Thursday, April 7, 2011

North Carolina Aquariums

In the past week I have visited two of North Carolina's Aquariums along the coast: Fort Fisher and Pine Knoll Shores. Both facilities have a lot to offer and are wonderful educational resources for the region.

Fort Fisher:
We went to Fort Fisher for work, hoping to find some migrant species that we have yet to encounter in the Onslow Bight (i.e. painted buntings!). Ironically enough, our best birding was in the aquarium parking lot where we heard and/or saw black-and-white warbler, prairie warbler, white-throated sparrows, house wren, and what we believe to be a Connecticut warbler. We did check out their feeders in hopes of seeing the painted buntings that have already been reported there this year, but the feeders were so overrun by boat-tailed grackles and red-wing blackbirds, I'm not surprised they weren't there.

Yellow-Banded Dart Frog

Inside the aquarium was quite impressive, especially their large conservatory where Northern bobwhite roamed and nested freely. There were several freshwater critters including treefrogs, newts, bullfrogs, siren, various fish species, LARGE gators, and a beautiful albino alligator by the name of Luna. They also have several terrestrial species including Eastern box turtles, glass lizards, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, Northern pine snake, copperhead, and cottonmouth. And all of that is just in the conservatory! They have an extensive collection of ocean fauna including a couple large tanks full of fish! They also had a non-native section where you will find clown fish, HUGE lobsters, and, oddly enough, poison dart frogs. 

Pine Knoll Shores:

Red-Eared Sliders
After visiting Fort Fisher, I decided to check out Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium as well. Although this facility may not be as extensive as Fort Fisher, they really did a great job in providing different exhibits and information with very little overlap with Fort Fisher. Some of the best highlights were the river otters, sea turtles (including a rare white loggerhead named Nimbus), and a huge tank with 3 different species of sharks and lots of large fish. Pine Knoll Shores also has a very nice boardwalk and nature trail that takes you along the saltmarsh and then around freshwater wetlands. It was low tide when I was there so the wading birds were easy to observe, including dunlin, tricolored heron, and greater yellowlegs. There were also several Eastern mud turtles out basking in the wetlands.  

I highly recommend visiting these facilities if you find yourself in Eastern North Carolina. There is a third NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island further to the North that I also hope to visit one day.

Other News:

In my adventures in the Onslow Bight we have been seeing/hearing quite a few birds in the past few weeks including Swainson's warbler, black-throated green warbler, yellow-throated warbler, common yellowthroat, Northern parula, prothonatary warbler, white-eyed vireo, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, orchard oriole, and wood thrush. Not too bad, and the best part is that I can now identify all of them by sound alone!

Spring is definitely here as the azaleas and buckeyes are blooming! We have also found morels at 5 different localities. I haven't found these since I lived in Iowa. Yummy!

Until next time,