Exploring North Carolina: Season 1

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Season 1

Episode 101: Birds of WInterBirds of Winter

In the 19 th and early 20 th Centuries hunters reported flights of ducks and geese in eastern North Carolina so dense that they blocked the light of the sun. The great clouds of waterfowl of that era attracted hunt clubs that built ornate lodges on the Outer Banks. They also lured market hunters who shipped vast quantities of wild duck and geese to restaurants and markets of the Northeast.

The endless flights of birds are now gone, but North Carolina still has great numbers and varieties of ducks and geese, especially in areas on or near the great coastal sounds, the Pamlico, Core, Albemarle, etc. In recent years, some species of migratory birds have begun to thrive again during Eastern North Carolina’s winters. The most notable are the snow geese and tundra swans, which now winter in North Carolina in staggering numbers. These are the “Birds of Winter” that will be featured in this show.

Episode 102: The Roanoke Super HighwayRoanoke

Take a 120-mile river trip from the salt water of the Albemarle Sound through a largely intact “primeval forest” to the “fall line” where the Coastal Plain ends and the Piedmont begins. The Roanoke River was a major corridor for Native Americans and European settlers. This adventure, by powerboat and canoe, will take you through the “navigable” length of North Carolina’s Roanoke, one of the state’s greatest conservation success stories. On this trip you will get to know the critters of the forest, air, and water in and along this remarkable river. You will learn that Native Americans called it the “River of Death” because of frequent flooding; however, you will also learn why flooding is the engine that brings new life to the river.

Episode 103: Meauring the MountainMountain

One of the greatest teachers in the history of the University of North Carolina was Elisha Mitchell. Mitchell was no “ivory tower” guy! Three decades before the Civil War he was teaching math, science, botany, and geology at Chapel Hill. He will forever be remembered, however, as the man who measured the mountain that later bore his name, Mt. Mitchell. In 1834 the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi was believed to be Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Mitchell’s discoveries in North Carolina’s Black Mountains proved this to be wrong, a finding of significance for North Carolina and the nation. Using primitive instruments, Mitchell climbed and measured many of the peaks of the “Black Mountains” with astonishing accuracy. At age 63, in 1857, he died from a fall on Mount Mitchell and was later buried at its summit. At the time of his death and even today, however, some scholars question the events that credit Mitchell with visiting and measuring the peak that bears his name.

In this show we will look at the life and tragic death of Elisha Mitchell. ENC will also examine the natural and social history of the Black Mountains.

Episode 104: Fire in the Land of the Longleaf PineLongleaf Pine

The State Tree is the “pine tree,” and the most famous pine of all is the longleaf pine. Many know it from our State’s Toast: “Here’s to the land of the longleaf pine…” The longleaf has had a long and troubled history in the Southeast. It once covered 94,000,000 acres from Virginia to Texas, but longleaf forests now cover less than three percent of its original range. In North Carolina alone it was the dominant tree in 50 counties in the early 1800’s. This remarkable tree nurtured Native Americans, a colony, and a young state; and it now protects unique and sometimes fragile ecosystems. The longleaf forests have been diminished for many reasons---clearing of land for farms, cutting forests for timber, bleeding the trees for resin for turpentine and tar, and too many wild pigs! The most significant reason, however, was the lack of fire.

Episode 105: Colors of the Earth . . . Gold and GemstonesGold and Gemstones

Wildflowers and fall leaves are only part of North Carolina’s color pallet. “Rock hounds” and gem hunters have long known that shades of green, red, purple, blue and other colors can also be found in the rocks and soil of this state.

When Conrad Reed skipped church one Sunday morning to go fishing, he stubbed his toe on a very heavy rock in Little Meadow Creek (near present day Concord). The year was 1799. He carried the heavy, yellow rock home where it served as a doorstop for over two years. The heavy rock turned out to be a 17-pound gold nugget. Soon, gold mines---some extremely productive---popped up all over Piedmont North Carolina. Some mines predated the California “Gold Rush” of 1849 by more than 30 years.

Over the years a wide variety of precious and semi-precious gemstones have been found at sites across the state. The gold and gemstones are an exciting part of North Carolina’s rich geologic past, but they are only part of a much bigger story. The North Carolina we know today was formed in part by volcanoes, collisions of continents, and the sea floor of ancient oceans. Some rock formations in this state are known to date back almost 1.5 billion years. On this show ENC will, with the help of a Museum geologist, examine the geologic processes that helped create the mountains, Piedmont and coastal plain of North Carolina.

Episode 107: Fossil FieldsFossils

When one thinks of the great fossil fields of the world, the arid parts of Mongolia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Wyoming probably come to mind. In North Carolina one can only find sharks teeth or perhaps a few fossil shells, right?

Wrong! Parts of North Carolina and the Southeast are actually very rich in fossils. Coastal fossil beds do produce large shark’s teeth and whale bones, but they can also produce the skeletons of walrus and giant sloth. Clay soils in the piedmont can yield the skeletons of reptiles dating back more than 200 million years. Much of the research relating to North Carolina’s fossil past is being carried out at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Episode 108: The Edge of LifeMarsh

Much of the life on the North Carolina Coast has its beginning in vast spartina marshes. The birds, turtles, mollusks, finfish, and crustaceans that depend on marshes will be your hosts in this shallow, quiet world of beauty and productivity.

The salt marsh is a place where North meets South, in that many plants and animals are at their southern-most or northern-most range here in North Carolina. In the same area you may find fish commonly found in New York waters and a shell that is more common to the Bahamas. With the help of scientists and people who know the marsh best, ENC viewers will explore the edge of life.