- Established 1982 -

HOME: www.hiltonpond.org

1-31 August 2018

Installment #677---Visitor # website counter

Subscribe for free to our award-winning nature newsletter

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)


As is the case for many locales, birds are the most observable wild vertebrates at Hilton Pond Center. Unless a hook and line or dip net are involved, fish go unseen beneath the pond surface, while most reptiles and amphibians hide beneath loose rocks or old logs. And, with a few notable exceptions, mammals are mostly nocturnal creatures; we see some of the bigger species by day, but the majority are small and active at night. This August we did have three diurnal encounters with larger mammals at or near the Center, one of which was highly unusual.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We don't typically post photos of dead animals on the Center's Web pages, but death is a normal part of nature and sometimes it's important to document a most unusual roadkill. On 12 August 2018 while driving up Kings Mountain Street in York SC we noticed a carcass (above) on the pavement on the other side of the road. Fortunately it was centered in the lane and hadn't been smashed. About the size of a Virginia Opossum or Raccoon, it was too dark for the former and lacked the banded tail of the latter. We were pretty sure we knew what it was, so we drove past, made a safe U-turn, and came back to check things out.

As suspected, it was a Groundhog--alias Woodchuck, alias Whistlepig--scientific name Marmota monax. If you live in the North Carolina mountains or northward from the Center you'd probably think "Just another Groundhog," but here in York County a Woodchuck is historically a rare sighting.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

To our knowledge the first confirmed county record for this species was another roadkill near the Museum of York County just north of Rock Hill perhaps two decades ago. And a few years back we observed and photographed a healthy specimen (above) living in a storm drain on South Congress Street in the middle of the City of York!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Groundhog range map above modified from WikiPedia & NatureServe Explorer

It would seem from these records (and the map above) that Groundhogs must be expanding their range southeastward from the Carolinas mountain region and/or southward from points north. Our latest roadkill appeared not to be fully grown, indicating reproduction--not just some sort of dispersal--is going on locally. We heard recently there is a viable population of Woodchucks at Bush-N-Vine farm just north of York and that one individual was spotted this year at Tirzah between York and Rock Hill. To date we have observed none at the Center. Please let us know at RESEARCH if you're aware of other Groundhog records in York County, or east and south of here. It's doubtful Groundhogs will get as far as the Coastal Plain; sandy soil there is likely too loose to support their burrowing habit.

NOTE: After photographing the deceased Groundhog we did move it from the pavement, grabbing a hind leg and depositing the animal at the edge of an adjoining woodlot. (This action left our fingertips with some potent but not unpleasant musk that took several hand washings to remove.) We suspect citified Black Vultures eventually discovered the specimen in York and filled their crops with Whistlepig bacon.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Most evenings when weather is fair and we're present at Hilton Pond we take a stroll along a less-traveled road leading east from the old farmhouse. We try to time the walk such that our westbound return gives ample opportunity to watch the sunset--often the best show in town--and to observe evening activity by birds and beasts along the way. Back in November 2017 we had a chance meeting with an interesting assemblage of the latter.

Last fall, as we meandered past an open grassy area near the turnaround point of our walking route, a trio of long and low-slung Basset Hounds headed toward us. One--the apparent leader--began barking in deep, basso profundo. Because the dogs appeared harmless we continued our pace but suddenly realized there was a small White-tailed Deer, Odocoileus virginianus, coming up just behind us. Since deer are usually spooked by people we considered this an odd occurrence--until we realized the deer was wearing a fire-orange collar. Must be somebody's pet, we surmised.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

In months since we've had many encounters with this deer, which we now know is a young buck--see the budding antlers on his head in the photo above--adopted by a local family when he apparently was abandoned by his mother. Now the friendly deer roams freely about the neighborhood, usually accompanied by those three Basset Hounds--two of which are always silent. As we take our evening walk, we often know in advance if the deer is nearby because the watch hound bays loudly at our approach. Occasionally, the deer is out alone and allows us to draw near to reach out and scratch his ears.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

What had been essentially a fawn last November was by August 2018 a mostly grown buck whose antlers undoubtedly will continue to branch. Unless some color-blind hunter fails to see the deer's bright collar, we suspect the buck will continue to startle passers-by with his tameness--at least until he achieves full maturity and the rut kicks in. One big question for now: Does the young buck believe he is really a Bassett Hound, or do the dogs think they're part of an unusually configured herd of deer?

