Wake Audubon Blog

Wildathon 2016 – Summary of Species Counted

i May 24th 1 Comment by

Authored by Jeff Beane

Date: 10-11 May 2016
Team: Jeff Beane, Ed Corey, Bob Davis, John Finnegan, Stephanie Horton (“24-Hour Dream Team”) [Also, Nathan Shepard set minnow traps for us in the Sandhills on Tuesday, resulting in three species we did not encounter otherwise.] Species counted: Vertebrates
Time spent: 24 hrs. We officially began our count at 8:11 a.m. on 10 May and ended at 8:11 a.m. on 11 May. Beane, Corey, and Davis participated for the entire 24 hours; Finnegan and Horton participated for about the first 8-9 hours and rejoined us for about the last 2 hours.
Area covered: Our search included portions of Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, Moore, New Hanover, Pender, Richmond, Robeson, and Scotland counties, NC. We began at 1208 Canal Drive (ca. 1.0 airmi. NNE Carolina Beach) in New Hanover County and ended on the Sandhills Game Lands (ca. 5.2 airmi. NW of Marston) in Richmond County.
Weather: Mostly sunny to partly cloudy with a high temperature around 90F and lows in the low 60sF. Techniques: Most species were observed via visual and auditory searches, while walking and driving. Binoculars and a spotting scope were used to assist in viewing many species. Several species were taken in dipnets, a 12-ft. seine, and minnow traps; and several were found by turning natural and artificial surface cover. Several species were observed only as road-kills or otherwise dead specimens; these are noted by an asterisk (*).

Fishes

Tuesday, 8:11 a.m. For the 10th consecutive year, we kicked off our event with Eastern Glass Lizards (two were found) at Carolina Beach.

Tuesday, 8:11 a.m. For the 10th consecutive year, we kicked off our event with Eastern Glass Lizards (two were found) at Carolina Beach.

Tuesday, 8:22 a.m. The count gets underway, checking minnow traps and scoping birds along the inlet off the dock across from Bob’s beach house.

Tuesday, 8:22 a.m. The count gets underway, checking minnow traps and scoping birds along the inlet off the dock across from Bob’s beach house.

Lepisosteus osseus Longnose Gar
Amia calva Bowfin
Brevoortia tyrannus Atlantic Menhaden *
Umbra pygmaea Eastern Mudminnow
Esox americanus Redfin Pickerel
Esox niger Chain Pickerel
Notropis maculatus Tailllight Shiner
Notropis petersoni Coastal Shiner
Cyprinodon variegatus Sheepshead Minnow
Fundulus heteroclitus Mummichog
Fundulus lineolatus Lined Topminnow
Fundulus majalis Striped Killifish
Lucania parva Rainwater Killifish
Gambusia holbrooki Eastern Mosquitofish
Heterandria formosa Least Killifish
Poecilia latipinna Sailfin Molly
Aphredoderus sayanus Pirate Perch
Chologaster cornuta Swampfish
Pomatomus saltatrix Bluefish *
Opsanus tau Oyster Toadfish *
Labidesthes [sicculus] vanhyningi Southern Brook Silverside
Chaenobryttus gulosus Warmouth
Enneacanthus chaetodon Black-banded Sunfish
Enneacanthus gloriosus Blue-spotted Sunfish
Enneacanthus obesus Banded Sunfish
Lepomis macrochirus Bluegill

Tuesday, 8:24 a.m. Laughing Gulls were among the most abundant bird species on this year’s Wildathon.

Tuesday, 8:24 a.m. Laughing Gulls were among the most abundant bird species on this year’s Wildathon.

