Wake Audubon Blog

The Bucket List Trip

i Aug 31st No Comments by

The Bucket List Bird, by Angie DeLozier, Wake Audubon Secretary.

Western Grebes

My husband and I just came back from a 3-week trip through the northwest, which was a lifetime goal for him. As birdwatchers, we were filled with hopes of seeing some of the many pacific birds missing in our life list. I will not describe most of the regular birds we saw since we learned quickly that riding the Amtrak from Chicago, IL to Portland, OR and from Sacramento, CA to Chicago, was not an ideal way to bird watch. We did get to see some Pronghorn Antelopes, Red Tailed Hawks, Common Crows and many ULB’s (Unidentified Little Bird). All this looking out the windows of our sleeper car at 80/90 miles an hour.

The birding fun began at our stay in Glacier National Park with the presence of 3 Black Billed Magpies that were common daily, in front of the lodge. White Crowned Sparrows were seed picking the lengthy flowerbed from the lodge to the train station. Cedar Waxwings were plentiful in the area and seeing several Cassin’s Finch was a first for us. Then the Grey Jays and Colombian Squirrels appeared on our drive through the Road To The Sun. Now that is the 2nd most spectacular scenic road we’ve ever driven. Waterfalls galore in sizes, shapes and force. The few remaining Glaciers, the peaks and depths are breathtaking plus add the wildflowers! At Lake McDonald we took the boat tour and saw a pair of Bufflehead Ducks and some Tree Swallows. Sitting to rest on the porch of its lodge we saw our first Red-naped Sapsucker and his tree hole. While visiting the Logan’s Pass Visitor Center we also saw two Mountain Goats and a doe which standing about 10 feet from my husband decided to urinate (See picture).

We saw the Black Terns for the first time too.

At Crater Lake we admired Red Mantled Squirrels, Clarks Nutcrackers, Mountain Bluebirds, Mountain Chickadees, Oregon Juncos, Pine Siskins, Pine Warblers, Brown Creeper, Red Breasted Nuthatches, Townsend’s Solitaire and our first Bushtit happened at the Pinnacles trail. Seeing Western Tanagers at the Wildflower Garden was a delight again. Stellar Jays were common.

While driving the CA coast highway, we got our Western Gulls. Saw bulls/females seals sunning. A magnificent “Unknown” Red Sea Star on a pier support (See picture). Wild turkeys, Tricolored Blackbirds, Osprey, Glossy Ibis, hundreds of Cowbirds (with cow herd), Killdeers, and Marbled Godwits. We will not forget the sight in Clear Lake of hundreds of Western Grebes with their chicks (see picture). And last but not least, we spotted two Chestnut Backed Chickadees, which my husband had wanted to add to his list before we left Raleigh, NC. And to top that, our first California Towhee, with a large whitish moth/butterfly in his beak, paraded in front of our car and from side to side in the bushes for about 10 mins.

CREEK CLEANUP THIS SATURDAY!!

i Aug 24th No Comments by

Join us Saturday, August 28th for an opportunity to help better the Crabtree Creek while exploring the beautiful sightings along the way. Please arrive at 9 am and meet at the parking lot located on Crabtree Blvd, between Capital Blvd and Raleigh Blvd, where we’ll enjoy some coffee and donuts. Then we’ll head out to the creek where there will be different jobs for all abilities: whether you want to get in the creek or feel more comfortable staying on the greenway. Any hands we can get will be a major help! Our portion of the creek is about a mile long, but it is uncommon for anyone to do the whole stretch. Any extra canoes would also be a major help. If you have any questions please email me at i3rittany725@yahoo.com.

