Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Although I am now working at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, my office isn’t actually at the Museum.  Instead, I’m housed at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, a great piece of land about 6 miles from the main Museum buildings.  It is “the backyard of the Museum” as it is intended to meet the outdoor education needs of the Museum and provide the scientists there with a field site where they can do research.  It’s a fantastic place to work too!  Allow me to take you on a partial tour.  I’m going to save the aquatic habitats for next week, so today is all about the prairie.

The PR staff works in a trailer just beyond the entrance gate, but it’s better than it sounds.  We’re surrounded by science books and field guides and educational materials and I work with the four nicest people on the planet.  I’m already starting to feel like part of a little family and I feed off everyone’s enthusiasm for their work and their Carolina home.  My coworkers LOVE what they do!  Plus, my desk overlooks a little piece of forest where there are all kinds of birds and insects flying around.  Nearly every time I look up from my computer I see something.  Because I’m so new to the state, it’s usually something I’ve never seen before too!  Today I saw what I am 99% sure was a red bellied woodpecker and a firefly.  The former was new, the latter was not, but both were exciting.

The trailer is certainly nothing to look at on the outside, but if you look right past it you see this:


The prairie!

Gorgeous, tall grasses!  PR was originally a cow pasture and has been restored to a more native condition, so to the best of my still rather limited knowledge that’s pretty much what this part of the country used to look like.  I think it is incredibly beautiful, and, even though I know there are numerous ticks out there just itching to latch their little mouthparts into my skin, I absolutely love that I get to wander around among the grass as part of my job.  As much as I loved the southwest, something about this just feels right.  Fluffy clouds, green as far as you can see, insects buzzing all around.  It’s just perfect.  Except for the ticks.  I did mention those, right?  :)

Further down the little road through the ecostation is the nature neighborhood garden.  It’s a demonstration garden that highlights how you can grow gardens to attract wildlife to your yard.  It’s also an example of a green space that uses water harvesting, rooftop gardening, and natural runoff control.  The garden is fenced and you enter through this amazing gate:

Garden gate

Garden gate. Notice the plants growing on top of the roof of the entrance!

Inside there are flowers (of course):


The garden

… and lots of insects:

soldier beetles

A pair of soldier beetles getting busy making new soldier beetles in the garden

… and a couple of little bog gardens.  One of the kids at a program I took part in last week found a dragonfly husk on the underside of one of the plants in the water garden:

Dragonfly leftovers

Dragonfly leftovers, after emerging as an adult

… so there are apparently some good insects in there.  There are also carnivorous plants in the water garden, bladderworts.  North Carolina is supposed to be one of the best places to find carnivorous plants in the US.  I’m going to have to find some of those for sure!  Carnivorous plants are just so cool.

A little further down the hill is the outdoor classroom:

Outdoor classroom

Outdoor classroom

It’s a fantastic building!  It’s an example of a green building built by a well-known architect who specializes in these sorts of structures (Frank Harmon) and built it using recycled materials and environmentally conscious products.  One of the great features of the building is that the support structures were designed with the resident black rat snakes in mind: they’ve got grooves so the snakes can climb up the beams and coil up along the foundation of the building.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that black rat snakes aren’t something I’m completely in love with and I’m probably going to have a heart attack the day I open one of the nest boxes:

Nest box

Nest box

… and find a rat snake who’s just eaten all the eggs/baby birds inside.  I’m hoping I’ll get over that because there are a lot of nest boxes:

birdhouses and turbine

Purple martin houses and the wind turbine

… and solar power and a wind turbine and harvested rainwater operated toilets.  It’s a really nice place to be as someone who cares about the environment.  As a biologist, I’m extra excited because there’s just so much life out there!  And I haven’t even shown you the aquatic habitats yet.  Oh, the dragonflies!  There are so very many dragonflies!  And you know how I was raving about seeing a comet darner a few weeks ago?  That was at one of the PR ponds.  But I’ll give you a look at the pond next week.  I think this is enough for today.

All in all, I am incredibly happy to be here and I think the future looks bright!  I hope you’ll all enjoy hearing about my adventures as I explore my new home and settle into my new job.  If you happen to live in the area, feel free to stop by and say hi!  And, if you want to learn about the plants and animals of the prairie, I am now the writer of What Time is it in Nature, a weekly feature on the PR website that highlights species or natural events at the ecostation.  I’m going to write about things other than insects occasionally there!  Bet you didn’t know I could do that.  :)


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright ©