Another Milestone – #500

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

~Lao Tzu

Nature may not hurry, but this past year sure seems to have flown by. My personal life has been a blur these past many months, and the blogging  has slowed a bit (you may have noticed). I blame it on that thing called work.  I have been back at work a little over a year now and time for writing and photography has dropped off a bit. In spite of that, I have reached another milestone in the history of this effort to educate myself about nature – my last post was the 500th since I started just after retirement in 2013. Although it took a little longer to pass this last one hundred posts, in looking back, it looks as though things have been far from dull with the return to work. In fact, being at the NC Botanical Garden has  created a lot of new opportunities for learning about the natural world, especially with regards to plants. Here is a short series of highlights from this past one hundred posts of Roads End Naturalist…


Campsite, Boundary Waters Canoe Area, 2016 (click photos to enlarge)

Before returning to work, we had a great week-long camping trip (with beautiful weather) in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota in the Fall of 2016. What an experience! And camping seems to have been a theme these past many months (I am with the “camping queen” after all)…

boulder on Wilburn Ridge

Hiking and camping in Grayson Highlands State Park, VA

Barred Owl Roost platform

Camping on a platform in the swamp along the Roanoke River

Looking back, it seems that even after starting back to work, camping kept us busy, and in some beautiful places…

Jones Lake sunset 1

Jones Lake State Park at sunset

Holly Shelter oitcher plants

Yellow pitcher plants galore at Holly Shelter Game Lands

We even finally made it to the other Y park

Cathedral Peak 1

Cathedral Peak, Yosemite National Park

Huge sequoia

Giant sequoia, Kings Canyon National Park

Luckily, I managed another trip to Yellowstone, always a highlight.

Baby bison head in flowers

Bison calf, Yellowstone National Park

Of course, I had many trips to my favorite home state destination, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. I even managed to finally visit the Black Bear Festival that is now a regular thing in June in nearby Plymouth, N.C.

Large black bear at sunrise in soybeans

Black bear at sunrise, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Winter is still my favorite season at this amazing wild place…

Swan wing flap

Tundra swan putting on a show at Pungo

And that nearby refuge, Mattamuskeet, offered some nice surprises, as always.

eye to eye

Fish dinner (almost) at Mattamuskeet

We had a wonderful experience of culture, food, and wildlife in Austin last summer. That experience was capped by one of the great wildlife spectacles in North America – 20 million+  Mexican free-tailed bats exiting Bracken Cave at sunset.

Mexican free-tailed bats flying out of Bracke Cave

Bats streaming away from the entrance to Bracken Cave for a night of foraging

But, as is almost always the case, most of my posts were about those miracles of nature close to home, either in our own woodland yard or the beautiful native plant habitats at work. Here are just a few of those highlights:

Pair of pitcher plants

A frosty morning at the carnivorous plant collection at the NC Botanical Garden

Cope's Gray Treefrog calling front view

Cope’s gray treefrog calling on our walkway

leafcutter bee bringing in leaf fragment

Leafcutter bee carrying a slice of redbud leaf back to her nest chamber

Nature, close to home, had a lot of beautiful things to see…

Columbine flower

Wild columbine flower in the yard

bloodroot flower in snow

Bloodroot flower bud poking up through a recent March snow

And, as usual, there was a bit (sometimes more) of the bizarre that nature has to offer…

Slug sex 3

Leopard slugs mating

Anytime you think beautiful and bizarre, you should also think about one of my favorite photographic subjects – caterpillars!

Crowned slug

Crowned slug caterpillar

I just checked on some of last Fall’s crop of caterpillars that pupated during the museum’s BugFest event last Spetember. They are all doing fine, and will be ready to emerge over the next few months. Maybe that will elicit a few pictures and words when they do. Hope you will stick around with me to find out.

Pupae from Bugfest

A variety of moth pupae from caterpillars we showcased at BugFest last year


Another One Hundred!

During all these years there existed within me a tendency to follow Nature in her walks.

~John James Audubon

Per my habit of posting such milestones, it is time to recognize another one hundred posts gone by. This makes 400 posts since this blog was born shortly into my retirement. Like the others before it, this last 100 has covered a lot of ground, and remembering it helps me appreciate how fortunate I am to experience the things I write about. Here are just a few of the highlights from this past 100…

Green Mantisfly, Zeugomantispa minuta 1

Green mantisfly found on my back door window (click photos to enlarge)

As usual, a lot of my posts concerned things observed right here in the yard and woods of Chatham County. Sometimes the most beautiful and unusual are right outside (or on) your door.

