlantic Coast piping plover, Charadrius melodus, was listed as threatened in 1986, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated there were only about 800 pairs left. Today, thanks to an intensive protection effort there are around 1,500 pairs of Atlantic Coast piping plover.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Atlantic Coast Piping Plover Revised Recovery Plan the objective is to remove the plover from the Threatened list by increasing the numbers and productivity of breeding pairs and providing long-term protection of breeding and wintering habitat. The goal is to have at least 2,000 breeding pairs along the coast and maintain that population for five years.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore can figure prominently in that recovery plan because it is one of the few places along the Atlantic coast that harbors piping plover year-round, through spring and fall migration and during nesting season and as a wintering ground.

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