Lepomis marginatus Dollar Sunfish
Lepomis microlophus Redear Sunfish
Micropterus salmoides Largemouth Bass
Elassoma boehlkei Carolina Pygmy Sunfish
Elassoma evergladei Everglades Pygmy Sunfish
Etheostoma olmstedi Tessellated Darter
Perca flavescens Yellow Perch
Lagodon rhomboides Pinfish
Leiostomus xanthurus Spot
Menticirrhus americanus Southern Kingfish *
Micropogonias undulatus Atlantic Croaker
Mugil curema White Mullet
Eleotris pisonis Spinycheek Sleeper
Scomberomorus cavalla King Mackerel *
Scomberomorus maculatus Spanish Mackerel

Tuesday, 8:46-8:49 a.m. The first snakes to make the list were the Southeastern Crowned Snake and Red-bellied Snake—two of NC’s tiniest snake species. Neither is particularly easy to find, but this year we were lucky enough to see four crowned snakes and two redbellies.

Tuesday, 8:46-8:49 a.m. The first snakes to make the list were the Southeastern Crowned Snake and Red-bellied Snake—two of NC’s tiniest snake species. Neither is particularly easy to find, but this year we were lucky enough to see four crowned snakes and two redbellies.

Amphibians
Necturus punctatus Dwarf Waterdog
Amphiuma means Two-toed Amphiuma
Notophthalmus viridescens Eastern Newt
Eurycea n. sp. “Sandhills Eurycea”
Bufo [Anaxyrus] terrestris Southern Toad
Acris gryllus Southern Cricket Frog
Hyla chrysoscelis Cope’s Gray Treefrog
Hyla cinerea Green Treefrog
Hyla femoralis Pine Woods Treefrog
Hyla gratiosa Barking Treefrog
Hyla squirella Squirrel Treefrog
Pseudacris crucifer Spring Peeper
Pseudacris ocularis Little Grass Frog
Gastrophryne carolinensis Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad
Rana catesbeiana [Lithobates catesbeianus] American Bullfrog
Rana [Lithobates] clamitans Green Frog
Rana sphenocephala [Lithobates sphenocephalus] Southern Leopard Frog
Rana [Lithobates] virgatipes Carpenter Frog

Reptiles (including crocodilians and chelonians)
Alligator mississippiensis American Alligator

Tuesday, 9:20 a.m. A Black Racer checks in—the first of six we would see during the 24 hours.

Tuesday, 9:20 a.m. A Black Racer checks in—the first of six we would see during the 24 hours.

Chelydra serpentina Common Snapping Turtle *
Kinosternon baurii Striped Mud Turtle
Sternotherus odoratus Eastern Musk Turtle
Deirochelys reticularia Eastern Chicken Turtle
Pseudemys concinna River Cooter
Trachemys scripta Yellow-bellied Slider
Dermochelys coriacea Leatherback
Anolis carolinensis Green Anole
Sceloporus undulatus Fence Lizard
Cnemidophorus sexlineatus [Aspidoscelis sexlineata] Six-lined Racerunner
Eumeces [Plestiodon] inexpectatus Southeastern Five-lined Skink Eumeces [Plestiodon] laticeps Broadhead Skink
Scincella lateralis Ground Skink
Ophisaurus ventralis Eastern Glass Lizard
Coluber constrictor Black Racer
Diadophis punctatus Ring-necked Snake
Elaphe guttata [=Pantherophis guttatus] Corn Snake *
Elaphe obsoleta [=Pantherophis obsoletus, etc.] Rat Snake *
Farancia abacura Mud Snake
Nerodia fasciata Banded Water Snake *
Nerodia taxispilota Brown Water Snake
Storeria occipitomaculata Red-bellied Snake
Tantilla coronata Southeastern Crowned Snake
Agkistrodon contortrix Copperhead *

Birds

Tuesday, 9:40 a.m. A species we don’t often get on Wildathons, this Solitary Sandpiper at Lily Pond was a good find.

Tuesday, 9:40 a.m. A species we don’t often get on Wildathons, this Solitary Sandpiper at Lily Pond was a good find.

Aix sponsa Wood Duck
Anas platyrhynchos Mallard
Branta canadensis Canada Goose
Colinus virginianus Northern Bobwhite *
Meleagris gallopavo Wild Turkey
Gavia immer Common Loon
Morus bassanus Northern Gannet
Phalacrocorax auritus Double-crested Cormorant
Anhinga anhinga Anhinga
Pelecanus occidentalis Brown Pelican
Ardea alba Great Egret

Tuesday, 9:43 a.m. The Chicken Turtle is an oddball creature in many ways. Uncommon in NC, it is seldom seen—let alone seen basking. But this was a very lucky Wildathon.