Optics Workshop Report

i Aug 20th No Comments by

Optics Workshop report

by John Gerwin

I was delighted to have 13 eager participants at my August 14th workshop.  August is a risky time to try and do anything outdoors, in NC!  But this day was to be overcast (great optical ambiance actually for comparing binoculars), and with a forecasted high of “only” 88, we stayed cool all morning in the screened-in, covered but outdoor classroom at the Museum’s Prairie Ridge Ecostation.  This site is a wonderful place to visit anytime, lying at the “corner” of Reedy Creek and Edwards Mill roads, with ~25 acres of open, plant and animal habitat.  I spent a good half an hour or so, on the history, and future plans, for the site.  And then it was on to learning about what makes binoculars what they are, inside and out.  It always surprises me how much time I can spend talking about binoculars (well, I’ve been told I can spend a lot of time talking about most anything…….).  But that object dangling below your neck has a lot going on, and we covered that well, including: parts, light and how it interacts with all those lenses, what all those numbers mean, what goes wrong with images and why, care and cleaning, and the many (I have at least 12) things to consider when buying a pair; and of course, for those fairly new at it, how to use them.  Some folks were about to buy a first pair, whereas others were ready to upgrade or needed a second pair. I was able to assemble about 15 pairs of different brands, and models, and had asked folks to bring whatever they had.  So, for the last hour, we were able to stand on the back deck, and compare all these different binoculars while enjoying the very busy avian participants at the bird feeders just off the deck, and down below.  The pokeberry (pokeweed) and beautyberry are in full fruit, providing other images to “scope” out with the many binoculars on hand.  Optics available included things like: a pair of Nikon 7 x 35 Action, that run ~$80; some kid’s varieties: Leupold 6 x 30 and Eagle Optics 6.5 x 32 (both provide such a nice image to me that I keep them around the house for quick feeder watching, and plan to have one in the car); they run ~$110/$130, respectively; various styles of 8 x 40-42 representing a wide range of price options ($200-$1200), and then some crème-de-la-crème, a couple types of Swarovski’s: 8.5 x 42 EL, and 10 x 50 SLC; at ~$2300 new, these are not for mere mortals, but were certainly a delight to have on hand, through which everyone got a chance to watch some birds.  In the end, I continue to recommend the Nikon Monarch ATB 8 x 42, as one of the best values on the market. “Last year’s model” can be had now for under $300, a pretty stunning option for something that provides a great image with a 25 year warranty (from Nikon), and is waterproof.

I would urge you to contact Cynthia Fox at the Wild Bird Center in Eastgate Mall in Chapel Hill, if you’re in the market for some new optics, and shop locally.  She is loaded with both a great variety of optics to compare, and entertaining, insightful information about the details of each, and what will work best for you and your budget. She has been a big supporter of New Hope Audubon over the years, and she provides great personal service. You can tell her you’re with Audubon and that I sent you, and we’ll keep that Audubon support going.  Also, I just got this note from her (Aug. 18th): “for those of you looking to buy/upgrade binoculars or scopes soon, Swarovski is offering a Tax Free sale September 8-11 on all their core products. In NC that is 7.75 unless your county added the extra .25%”.

Finally, if you have questions about optics, you may contact me at jgerwin@wakeaudubon.org. If you could not make this event but are interested in attending one, let me know 1) that you are interested and 2) when a good time would be. If I get enough replies, I can repeat this sometime over the winter.

Summer Sounds: An Introduction to August Orthopterans

i Aug 13th No Comments by

Thanks to Board Member Ed Corey, for this week’s post.

Go out on a warm, humid August night, and you’ll hear strange noises coming from the treetops, bushes, and grasses: chirps, trills, shuffles, chips. No, these aren’t aliens taking over your vegetation, but a diverse, interesting and beautiful group of organisms comprising the order Orthoptera (Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets).

Grasshoppers (family Acrididae) can be very common in open fields, and the number of different species found in a small area can be astounding!  All grasshoppers in North Carolina are diurnal, meaning they are only active during the day.  A few species of band-winged grasshoppers, in the subfamily Oedipodinidae, make noise while flying; this is known as crepitation.

