To find the second worthy organization in our ‘Earth Care Champions’ series, we’re going down by the riverside once again. A close ally of our first honoree, the Haw River Assembly, is an all-volunteer group of citizens dedicated to supporting the Lower Haw River State Natural Area (SNA) in Chatham County. Friends of the Lower Haw River is the local chapter of the statewide nonprofit North Carolina Friends of State Parks, Inc. You might think of SNA’s as the little siblings of NC State Parks.

Within the state park system, SNA’s focus on conservation and preservation of special places, making them ideal recreation areas for birders, fishermen, hikers, paddlers and nature photographers. The Lower Haw River SNA is truly such a special place for all those activities. I’ve personally spent many hours hiking the trails down by the riverside with cameras in hand to photograph this beautiful rugged scenery.

But another member of our PPC Creation Justice team, Connie McAdams, also spends a fair amount of time along the river with some unique cameras. Connie is a volunteer ‘trail camera’ monitor with the Friends, catching glimpses of the critters that call this SNA their home. I’ll turn the rest of this blog post over to her to share more about the Friends group and her work with it. And you can also learn about the group’s vision, mission and work by clicking HERE and become a member by clicking HERE.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I could write a book about the wildlife along the lower Haw River in Chatham County. About three years ago the Friends of the Lower Haw River State Natural Area purchased some trail cameras to document wildlife activity along the river. I volunteered to help monitor the cameras. As a veteran of the Candid Critters project, I was excited about another opportunity to help promote awareness and understanding of local wildlife, AND to be the first to see the surprising pictures every time I checked a camera.

Since March 2019, I have made monthly visits to the river, monitoring cameras at four different locations in the Bynum area. Each camera is securely installed at an undisclosed location. I unlock the camera, switch out the memory card, and check the battery power. Then I reset the camera and head home with a memory card full of a month’s worth of God’s creatures doing their thing. Waiting to open the memory card is like waiting to open presents on Christmas morning.

Once I’m home, I review the pictures and upload them to the Lower Haw project manager. The revelation of each new bird or animal as I scroll through the images, one by one, is the most exciting part of this volunteer activity. But the monthly visits to the river are also exciting. There are a few challenges. Things like water levels and plant growth can change a lot in a month. I’ve experienced poison ivy wrapped around the camera, ants nesting inside the camera box, and wet feet as I cross the creek to get to the camera. These challenges are small compared to the pleasure of experiencing a walk in the woods along the river. Each time I’m amazed at the seasonal changes. There’s something new to see almost every month.

The walks are best when shared with a friend or a grandchild. We’ve seen snakes and frogs and turtles and various birds. Recently there was a pair of eagles circling above the treetops. Each animal sighting, tiny blossom or juicy berry is a bonus benefit for me. Photos from the trail cameras are on display on the Friends of Lower Haw River State Natural Area Facebook page. Probably the most common animal seen on the cameras is deer. There are also the usual raccoon, squirrels, and opossums. More unusual sightings include wild turkeys, fox, coyote, beaver and otter. Great blue herons are very photogenic and are commonly seen in pictures as they stalk their prey along the riverbank.

Occasionally owls and hawks and smaller birds are captured by the cameras. Most months there are a few human pictures… somebody in a kayak, fishing or walking a dog. Some of the most unusual pictures I’ve seen are a domestic goat, a mink, and recently a heron landing on the frozen water. The mink was spotted in the summer of 2019 and was the focus of a newspaper article (Adorably cute, extremely vicious animal caught by trail camera at North Carolina pond). Once there was a picture of a sickly looking fawn. A wildlife biologist was contacted, and using the picture he was able to determine that the fawn likely had a heavy tick infestation, and he expected seasonal temperature changes to bring improvement. This is just one example of the many ways wildlife pictures are used to provide information and public awareness about the ecosystem around the Haw River.

To donate to and volunteer with the Friends of the Lower Haw SNA click HERE and HERE.