Tuesday, 9:43 a.m. The Chicken Turtle is an oddball creature in many ways. Uncommon in NC, it is seldom seen—let alone seen basking. But this was a very lucky Wildathon.

Ardea herodias Great Blue Heron
Butorides virescens Green Heron
Egretta caerulea Little Blue Heron
Egretta thula Snowy Egret
Egretta tricolor Tricolored Heron
Nyctanassa violacea Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Eudocimus albus White Ibis
Plegadis falcinellus Glossy Ibis
Cathartes aura Turkey Vulture
Pandion haliaetus Osprey
Buteo lineatus Red-shouldered Hawk
Circus cyaneus Northern Harrier
Haliaeetus leucocephalus Bald Eagle
Rallus elgans King Rail

Tuesday, 10:29 a.m. A Longnose Gar at the Carolina Beach marina.

Tuesday, 10:29 a.m. A Longnose Gar at the Carolina Beach marina.

Rallus longirostris Clapper Rail
Charadrius semipalmatus Semipalmated Plover
Charadrius vociferus Killdeer
Charadrius wilsonia Wilson’s Plover
Pluvialis squatarola Black-bellied Plover
Haematopus palliatus American Oystercatcher
Arenaria interpres Ruddy Turnstone
Actitis macularia Spotted Sandpiper

Tuesday, 10:44 a.m. Painted Buntings were common on this year’s Wildathon. I unfortunately did not have time for photos of the strikingly colorful males.

Tuesday, 10:44 a.m. Painted Buntings were common on this year’s Wildathon. I unfortunately did not have time for photos of the strikingly colorful males.

Calidris alba Sanderling
Calidris alpina Dunlin
Calidris mauri Western Sandpiper
Calidris minutilla Least Sandpiper
Calidris pusilla Semipalmated Sandpiper
Limnodromus griseus Short-billed Dowitcher
Numenius phaeopus Whimbrel
Tringa melanoleuca Greater Yellowlegs
Tringa semipalmata Willet
Tringa solitaria Solitary Sandpiper
Larus argentatus Herring Gull
Larus delawarensis Ring-billed Gull
Larus marinus Great Black-backed Gull

High tide had pushed thousands of shorebirds up into the dunes at Ft. Fisher. These Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Dunlin were among the 15 or so shorebird species we saw there.

High tide had pushed thousands of
shorebirds up into the dunes at Ft. Fisher. These Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Dunlin were among the
15 or so shorebird species we saw there.

Leucophaeus [Larus] atricilla Laughing Gull
Gelochelidon [Sterna] nilotica Gull-billed Tern
Rhynchops niger Black Skimmer
Sterna forsteri Forster’s Tern
Sternula antillarum Least Tern
Thalasseus maximus [Sterna maxima] Royal Tern
Thalasseus [Sterna] sandvicensis Sandwich Tern
Columba livia Rock Pigeon
Streptopelia decaocto Eurasian Collared-Dove
Zenaida macroura Mourning Dove
Coccyzus americanus Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Strix varia Barred Owl
Caprimulgus carolinensis Chuck-Will’s-Widow
Caprimulgus vociferus Whip-Poor-Will
Chordeiles minor Common Nighthawk

Tuesday, 1:06 p.m. A few Least Sandpipers were in the mix.

Tuesday, 1:06 p.m. A few Least Sandpipers were in the mix.

Chaetura pelagica Chimney Swift
Archilochus colubris Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Megaceryle alcyon Belted Kingfisher
Colaptes auratus Northern Flicker
Dryocopus pileatus Pileated Woodpecker
Melanerpes carolinus Red-bellied Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus Red-headed Woodpecker
Picoides borealis Red-cockaded Woopecker

Tuesday, 1:28 p.m. Royal and Sandwich were among the six tern species we saw at Ft. Fisher.

Tuesday, 1:28 p.m. Royal and Sandwich were among the six tern species we saw at Ft. Fisher.

