Tag Archives: waterfowl

NC55-Hopson and Bull City Townhomes rezoning hearing comments

Below are some comments on the NC55-Hopson and Bull City Townhomes rezoning hearings coming up tomorrow evening, Monday, February 7th, at the “virtual” City Council meeting at 7pm. There will also be a hearing on the proposed 3602 Westminster Avenue rezoning, but that project isn’t in the Northeast Creek basin. People who want to speak at the hearings have to register by 2pm Monday:  cityordinances.durhamnc.gov/OnBaseAgendaOnline/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=507&doctype=1 Most of this has been posted here before in some form. First there is a shorter summary of some issues with NC55-Hopson and then longer comments on the two proposals, mainly on the first.

Some points on NC55-Hopson

The NC Natural Heritage Program recommended in the most recent Durham County Inventory that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority. These slopes provide denning areas for terrestrial species, as well as refuges during periods of high water” while the 1999 Jordan Lake Inventory recommended that “No more utility corridors should be allowed in the area” along Northeast Creek between 55 and 751.

In light of the above, where would the utilities be placed for building in this part of Durham, including along Grandale south of Northeast Creek? It seems like new roads would be worse than utility corridors.

Harm to public land and its users can be seen as harm to the public, and people can benefit from or enjoy the gameland without ever going there to hunt, hike, etc. There is also the issue of things that currently happen at little or no cost, but might become externalities paid for by the City, neighbors, etc. because of construction.

What are Scannell’s plans? Recently roads were bulldozed at the northwest end for detailed surveying, so they would appear to already have a plan for where buildings and roads will be placed, but aren’t revealing it to the public. Since last year they have been planning to begin building this spring – building what, where?

I am against the extension of Hopson and Grandale, mainly because of the impact on the gameland and wildlife, as well as already existing dangers for pedestrians and cyclists on Grandale and nearby roads, though maybe these impacts could be partially alleviated. There are already connecting roads in roughly the same place. Could they be improved, instead of building a new road? Speeding on residential parts of Sedwick Road, far above the 25mph limit, should be addressed. On the other hand it might be beneficial if parking were improved to access the gameland.

What about light pollution? Would streetlights be placed on Grandale and the Hopson extension, harming nocturnal wildlife in a public natural area? Would NC55-Hopson include large greenhouses, which would impact my quality of life, miles away, and those further away, not to mention wildlife in the adjacent gameland? Currently that area is pretty dark and except for air traffic to or from RDU little or no artificial light is directly visible in places such as the middle of the powerline corridor between 55 and Grandale, probably one reason the gameland has so many fireflies, of several species, and nocturnal birds now very rare in the Triangle have been seen a short distance away.

An increasing issue – are Durham’s new blue streetlights worse with regard to light pollution than more conventionally-colored lights?

I am against blasting levelling hills, as has happened on the east side of 55. Also, the neighbors and possibly I would hear this construction and blasting going on. I’m more concerned about traffic noise, but long periods of loud construction noise might bother the neighbors and wildlife as well.

Building new roads obviously contributes to climate change, aside from the traffic and deforestation, and it would be redundant.

Runoff and any other pollution from these projects would quickly get into neighboring Northeast Creek and then into Jordan Lake, and if something toxic to humans leaked, people live not that far away. Non-native species and GMOs would also escape into a so far relatively pristine natural area. I doubt a “business park” would be interesting in managing its property to not harm the gameland, for example by limiting lawn chemical use and the amount of close-cropped, unnaturally green lawn and non-native plants. People would no doubt be watching for violations during construction, though it is a somewhat remote area. On the other hand Northeast Creek would probably turn from relatively clear to conspicuously opaque yellow or red at the well-travelled Tobacco Trail trestle, even if erosion regulations were followed completely.

Is building around the gameland in Durham and Cary going to end deer hunting, and cause overpopulation, leading to overgrazing and danger on roads? Someone, perhaps the City or neighborhood associations, would then have to pay to control the deer population, where before hunters and nature checked the deer population at little or no cost. A high deer population can eliminate plant species from an area. Fews Ford at Eno River State Park seemed like a highly-grazed area when I was last there, which would make sense since hunting is banned in much of that part of the Triangle.

The former claypit has some value in itself and could be preserved in some form, though it would probably be difficult to erase completely anyway.

Historical names for the area and geographic features could be used in future construction, rather than naming things after “Southpoint” when they are far from the Mall, etc. In this case at least Kit Creek isn’t that far away to the south, though I don’t think it drains much or any of the site. One location was called Togo/Genlee and I will have to look up whether Oyama/Few was also in this area. Burdens Creek and its major tributaries, once all having names, is nearby, though it does not drain this site. People seem to like former industrial history downtown, and here is a rural site, possibly the source of some of the red brick buildings downtown.

NC55-Hopson

I am not necessarily against building anywhere on this vast site but I have several concerns about this application and some issues tied to this application but not addressed in any public meetings that I am aware of, especially road expansion.

The entire property and I think what is proposed for annexation extends from east of Highway 55 to within sight of Grandale Road, an area probably a mile or more across, and this is the site my comments address, not just the smaller, but still very large, portion the applicant wants rezoned Industrial Light. It appears that the staff report recommends just zoning Industrial, if IL is deemed acceptable, but I have not looked into what that would allow. There are also connected issues covering a larger area.

There is too much ambiguity about what would be built and where. It seems like the applicant might not want to build at the very north end, but there is no commitment and surveying is going on up to the powerline corridor as if something will be built there soon, visible from Grandale, especially with the Wrenn land clearcut. There would be few limits on construction near the neighbors, and much of the site was clearcut, including the portion closest to Audubon Park and Parkwood at the north end. The clearcutting is very convenient for the Kimley-Horn memorandum on the environmental condition of the site, though it should be noted that a field or young pine forest is still habitat for some species. Rare plants such as pink ladyslipper orchids might prefer relatively young pine forests and red-tailed hawks hunt over fields and clearcutting probably benefits the deer and maybe woodcocks. Kimley-Horn is listed as an “agent” in the Zoning Map Change Application, attachment 11, and therefore would seem to have a conflict of interest in evaluating the environmental conditions.

The publicly-owned bottomlands along Northeast Creek are noted as a “buffer,” but they are not that wide and I would like to hear some concern to avoid harm to this public land and those who use it. At times many vehicles can be seen parked along Grandale on a weekend. If deer hunting decreases because of building hemming in the Wildlife Resources Commission-managed, Federally-owned gameland there might be an increase in the deer population in nearby neighborhoods, which is probably already high compared to other counties in the State. I like our neighborhood deer herds, but there could still be problems. There is also the issue that some species might need larger areas of forest than just what is protected as public land, or species might need upland as well as bottomland habitat, so buildings and roads could lead to the loss of species within the gameland. There is also the issue of species associated with human activity, such as English ivy, Norway rats, and feral cats, coming in with building and harming native plants and animals, not that I liike seeing rat traps around shopping centers. Near the site I have seen some non-native trees common on vacant land downtown growing on the clearcut land and utility corridors, though so far they are uncommon.

