Field trips: 24,000 specimens, hundreds of living animals, and more

This year in Raleigh, North Carolina, TWS is offering more than 600 educational opportunities to conference attendees. Among the most engaging of these opportunities are five of the best field trips North Carolina has to offer wildlife biologists.

As a Gold Sponsor, the North Carolina Museum of Natural History will host not only our opening night Student-Professional mixer, but also two unique field trips. With two separate field trip options, you’ll get to experience this one-of-a-kind museum from behind the scenes. Travel south from Raleigh, to the Sandhills region of North Carolina, and you’ll find the destination of another TWS conference field trip. Longleaf pine forests once covered over 90 million acres of the southeastern U.S. but has dwindled since Europeans arrived on the continent. Conference-goers will have the opportunity to take a custom designed field trip to the longleaf pine forests, complete with mule-drawn cart rides and bagpipe music! The Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve just outside of Cary, North Carolina, offers wildlifers a chance to see a rare, large stand of hemlocks and hear about ongoing management, monitoring and research projects at the preserve such as red-backed salamander genetics, point counts for songbirds, small mammal monitoring, and radio-telemetry studies on spotted turtles. And in keeping with a big theme of the Raleigh conference, we can’t forget about TWS’ featured field trip to the Duke Lemur Center, where your special tour will take you through the research center and will allow you to walk among the lemurs!

Last year all of our field trips sold out well in advance of the conference, so don’t wait! Visit to register for the conference and field trips, and stay tuned for more information on leading up to the conference!

Behind the Scenes at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences: Ornithology and Living Collections Experience

Created in 1879 and hailed as one of the nation’s most amazing museums about the natural world, the NC Museum of Natural Science’s mission is “To illuminate the Interdependence of Nature and Humanity.”

During this field trip experience, you’ll start in the basement level which houses a 24,000+ specimen ornithology collection. Most are traditional “study skins” but the collection also includes skeletal elements, eggs, nests, sound recordings, images, and genetic/tissue samples. Bird Unit staff will describe the various ways specimens are acquired, preserved, and maintained. They will also showcase examples of specimens, and associated stories of how these have been used in numerous scientific studies, or by artists and classes of all ages.

Husbandry staff will then give you a unique tour of the museum’s “Living Collections.” These collections are very much alive! You’ll see hundreds of animals up close and learn how their presence and public engagement supports the museum’s mission.

Behind the Scenes at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences: Mammals, Biodiversity Research and Naturalist Center Experience

Engage with professionals, collections and specimens behind the scenes of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences—one of the largest institutions of its kind in the southeastern United States.

Your tour begins in the area that contains more than 20,000 specimens, one of the largest mammal collections in the southeast. While viewing this incredible collection, you’ll even have the opportunity to view a few of museum’s the collections from the late 1800s, while learning about best practices for processing, documenting and storing invaluable voucher specimens.

At the Biodiversity Research Lab, you’ll see how the staff engages with the public through citizen science wildlife research and by having all their work ‘on exhibit’ through the big glass walls. From there you’ll walk to the Naturalist Center which houses almost 10,000 specimens, most of which can be handled or examined up-close. Learn about the museum’s efforts to teach visitors about the value of research collections through their more than three million specimens, interactive computer “touch tables” that provide additional facts, easy-to-use microscopes, computer tablet-based activities and frequent live demonstrations of specimen preparation including bird study skins and insect pinning.

Longleaf Pine Adventure

The longleaf pine forest once covered over 90 million acres of the southern US. Today it remains in only about 4.3 million acres. The longleaf pine ecosystem evolved on poor sandy soils with a history of frequent fires. It is home to a vast array of plants and animals, many of which are found only within this harsh world. The carnivorous pitcher plants and Venus flytraps have developed unique feeding strategies that supplement the poor nutrition of the soil. Other plants, such as wiregrass, require fire in order to reproduce. Animal life is diverse and includes some well-known species of conservation concern such as the red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis), northern pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus), and Carolina gopher frog (Lithobates capito). All of these species have adapted strategies for dealing with and even benefitting from frequent fire.

During this field trip opportunity that has been custom-designed to educate and entertain, you’ll be introduced to the world of the longleaf pine at the 4000+ acre property of the Walthour-Moss Foundation in the Sandhills of North Carolina ( The Foundation was established in honor of William O. Moss and his wife, Virginia Walthour-Moss, with a mission to preserve and manage this vast forest ecosystem for future generations.

Since horses and bagpipes are both part of the rich history and culture of the Sandhills of North Carolina, your experience will begin with a mule-drawn wagon ride along a white sandy road to the tour site accompanied by the sounds of a bagpiper playing at a distance. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you’ll rotate between stations to learn about longleaf-adapted wildlife, native plants, and longleaf management and the use of fire. You’ll even take a step back in time at a live tar and turpentine kiln demonstration, learn the significance of a “catface” tree among other historic lessons. After the field tour, participants will enjoy the sounds of the bagpipes and a leisurely wagon ride back out of the forest.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve Experience

Be sure to bring your camera to capture the sights and fall colors when you visit Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, a unique site of approximately 140 acres situated along Swift Creek in the southern edge of Cary, North Carolina! Hemlock Bluffs is an example of an acidic cliff community in the Piedmont of North Carolina. The mission of the site is natural resource management to benefit native plant and animal communities and providing environmental education programs.

A system of north-facing bluffs along the creek supports a rare stand of over 200 eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) that are believed to be relics from an era about 10,000 years ago. The hemlocks thrive at an elevation of less than 400 feet, almost 200 miles from their typical range, and other plants more typical of the NC mountains are also present.

During this field trip, you’ll learn about the existing management, monitoring and research activities ongoing at the nature preserve while touring the uplands, the bluffs and the floodplain of Swift Creek.

Your tour guide will also explain how a partnership with the NC Forest Service and NC State Parks allows for a prescribed fire management plan to be implemented at Hemlock Bluffs within the surrounding community of 145,000 people. You’ll also hear about other current and past research projects such as eastern hemlock and red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) genetics, point counts for songbirds, small mammal monitoring, and radio-telemetry studies on spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata).

Walk Among the Lemurs Experience

Don’t miss the experience of lifetime at the Duke Lemur Center, home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar!

Nearly 250 individuals across 18 species are studied by scientists, conservation biologists and educators in North Carolina and in Madagascar to understand and to protect these extraordinary animals. The scientific endeavors at the DLC have spanned a vast array of disciplines, from behavior and genomics to brain sciences and paleontology over the past 50 years. Unless you’re planning a personal visit to Madagascar, this trip provides you with best opportunity to learn about and observe the interesting behaviors of lemurs. The DLC has packaged a unique mix of activities for you to create an experience that is not available to the general public.

Your tour of the Center includes discussions about the research the Center is conducting both on-site and in Madagascar. The highlight of the tour is a walk inside the lemur natural habitat enclosures where you will observe staff feeding several species of lemurs, while likely seeing other lemurs running about and swinging from tree limbs. Be sure to bring your camera because these cute and curious animals usually come within a few feet as they likewise investigate you!

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