Natural history along the Creek: mink and otters

We will be posting occasional natural history articles, starting with this one on mink and otters. Note the announcement about the February hike to Sears Mill, after the article.

Meeting a mink in the Triangle

This article was originally written as a follow-up to my article on otters in The Durham News (February 6, 2010). Otters are apparently seen throughout the Triangle, even in urban areas. Otters have been seen in the Jordan Lake area, along Farrington Road, at the New Hope Creek impoundment dam off 54, and in 2010 a family lived in the wilds where Panther Creek joins Northeast Creek. Based on reported sightings, Ellerbe Creek, Northeast Creek, and maybe New Hope Creek are the best places to look for otters. I haven’t seen a wild otter yet myself, though I did see where otters might have been eating fish at the NE Creek location. I have seen another large aquatic member of the weasel family, the American mink.

Mink are not commonly seen, but these large aquatic members of the weasel family may be more abundant than it seems. They are chocolate brown, with white patches below their chins, and are more svelte than otters and lack fully webbed feet, but they are almost as playful and aquatic, and can climb trees and purr like cats. Their scientific name is Mustela vison, both words meaning weasel, the first Latin and the second Swedish. “Mink” itself also comes from Swedish, and meant “the stinking animal from Finland.” Mink produce musk like related skunks, but can’t spray.

In 2006 I was working at Eno River State Park and saw my first mink, where Pleasant Green Road crosses the Eno River. Water going over a decommissioned Duke Power dam existing at the time created a pool ringed by logs downstream. Very early one morning, probably in October or November, I was surprised to see a large brown weasel walking on the logjam, before vanishing into a log. It was too big to be a long-tailed weasel and it wasn’t an otter. Around that time a visitor saw a mink or otter porpoising along in a stretch upstream. An unfortunate mink killed on Pleasant Green Road a few years ago can be seen at the park office.

In February 2008 a Harris Lake ranger was showing me Wake County’s Tobacco Trail facilities during a job interview when I spotted a dead mink beside a rural road, and it must be the specimen displayed at their visitor center.

In July 2009 a blackish animal walked in front of me on 15-501 late one afternoon as I was leaving White Pines Preserve, where the Rocky and Deep rivers join. It had an arched back like a weasel, but it had a large, spiked-up tail. Despite having a relatively good view of it, as I was stopped in the middle of the empty highway, I’m not sure if it was a mink. Now I regret not following it when it trotted off the road and along a ditch. I have seen dead striped skunks on 64 near Pittsboro, but if it was a skunk, it was all black.

Mink have definitely been seen in every nearby state park except Jordan Lake. Early one afternoon in spring 2010, Eno River Ranger Christopher Greiner saw one cross Old Cole Mill Road. In all park staff there have seen six mink in seven years, including the one killed by traffic. Mink are probably found along most creeks, and might be easier to see than otters, since mink sometimes hunt during the day and are said to be bold.

Mink are muscular carnivores, eating everything from fish and crustaceans to ducks, muskrats, and rabbits, as well as some fruit. Individuals can be violently territorial, and relocate frequently within their domain. They den in stolen or abandoned rodent burrows, logs, or their own excavations, which typically have multiple entrances, four to six inches wide, and are close to waterways.

Like many mammals, mink breed in late winter. Males mate repeatedly each year, but usually assist their final mate. There can be up to twelve young, but four is usual, and families usually stay together into the fall.

February hike to Sears Mill

Join NECSW for a hike Saturday, February 18th to see the remains of Sears Mill, a 19th century mill on Panther Creek, as well as early spring flowers and amphibians. Beavers, deer, otters, turkeys and nesting great blue herons have also been seen in the area. We will meet at 3pm at the southeast corner of the O’Kelly Church Road bridge over Northeast Creek (about one mile east of 751) in Chatham County.

Durham Watershed Improvement Project in Northeast and Crooked Creeks Begins Monday

From the City of Durham:

Stream Walks Help the City Identify Potential Watershed Improvement Projects

Beginning Monday, September 12, Durham residents who live in the Northeast Creek and Crooked Creek watersheds may see scientists and field crews in orange vests walking along the creeks as the City of Durham begins field work for a study aimed at revitalizing the health of these creeks and its surrounding areas.

[pullquote]Durham residents who live in the Northeast Creek and Crooked Creek watersheds may see scientists and field crews in orange vests walking along the creeks as the City of Durham begins field work for a study aimed at revitalizing the health of these creeks and its surrounding areas.[/pullquote]

According to Sandra Wilbur, project manager with the City’s Stormwater Services Division, over the next three weeks residents living in the assessment area, which encompasses over 40 miles of streams, may see field crews walking through neighborhoods and along streams in the watershed. These crews will present their identifying credentials and project information sheets upon request. Some of the neighborhoods included in the assessment are Emorywood, Carpenter Fletcher Road, Parkwood, Audubon Park, and Woodlake.