There is talk of a 40-50-foot buffer around the site, but most of the land was completely cleared of trees. Since then a growing woods around 20 feet high or more has sprouted since then, so the site is again wooded, but it once had larger trees and more hardwoods. A wooded buffer could have been had freely, but if non-native species are planted, they could easily escape into the adjacent gameland, and clearcutting spreads some non-native plants.

The NC NHP inventory reports noted nesting black-and-white warblers and probably nesting sharp-shinned hawks and the presence of ribbon snakes as rare animal species in the areas studied along Northeast Creek at the south end of the County, as well as Douglass’ bittercress and other state or regionally rare or unusual plants, and there were otters and mink along the Creek. The area has not been re-surveyed since 1999. The most recent Durham report recommended that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority. These slopes provide denning areas for terrestrial species, as well as refuges during periods of high water” while the 1999 Jordan Lake Inventory recommended that “No more utility corridors should be allowed in the area” along the Creek between 55 and 751. These recommendations directly relate to this rezoning application, but aren’t being brought up. I suggested to the Wildlife Resources Commission and US Army Corps of Engineers that the proposals in this area should be of concern to them.

This site is already vast, and I suspect that the Wrenn family’s land to the west, which was also recently clearcut, is available for sale. Does the applicant know something the public doesn’t? I am concerned that approving the rezoning under consideration will be the signal to sell more land in the area, so the near future of a larger area is in question today. Similarly there was a large amount of change along Ellis Road over a short period. The application seems to say that housing will be built along Grandale, as well as a new road. I only found out recently that the DCHCMPO plans to extend Hopson Road from 55 to Grandale and extend Grandale south in Chatham County. What are Cary’s plans along the county line? Is their plan to burden Durham to benefit Cary and other locations not in Durham County?

Until recently the government’s road plans in the area were only rumors for me; I thought the idea of a connecting road had been defeated decades ago and I was not aware of any proposals regarding Grandale. While it might not be ideal, there is already a connection between 55 and Grandale along the county line, but made harder to use by the changes along 55 around a decade ago. Speeding is a problem on Sedwick Road, but is the solution to increase traffic and no doubt speeding on Grandale? Would traffic on already dangerous Scott King Road, future site of an elementary school, increase? It seems like speeding traffic coming over sharp hills and around bends is such a problem on Scott King that even birds get killed. If Hopson were extended, there would still be a jog to get to Scott King Road, so would the DCHCMPO next want to extend Hopson to 751, crossing the very large and mostly unbroken publicly-owned forest along Northeast, Crooked, and Kit creeks and the Tobacco Trail? Or is this the reason they want to extend Grandale, presumably to O’Kelly Church Road, crossing Kit Creek? This application shows a road passing north of the abandoned claypit, which I think is also part of the site that still has older trees and steep slopes, and Federal land is located there. A lot of blasting would be required, since 4-lane Hopson currently ends at a steep hillside, on one of the highest ridges in the area. When they blasted away the hill at the corner of TW Alexander and 55 nearby, it could be heard for miles through the night, including where I live, and I think there were complaints to the police from Scott King Road. On the other hand it might allow easier access to the gameland it would degrade.

Building new roads obviously contributes to climate change, aside from the traffic and deforestation, and it would be redundant.

How would a new road change traffic patterns? Traffic has increased on Grandale, probably because of all of the recent building in Wake and Chatham counties, and there is a lot of roadkill at times. I saw a report demonstrating that the government knows that Grandale around Northeast Creek is a chokepoint for wildlife movement. Would the bridge be raised so that wildlife might tend to cross underneath, as was discussed where expanded 15-501 crosses New Hope Creek? A road basically paralleling Northeast Creek would be a problem for animals migrating between the uplands and the bottomlands, such as toads and marbled salamanders. The bend at the bridge on Grandale isn’t very safe for pedestrians and bicyclists and neither is Scott King Road, site of a future elementary school. A huge number of turkey and black vultures used to or still roost near Grandale at night and might be driven off, as well as other wildlife. The Kimley-Horn memorandum notes a report of a waterbird colony and I saw a large heron rookery near Grandale. I have heard that building new roads tends to increase traffic overall, rather than alleviating congestion, increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

It would be less polluting if the existing freight rail connection could be used for freight or passengers, but the tracks on the east side of 55.

If Grandale were widened, it would be good to improve parking at the bridge and maybe more traffic would decrease the risk of harassment and dumping there. I use that area and monitor the fireflies for the Massachusetts-based Firefly Watch program and there are other people who hike, hunt, or fish, and people probably still drive ATVs on the City, County, Federal, and Parkwood Association land. On the other hand maybe a new business park would be like the Ellis Research Center on Ellis Road east of 147 and put up permanent signs threatening the public on a public road and reflecting badly on Durham.

An IL zoning allows many possible uses, and there is not a guarantee about what would actually be built. I see that the applicant has now committed to forego certain uses on certain parcels, but there still isn’t a detailed site plan and other areas near Northeast Creek have no prohibitions. What would be built along 55 at the northeast corner of the site, near Northeast Creek and County facilities? It is possible that an office-type business park would be more environmentally benign than housing, though possibly an unkempt junkyard would be more benign than a business park with close-cropped, agrichemical and fossil fuel dependent, unnaturally green lawn and giant impervious aand unshaded parking lots, creating heat islands. Freight would increase traffic, air pollution, and windblown litter and waste management would probably also increase litter and air pollution.

Would IL zoning allow large greenhouses? There are some at research or manufacturing facilities in and around RTP. The “buffer” provided by Northeast Creek would not be enough to prevent a significant impact on Audubon Park and Parkwood. I live miles away from greenhouses near the intersection of TW Alexander and Highway 54 but I see an area of very bright orange or yellow light reflected by low clouds (higher clouds also get lit up, but the light is less glaringly obvious) for much of the night and when it is clear that light is still there, obscuring my view of the sky. This is a huge impact, but the UDO classifies all of this stray light as indoors and therefore not regulated, though the night sky is lit up for miles. I’m not sure that I have ever seen the Milky Way and light pollution in the Triangle most likely increases every year. The Stonesthrow apartments on South Alston next to Burdens Creek are adjacent to the greenhouses and have little need for streetlights when there are low clouds.

Greenhouses would have a large impact on the bottomlands along Northeast Creek, and there is the more ordinary light pollution from streetlights, parking lots, area lights and also noise. The area is currently relatively dark and this large rural area of forests and fields probably serves as a refuge for many nocturnal species. Fireflies of several species are numerous and for more than 10 years I have observed at a location on Grandale for the Firefly Watch program. Fireflies are much more abundant at Grandale than along my street and I see more species there, though I live near a small protected woodland. Bobcats have been seen not very far away at Jordan Lake and it is possible that they live at the south end of Durham and bobcats have been given as an example of a rare species driven out by human activity. I thought birds such as chuck-will’s-widow and whip-poor-wills had been driven out of the Triangle, but then I encountered one at the future elementary school site on Scott King Road, obviously trying to lead me away from a nest or chicks. River otters live in the Northeast Creek basin not far away if not near the site, and turkeys, prothonotary warblers, beavers, etc, have been seen adjacent to the rezoning site. At the neighborhood meeting a year ago someone mentioned seeing a bald eagle, and when I checked two weeks ago a bald eagle was audible from the rezoning site and landed on a tall snag nearby. I also saw wood ducks, a woodcock, red-headed woodpeckers, etc. similarly nearby.