Monkey Slug from below

Monkey slug caterpillar

I continue with my obsession of all things caterpillar (hope you don’t mind).

Zombie fungus on cricket 3

A Carolina leaf-roller cricket that has been manipulated and killed by a “zombie fungus”

Zombie-making fungi and mind-controlling larval parasitoids played a role in several of my posts…what strange phenomena!

bear in canal wider view

It was a long hot summer

It was another hot summer, so it was tough to be outdoors for a few months. I did learn one way to stay cool while visiting Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge…

NW Alligator River 1

Paddling near Columbia, NC

I was fortunate to spend some quality time in the wilds around Columbia, NC, working on a project with NCLOW to encourage ecotourism to this beautiful, and wild, part of our state.

Screech owl in wood duck box close up

Screech owl peering (or is it glaring) at me as I drive by the nest box

There were many close observations of wildlife over the past several months. I always enjoy spending time with them in their haunts.

snow geese banking

Snow goose landing in a corn field

snow geese over field

Snow geese circling a field at sunset

Spending time at my favorite refuge, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, is always a highlight, and this winter was no different.

canebrake rattlesnake head

An unusual wintertime rattlesnake

I had several encounters with beautiful rattlesnakes this year, including this one, which was out and about for a few weeks in January at Pocosin Lakes NWR.

least bittern and reflection 1

Least bittern

There was a rare treat of seeing a least bittern at another of my favorite haunts, Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge (thanks, Keith!).

Northern Gannet  just at impact with ocean

Northern gannet just as it hits the water while diving for fish

I joined a museum trip for an unforgettable cruise off our coast in February. The rapid-fire diving of large numbers of northern gannets was a photographic challenge, and a highlight.

Chestnut-sided warbler singing in NC 1

Chestnut-sided warbler belting it out

Another wonderful museum trip was to the opposite end of our beautiful state in search of mountain birds, like this chestnut-sided warbler.

View from Grassy Bald

Roan Mountain highlands

Melissa and I hiked part of the Roan Mountain highlands, along with a large group of other visitors…but spectacular nonetheless.

alligator black and white head

An alligator basking in the sun in Everglades National Park

little blue heron head

Little blue heron next to the trail

I was lucky to lead a trip with friends to Everglades National Park in early spring. Gators and birds were everywhere!

Littel T on ridge at sunset

A quiet moment watching a wolf before my group arrived

Great Gray Owl female

Great gray owl just outside the park

Yellowstone is always a highlight in my year. I had a great couple of folks with me, and we had a wonderful time hiking and observing wildlife.

sunset LCT 2

Sunset along the Lost Coast

We backpacked for a few days along the Lost Coast Trail in California when fires and smoke altered our earlier plans for Yosemite.

Redwood forest with trail for scale

A trail through the redwoods

Hiking among the giant redwoods is a humbling and peaceful experience, something we can all use when times get difficult.

Bald Eagle on snag 1

Bald eagle at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

I made a swing north looking for snow geese last November. Not too many of the target species, but plenty of cool sights.

Yellow warbler male on nest

Yellow warbler nest along the boardwalk

Northern parula warbler male singing

A northern parula warbler singing

One of the highlights of the year was a trip to famed Magee Marsh along the south shore of Lake Erie in Ohio, perhaps the warbler capitol of the world in spring. Definitely worth the trek.

So, another 100 events and observations of the incredible beauty all around us. I am fortunate to live in an area where there are many wonders just steps outside the door. Many are small wonders, there for the observing and enjoying, if only we take the time. Others were found on a variety of public lands across our state and beyond. It is fitting that this past Saturday was National Public Lands Day, the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort for pubic lands. Public lands are critical as habitat and for our recreation, education, and health. We owe them our support and our votes in this election season.

Our public lands – whether a national park or monument, wildlife refuge, forest or prairie – make each one of us land-rich. It is our inheritance as citizens of a country called America.

~Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of the Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks





Another One (Hundred) Bites the Dust

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

~Dr. Howard Thurman

It happened again. Ten months go by, another 100 blog posts. So, as I have done in the past, I mark this passage of time with a brief review of some of the highlights from the last one hundred blogs. I suppose it is an excuse for me to look back and remind myself of how lucky I am, how much is out there to observe and enjoy, if I only make the time to get outside.

