Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Prairie Ridge News Archive 2013

Burning the Prairie

Prairie burnThe annual Prairie Ridge controlled burn took place on November 19th. As in past years, our natural resources manager, Brian Hahn, led a team of highly skilled firemen from the NC Division of Forest Resources and Western Wake Fire Department in the burn, focusing this year on the lower prairie. Controlled burns mimic natural processes and are an important part of the management of our prairie, helping to reduce the competition from woody plants and replenish vital soil nutrients. The underground roots and seeds of the grasses and wildflowers are protected from the effects of the fire and will quickly regrow into a healthier prairie.You might see blackened areas near the pond and along the Forest Trail over the next few weeks, but keep an eye out for wildlife in the burned areas! We often see increased activity in our small mammal populations and birds of prey in burn areas.

— posted 11/22/13

Prairie Ridge Nature PlaySpace Now Open!

PlaySpace hillAfter an opening preview event on Wednesday, September 25, the Nature PlaySpace at Prairie Ridge officially opened to the public on Saturday, September 28 during our annual Take a Child Outside (TACO) celebration.  Over 300 people attended the opening and TACO events and helped make the day a huge success!  After story time and a productive citizen science ladybug hunt, the PlaySpace was opened with great fanfare as our Director of Research and Collections, Dr. Jason Cryan, cut the vine and let everyone explore the new play area.  Visitors enjoyed facilitated free-play time in the tunnel, at the water stations, digging in the fossil pits, and exploring rotting logs while others explored the Prairie Ridge grounds with staff as we searched for grasshoppers and turtles.  It was a beautiful day, and people streamed in long after our opening ended.  We had a lot of fun, and we are excited to offer the PlaySpace as a new activity at Prairie Ridge.

The PlaySpace is now open to the public our regular hours, Monday–Saturday from 9am–4:30pm and Sunday from noon–4:30pm, so come on out and play!

— posted 10/4/13


Nature Stories Gets a Strong Start

nature storytimeThursday, August 22 marked the start of a new weekly program at Prairie Ridge aimed at young children: Nature Stories!  Children gathered around our outdoor amphitheater and enjoyed a story about a caterpillar transforming into an adult butterfly before acting out the steps of metamorphosis themselves.  After the story, everyone visited the Prairie Ridge garden to look for live butterflies.  Participants got a little sidetracked by a Black Rat Snake curled up in the American Wisteria, but everyone had a chance to see several beautiful butterflies and caterpillars and listen to the Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars chewing the Woolly Pipevine.  Over 40 people attended our first Nature Stories, and we are looking forward to offering more stories and nature adventures each Thursday from 10-11am.  We hope you’ll join us!

— posted 8/29/13


Science in the Treetops

climber in treeAs part of a larger project researching tiny creatures called water bears, Dr. “Canopy Meg” Lowman brought students, volunteers, and the public to Prairie Ridge on August 9 to demonstrate how researchers get high into trees to collect scientific samples.  Tree climbing experts rigged several trees with ropes, then invited everyone to take a turn scaling a tree.  People of all ages and mobilities, including several wheelchair-dependent people, climbed high into the treetops to see how canopy researchers do their work.  People streamed in all day and dozens of people had a chance to experience what it’s like to be a canopy researcher.  It was a fun opportunity for everyone involved, and one we hope to have repeated!

— posted 8/15/13


Moth Enthusiasts Swarm to the Lights

moth enthusiasts at a blacklightIn spite of the rainy beginnings, the second annual celebration of National Moth Week at Prairie Ridge proved to be a popular event! Dozens of visitors came out to view moths at our five light stations and enjoyed a walk through the forest to visit trees painted in moth bait. Many of our evening’s moth-ers snapped photos for a variety of citizen science projects as well, making valuable contributions to our scientific understanding of moths. We even added several new species of moths to the Prairie Ridge moth list, including the spectacular Tulip-tree Silkmoth! Most visitors got a rare glimpse of our resident flying squirrel and everyone took home at least a few new facts about moths. It was a great night!

— posted 8/2/13


WRAL Weather Broadcasts from Prairie Ridge

Elizabeth Gardner and Charles YeltonPrairie Ridge played host to a special guest on Thursday, June 5: WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner! She and her crew broadcast the noon weather report live from the grounds. Before each weather segment, Ms. Gardner did a quick interview with Museum staff members. The head of the Museum’s summer camps, Megan Chesser, was first, teaching viewers about dragonflies and upcoming summer camp opportunities. In the second segment, Prairie Ridge director Charles Yelton showed off the Purple Martin babies from the nests near our outdoor classroom and encouraged viewers to attend our weekly Citizen Science Saturday walks on Saturdays from 10:30-11:30. We enjoyed having Ms. Gardner and her crew here and hope they will come back to do more weather reports in the future!