Picoides pubescens Downy Woodpecker
Picoides villosus Hairy Woodpecker
Contopus virens Eastern Wood-Pewee
Empidonax virescens Acadian Flycatcher
Myiarchus crinitus Great Crested Flycatcher
Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe

Tuesday, 1:38 p.m. Ed and Bob were about to go ‘n’ seine.

Tuesday, 1:38 p.m. Ed and Bob were about to go ‘n’ seine.

Tyrannus tyrannus Eastern Kingbird
Lanius ludovicianus Loggerhead Shrike
Vireo flavifrons Yellow-throated Vireo
Vireo griseus White-eyed Vireo
Vireo olivaceus Red-eyed Vireo
Corvus brachyrhynchos American Crow
Corvus ossifragus Fish Crow
Cyanocitta cristata Blue Jay
Hirundo rustica Barn Swallow
Progne subis Purple Martin
Stelgidopteryx serripennis Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow
Baeolophus bicolor Tufted Titmouse

Tuesday, 1:57 p.m. By far the highlight of this year’s Wildathon was the sighting of several Leatherbacks—one from the Kure Beach pier and several off the beach at Ft. Fisher. A very unique species, the Leatherback is the most massive reptile in the world, occasionally weighing over a ton. Many of them were passing through the area to feed on cannonball jellyfish. This spectacular sea turtle was a lifer for everyone on the team.

Tuesday, 1:57 p.m. By far the highlight of this year’s Wildathon was the sighting of several Leatherbacks—one from the Kure Beach pier and several off the beach at Ft. Fisher. A very unique species, the Leatherback is the most massive reptile in the world, occasionally weighing over a ton. Many of them were passing through the area to feed on cannonball jellyfish. This spectacular sea turtle was a lifer for everyone on the team.

Poecile carolinensis Carolina Chickadee
Sitta pusilla Brown-headed Nuthatch
Cistothorus palustris Marsh Wren
Thryothorus ludovicianus Carolina Wren
Polioptila caerulea Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Catharus ustulatus Swainson’s Thrush
Hylocichla mustelina Wood Thrush
Sialia sialis Eastern Bluebird
Turdus migratorius American Robin
Dumetella carolinensis Gray Catbird
Mimus polyglottos Northern Mockingbird
Toxostoma rufum Brown Thrasher
Sturnus vulgaris European Starling

Tuesday, 2:10 p.m. Gull-billed Terns at Ft. Fisher. Not always an easy species to see in NC.

Tuesday, 2:10 p.m. Gull-billed Terns at Ft. Fisher. Not always an easy species to see in NC.

Bombycilla cedrorum Cedar Waxwing
Cardellina canadensis Canada Warbler
Geothlypis formosa KentuckyWarbler
Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat
Icteria virens Yellow-breasted Chat
Limnothlypis swainsonii Swainson’s Warbler
Mniotilta varia Black-and-White Warbler
Parkesia motacilla Louisiana Waterthrush

Tuesday, 3:40 p.m. A Snowy Egret at the Ft. Fisher ferry dock.

Tuesday, 3:40 p.m. A Snowy Egret at the Ft. Fisher ferry dock.

Protonotaria citrea Prothonotary Warbler
Seiurus aurocapillus Ovenbird
Setophaga americana Northern Parula
Setophaga citrina Hooded Warbler
Setophaga discolor Prairie Warbler
Setophaga dominica Yellow-throated Warbler
Setophaga palmarum Palm Warbler
Setophaga petechia Yellow Warbler
Setophaga pinus Pine Warbler

Tuesday, 4:12 p.m. On the Ft. Fisher-Southport Ferry.

Tuesday, 4:12 p.m. On the Ft. Fisher-Southport Ferry.

Setophaga ruticilla American Redstart
Setophaga striata Blackpoll Warbler
Piranga olivacea Scarlet Tanager
Piranga rubra Summer Tanager
Aimophila aestivalis Bachman’s Sparrow
Pipilo erythrophthalmus Eastern Towhee
Spizella passerina Chipping Sparrow
Spizella pusilla Field Sparrow
Cardinalis cardinalis Northern Cardinal
Passerina caerulea Blue Grosbeak
Passerina ciris Painted Bunting
Passerina cyanea Indigo Bunting

Tuesday, 6:34 p.m. “Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees, like sausages on a smokehouse wall.” Brown Water Snakes were our most numerous snake species this year; this lady at White Marsh had several eager suitors.

Tuesday, 6:34 p.m. “Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees, like sausages on a smokehouse wall.” Brown Water Snakes were our most numerous snake species this year; this lady at White Marsh had several eager suitors.


Agelaius phoeniceus Red-winged Blackbird
Icterus spurius Orchard Oriole
Molothrus ater Brown-headed Cowbird
Quiscalus major Boat-tailed Grackle
Quiscalus quiscula Common Grackle
Carpodacus mexicanus House Finch
pinus [Carduelis] tristis American Goldfinch
Passer domesticus House Sparrow

Totals

Fishes: 41
Amphibians: 18
Reptiles: 25
Birds: 138
Mammals: 9
Total Vertebrate Species: 231

Comments:

Tuesday, 1:57 p.m. By far the highlight of this year’s Wildathon was the sighting of several Leatherbacks—one from the Kure Beach pier and

several off the beach at Ft. Fisher. A very unique species, the Leatherback is the most massive reptile in the world, occasionally weighing over a ton. Many of them were passing through the area to feed on cannonball jellyfish. This spectacular sea turtle was a lifer for everyone on the team.

Tuesday, 2:10 p.m. Gull-billed Terns at Ft. Fisher. Not always an easy species to see in NC.

We counted only those species which we could positively identify to the agreement of our team. We recorded several species not found on any of our previous Wildathons. Leatherback and Spinycheek Sleeper were lifer species for everyone on the team. We omitted from the list a few species that we were uncertain of.

Our total species count was the fourth-highest of the 24-hour Dream Team’s 17 Wildathons to date (our record was 248, in 2014). Our bird list was our second-best ever. For the 10th straight year, it was a pleasure to begin the event with two Ophisaurus ventralis at Carolina Beach in New Hanover County, in the backyard of the former home of the late Ms. Myrtle Curry, mother of team member Bob Davis. The last species recorded was Sceloporus undulatus, on Sandhills Game Lands in Richmond County with less than 30 seconds remaining. Two road-killed snakes were salvaged, and one fish was collected, for the collections of the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, and swabs were taken from a few amphibians and reptiles for a study on four emerging pathogens in amphibians and reptiles. Many observational records for various species were added to the Museum’s files and the NC Natural Heritage Program’s database.

We dedicate this Wildathon to our teammate John Finnegan, who is battling cancer; to the late Dave Lenat, who recently lost his fight with it; and to all wild, free things everywhere.

We wish to thank everyone who pledged our team this year. At this point, our pledged sponsors include Sunny and Lee Allen, Rudy Arndt, Jeff Beane, Erla Beegle, Ann Bilobrowka, Colleen Bockhahn, Hal Broadfoot, Alan Cameron, Sue Cameron, Angelo Capparella, Ed Corey, Bob Davis and Judy Morgan-Davis, Kelly Davis, Angie and Bill DeLozier, Janet Edgerton, John Finnegan and Stephanie Horton, Lena Gallitano, Jim Green, Luke and Shannon Groff, Jeff Hall, Diane Hardy, Andy Harrison, Julie Horvath, Ted Kahn, Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell, Roland Kays, Susan Kelemen, Sam Kennedy, Jane and Craig Lawrence, Tony Leiro, Greg Lewbart and Diane Deresienski, Lloyd Lewis, Gerry Luginbuhl, Jeff Marcus, Bob Oberfelder, Justin Oguni, Linda Rudd, Annie Runyon, Melody Scott, Megan Serr, Olivia and Jill Slack, Kim Smart, Dorothy Stowe, Leslie and John Watschke, Jan Weems, Kari Wouk, Steve Zimmerman, and almost certainly some others we may have inadvertently left out. Special thanks to Nate Shepard for help with trapping, to Ed Corey for the use of his vehicle, and to Jeff Beane and Bob Davis for providing their houses as bases of operation and lodging for the very tired. All monies raised will be used to support the same projects as previous years (Audubon’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, local Wake Audubon projects, Project Bog Turtle, and Project Simus). Your generous support is greatly appreciated! You are the reason we keep doing it every year.