What would be done to prevent chemical releases, including gases, adjacent to Northeast Creek? The applicant notes how far Audubon Park and Parkwood are from the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant and compares it to the distance between those communities and this site. At one time the WWTP probably had a large quantity of gaseous chlorine on site and it is my understanding that in the event of a serious leak that buffer would have been far too narrow for safety. Things have improved, but at one time the WWTP and/or the sewer lines could be smelled strongly in the Frenchman’s Creek and Audubon Park neighborhoods if not in Parkwood and the Creek had a strong chlorinated smell as it left Durham County around Grandale. I have heard from local government employees that Northeast Creek or other creeks have elevated copper levels because of fallout from a smelter downtown and organic chemicals that might come from nearby freeways. There is also the possibility of the escape of GMOs and disease-causing organisms.

Where would the utilities be located? Fragmenting a forest by putting in utility easements can end its utility for deep forest species and are literally in roads for cowbirds and non-native plants. I think there was discussion of building a pipeline for 751 South through here at one point. At that time I thought Durham had a policy of not extending water utilities south of Scott King.

The staff report lists many items that might be good to have in the planning process, but they are rendered useless without a development plan. There are obviously plants, animals, communities, and ecosystems on the site, since it is a location on the living Earth, though after mass grading the site would like more like a tract on a lifeless celestial body. It is very easy to not find things. I would be surprised if there are not any steep slopes, such as around the claypit and near 55, and the site must include wetlands, such as along the powerline. The claypit might also count as a wetland and looks like a lake in the City’s aerial photo.
There must be at least scattered archaeological remains on the hillsides overlooking Northeast Creek, not likely to be noticed during mass grading. and there is a small cemetery on the north side of Green Level Church Road near the claypit and 55. Small old cemeteries have been mistreated by builders in the Triangle.

I think local universities found significant reptile fossils in the claypit and it is part of the area’s history, so it would be good to preserve it in some form. I found plant fossils a few miles away. The claypit is a former industrial use, but as far as I know it is not at all a “brownfield,” and has been left in a natural state, without any buildings, though there have been tobacco barns in the general area. The area also once had a name, probably associated with a rail stop, that could be used for referred to today.

There are also igneous rock outcroppings in the area, which could encourage rare plants, besides the low level of disturbance by human activity in recent decades, aside from the clearcutting. Rare plants might be present along 55 and many not so uncommon wildflowers grow on the gameland and rural roadsides. The igneous rocks would probably complicate cutting through the hills for a road.

The scenic small stream flowing under 55 isn’t very intermittent and harbors surprisingly large fish, salamanders, crayfish, and other species even upstream, possibly holding water well because of the hard bedrock just beneath. It seems like an unusually diverse and valuable clear stream that doesn’t dry up completely, despite its short length.

Bull City Townhomes

If people live next to steep slopes or retaining walls, they might be tempted to throw their trash over the edge, as has happened elsewhere in Durham, and the trash might then wash into the tributary of Northeast Creek on the site and go into Jordan Lake.

Apparently the large pond at the corner was drained or broken by rain, which is unfortunate.

I find it hard to believe that the application claimed in an earlier document that there is basically no life in a waterway and that it is ephemeral, then intermittent, then ephemeral again – where does the water go? This is apparently based on inspections in April and May 2021, and there was an unusually severe spring drought that year and maybe the dam breach washed away the usual aquatic life or it was temporarily killed by unusually dry conditions. Should these determinations be based on such limited observations? Mistreating headwaters such as at this site is where the problems in Jordan Lake begin, and then Durham has to pay to fix them. It seems bizarre to buffer one section and not all of it and the neighbors would benefit from buffering along the property edge. Would they put a stormwater pond there? What would they plant? Non-native bushes, often introduced for buffers along roads and landscaping, are a problem along waterways upstream from Ellis Road. Beavers and fish live in the larger though still quite small tributary of Northeast Creek paralleling 147 nearby.

If I lived in the neighborhood I might not want more townhomes there and traffic seems like an increasing problem on Ellis. If I am not mistaken dense housing has also been approved nearby to the south on Ellis Road and east of 147. I don’t think there are any bus stops or continuous sidewalks in this formerly kind of rural area and commercial areas aren’t very nearby. The shoulders on Ellis and other nearby major roads are often narrow, deeply rutted, or soft and not very good for bicycling or parking, unless they have been improved recently.

Durham could have started an environmentally benign Northeast Creek trail network in the Ellis Road area, but it is losing the opportunity. There are some new private trails.

Protect the gamelands along the Durham-Chatham-Wake county line

I’m not sure that it was printed anywhere, but below is a letter I sent to newspapers about what is planned in the Highway 55 to Grandale Road area. The agenda for the City Council Zoom meeting this Monday starting at 7pm has been posted at durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/City-Council-4/ Clicking on the NC55 and Hopson agenda item brings up the associated documents. I just started looking at the updated materials for this second hearing, but the main change seems to be a written commitment not to use some parts of the site for certain types of facilities apparently allowed under Industrial Light (IL) zoning. The site is made up of several parcels, and certain uses would be prohibited on four parcels the applicant wants rezoned from residential and commercial to IL, while the large area near 55 already zoned IL would have no special prohibitions. There have been indications that the applicant might not intend to build at the very northwest corner of the site, overlooking Northeast Creek and close to Audubon Park, but there are no commitments and there is still no indication of where the 1 million square feet of “industrial buildings” would be placed, and presumably the most likely impervious “parking and loading areas” are not included in the above figure and will sprawl over a large area and extend Durham’s heat island south.

Very little has been done to prevent encroachments on the environmentally vital land ‘owned’ and both passively and actively used by the public. I have doubts that the NC Natural History Program recommendations have mattered much in what has happened at this end of Durham County and instead of protecting what remains it seems likely that there will be new roads, Grandale will become busier if not wider, new utility easements and infrastructure seem likely, and construction of some density will extend up to the edges of the gameland on all sides. If housing is soon built along Grandale, where are the utilities going to be located? Species that live in the gameland today might be driven out by impacts from NC55-Hopson and the roads, along with human users of the gameland. The government bodies managing the gameland can’t or won’t give Durham a strong warning that what it plans to do could have serious consequences for public property and water quality. There are obviously limits to their authority, but they don’t seem interested in defending the public interest as long as road construction, etc. is not on the Federal land, even if it is right next to it, and it seems obvious that there will be work on Grandale impacting the adjacent gameland if new roads are built. The environment has become a common talking point in political campaigns, such as in the elections this year, but these piece meal land use changes add up create the environmental problems that then seem possibly too big to fix, such as climate change, mass extinction, and local flooding. For what it is worth I will at least comment in writing on all of these proposals, and I commented on the DCHCMPO’s 2050 transportation plan (the comment period ended February 1st).