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We're immensely pleased that when granddaughters Hadley Reid Hilton and McKinley Ballard Hilton (above) come to visit us at Hilton Pond they are intensely interested in natural history wonders that surround us. Each girl has been helping band and release birds since she was a toddler, and both have become patient observers of our local wildlife. This August they were excited to sit and watch as Raccoons, Procyon lotor, that apparently thrive on our property came out of the woods to clean up sunflowers seeds beneath feeders--easy pickings scattered by messy birds.

Our grand-girls were especially intrigued when a mother Raccoon waddled in with four young kits. We';re pleased to say Mac and Had were entirely objective in their observations; instead of saying "Ah, how cute" they described what the 'coon family was doing and compared the similar but slightly different behaviors of the four youngsters. We were deeply satisfied these two girls have learned already not to prejudice their nature observations with what we call HVJs--Human Value Judgments.

One thing the granddaughters noticed was how thin this mother raccoon looked. When we asked what might be the cause, Mac astutely concluded it was probably the result of spending so much time taking care of four offspring--which gave us a chance to talk about how female mammals make milk.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This summer Hilton Pond Center has hosted at least two Raccoon families for whom the feeders seem to be a regular stop on their foraging routes. The four-kit group always wandered in from down near the pond, visited one feeding station and then another, and finally departed by climbing a big tree (above) just outside the kitchen window of our old farmhouse--much to the delight of wife Susan B. Hilton.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The second family with three somewhat older kits (above) would appear from a dense clump of Forsythia out back of the farmhouse and spend considerable time considerable time gobbling sunflower seeds before returning whence they came. There were also at least two solitary well-fed Raccoons that looked perhaps three-quarters grown. We suspect these were younger males waiting to mature to breeding age.

As far as we could tell, all our Hilton Pond 'coons were healthy and free of diseases easily communicable to humans. Nonetheless, we told the granddaughters we would not encourage or allow closer contact by hand-feeding additional food to these wild critters. We're satisfied to allow our Raccoons to clean up excess seed and to watch them objectively from back steps at the Center.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

NOTE: Although White-tailed deer and Raccoons abound, we've not yet seen a Groundhog around Hilton Pond. Nonetheless, the Center's Checklist of Mammals is pretty remarkable for an 11-acre property in the Carolina Piedmont; in all we've recorded 30 mammalian species since 1982. Click on the link just above to view the complete list.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Immature male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (above) with green color mark
All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center


To celebrate the banding of our 6,000th Ruby-throated Hummingbird (color-marked immature male, above) during the past 35 years of research, Hilton Pond Center is undertaking a fund-raising effort in support of "Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project." Our goal in the Summer and Fall of 2018 is to raise ONE DOLLAR for each of the 6,128 hummers banded locally through August of this year.

If you'd like to support our on-going study of hummingbird migration, site fidelity, longevity, and population dynamics here in the U.S. and in Central America, please click on one of the links below to send a tax-deductible donation. (You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.)

Payable via credit card

Payable to: funding@hiltonpond.org

Checks also can be sent to Hilton Pond Center at:
1432 DeVinney Road
York SC 29745

All contributions are tax-deductible on your
current-year income tax form

Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

Please refer "This Week at Hilton Pond" to others by clicking on this button:

Follow us on Twitter:


Comments or questions about this week's installment? Send an E-mail to INFO. (Be sure to scroll down for a tally of birds banded/recaptured during the period, plus other nature notes.)