It’s not too late to make a donation! If you haven’t already done so, please send your pledges to the address below (or give them to any of our team members or to Wake Audubon Treasurer John Gerwin) as soon as possible. Make checks payable to “Wake Audubon” (or “NC Herpetological Society” if you want to donate only to those projects). You can also use the PayPal option on Wake Audubon’s website (under “donate” on the home page), but please indicate that your donation is for the Wildathon, and let us know that you’ve paid via that option. Please contact one of us if you have any other questions.

We thoroughly enjoyed the event, and we are already looking forward to participating again next year. Sincere thanks from all of us!


Tuesday, 7:42 p.m. A Little Blue Heron rookery at Lake Waccamaw.

Tuesday, 7:42 p.m. A Little Blue Heron rookery at Lake Waccamaw.

Tuesday, 7:42 p.m. A Little Blue Heron rookery at Lake Waccamaw.

Tuesday, 8:55 p.m. A Mud Snake near Lake Waccamaw kicks off the long night. After finding three of these beautiful semiaquatic serpents road-killed, we were pleased to see one alive.
Wednesday, 4:08 a.m. Minnow traps yielded a Two-toed Amphiuma. This unique, eel-like salamander is North America’s longest amphibian and supposedly has the largest red blood cells of any animal.

Tuesday, 8:55 p.m. A Mud Snake near Lake Waccamaw kicks off the long night. After finding three of these beautiful semiaquatic serpents road-killed, we were pleased to see one alive.

Tuesday, 8:55 p.m. A Mud Snake near Lake Waccamaw kicks off the long night. After finding three of these beautiful semiaquatic serpents road-killed, we were pleased to see one alive.

Wednesday, 7:29 a.m. We saw many Killdeer during this year’s Wildathon. We could only hope our resolve during the final hour was as strong as that of this tenacious female protecting her eggs.
Wednesday, 3:02 a.m. Sneaking up on nightjars is a fun way to stay awake in the wee hours. Much more often heard than seen, Chuck-Will’s-Widows have shown up on all of our Wildathons to date.

Wednesday, 3:02 a.m. Sneaking up on nightjars is a fun way to stay awake in the wee hours. Much more often heard than seen, Chuck-Will’s-Widows have shown up on all of our Wildathons to date.

Wednesday, 3:02 a.m. Sneaking up on nightjars is a fun way to stay awake in the wee hours. Much more often heard than seen, Chuck-Will’s-Widows have shown up on all of our Wildathons to date.

Wednesday, 4:08 a.m. Minnow traps yielded a Two-toed Amphiuma. This unique, eel-like salamander is North America’s longest amphibian and supposedly has the largest red blood cells of any animal.

Wednesday, 4:08 a.m. Minnow traps yielded a Two-toed Amphiuma. This unique, eel-like salamander is North America’s longest amphibian and supposedly has the largest red blood cells of any animal.

Wednesday, 7:20 a.m. Less than an hour remaining; exhaustedly scrambling for a few more species. Luckily, we knew where to find Tree Swallows.

Wednesday, 7:20 a.m. Less than an hour remaining; exhaustedly scrambling for a few more species. Luckily, we knew where to find Tree Swallows.

Wednesday, 7:20 a.m. Less than an hour remaining; exhaustedly scrambling for a few more species. Luckily, we knew where to find Tree Swallows.

Wednesday, 7:29 a.m. We saw many Killdeer during this year’s Wildathon. We could only hope our resolve during the final hour was as strong as that of this tenacious female protecting her eggs.

Wednesday, 7:29 a.m. We saw many Killdeer during this year’s Wildathon. We could only hope our resolve during the final hour was as strong as that of this tenacious female protecting her eggs.