A young forest of mostly loblolly pines around 20′ tall, along with some tuliptrees, wax myrtles or bayberries, etc. has regenerated on the clearcut Triangle Brick Co. land in question and a grid of small roads was recently bulldozed for detailed surveying up to the powerline and close to Audubon Park. Scannell must have plans, but nothing has been revealed to the public, except that they have been planning to start the first stage of construction this spring. Each facility would take about 9 months to build and construction would extend over 3-4 years, with an announced total of around 5-6 buildings. It is a somewhat remote area, but people will no doubt watch for silt management violations if this goes ahead. I have observed for Firefly Watch ( www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/community-science/firefly-watch ) in the area for over 10 years, so I might be able to see how new light pollution effects the firefly population. I’m not sure what zoning large greenhouses fall under, but there isn’t a commitment not to build them here and there are a few at similar research or manufacturing facilities in and around Research Triangle Park. Grandale is a good dark location for stargazing, but I’m not sure that it is far enough from light pollution to be that much better than easier to get to locations in southern Durham County, and light pollution to some degree obscures the stars over much of the world and is hard to escape.

At the Planning Commission hearing a neighbor, I think in nearby Audubon Park, mentioned seeing a bald eagle, and a week ago [actually the snow was two weeks ago] I went to the vicinity and there an eagle was, conspicuously flying around and loudly calling from the top of a tall snag. I saw two or more wood ducks in the Creek closer to Grandale, and as usual I didn’t know they were there until they shrieked and swiftly flew downstream. On a brushy hillside a woodcock suddenly flushed, seemingly from a sunny patch free of snow at the base of an oak. Maybe the males can be seen displaying around twilight here and there might even already be eggs. I have seen turkey tracks here before and I think chuck-will’s-widows or whip-poor-wills have nested recently in this part of Durham. Grasses such as broomsedge and Indian grass, along with the seedheads of last year’s mullein, teasel, vervain, asters, goldenrods, cattails, and other wildflowers (some introduced in this case) are evident under the powerline, while the stalks of grasses such as river oats nod in the woods. A Polypodium fern grows on an ash leaning over a sharp bend of the Creek. In a younger part of the bottomland forest a few very large loblollies linger while the area closest to Grandale is mostly deciduous. It seemed like there weren’t a lot of tracks in the snow, but the signs of small birds, small rodents and maybe shrews, beavers, deer, squirrels, possibly foxes, etc. were visible. Snow covered the tire tracks, but it seems like there is still some prohibited ATV activity on the gameland, though the Wildlife Resources Commission or the Army Corps of Engineers have taken steps to discourage them. There were spiky white ice crystals on moss and lichen-covered boulders and where the snow had begun to melt the day before. Red-headed woodpeckers were very conspicuous in an area of sloughs against a hillside with many beech and there were various sparrows, cardinals, towhees, wrens, and other songbirds out in the bottomlands.

I heard a few gulls flying overhead, possibly going to nearby Parkwood Lake. The Lake was mostly frozen over, and mallards, Canada geese, cormorants, gulls, and a small flock of what seemed to be ruddy ducks, the first time I have seen this species here, had gathered in the unfrozen area by the dam. An Eastern phoebe and myrtle or yellow-rumped warblers were foraging amid the willows in a swampy part of the frozen Lotus Pond near the trail. Later I saw a small hawk and heard a flock of cedar waxwings along Clermont there. Near the pool birds I couldn’t identify were searching the branchtips at the tops of shortleaf pines. I heard a few yellow-bellied sapsuckers, I think all in built-up areas. Near Parkwood’s giant white ash a garrulous red-winged blackbirds have been frequenting bamboo groves and I think I saw the conspicuous resident hawk pair mating a few days ago. It seems like there have been few owl calls and the deer have been scarce this winter, possibly because of the new trail through the woods from Seaton to McCormick, though I did see a buck with pretty large antlers in January. The trail’s bare yellow clay turned to mud as the snow melted. I realized that there is second colony of what must be dwarf pawpaws near the Fire Station.

Back on the gameland, for decades I have known a beaver pond, for many years mostly a marshy abandoned beaver pond that still holds some water, and I was surprised to find that it has been restored to almost its former state. I don’t remember there being a lodge before, or not conspicuously, the beavers instead seeming to live in a burrow, but now there is prominent lodge towards the back. The pond has been a breeding site for amphibians and fish such as American toads, cricket frogs, bowfin, and sunfish, and though it isn’t particularly large, migrating waterfowl and shorebirds sometimes visit. Mistletoe is conspicuous on the bare limbs of some of the surrounding red maples. Herons, red-headed woodpeckers, and no doubt birds that use their abandoned nests have nested nearby, but I’m not sure if there are still adequate large snags. I heard that some other ponds have also been restored recently, so there is some positive news that what was lost has returned, at least for a time.

February 7th there will also be hearings on the proposed Bull City Townhomes, at the corner of Ellis Road and Southern Drive, near Rada Drive and Ed Cook Road, north of RTP, in the upper Northeast Creek basin, and a hearing on 3602 Westminster Avenue, in the Neuse River basin.


Protect the gamelands along the Durham-Chatham-Wake county lin

February 7th the City Council will hold a second hearing on the rezoning of an area extending from east of 55 to within sight of Grandale Road for a research/manufacturing-type “business park,” with Hopson Road extended west. Hopson and Grandale extensions are included in Amendment #4 to the DCHCMPO’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan, accepting comments through February 22nd (links at northeastcreek.org).

This rural section includes a large area of protected public land. The Northeast Creek bottomlands’ significance was recognized by the NC Natural Heritage Program, which recommended the “Preservation of upland buffers” and a moratorium on new utility corridors there.

Despite the parkland, species could still be lost. The rezoning application considers the State gameland only a “buffer.” There is no public site plan and industrial light zoning allows many uses. If large greenhouses are built, reflected light would be obvious for miles, likewise with blasting and traffic noise. What of spills? Hundreds of fireflies of several species glimmer, gathered amphibians roar, and herons, nightjars, and likely turkeys have nested nearby. If hunting ends, will deer overpopulate? I would like consideration for the welfare of this valuable, public land. Additionally, the claypit has paleontological significance. I suspect that rezoning would trigger more land sales, like the boom (of moonscaping) along Ellis.

Durham claims to care about emissions, but plans to level ridges for a redundant road. Nearby roads already seem unsafe and Grandale threatens wildlife, which the government knows. Does the Council need to see the roadkill from a short stretch?

Seasonal Nature Notes for winter

This is a revised version of an article I wrote for Cathy Starkweather’s South Durham Green Neighbors Newsletter, posted each month on the sdgreenneighbors Googlegroup (there is also a Facebook group), outlining some of the natural sights and wonders people can look out for this winter.