Click for York, South Carolina Forecast
Click on image at right for live Web cam of Hilton Pond,
plus daily weather summary

Transmission of weather data from Hilton Pond Center via WeatherSnoop for Mac.

You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since
February 2000, or use our on-line
Hilton Pond Search Engine:

For your very own on-line subscription to "This Week at Hilton Pond,"
just click on the image above. It's guaranteed fat-free!

Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (funding@hiltonpond.org); credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

  • Anonymous (via PayPal)
  • John L. MacCartney
  • John McCoy (via PayPal)
  • Sylvanna Shreves (via PayPal)
  • Peter Stangel (repeat donor; via Network for Good)
  • Merike Tamm (long-time supporter)
  • Laurie Yahr & Rich Kahl (long-time supporters)

    We are likewise grateful for the many followers of Hilton Pond Center's Facebook page who made on-line contributions in August as part of Bill Hilton Jr.'s Birthday Fundraiser and/or our "$6,000 for 6,000 Hummingbirds" Campaign. These will be acknowledged in an end-of year installment.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo above courtesy Susan B. Hilton

In late August we were privileged once again to travel to High Point NC to give a couple of "Hummingbird Mornings" presentations hosted by Liz Schmid, co-owner of the local Wild Birds Unlimited store. Nearly 200 people came to two sessions to hear about our hummingbird research in North and Central America, to watch us capture and band hummers, and to help release unharmed several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Liz--an alumna of two of our Operation RubyThroat citizen science expeditions to the Neotropics--has hosted us more than a half-dozen times through the years, and always to inquisitive and appreciative audiences.

If your group is interested in hosting one of our award-winning presentations or would like a Guided Field Trip or banding session at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, please contact us at EDUCATION. Fees for all these activities go to support our interrelated activities in environmental education, conservation, and natural history research.

If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond," please help support
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

(Just CLICK on a logo below or send a check if you like; see Support for address.)

Make credit card donations
on-line via
Network for Good:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:
If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 1,800+ on-line stores from Amazon to Lands' End and even iTunes donate a percentage of your purchase price to support Hilton Pond Center. ..Every new member who registers with iGive and makes a purchase through them earns an ADDITIONAL $5 for the Center. You can even do Web searches through iGive and earn a penny per search--sometimes TWO--for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Add the iGive Toolbar to your browser and register Operation RubyThroat as your preferred charity to make it even easier to help Hilton Pond Center when you shop.

The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

1-31 August 2018

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--64

House Wren--1
Northern Cardinal--3
House Finch--30
Tufted Titmouse--2

* = new banded species for 2018

5 species
100 individuals

34 species (37-yr. avg. = 64.4)

794 individuals
(37-yr. avg. =
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 157

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
126 species banded
67,679 individuals banded

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 6,128

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (5)
04/10/17--after 2nd year male
after 2nd year female
06/14/17--after 2nd year female

07/10/17--after 2nd year female
07/26/17--2nd year male

Carolina Wren (1)
07/17/17--after 2nd year female

--Due to out-of-town obligations and unusually wet and often hot weather, we had no chance to deploy mist nets in August at Hilton Pond Center. Thus, all banded birds listed above left were captured in traps baited either with sugar water (hummingbirds) or sunflower seeds (finches, cardinals, and titmice). One doesn't usually think of House Wrens as seed-eaters, but they do sometimes get trapped when they go after sunflower chips--or small insects that might also be attracted to seed. (NOTE: We've banded just 67 HOWR at the Center in 37 years--many fewer than our 752 Carolina Wrens--but more than our 14 Winter Wrens.)

--As of 31 Aug, the Center's 2018 Yard List stood at 62--about 36% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (If you're not keeping a yard list for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird.) No new yearly species observed at the Center during the most recent period.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about Gray Treefrogs. It is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #676.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)

Back to "This Week at Hilton Pond" Main

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

The Center's backyard Web cam at Weather Underground

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.