— posted 5/24/13

Gnomes and Fairies Abound at Prairie Ridge

Fairy Gnome Day 2013Prairie Ridge’s annual celebration of nature for young children, Gnomes and Fairies Spring Up at Prairie Ridge, took place Saturday, May 18. Over 200 visitors of all ages took advantage of a variety of activities, including a nature scavenger hunt, a citizen science ladybug hunt, nature crafts, science story time, and child-friendly outdoor activities during the three-hour event. Children and parents were also given their first opportunity to give feedback on our upcoming Nature Play Space. The event culminated in a parade of fairies and gnomes raucously shaking their homemade noise makers as they walked through the prairie in a long procession. Everyone had a great time learning and playing together outside, and we are already looking forward to next year’s event!

— posted 5/24/13 


Homeschool Day Returns to Prairie Ridge

Homeschool DayPrairie Ridge hosted the semi-annual NC Museum of Natural Sciences Homeschool Day on April 15, a day of nature-based learning geared toward homeschool families. Several Museum and Prairie Ridge educators worked together to offer a variety of lessons for homeschool students of all ages, such as looking for animals under logs, studying decomposers, going on a bird hike, or joining a ladybug hunt to collect data for the Lost Ladybug citizen science project. We had a great group of visitors this year, with over 50 children and teens participating in the lessons. Homeschool Day is always a fun day of nature learning, discovery, and activities, so consider joining us next year!

— posted 4/18/2013


Statewide Star Party a Huge Success!

Star Party visitorsPrairie Ridge participated in the kick-off event of the NC Science Festival, the Statewide Star Party, on Friday, April 5, 2013. Even though we were one of nearly 50 Star Party sites throughout the state, we still had a great turnout of over 200 people! Visitors were able to get an up-close look at the stars thanks to members of the Raleigh Astronomy Club who brought telescopes out for star and nebula gazing throughout the evening. Our wonderful volunteers taught visitors how to participate in sky- and space-themed citizen science projects, such as Globe at Night, and led several activities for kids in our outdoor classrooms. It looked like the weather wouldn’t cooperate, but things cleared up perfectly and we ended up having a beautiful evening of stargazing, learning, and star-themed fun!Special thanks to the Raleigh Astronomy Club and the NC Science Festival for helping make this event possible!

posted 4/10/2013


Fire on the Prairie

prairie firePrairies like that at Prairie Ridge depend on periodic wildfires to prevent the growth of trees in the fields.  Fire kills small trees and saplings, clears the land, and fertilizes the soil, essentially wiping the slate clean so that the prairie plants can grow back strong from underground seeds and roots.  To mimic what occurs in nature, our prairie is divided into three sections and one section is burned each year.  Our latest burn took place on February 18 when the wind speed and direction, humidity, temperature, and prairie moisture were just right so that the section of the prairie closest to the entrance could be burned.  The prescribed fire was led by our own Brian Hahn with help from the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources and the Western Wake Fire Department.  About 30 onlookers watched the hour-long fire consume the grasses, saplings, and other vegetation on the prairie.

You’ll see blackened areas at Prairie Ridge over the next month or so, but the grasses will grow back come spring.  Until then, look for increased bird activity over the burn area!  The fire opens the prairie up, making the burn area an excellent place for birds to hunt. 

 posted 2/20/2013


Bird Banding at Prairie Ridge

banded birdA team of ornithologists has been studying the birds of Prairie Ridge since 2006. Birds are safely trapped in mist nets on the grounds every two weeks, weighed and measured, and released. If the birds captured do not have leg bands, a sort of identification bracelet that harmlessly and permanently wraps around the leg of the bird, a band is added before the bird is released. By reading the bands on all the birds captured in the mist nets, scientists can learn many things about their biology. By comparing weights and measurements to previous captures, longevity and health can be assessed. We can also track migrations and territoriality through banding programs.

A number of species have been captured and banded at Prairie Ridge, including Northern Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, American Goldfinches, and White-throated Sparrows. Many of these birds have been recaptured on the grounds since, suggesting that some of these birds consider Prairie Ridge home and either remain on the grounds year round or return to the site after migrations. The most commonly recaptured birds are Northern Cardinals, hardly surprising considering they do not migrate like many other birds in the area. However, some remarkable recaptures have been made as well, each long after the initial banding date. For example, one Northern Mockingbird and one Eastern Tufted Titmouse were each recaptured on the grounds 4 years and 4 months after their initial banding. One Northern Cardinal reappeared on the grounds after a 5-year, 2-month absence!

While the Northern Cardinals are by far the most commonly recaptured bird at Prairie Ridge, several other species have been recaptured multiple times. These include several sparrows (White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Field Sparrow), Northern Mockingbirds, and Carolina Chickadees. Other birds have only rarely been captured on the grounds, such as the Loggerhead Shrike, the Swamp Sparrow, and the Yellow Palm Warbler. Oddly, Eastern Bluebirds are a common sight at Prairie Ridge during the summer and fall, yet recaptures are rarely made on site.

These data are being used to fuel a variety of studies by researchers at the Museum, but can also help other researchers with their work. By submitting our band and recapture data, researchers from around the country, and even around the globe, can learn more about the biology of birds. And perhaps you can learn something new about birds! Now is a great time to see winter birds at our feeders, so why not make a trip out and see what new things you can discover?

posted 1/4/2013


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