Seasonal Nature Notes

Despite the cold winter weather, some plants regularly or potentially bloom in December. East Asian camellias bloom in yards from fall into spring, depending on the variety. They don’t seem very attractive to insects, but yellowjackets check them out in the fall. Red maples can start blooming well before spring and when they do small insects can be seen flying around the canopy on relatively warm days.  Many years ago pastel pale blue bluets bloomed in December outside Eno River State Park’s main office, though they normally bloom months later. Peaches on the south-facing side of Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough also bloomed in winter that year and still developed fruit. There were cold temperatures that winter, and there were frigid and icy mornings on the shaded north side of the small mountain. I was surprised to see a white atamasco or Easter lily, usually a flower of mid-spring, blooming near Little Creek in Orange County in early November 2020, after herbaceous brush had been cleared. Hepatica, a pale lavender to blue, and occasionally white or pink, early spring woodland wildflower often found on rocky hillsides, can bloom in January or February if not December. Witch-hazel, a diminutive relative of sweetgums, also might bloom on hillsides around now. This is also a good time of year to look for evergreen mistletoe, a semi-parasitic bush growing in the bare treetops. It is common on silver and red maples near the intersection of Sedwick and Revere roads and it often appears on oaks along city streets in downtown Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, and Raleigh. It seems to be most common in built up areas but sometimes grows on red maples around beaver ponds and large waterways. It was unusual to see one high in a Northern red oak surrounded by other trees at Cary’s Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, near but not immediately next to Swift Creek. There are a few deciduous tree species that mistletoe seems to prefer, but it can grow on a range of native and non-native trees. Recently I have been admiring the shape of the fallen leaves, especially those of Spanish or Southern red oaks. There are many species of oak, each with a different leaf shape, and the form of each leaf is individual, depending on how shaded it was, its history during the growing season, etc. Oaks are among the last trees to lose their leaves, probably finishing in early December, and some oaks and other trees regularly retain their earth-colored dead leaves until spring, at least when young. The whitish paperlike leaves of related American beech, increasingly common in Parkwood, are picturesque in brilliantly lit deciduous woods in winter. Lingering winged seeds can be seen in the skyscraping crowns of bare tuliptrees along Northeast Creek and the sweetgum gumballs won’t fall off for a few more months and attract seedeating birds during the winter. Fruit might linger on plants such as greenbriars, hollies, hawthorns, and Japanese privet while December is likely too late for the last American and Asian persimmons. Apparently cedar waxwings can be poisoned during the winter by the red fruit of Nandina, an East Asian shrub with compound leaves.

It seems like live oaks drop their acorns in winter and other oaks might still be scattering the last of their acorns in early December. The official Landscape Manual for Durham recommends against planting Virginia live oaks, native along the coast into Virginia, but those growing around the old Parkwood Shopping Center, at the intersection of Revere and Seaton roads, don’t appear to have any problems with damage from cold temperatures or ice and their acorns, very abundant under the trees around now, sprout if scattered in yards while still viable. The only drawback might be that they grow slowly, at least when somewhat shaded. Live oaks are evergreen, hence their common name, but might have fewer leaves during the winter. Young oaks of many species are often semi-evergreen or retain dead leaves in winter, and water oaks, which are native to Durham and have reached a pretty large size in some yards and on the UNC campus, are a little closer to being evergreen. This is another native oak Durham seems to unfairly malign, claiming that it is prone to “untreatable decay,” and they have problems with the supposedly “exotic” pin oak, which seems to be native in central NC if not Durham. They did not seek public input before updating the manual in 2020. Oaks often turn red in the fall, some species strikingly so, but when fallen leaves are picked up they are usually more brown than red.

This is a good time to look for migratory waterfowl, including American coots, pied-billed grebes, ring-billed gulls, non-resident Canada geese, and ducks such as black scoters, long-tailed ducks, and mergansers. Some species, such as hooded mergansers, can stay well into the spring and might breed here but it seems like the majority of the migrants fly north by or in February. I like to look for them at Crabtree Lake in Cary but they also visit Parkwood Lake, large stormwater ponds, the waterfowl impoundments, and sometimes even small beaver ponds (see my February 2014 article at www.northeastcreek.org/wordpress/784/ ). I sometimes spot unusual shorebirds, terns, etc. at various times at the large reservoirs, but only one or a few at a time and it is easier to search smaller lakes. Migrating shorebirds can also turn up on dry shorelines around small beaver ponds. Small flocks of colorful wood ducks can be seen in Northeast Creek now, but they are very wary and I usually only catch a glimpse as they shriek and fly off. Woodcocks or just their tracks and probings can be found along waterways in winter, though I might see them more often in late winter than now. Seeing a well-camouflaged woodcock usually means not seeing it until one gets close and it flies away, though maybe not with quite the speed of a wood duck. Flocks of turkeys and their tracks can also be found in bottomlands in winter; despite their reputed wariness about 20 landed above me in a swampy area after sunset on a Thanksgiving Day, and I think they didn’t fly off as I left. Maybe they were experienced enough to know I wasn’t hunting. According to John K Terres they roost over water for protection from great horned owls and presumably other predators. Woodcocks start displaying around January and the NC Botanical Garden usually has excursions to see their displays, rising 300 feet in the air above open areas at nearby Mason Farm Biological Reserve as night falls. Barred owls, bald eagles, and hooded mergansers are among the birds that can begin to breed in December or January. The plaintive calls of yellow-bellied sapsuckers are a common winter sound in Parkwood. These migratory woodpeckers spend winter here, chiseling rows of holes in many tree and shrub species for sap; they also eat insects. They breed further north and at high elevations in Western NC. Other birds and insects also visit sapsucker holes, potentially including overwintering butterflies. Wounded trees, as well as fruiting persimmons,are good places to look for butterflies in the fall. The ground can be heavily littered with fruit under untended pear trees, but in my experience they don’t seem very attractive to butterflies and other insects, or maybe it is late in the season.

Winter is also a good time to observe some insect life stages, such as the egg masses of mantises and Eastern tentworms and the large cocoons of some giant silk moth species. I frequently see large cocoons dangling from the twig tips of birch planted around buildings. Some species attach their cocoons to the twigs while others allow their cocoons to fall with the leaves, one reason it is important to leave fallen leaves. For example, both promethea or spicebush and tuliptree silk moth caterpillars can be found on tuliptrees, but promethea caterpillars usually spin their cocoons so they won’t fall while tuliptree moths let them fall. Related polyphemus moth caterpillars usually either travel to the ground to pupate or fall with the leaves. Sometimes they do attach their cocoons to twigs, and these might be the cocoons I see on birch. This group of very large moths can be found in Parkwood and there are plants for their caterpillars, but they seem more abundant in places like UNC and Falls Lake. Insects have many ways of surving winter and one frigid winter morning I jostled a holly and very small green inchworm caterpillars dangled on silk, though the ground below was hard with ice. At other times I have seen insects and spiders out as snow melts. Carolina wrens and other birds can be seen investigating lingering dead leaves. The various species forage in different ways, searching the tips of branches or along trunks and working in different directions, avoiding competition. Galls created by insects or other organisms can be seen on the stems of goldenrods and other plants. Under hickories carefully pruned twigs can be found, cut off by twig girdling beetles. The round exit holes of weevil grubs can be seen in this year’s acorns and other nuts. Don’t bring eggs masses, cocoons, etc. indoors for long or they might hatch early, with disastrous results. It is now safe to examine the nests of social paper wasps, often hidden in brush or under eaves and bald-faced hornet nests suspended from tree branches. I sometimes find the tiny mud vases of solitary potter wasps hidden in closed up wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace seedheads. Even on what seem like freezing nights some moths can be on the wing, as well as bats. I found a large gray hoary bat roosting at ground level on the outside of UNC’s Greenlaw building one day in mid-January. During warm spells hibernating butterflies and moths can appear and in some cases last year’s caterpillars emerge as adults, possibly too early. Black swallowtail butterflies, especially males, frequently hatch when it seems too early, and it might have been on a night at the end of a warm spell in December, with the wind picking up as a cold front approached, that I saw a large pastel green luna moth unseasonably fly by a streetlight at Eno River State Park.