The goals of the project are to improve the health of creeks and ensure compliance with water quality regulations. The first step in meeting these goals is learning about current conditions of the watersheds. In June and July, field crews evaluated stormwater control measures that filter polluted runoff in each watershed. Examples of these measures include stormwater ponds, wetlands, and bioretention areas.

“Our field crews will assess the streams in the project area for overall stream quality, including evidence of stream bank erosion, pollution sources, and other water quality problems,” Wilbur said. “The teams will also identify restoration potential of specific stream reaches. After the field work is completed, we’ll use the engineering analysis and public input to develop a prioritized list of potential improvements projects.”

Residents interested in providing input to help shape the project and prioritize the water quality improvement opportunities may participate in the stream walks or attend public meetings that will be announced at a later time during this project. To view a map of areas that are included in the assessment or the project schedule, visit the City’s website at www.DurhamNC.gov/Stormwater or contact Wilbur at (919) 560-4326, ext. 30286 or via e-mail at Sandra.Wilbur@DurhamNC.gov

South Durham Green Neighbors is sponsoring three upcoming programs

Sustainability and Our Infrastructure

Thursday, September 15, 7pm, South Regional Library

Scott Huler the 2011 Piedmont Laureate and author of On the grid : a plot of land, an average neighborhood, and the systems that make our world work, will be speaking on “Sustainability and Our Infrastructure” at the South Regional Library on Thursday, September 15, at 7:00 p.m.

Menu for the Future (registration required)

September 29, October 6, 20, 27, and November 3, 10 and 17 from 7:30-8:00 pm, Southwest Regional Library

Southwest Regional Library
3605 Shannon Road
Durham, North Carolina 27707
Contact: Jennifer Lohmann
Contact Number: 919-560-8594

To register:
Go to Southwest Regional Library ; click on the calendar and then the event.

This eight-session discussion course from the Northwest Earth Institute looks at where our food comes from and how we can help the environment with our food choices.

Topics Covered:

  1. What’s Eating America: Given the array of food choices and advice, eating in modern industrial society can be wrought with confusion, contradictions and anxiety. Session One considers the effects of modern industrial eating habits on culture, society and ecological systems.
  2. Anonymous Food: Session Two traces the historical shift from family farms to industrial agriculture to present day questions surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMO) and industrial organics. The session examines the ecological and economic impacts that have accompanied the changes in how we grow and prepare food.
  3. Farming for the Future: Session Three explores emerging food system alternatives, highlighting sustainable growing practices and the benefits of small farms and urban food production. The session considers how individuals can make choices that lead to a more sustainable food supply.
  4. You Are What You Eat: Session Four explores food systems from a human health perspective. The session considers the influences that shape our choices and food policies from the fields to Capitol Hill, and the implications for our health and well-being.
  5. Toward a Just Food System: The readings in Session Five examine issues of hunger, equity, and Fair Trade. The session considers the role that governments, communities and individuals can play in addressing these issues to create a more just food system.
  6. Choices for Change: Individuals and communities are discovering the benefits of choosing local, seasonal and sustainably grown and produced foods. Session Six offers inspiration and practical advice in taking steps to create more sustainable food systems
  7. .

A World of Health (registration required)

Tuesday evenings, September 27-November 15, 7:00-8:30 pm.

South Regional Library
4505 S. Alston Avenue
Durham, North Carolina 27713
Contact: Cathy Starkweather
Contact phone; 919-560-7410
Contact email: cstarkweather@durhamcountync.org

To register:
Go to South Regional Library; click on the calendar and then the event.

A World of Health is an eight-session discussion course from the Northwest Earth Institute. Come explore “good health,” the connections between human health and the environment, and how we can sustain both.

For more about the course: Northwest Earth Institute.

Topics Covered:

  1. Redefining Health: Good health is something most of us strive for, but what do we really mean when we talk about it, and how might we go about creating the conditions that foster it? This session explores how we define health and how that understanding informs our individual and collective well-being.
  2. Eating Well: Most people agree that eating well is a foundation of good health. Yet many of our decisions are now focused on avoiding foods that might be harmful to ourselves and our planet. How did we arrive at this point where food, which sustains us, has often become something to fear and worry about?
  3. Cleaning House: Americans now spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors, much of that at home. We look to it as a safe haven, a place to escape from the stresses and trials of the outside world. But recent studies suggest they may not be the safe refuges we think. This session uncovers dangers of household toxins and empowers participants to minimize exposure to health risks.
  4. Building Healthy Communities: Many of Americans’ health problems may be traced not only to what we eat, but also to where we live. The readings in this session examine how issues of proximity to major roads and industry, urban and suburban sprawl, and access to amenities and green space impact our overall well-being.
  5. Curing Consumption: Having considered some of the more direct links to health in previous sessions, the authors in this session look at health within the broader context of a consumer culture. While it is easy to see the connection between health and what we eat, drink and breathe, making connections between the products we buy and our health can require some additional effort.
  6. Healthy Planet-Healthy People: The focus of this session widens to consider health within the context of Earth’s dynamic and life-sustaining ecosystems. The readings explore the importance of biodiversity, the health of the oceans, climate change and the interplay between the forces of nature and our individual and collective health.

