A walk in the woods  

By on May 11, 2023

Recording data at the Birch Lane prothonotary warbler site. (LtoR: Dr. Bo Dame, Gracie Timken and Alex Brown.
What came from one of the fish traps. Everything in the bucket will be identified and recorded.
Spotted turtle.
Gracie Timken checks for a prothonotary nest.
Pumpkinseedfish. A member of the sunfish family, one of the more colorful fish counted.
Alex Brown grabs a fish trap.
previous arrow
next arrow

Tracking life in the Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve

Until 2011, Bo Dame was the Northern Sites Manager at Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve. That was when he began monitoring the animals that could be recorded and counted in the reserve. He’s now Bo Dame PhD, Professor of Biology and Physical Sciences at Chowan University in Murfreesboro. But he’s still monitoring the wildlife of Kitty Hawk Woods.

On Tuesday, May 9, he was there with two of his students, juniors Gracie Timken and Alex Brown.  It was a full day of mud, muck and hip boots and for Brown, who grew up in Louisiana. He was where he wanted to be.

“I was taking [Dame’s] physics class, and he said we have a field ecology [class],” Brown recalled. “He gave me some info, showed me some pictures…And I was like ‘yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do.'”

The day began checking nesting boxes for prothonotary warblers. The bird is a beautiful small yellow warbler that nests and breeds in the swamps and wetlands of North and South Carolina before migrating to South and Central America for the winter.

Timken had the job of checking the box; shouldering a step ladder, she waded into the swamp, looked carefully inside and reported there was no activity. Brown noted that in his book.

This particular box was along the Birch Lane Trail, a low ridge with extensive swamp and sedge on either side. The ridge is what is left of an old dunes system. For Dame, it’s an opportunity to describe the geological history of the area. At one time, he explains, much of the water that is now in the ocean was held in the glaciers of the Ice Age. During that time the Roanoke River flowed through the Outer Banks.

“This part of the coastal barrier is very sand rich, and that’s because you have an old river system that was the source of all that sand,” he said.

The afternoon is when things get really muddy. That’s when the students check the turtle and fish traps they put out on the west side of the reserve the day before.  As the traps are emptied, the diversity of the animal life in the reserve is revealed. This is the really meticulous, detailed and important work of coastal science.

For the fish, the traps are emptied into a bucket, and each fish is captured—by hand—identified, measured, and recorded. These are still small fish, minnows really, although some of the mosquitofish are identified as pregnant.

The swamp we’re in is almost wholly dependent on rainwater to recharge the system, so it’s surprising Dame says, when a few killifish are found. A species that is often found in estuarine systems, finding some in a swamp with no regular connection to Albemarle Sound is unexpected.

“There was probably a storm event with overwash that brought them in here,” Dame observed.

As Brown is gathering a turtle trap, a snake swims by. With its black rounded head, it is clearly not poisonous and it’s moving as quickly as it can away from the disturbance.

Inside the trap there are two painted turtles and a mud turtle, all of them fairly small. Like everything else, they are carefully measured then returned to the water.

Even though the traps are fish traps or turtle traps, that’s not all they gather. There were a few tadpoles in the fish traps—fairly common in the spring. A few crawfish were also seen. The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC) lists 41 species of crawfish that have been identified in the state, so Dame tells Timkin, who is recording the taxa found in the swamp to just list it as crawfish, unidentified.

“I’m not comfortable assigning a [species] name” to the crawfish, Dame said. “I’ve been wanting for some time to get Natural Heritage to come down and take a look at the reserve to see what is here,” he said, referring to the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, the state agency that works with unique natural communities.

It’s going to be a long day for the students. Even after identifying, recording and releasing the various species of fish, tadpoles, crawfish, turtles, the occasional snake and one of the larger salamanders in the state, it all has to be transferred to a data sheet. It’s data that Dame has been recording for 11 or 12 years now, sending it every year to the NCWRC.

Timken, taking a short break from recording fish after fish, wades into the swamp to snag another fish trap and reflected on her recent change of college major to environmental science.

“It was exactly what I always wanted to do,” she said.

The students are staying at the Audubon Society Pine Island Center in Corolla. They are scheduled to do SAV (subaquatic vegetation surveys) as well as other work this week.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Greg

    The Kitty Hawk reserve is a great place to explore. An island of nature in the northern Outer Banks. The flood from Irene went to 7’ above sea level and flowed throughout Kitty Hawk Woods. Many trees died die to the brackish flood waters however they are growing back quickly.

    Friday, May 12 @ 6:45 am
  • Glenn

    Fascinating & such an interesting story…all taking place in our own backyards. Wish Gracie & Alex continued success! Dr. Dame, thanks for all you do!

    Friday, May 12 @ 7:48 am
  • ww

    The published picture is of a spotted turtle. Painted turtles (https://herpsofnc.org/painted-turtle/) lack the distinctive yellow spots but share the reddish skin close to their shells.

    Friday, May 12 @ 8:15 am
  • Alex Brown

    This place is amazing. Being part of this Field Ecology Class instructed by Dr. Bo Dame (Professor of Physics & Biology at Chowan University) & volunteer Professor, Skadi Kylander. Skadi is a fellow graduate student from Chowan University who is pursuing her Masters Degree at East Carolina University. To have two sources with the information that they hold is a treasure to this Field Ecology Class as well as O.B.X. . I have also had the chance to work with Gracie Timken who is a Biology Major at Chowan University. Without the commitment and help she provided I would not be in this class nor would I have the success I’ve had throughout this opportunity I was given. Since the beginning of my stay everyone has helped me and honestly took care of me. I can’t remember one odd moment and there was never a time with a short conversation with anybody that I knew or was introduced to. I look forward to times in the future where I am granted the ability to work out of this amazing place again.

    Friday, May 12 @ 5:57 pm