Depending on the weather early spring frogs can start singing in December. I sometimes hear individual frogs call quietly on mild, cloudy days in the fall and while species such as upland chorus frogs are so loud in late winter and early spring it might be easier to actually see them in the fall and summer. Marbled salamanders silently court and lay eggs in dry depressions in early fall, females guarding their eggs until these vernal pools fill up. The dark brown or black larvae with a collar of frilly gills can be seen, developing front legs first, unlike frog and toad tadpoles. What are probably marbled salamander larvae can be seen in the bottomlands around Northeast Creek and in puddles next to some nearby roads. Like frogs and toads they can breed in pools created by human activity, though they seem to prefer ‘wilder’ pools. Construction destroyed some nearby breeding pools and might have killed off the adults and they also get killed crossing roads to reach their customary breeding locations. Closely related spotted salamanders breed later, dancing underwater in the now brimming pools, and their larvae can be prey for the older marbled salamander larvae. At least in the case of spotted salamanders breeding adults prefer to return to their natal pool, and can follow the same route every year. I haven’t ever found an adult spotted salamander myself, so as far as I know they aren’t found in southern Durham County, but I occasionally find marbled salamanders hidden under debris on moist hillsides near creeks. Spotted salamanders famously breed in large vernal pools at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill and there are usually tours, which fill up quickly. One or more small salamander species can be found in Parkwood’s streams, possibly only breeding there, but they are well hidden or uncommon so I rarely see them. Salamander biodiversity is very high in North Carolina but they are usually not as conspicuous as frogs and toads.

I think of lizards as animals of summer but Carolina or green anoles are easy to see in the fall and winter. I first noticed them in Parkwood about 10 years ago and several moved into my yard in the summer of 2020. I wonder if this is a sign of climate change, but they were known in Chapel Hill by at least 1995 and according to roadsendnaturalist.com/2021/09/05/yard-mystery/ anoles have lived in that part of Chatham County for at least decades. I started seeing them in Orange County around the same time as in Parkwood and a few years ago they were common in places at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. I haven’t seen them further north near the Eno, though Falls Lake is a rich in reptiles, including species that I had not realized live in the piedmont. Despite changing color to match their surroundings, anoles are conspicuous and I would have noticed if many had been living around here. Last fall and winter I would often see them on sunny south-facing walls and an air-conditioning unit, even in December, and I was afraid that they might not survive the winter, but they did and were out again this year. Fence lizards live or lived at Parkwood Elementary School, spiraling around trees to escape capture, but otherwise seem very rare in this part of the Triangle. They are common in places at Falls Lake State Recreation Area. I found one near the Eno on a cold, wet day, probably in late fall or early winter, but it seemed dangerously chilled. I can’t recall seeing any skinks out in fall or winter.

The Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice is Tuesday, December 21st this year, when the night will be longest. Daylength changes little from day to day close to the solstice, but changes faster closer to spring. I thought the first frost was usually in mid-November, and that was the case this year, but some sources ( such as gardening.ces.ncsu.edu/average-first-and-last-frost-dates/ ) say it is earlier. We can get significant snow in December, but the coldest temperatures are usually in the New Year, in late January, when snowstorms are more likely and snow and ice can linger. The Earth’s orbit actually takes us closest to the Sun during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, but the Earth’s tilt reduces the amount of heating produced by the Sun’s rays and it takes time for the land and oceans to warm or cool. For a few years it seemed like we often had balmy weather in late December. So far mild to warm weather is forecast for much of early December.

Winter is the best time to see atmospheric phenomena created when sun or moonlight interacts with ice crystals in motion, in clouds such as cirrus and cirrostratus, though optical phenomena can appear in any season. There are many kinds, including various haloes around the Sun or Moon, often indicating approaching stormy weather; sun and even moondogs, also called mock suns/moons and parhelia/paraselene, on one or both sides of the Sun or Moon; circumzenithal arcs, like rainbows in the center of the sky; and many other kinds, ranging from relatively common to very rare. Around midday on about November 15, 1996 the sky over southern Durham seemed to be full of lines and I wonder if anyone else noticed. That might have been when I first noticed sundogs. There are also the optical effects created by water droplets; rainbows are more common in the summer, but coronas often form around the Moon when it shines through a thin bank of the mid-level cloud altocumulus.

With the Sun setting early and the trees bare, this is also a good time to see both the colorful sunset in the west and the bands of color in the east as we enter the Earth’s shadow.

The night sky is also interesting and the sky is often limpid if burning cold in winter. Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury will be plainly visible in the evening and Uranus and Neptune will be visible through binoculars. Before dawn on the 31st the delicate, gleaming white waning crescent Moon, reddish Mars, and the reddish star Antares, in the heart of the constellation Scorpius, will appear close together low in the southeast. Scorpius appears shortly before the Sun rises now, but is up much of the night during the summer. Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) might become bright enough to be visible to the unaided eye, after having spent tens of thousands of years approaching the inner solar system. On the 17th Comet Leonard will appear near Venus. There are other comets in the sky as well, but they are not expected to become very bright. Ceres, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, will be visible using binoculars in the constellation Taurus. It was the first asteroid discovered, January 1, 1801, and could harbor extraterrestrial life.

There are several annual meteor showers, mostly weak, with only a handful of meteors per hour on average, or even fewer. Some but not all of the showers potentially visible now are listed below, based on David H Levy’s The Sky: A User’s Guide, the American Meteor Society’s website (see below), and other guides. The Southern Taurids already peaked, but can be seen until December 2nd; they are relatively slow-moving and often form bright fireballs. The Northern Taurids are also supposed to end December 2nd. Meteor showers are named for the constellation they appear to radiate from, in this case Taurus, but they can be seen looking elsewhere in the sky. The Leonids are visible November 3rd to December 2nd, peaking November 18th, and these meteors have the greatest speed of any annual shower. Andromedids appear occasionally but not every December and the AMS says this shower ends December 2nd. The Monocerotids can be seen until December 26th, peaking on the 11th. The Geminids are supposed to be the strongest meteor shower of the year, visible December 4th – 17th peaking early on the 14th. The Geminid and Leonid showers are strongest, especially the Geminids, but the Moon and light pollution can lower the count even if it is a clear. Showers can vary in strength and some occasionally produce extraordinary storms of meteors. There is a Leonid storm every 33 years. The Ursids are visible December 17th – 26th and peak on the 22nd. The Coma Berenicids are visible until December 23rd and peak December 15th. The Quadrantids, named for Quadrans Muralis a superseded constellation bordering the Big Dipper or Ursa Major in the north, are visible December 28th – January 7th and peak briefly on January 3rd. Some years I’ve tried to see all of the main showers. 

Satellites and sometimes larger objects, such as the very bright International Space Station, can be seen passing slowly overhead (some of the websites below give the dates and times when the ISS and other objects transit over the area). It is easy to see satellites early in the night and in the pre-dawn hours, when they are bathed in sunlight while we are in shadow. Huge numbers of satellites, mainly “constellations” of communications satellites, are being sent into low Earth orbit now, a growing problem for astronomers and other satellites.

Some of Parkwood’s green areas are good places for stargazing, but are closed at night, though I suggested to  the Parkwood Association that it would be good to have places to look at the sky. There are also more streetlights, but it is possible to request that they be better shielded or removed altogether ( the contacts were listed in the Association’s newsletter a few years ago). Despite streetlights the areas around Revere and Seaton roads; places along Highway 54, such as the watershed between Northeast and Crooked creeks, topped by Barbee Road; large ponds and lakes; and possibly Southpoint Mall, despite all of its lights, have good views down towards the horizon. The Jordan Lake Wildlife Observation Site off Martha’s Chapel Road and the nearby gamelands don’t seem to have closing times and state parks are open all night for campers. CHAOS, the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society, organizes local events and trips to darker locations and Morehead Planetarium at UNC hosts events.


Stargazing:

Heavens-above.com
spaceweather.com
skyandtelescope.com
astronomy.com
amsmeteors.org
chaosastro.org
moreheadplanetarium.org
spacewatchtower.blogspot.com

Atmospheric optical phenomenon:

atoptics.co.uk
atoptics.wordpress.com

See also the Audubon and Peterson weather/atmosphere guides; the Peterson guide has diagrams showing many of the optical effects.

55-Hopson and MLK rezoning hearings at the planning commission tonight

Tonight (October 12th) at 5:30 the Planning Commission will hear two rezoning requests in the Northeast Creek basin, a large Industrial Light project proposed along the edge of the County around the intersection of Highway 55 and Hopson Road and apartments at the northeast corner of Fayetteville Road and Martin Luther King Jr Parkway.  I have been paying the most attention to the 55-Hopson proposal, but I did not realize its full significance until a few days ago, so this post is at the last minute.  Tonight is not the final hearing.  There are or have been some other rezoning requests along the Creek this year.  This will be an online meeting through Zoom; registration is at:

zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Az71ESRRSPumnJMjRXPEMg

More information about participating:

durhamnc.gov/4062/Participate-in-a-Virtual-Public-Hearing

The application, referenced below, is available in the agenda posted at: 

durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/Planning-Commission-15

See also Durham’s new supplemental Social PinPoint system:

durham.mysocialpinpoint.com/land-use/map#/sidebar/tab/about

I wrote about this and some other proposals earlier in the year at:

www.northeastcreek.org/wordpress/where-the-red-fire-pink-blows-and-other-campions-in-the-triangle/

After the Planning Commission there would be a hearing before the City Council.  Below are some comments.  

Hopson-55 rezoning 

The staff report incorrectly said this site is in the Neuse River basin, but I think this is being corrected to the Haw and ultimately Cape Fear basin.  Legal definitions must be being used at the bottom of page 4, because there are obviously plants, animals, communities, and ecosystems on the site, since it is a location on the living Earth (though after mass grading the site would like more like a tract on a lifeless celestial body).  It is very easy to not find any rare or protected species or historical relevance.   The report lists many items that might be good to have in the planning process, but then they are rendered useless by saying that they do not apply in the absence of a development plan.

There are references to extending Hopson Road west of 55 on page 32, etc.  The rezoning request only covers part of the area discussed at the community meeting, but obviously the applicant must intend to build in the entire area, looking at page 34, etc.   The clearcutting over the last 10 years from 55 to Grandale leads me to suspect that all of this land is being sold, so does the applicant have plans or know something the public doesn’t know?  It’s possible the logging was done so they could then say on page 53 that the communities discussed in the NC Natural Heritage Program reports no longer exist, and without committed elements there are no guarantees about where building would be done on the site.  The area north of the powerline was also clearcut, but they say it will not be built upon.  When was there a hearing on building a new connecting road from 55 to Grandale?  I also heard a rumor late last week that the DOT wants to enlarge Grandale.  I have since been informed that the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Comprehensive Transportation Plan calls for a “major thoroughfare” from the Hopson and 55 intersection to Grandale, but nothing is listed in the State Transportation Improvement Program from now to 2033.  The NC NHP repeatedly surveyed the public lands along Northeast Creek immediately bordering the proposed rezoning site and recommends that new utility easements not be built (Jordan Lake Inventory 1999) and that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority” (Durham County Inventory 1995).  It seems like building a major new road would have a worse impact on the environment than new utillity easements and there is already a lot of roadkill on Grandale Road around the bridge over Northeast Creek as it is, especially in late spring/early summer.  When was or will the public given an opportunity to comment on road plans?  How much blasting would have to be done to extend Hopson, given that it currently ends at a steep slope, on one of the highest hills in the area?  Will the DOT then want to extend a road across one of the wildest parts of Northeast Creek and the Tobacco Trail to 751?  There is already a connecting route from 55 to Grandale, made harder to use when the intersection was moved north, and the area around the old claypit can be accessed from the existing road.

As I said before, the application includes very little information about what is actually planned.  At the community meeting (see page 41) they said the plan was for office-type biomedical buildings, but Industrial Light allows many applications, including recycling centers, warehouses, freight facilities, junkyards, wholesale, etc.  It is possible a junkyard would actually be more environmentally benign than office buildings, parking lots, and lawn.  Freight or recycling would probably increase roadkill and litter and have other impacts.  What would be done to limit harmful chemical releases?  Would the buildings be built where they would have maximum impact on the adjacent gamelands, and Parkwood and Audubon Park would also be impacted since they aren’t that far away? 

What about the impact on hunting?  If hunting is limited by building, there could be over-population of deer in Parkwood.  Wildlife such as turkeys, wood ducks, prothonotary warblers, beavers (a subject of concern east of Parkwood this year), and possibly otters live adjacent to this site, while further away I saw a breeding female chuck-will’s-widow or whippoorwill, and I thought such birds had been driving out of the Triangle, like bobwhites.  

Would IL zoning allow greenhouses, under research?  I live miles from TW Alexander Drive, but I am already impacted by the light pollution from large greenhouses there, along with the new blue-white streetlights installed this year.  It is less obvious, but I can probably see light pollution from the Southpoint Mall area as well.  Light pollution is very obvious when there are low clouds, such as last weekend, but it reflects off dust, etc, and muddies the sky even on clear nights, so the Milky Way, which should be easy to see is barely if at all visible.  Closer to the site buildings and parking lots would no doubt be lit all night and there would probably be light trespass from poorly shielded lights into the gameland.  If a large greenhouse were built close to Parkwood it would probably be very bright on nearby streets when it is cloudy, and during the winter, even though there is a forested buffer, as happens at the Stonesthrow Apartments, by Burdens Creek.

What about the scientific significance of the claypit?  I can’t remember the details now, but I think paleontologists at local universities have excavated significant fossils there.  I have found plant fossils elsewhere where the sedimentary bedrock has been exposed a few miles away.  The application says there are not any steep slopes or wetlands, but is this true of the entire area they want to build on, from 55 to near Grandale Road?  The aerial photos show water in the old claypit and there are marshes in places under the powerlines, while it seems likely that there would be steep slopes around the claypit and 55.   