Likewise, some katydids, particularly meadow katydids (those in the genera Conocephalus, Orchelimum, and Odontoxiphidium) are also active during the day, and can be heard calling from dense vegetation.  However, it’s after dusk that the true spectacle of orthopteran diversity can be observed.  Common True Katydids (Pterophylla camellifolia) can be heard with they’re eternal struggle of “Katy-did, Katy-didn’t”.  Several species of Coneheads (genus Neoconocephalus) prod the night with their long (and often loud) trills.  Short chirps and chips arise from members of the Bush Katydids (genus Scudderia), while Round-headed and Angle-winged katydids (Amblycorypha and Microcentrum, respectively) each give their distinctive shuffles and chips.

Let us not forget the smallest members of the summer serenade: crickets and trigs.  Most of us are familiar with the brownish black field crickets of the genus Gryllus commonly found around houses.  However, many more colorful representatives comprise this group, including the incredibly loud-for-its-size Handsome Trig (also called the Red-headed Bush Cricket, Phyllopalpus pulchellus); and the Columbian Trig, Cyrtoxipha columbiana.  Additionally, some lights left on at night are visited by the interesting and often misidentified tree crickets (Neoxabea and Oecanthus).

This group of insects can provide full nights of entertainment and great photo opportunities.  Bugguide.net and other sites can help with identification.  So grab a flashlight, clean out your ears, and enjoy the summer sounds of August.”

Introduction to Grasses

i Aug 3rd No Comments by

Wake Audubon Board members are the bloggers for the next few months.  This week’s blogger is long time board member Erik Thomas.

Introduction to Woodland Grasses

By Erik Thomas

This is the time of year when bird songs are being replaced by insect calls—cicaidas, katydids, and the like.  It’s also the time of year when the woodland wildflowers, or at least most of them, have died down until next spring, to be replaced by—well, by what?  Woodland grasses are one of the main plant groups that appears during the heat of summer.

Most people think of grasses as plants that grow in full sun.  However, we have several common woodland grasses in the Triangle area.  Most of them would make good ornamentals if you have shady spots and you need some greenery there.  These aren’t the kinds of grasses that you can mow, however.  They should be treated like ornamental flowering plants.

A couple of our common woodland grasses appear in the spring and then go dormant.  These species are Twoflower Melicgrass (Melica mutica) and Fowl Mannagrass (Glyceria striata).  They don’t look much alike.  Twoflower Melicgrass grows a foot tall or less and the stems have a series of seedheads that hang down from them.  Each seedhead has only two seeds in it and together they look like a big wheat grain.  It grows in well-drained sites.  Fowl Mannagrass, on the other hand, is tall and likes to have its feet wet.  It grows four or five feet high and you’ll find it in sites that have a little standing water after a heavy rain.  Its stems have lots of branches, and at the end of each branch is a small seedhead with several tiny seeds.

Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) is in a group by itself.  It and its shorter down-east relative, Switch Cane (Arundinaria tecta), are our only native bamboos, but they don’t look like stereotypical bamboos.  Around here, Giant Cane usually grows three to six feet tall, though it can get much taller, and the stems look like reeds with leaves coming off them at intervals. The stems each live for more than one year.  It forms thickets in bottomland woodlands, normally where the soil is wet but not flooded.  These thickets are known as “canebrakes” and were a lot more extensive before Europeans came to America.  One bird species, the Swainson’s Warbler, is associated with canebrakes, and it’s thought that Swainson’s Warblers were a good deal more numerous back when the South had vast canebrakes.

A common species that appears in midsummer is Woodreed (Cinna arundinacea).  You see it as individual stalks growing in moist, shady woodlands.  The leafy stalks are about three feet tall.  They usually have several kinks near the base and then a long straight section leading to the seedheads.  The seedheads themselves grow on short branches at the top of the stalk.  All the seedheads together give the plant a soft, plume-like appearance.

