Discover Aquatic Life in Winter

Winter in North Carolina means shorter days and colder nights, a time when you might be spending more time indoors or bundling up to brave the drop in temperature.  But what does winter mean for our aquatic animal neighbors? You might be surprised to discover that the winter is still an active time for many critters. 

Macroinvertebrates

Water gets cold more slowly than air, which means fish, macroinvertebrates, and other aquatic creatures remain active even as the air temperature drops. You may still find mayfly, dragonfly, stonefly and other macroinvertebrates when sampling in the winter. Some people even prefer to look for these tiny animals in this season because they move slower and spend more time hiding under leaves and rocks.

Stoneflies overwinter as aquatic nymphs and continue growing even as water temperatures approach freezing. (photo courtesy of thecatchandthehatch.com)

Get involved: Macroinvertebrates are important water quality indicators and can help us assess stream health. Join or create an NC Stream Watch group to collect and submit macroinvertebrate data to a statewide citizen science effort! To learn more about the importance of clean water for macroinvertebrates, check out this video by the town of Chapel Hill’s stormwater department that talks about macroinvertebrates and dissolved oxygen

Salamanders

Many salamander species are still active during North Carolina winters. You can spot red-back salamanders, lead-back salamanders, and maybe even the notoriously elusive marbled salamanders under logs in wet woodland areas. They are especially active during warm and rainy winter nights. Marbled salamanders breed in the winter, laying their eggs in ephemeral (temporary) woodland ponds. 

The beautiful Marbled Salamander is the state salamander of North Carolina.

Get Involved: Interested in going winter herping? Check out The Wild Report’s video on going winter salamander hunting in the Piedmont.  download the iNaturalist app to help with species ID and track the salamanders and other animals that you find along the way! If you are a new iNaturalist user, you can reference this previous blog post for some helpful tips and tricks.

Water Birds

Winter is a time that many birds migrate to North Carolina to overwinter. Buffleheads, pied-billed grebes, coots, ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers are some of the inland waterfowl you might spot on a nearby pond or lake. If you live on the coast, you might spot  gannets, loons and wrens near the shore.  Some bird species even mate and lay eggs in the winter! If you listen closely, you might be able to hear the nasal sounding mating call of a male woodcock on a mild January night. Woodcocks live in shrubby forests and grasslands near water. 

Male buffleheads are easily identified by their large white crown. (photo courtesy of  allaboutbirds.org)

Get Involved: Ready to do some winter birding? Be sure to download the E-Bird app before you go. E-bird allows you to easily track, record, and ID the birds you find. To read more about winter birding in North Carolina, check out this page on the Bird Watcher’s Digest.

These animals need clean water to survive or thrive (like us!) Help protect critters by doing your part to keep stormwater clean.

Stream Stewardship Opportunity: Join NC Stream Watch!

Are you looking for a local stewardship opportunity? Do you enjoy picking up trash or water quality monitoring? If so, you should join NC Stream Watch! 

NC Stream Watch is a state-wide community science engagement program created by North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ). NC Stream Watch showcases the wide diversity of watersheds across the Mountains, Piedmont and Coastal Plains regions of the state and gives folks an opportunity to engage with their local waterways. Any interested group can participate in Stream Watch, including scout troops, church volunteers, key clubs, or school programs. The minimum requirements are to do two trash cleanups per year and take a photo and GPS location of your stream site. 

This spring, CWEP is launching an NC Stream Watch Train-the Trainer series. Community groups in member local governments can contact CWEP to be trained as a Stream Watch leader and we will join you for your first event. CWEP will train leaders how to fill out the online monitoring surveys and choose a safe site. We will also provide materials such as macroinvertebrate sampling equipment and chemical water quality testing kits to enhance the environmental education opportunities at the first event. 

Please contact the CWEP AmeriCorps member at cwep@tjcog.org if you are interested in a training and visit the NC DEQ Stream Watch site for more information about the program.

NC Stream Watch Flyer