There is a small cemetery southeast of the claypit by the road and it is likely that there are archaeological remains where ancient people could overlook the floodplain and watch for game.  There is an old road of some near 55, but I don’t know of any ruins there.    

Even though there is preserved land, development nearby could still cause local extinctions, for example if species are bothered by light, noise, or water pollution; needed the upland habitat on private land as well as the public bottomlands; if they need a larger area of forest than just what is preserved; or if they are harmed by non-native species such as cats, dogs, Norway rats, or English ivy that could come with increased human activity.  

Some but not all of the woods in this area were clearcut over the past 10 years, but young trees have since grown back and species such as deer and red-tailed hawks have probably benefitted, and bobwhites might also like such habitat. Unlike what the application says, when I would go by over 10 years ago it seemed like the claypit was surrounded by forest, though it was relatively young, and some remains.

Apparently tree planting is a significant way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as the City of Durham supposedly desires, but Durham probably has fewer trees now than it did in 1995, at least in this section (though the amount of forest is probably greater than when agriculture was more prominent in Durham).  Building a new road, instead of using what already exists, and relying on cars, would also contribute to climate change.

I’m not necessarily against building something and I actually find new construction interesting, but very little information is being offered, what would this project mean for nearby “vacant” land, and suddenly there is talk of a new connecting road and expanding Grandale. I am generally against making Grandale a major road and there is already too much roadkill and dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists along Grandale and on Scott King Road, where an elementary school is planned. The speed limit is high, and people speed, coming on to the curved and narrow bridge over the Creek, at one time a one-lane wooden bridge on a long gravel road.  Increased traffic might potentially drive off the huge numbers of  turkey and black vultures that sometimes roost, though it might increase their food supply. The only benefit is that the risk of people being harassed by over-zealous neighborhood watch types and even deputies while doing legal activities might be reduced, as well as illegal dumping, though littering might increase. It might be good to have better parking by the bridge. On the other hand, given that people like or liked to joyride ATVs in the area, including on the site in question, and it borders parkland, maybe it would become Durham’s next Ellis Research Center (on the south side of Ellis Road east of 147), which has private metal signs saying “No Stopping, No Standing, No Parking” along a public road, which reflects badly on Durham and is a threat to the public.

518 Martin Luther King Jr Parkway

I am not very familiar with this site except passing by, but it is in the headwaters of Northeast Creek’s north branch and it would be good if woods were preserved, especially along the roads, the Tobacco Trail, and any streams; native plants used in landscaping; light pollution limited, etc. The woods might not be very old, but a rare pink ladyslipper orchid grew in young pinewoods where Woodcroft Parkway was extended across Fayetteville and some species prefer young or otherwise piney woods. There is already a lot of traffic at the intersection to consider and the ATT has crossings in the area. If there are steep slopes, people might throw their trash over the edge if it is made convenient and without consequences for them. It is good that the applicants say they will preserve some existing trees and include a park, though these probably aren’t binding commitments and it would be good to keep the trees along the roads. The maps show a hill on the site and it might have a good view if cleared, as did the ridge at 54 and Barbee Road, which is the watershed separating the Northeast Creek and Crooked Creek basins.  This area has also become much more densely built-up in recent years, but much of it is in the Third Fork and Crooked creek basins. 

Strange winter waterfowl

We are meeting Sunday, February 16th at 4pm to plan for Creek Week, and our regular meeting will be February 23rd, at 4pm in the same place.

Below is another article I originally wrote for the Parkwood Inside/Out.

Strange winter waterfowl

Many unusual water birds winter in North Carolina. My favorite place to look for them is Crabtree Lake in [Cary], which is large enough to attract many birds, but also small enough to find them and easily accessible. It can be hard to see migrants, because they are wary and often stay far from shore but they usually swim from danger rather than flying. Parkwood Lake is also a convenient place to look, and even small ponds attract migrants, in addition to the Canada geese and mallard ducks that live here all year. It is not very easy to see the waterfowl staying at the Jordan and Falls reservoirs.

Geese and mallards aren’t supposed to breed here, but captive birds that didn’t learn to migrate were released, creating resident populations. Migratory geese swell the local population in winter, and in the mid-90’s there were many migrants with neck tags in Parkwood, making it easy to get to know geese as individuals.

The first unusual migrants I saw were small black ducks in a tight flock in the water at Clermont one cloudy winter day years ago. They were black scoters; the males being jet black with bright orange bills and the females paler with dark bills. We are used to puddle or dabbling ducks like mallards paddling around, eating plant matter from the surface or as deep as their necks will reach, but many migrants, such as scoters are diving ducks, and swim underwater. Scoters dive for foods such as mussels and barnacles.

Other diving ducks I have seen outside of Parkwood. At a nearby beaver pond about the size of the Lotus Pond I saw what I thought was a long-tailed duck, but it took off fast when it saw me, and long-tails are one of the fastest flying ducks. Long-tailed ducks, or oldsquaws in older guides, are white with black wings and black and gray patches. Like penguins, they swim with their wings, and venture to great depths, after molluscs, crustaceans, and fish. Last winter I frequently saw buffleheads at a wastewater treatment lagoon at Falls Lake. Buffleheads are the smallest duck in the US, and have big heads and striking black and white plumage. They were with wood ducks, and both species nest in tree holes, unlike mallards. Wood ducks are here year-round, and winter is a good time to search for these very wary and colorful ducks, but they prefer creeks and swamps. Buffleheads resemble hooded mergansers, one of three mergansers that winter and sometimes breed in NC. These unducklike ducks have rakish crests and pointed bills they use to catch fish underwater. I’ve seen them at Crabtree, but they are uncommon and wary. A week ago I noticed that there were four ducks, as well as a large flock of geese, at the large stormwater retention pond across Renaissance Parkway from Southpoint Mall. I didn’t have binoculars, but one of the ducks had a white patch, so there could be a pair of hooded mergansers there right now.

The most abundant winter visitor in the Triangle is the double-crested cormorant, which is not a duck. A few usually visit Parkwood Lake. Cormorants are dark and sit low in the water, with their orange bills up. They eat fish and, to make diving easier, their feathers are not very waterproof, so they periodically get out and hold their wings open to dry. There are flocks at the large reservoirs and they can be seen flying just above the water in ragged lines.

Handfuls of pied-billed grebes can be seen on most lakes. They are small ducklike birds with nondescript grayish fuzzy feathers and a dark bar on their bills. They also breed in NC and readily dive for prey such as crayfish.

American coots are pretty common. Coots are rails, chickenlike waterbirds, and are black and gray with stark white bills. They nod their heads as they swim in tight groups, and when they come on to the land at Clermont to eat vegetation and seeds. Coots sometimes breed in NC and are a prey of bald eagles, which have been seen at the Lake.

Vast flocks of pure white tundra swans and snow geese winter on the coast. One icy morning I saw a V of white birds in the cold blue sky far above Fayetteville Road, and they might have been swans or geese.

Now is the time to look, because the migrants will probably be all but gone by mid to late February.