The third one hundred started with a trip to the Low Country of South Carolina.

Botany Bay

Botany Bay (click photos to enlarge)

Botany Bay turned out to be as beautiful as images I have seen…I need to go back when low tide is at sunrise.

River Otter with fish 2

River Otter with fish

As always, Pocosin Lakes and Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuges provided many highlights of my last one hundred posts.

Tundra Swan silhouette at sunrise

Tundra Swan at sunrise

Bald Eagle and potentil prey

Bald Eagle stirs up a flock of Snow Geese

This is especially true during the winter months, when the area’s lakes and farm fields fill with wintering waterfowl…

Bear puling at Cross Vine 4

Young Black Bear pulling at a Cross Vine

Red-winged tornado

Red-winged Blackbirds create a feathered tornado

Gray Fox

Gray Fox waking up from a nap along Wildlife Drive

…and other wildlife.

Spring Peeper calling

Spring Peeper calling

dwarf crested iris blue form

Dwarf Crested Iris

Pine Warbler male in Redbud

Pine Warbler male in blooming Redbud tree

Spring brought lots of amphibians, wildflowers, and beautiful colors…

Bald Cypress along Conaby Creek 2

Bald Cypress along Conaby Creek on the Roanoke River

Prothonotary Warbler singing at nest cavity

Prothonotary Warbler male singing at nest cavity

…along with a couple of canoe camping trips along the Roanoke River.

Chipmunk feeding 1

Eastern Chipmunk in the yard

spider shedding skin 1

Spider just after molting

And I spent a lot of time wandering the yard, discovering what my wild neighbors are up to.

Chickadee bringing food to nest - spider 2

Carolina Chickadee bringing food to nest box

Four nestlings

Four Wood Thrush nestlings

I was happy to help provide some footage of nesting birds and what they feed their young for Hometown Habitat, an upcoming educational video on the importance of native plants.

Pronghorn Antelope face

Pronghorn Antelope at sunrise

Great Gray Owl chicks before fledging

Great Gray Owl chicks

Grizzly siblings

Grizzly siblings

Rainbow in Hayden Valley

Rainbow in Hayden Valley

And I was lucky enough to spend another wonderful couple of weeks in my favorite place, Yellowstone, leading a trip and observing some of the magnificent wildlife of the region.

second cub

Black Bear cub watching us from a tree

Looking back at me

Young bear looking down as I walk through the forest

I spent a lot of time with bears these past few months, watching them, and being watched. A very good year for bears, I must say.

Red-spotted Purple egg up close

Red-spotted Purple butterfly egg

Silver-spotted Skipper larva

Silver-spotted Skipper larva

As the summer ends and BugFest approaches (September 19 at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh), my thoughts, and camera, seem to turn to caterpillars and all things Lepidopteran.

Closing in on cicada 2

Copperhead closing in on a cicada (too late, it dropped from its shed)

Phidippus putnami - close up of eyes

Phidippus putnami – close up of eyes

Dobsonfly male on white background

Eastern Dobsonfly male

FW Jellyfish

Freshwater Jellyfish in the local pond

As always, I discovered some fascinating things as I wandered, and this has been a very productive few months for those “ah-ha” moments…Copperheads following cicada nymphs up into trees when they are emerging in order to dine on them; cool spider eyes; weird insects in the yard and at the moth light; and the return of the jellies to my swimming hole…wonder what the next one hundred will reveal? I can’t wait…

The First 100

…The “need to hold still” is a skill that both scientists and non-scientists need to cultivate, a vital way to pay attention to the world. Through observation, it is possible to develop a richness of texture and nuance, substance and form, in our understanding of the animate and inanimate residents of this world – and our place in it. It is how we become informed.

~Christopher Norment

I can hardly believe it, but this is my 100th post since I wrote the first blog back on March 22, a mere ten months ago. After officially being retired for three weeks, I posted that first report. I think I was hoping for a vehicle to continue my work as an educator and naturalist. Throughout my career, I was fortunate to have worked with a cadre of dedicated and inquisitive people that were constantly sharing new discoveries and challenging me with questions about nature. I now realize that the blog is a way for me to challenge myself and to continue learning about the natural world that I love.