Tabling at Audubon Park for National Night Out

NECSW braved the late day heat August 2nd at the Audubon Park subdivision’s 6th annual National Night Out event. It was organized by resident Ron Carroll and the homeowners’ association, in partnership with the Durham Police Department and the National Association of Town Watch. It is mainly about preventing crime, by educating people on crime prevention strategies, increasing participation in anti-crime programs, such as neighborhood watches, encouraging community solidarity and community-police relationships, deterring criminals from targeting communities, and demonstrating community concern about crime. Audubon Park (audubonpark.org) is on a ridge just above the Creek, so they invited NECSW to participate. In 2010 Audubon Park received a National All Star Award from the National Association of Town Watch for the [third] year in a row and Durham ranked 9th in participation out of a group of over 145 similarly sized municipalities.

Our table had maps and displays about the Creek’s natural beauty and problems, trash cleanups and other NECSW events, information about stormwater runoff, etc. Several people took our cards or signed up for email updates, and we exchanged information and fish stories.

Fire trucks and police vehicles were on display and many police personnel attended. There was also ice cream and other refreshments and a clown. It was orange in the west, after sunset, when five or six brilliantly red and blue flashing police motorcycles arrived in the pool parking lot, heralding Mayor Bill Bell and Police Chief Jose Lopez, who spoke at the end of the event.

Durham County Residents: Participate in Strategic Planning Survey for County Government

The Durham Board of County Commissioners’ web site provides this description of the survey:

What will Durham County look like 5, 10 or 50 years from today? What current and emerging issues do we need to consider now as we strive to make this community an even better place to live, work, learn, play and grow?

These are just some of the visioning questions Durham County Government will be asking as we journey through a strategic planning process, which culminates in early 2012 with a Strategic Plan adoption by the Board of County Commissioners. Between now and then, the Board of County Commissioners, citizens, county employees and countless stakeholders will be working to shape a plan that will help guide Durham County forward in the years to come.

Durham County Strategic Planning Survey

Homeowners Guide to Stormwater Management

New Hampshire Guide to Stormwater ManagementNew Hampshire Homewoners Do It Yourself Stormwater Management
(PDF 56 pp, 10.4MB
The State of New Hampshire has prepared a New Hampshire Guide to Stormwater Management (PDF 56 pp, 10.4MB). The techniques for managing drainage on your property are applicable here.

The guide to native plants, however, is for New Hampshire. Look at the list of native plants under the Explore Your Neighborhood menu on this site for ideas about suitable plants for Chatham, Wake, or Durham counties. Or contact your Agriculture Extension Agent.

Stream clean-up and self-organization

Self-organization is an idea that has become current in the Facebook/Twitter age, but it does not depend on technology.

Self-organization is the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (all the elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a coordinator).

Language and culture are self-organizing. Markets begin as self-organizing. Many of the things that were earlier labeled as the “social contract” are self-organizing. Civil society, those organizations other than corporations or government, are self-organizing.

Stream preservation involves elimination or reduction of:

  • sediment in runoff from property,
  • pollution from human-controlled sources,
  • pollutants in the air that fall out or wash out in rain as pollutants.

Watersheds consist of a tree of catchments. Catchment is another word for a drainage basin that comprises a single segment of a stream (a twig of a limb of the tree pattern of a stream) and the surrounding land from which the water runs off. The people who live in a catchment form the group primarily responsible for the water quality of that catchment. They can most effectively organize themselves to protect that water quality.

The Northeast Creek Streamwatch web site exists to support folks in the Northeast Creek watershed who are already working to improve water quality in their neighborhoods. The front page is for notices of events that clean up a section of the creek, provide environmental education to adults and children, advocate for better water quality, inspect and monitor the creek for deterioration and pollutants, and conserve the buffers on the creek and creek bottomlands.

The front page is for sharing stories about the history of folks who have lived in the Northeast Creek watershed and cultural events that have happened in the area.

The front page is for opinions about the best way to preserve Northeast Creek and its cultural heritage.

It is for teachers to share lesson plans about using the creek for instruction as:

  • a demonstration of scientific facts or principles
  • a laboratory for projects or field work
  • an example for making mathematical problems real and motivating students
  • a subject for art, photography or writing
  • a theme for performance, music, dance
  • a setting for drama
  • a subject for developing research skills in natural history, history, genealogy, measurement, laboratory techniques

It is for calls to advocacy on issues affecting the preservation of the Northeast Creek watershed, its natural heritage, and its cultural history.

If you live or work in the Northeast Creek watershed, the front page is for you.

It is for facilitating the self-organization that can help preserve the creek and its heritage.

To post, you will need a login. Request one from webmaster@northeastcreek.org. You must provide an address and an email address in order to receive a user ID; this is to ensure that folks who post are in the Northeast Creek watershed and to prevent spamming of posts and comments.

Volunteers Preserving the Natural and Cultural Heritage of Northeast Creek