Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Spotted! Tufted Titmice and Other Duke Gardens Residents

By Erika Zambello
It's official, it is autumn and the temperatures are beginning to cool off. Even we students are aware that the winds of annual change are a-blowing and soon the leaves will be a-falling. Birds have begun to migrate, but one cast of characters is around and active. On any visit to Sarah P. Duke Gardens you are nearly guaranteed to see one of a number of species flitting around the canopy or hopping along the paths.

This week I had an extra half hour and, determined to enjoy a beautiful day, I pulled out my camera and wandered through the Gardens. I started in the new Kathleen Smith Moss Garden. Water had pooled in the cavities of the larger rocks, and tufted titmice were chasing each other and bathing in the tiny reservoirs, looking impossibly cute as they ducked under the water and ruffled their light blue feathers. Titmice weren't alone in the Moss Garden; Carolina chickadees buzzed beneath the foliage. Whenever I hear Carolina chickadees I always think of giggling; their voices just carry the same laughing quality. Tiny birds, they nonetheless can make a whole lot of noise.

Leaving the Moss Garden, I traversed the shaded path around the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. Catbirds were everywhere. Aptly named, these slate gray birds have black caps, and when they call they really do sound like a cat's meow, albeit a very unhappy-sounding cat. These catbirds were hunting, and one of them captured a giant tiger swallowtail butterfly and devoured it right in front me. I, like most living and breathing humans, love butterflies, but I have to admit it was pretty impressive watching the catbird snatch the butterfly from its zig-zagged flight.

Finally, I circled the large pond in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. A ruby-throated hummingbird zipped past me toward the Historic Gardens. People are always impressed when a hummingbird zooms by, more blur than bird, and I can instantly identify it as a ruby-throated. Well, I have a secret. In this area, any other species of hummingbird is exceedingly rare. Am I sure? Not 100%, but I'm about 95% sure, and who can question me--the  hummingbird is already gone!

The pond itself is of course teeming with avian life. There are dozens of mallards and American black ducks, as well as other exotic species. But there are also a few wood ducks, native to North Carolina, an unbelievably bright and colorful species that I had never seen so close up before moving to Durham.

Forty-five minutes and about one hundred pictures later, I was forced by my class schedule to leave the Gardens and return indoors. I was thrilled with all the species I had seen in my brief walk. As the season continues to change, I look forward to looking out for more of our daily residents, as well as the many species migrating through and looking for a place to rest for a while. I can see why they'd choose Duke Gardens.

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment

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