I recently took a look back at the topics I have covered and realized it really has been quite an eventful ten months of retirement. I traveled to some of my favorite places and did some serious woods-watching here at home. So, in honor of the milestone of making it through one hundred of these monologues, I now revisit a few of my favorite memories of the past few months.

Spider shed - Dolomedes 100th

Large spider shed from the first blog post on March 22, 2013 (click photos to enlarge)

It all started with a trip out to my shed last March and the discovery of a different sort of  shed – the cast skin of a huge spider. It turned out to be from one of our largest spiders, a Dark Fishing Spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus. The intricate details of the shed are incredible.

Dark Fishing Spider

Dark Fishing Spider

Then, just a few weeks ago, I had an encounter with a live, albeit sluggish, Dolomedes spider. It was in a tree trunk I was cutting for firewood. After just missing the spiders’ hiding place with my chain saw, it slowly crawled out and allowed me some quality observation time.

Bobcat sitting 1

Bobcat at Pocosin Lakes

Speaking of encounters, one of the most amazing things I experienced these past few months (actually…ever) was a close encounter with one of our state’s most elusive animals, a Bobcat. After seeing one cross a dirt road at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, a friend and I parked the car in the only available shade and got out to wait. The next 20 minutes were some of the most exciting I have had with any wild creature. The majestic cat ended up strolling toward us and then just sitting and looking around for a couple of minutes, before vanishing into the brush.

Curved-lined Owlet as dead leaf mimic

Curve-lined Owlet is a dead leaf mimic

Pocosin Lakes also provided a glimpse at something I have always wanted to see – a Curve-lined Owlet caterpillar. This unusual larva feeds on Greenbriar and is considered a dead leaf mimic.

Curve-lined Owlet caterpillar silhouette

Curve-lined Owlet caterpillar silhouette

I consider it simply bizarre and beautiful.

American Bittern calling

American Bittern calling

Another magical experience from Pocosin Lakes was last spring when I happened to stop at a marsh to scan for birds, and heard the unmistakable sound of an American Bittern. Their call is described by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a deep pumping oong-ka-choonk. Listen for yourself at

Horseshoe Crabs on Slaughter Beach 5

Horseshoe Crabs coming ashore to mate

Huge peep flock

Shorebirds in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey and Delaware last spring provided an experience with one of the great wildlife spectacles on the East Coast – thousands of Horseshoe Crabs coming into the shallows to mate. Coinciding with this event is the arrival of tens of thousands of shorebirds that stop in the Delaware Bay region to take advantage of abundant food resources (including the Horseshoe Crab eggs) as they migrate north for the nesting season.

Bison silhouette in Lamar Valley

Bison silhouette in Lamar Valley

Low tide, Cobscook Bay, Maine

Low tide, Cobscook Bay, Maine – iPhone image

Dolly Sods, WV - iPhone image

Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV – iPhone image

Other adventures afield have taken me to Yellowstone (always a favorite), Maine, and the Dolly Sods Wilderness in the highlands of West Virgina. In each location, I am reminded how lucky we are to have these stunning landscapes preserved for the good of the ecological communities, and the human spirits, they sustain.

Looking intently at something

Snowy Owl at Cape Hatteras

A traveler from the far north visited my home state a few weeks ago, providing a rare opportunity to sit in awe in the presence of an almost mystical creature, a Snowy Owl. My time spent alone with this beautiful bird was certainly one of the highlights of the past year.

Parasitic Wasp captured by spider 2

Parasitic wasp grub on spider host

Bloodroot leaf backlit by morning sun

Bloodroot leaf backlit by morning sun

Carolina Anole head Apr

Carolina Anole head close up

Eastern Bluebird male

Eastern Bluebird male

I also was reminded how much there is to learn, and be amazed by, in our own backyards. From behavior-altering parasitic wasps, to the delicate beauty of native plants, to the fascinating behaviors of some of the local wildlife, there is always something to experience and appreciate. We need only to get outside, and have the patience to observe, and we will be rewarded with glimpses of beauty that can still help connect us to the natural world.

Black Bear at sunrise

Black Bear at sunrise

All in all, it has been a “beary” good ten months of woods-watching and blogging. I hope the next one hundred posts are as much fun for me, and, hopefully, you.  But after the first one hundred, I think I’ll take a few days off…

One who reviews pleasant experiences and puts them on record increases the value of them to himself; he gathers up his own feelings and reflections, and is thereby better able to understand and to measure the fullness of what he has enjoyed.

~Sir Edward Grey