Two late-summer species that are easy to grow are River-oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and its cousin, Slender Wood-oats (Chasmanthium laxum).  Actually, I’m assuming that Slender Wood-oats is easy to grow.  I’ve grown River-oats and it’s really easy to cultivate, so I figure that Slender Wood-oats ought to be easy, too.  I’m hoping to find out for sure within the next year, assuming that I remember to collect some seeds this fall.  Both of these species grow in bottomlands that are partially shaded.  Their seedheads are flattened.  In fact, these flattened seedheads fooled botanists a century and more ago into thinking that they were closely related to Sea-oats (Uniola paniculata), which also has flattened seedheads, and they put River-oats and Slender Wood-oats in the genus Uniola.  Later on, the botanists figured out that the similarity was only superficial and gave them their own genus, Chasmanthium.  River-oats and Slender Wood-oats both grow about two feet tall and can form dense colonies.  In River-oats, the seedheads are diamond-shaped overall, about half an inch long and a third of an inch wide, and quite attractive.  They turn golden-brown or purplish-brown when they ripen in the fall and stay on the stems until winter.  In Slender Wood-oats, the seedheads are chevron-shaped.  River-oats is sometimes available in nurseries.  It tends to spread out over time by seeding and some people find it too aggressive for a garden, but it can be effective at stopping erosion in woodland gullies.

Some grasses have long awns in their seedheads, just like bearded wheat.  Awns are needle-like structures that grow underneath each seed and may be an inch long.  Three common woodland grasses have awns like that.  Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix, listed in many manuals as Hystrix patula) likes drier situations and is more common west of Durham than to the east.  It’s easy to recognize because the seedheads at the top of each stem look like a bottlebrush.  The seeds and awns stick straight out from the stem in four rows.  If you look down the stem from the end, the seeds make an X.  Another species with long awns is Bearded Shorthusk (Brachyelytrum erectum).  Its seeds and awns don’t stick out from the stem—instead, they press against the stem, making the seedheads look a lot more like an ear of bearded wheat.  Unlike wheat, the seeds don’t grow in two rows, they’re smaller than wheat grains, and there aren’t anywhere near as many seeds in one head.  Bearded Shorthusk likes the shade.  It forms loose clumps in dry to moderately moist forests.  The third common awned species is Common Wild-rye (Elymus virginicus).  Common Wild-rye likes moist sites on the edges of woodlands.  Its heads look a lot like the head of a cereal grain.  They have lots of seeds in them.  However, the seedheads are round, not flattened, because the seeds don’t grow in two well-defined rows.  Its awns are only about half an inch long or less.  All three of these species grow in the summer.

One late-summer woodland grass that you don’t want to grow is Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), also called Nepalese Browntop.  This species is native to Asia and was accidentally introduced because shippers in Asia years ago had used it as cheap packing material for packages they sent here to the United States.  Once the packages got here, people threw out the dried grass, which came complete with seeds, and the seeds sprouted.  Japanese Stiltgrass has been taking the South by storm.  You’ll find it growing in any wooded park or greenway in the Triangle.  You may have it in your yard, too.  This time of year, it looks like pleasant greenery carpeting forest floors.  Once its seeds get ripe in October, it rapidly turns brown and dies off.  It’s extremely aggressive and crowds out other plants.  The only good thing I can think of about it is that it’s easy to pull up.  Whereas the other grasses I discussed above are perennials and have strong root systems, Japanese Stiltgrass has a weak root system because it’s an annual.  If you try to get rid of it, you’ll need some persistence.  The seeds can remain viable in the soil for several years, so even if you kill one year’s crop, old seeds will sprout the next spring.  Don’t hesitate to fight the good fight, though.  Japanese Stiltgrass can be recognized because its leaves are rather short for a grass, only one to three inches long and about a quarter to half an inch wide.  While other grasses have leaves shaped like swords, Japanese Stiltgrass has leaves shaped like daggers.  The stems lop down on the ground or, in dense colonies, arch upward, and they grow in a zigzag fashion.