Front Porch Discoveries

i May 9th No Comments by

Authored by John Gerwin

“Can you tell me what kind of bird nest this is?” Brian and I get that question a fair amount as part of our jobs as bird researchers and educators at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The question usually comes with a photo. Recently, I received an email and photo of a nest in one of those typical “corner of the carport roof areas”. The homeowners could not get a look at the birds. But the nest was made with a lot of sticks, along with some colorful pieces of plastic. In our urban areas, birds have adapted well, or taken a real liking to, plastic of any sort, but the colored pieces stand out and always make me smile.

About a week ago, a neighbor flagged me down, and had the same question.

There are really four “usual suspects” that build a nest on our houses (the more rude ones just barge right in). These are: Carolina Wren, House Finch, American Robin, and Eastern Phoebe. On occasion, I hear of Mourning Doves building their clumsy stick nests on a window ledge (often with poor results).

In those housing developments, somewhere between urban and rural, we find yet another porch possibility – the Barn Swallow, which makes a nest mostly of mud. No sooner had I typed this, when I received an email from a homeowner in a new subdivision in Wake Forest, asking for advice on “controlling” a pair of Barn Swallows nesting on the small ledge overhanging their front door (advice: they need their own “mud room”).

The photo that started this note, of the nest of sticks and plastic, looked like a House Finch to me and when the homeowner was finally able to get some photos of the birds, my assessment proved to be correct (see photo).

Wren nests are bulky things of mostly dead leaves (pine or hard wood) lined with dead grasses. One image of a wren nest is included. There are variations! Robin nests are mud, wrapped in dried grasses.

Recently, a co-worker brought a nest to my office that was nothing but pink threads! An entrepreneurial bird had found a young girls’ sweater on a clothesline somewhere and figured a way to unravel quite a bit of it and make a nest. It had the size and shape of a chickadee nest. And chickadees are very fond of something soft and fuzzy – their nests are made mostly of moss. I had to attach an image.

Pink thread nest

Pink thread nest

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know a few other birds that use moss. One, the Northern Parula (warbler) will build its nest inside Spanish moss – wait, that’s a trick statement. Spanish moss is not a moss but a flowering plant in these parts (a bromeliad, actually). Parulas to the west of where Spanish moss occurs (e.g. in the Uwharries) will weave a moss look-alike – Long-beard Lichen – into the outer walls of the nest. This warbler is a forest bird and where water is present, it will often be found alongside it (and a couple folks reported some migrants this spring and I’ve had one in the garden out back in the fall).

Another urban bird that uses true moss, like the chickadee, is the Eastern Phoebe. This is a member of the flycatcher family, which is a mostly tropical group of birds. The name derives from its call, which to many sounds like “fee bee”, and to others, (like me), “Free beer”. Of course, accents vary across the range of any singing/calling bird. The Phoebe call is rather “gruff” or raspy sounding, whereas the Chickadee, which also makes a “fee bee” song in the spring, does so in a pure, clear tone.

And now let’s help my neighbor. I did not even have to look on her porch (but I did anyway of course). I had been scoping out her porch for the past few days as I mowed her lawn, because I had seen a Phoebe go back and forth from the bridge over our stream on Ravenwood, to her house. In the really old days, phoebes nested on rock ledges. In due time, they adopted bridges and these days pretty much any bridge over water, troubled or not, will host a phoebe nest. And today, many a kiosk and front porch are also host to a pair of nesting phoebes. To be honest, I had assumed the bird was nesting under the bridge but I was perplexed by its constant returns to the bannister of her porch.

But there it was, in the porch corner (see photos). On April 29, the nest seemed nearly complete. On May 1, it was still empty and if it were complete, that’d be no surprise. Often a female bird will finish building a nest, and then spend several days fattening up in order to have all the nutrition she’ll need to lay 3-5 eggs– imagine! (Fattening up that is, on purpose).

The Phoebe is both dull and adorable, which I guess, makes it Adullable. I really can’t stress enough how “quiet” the plumage is. I have attached some pictures for you to see for yourself (both an adult, and a young one just a few weeks old, and some nestlings about to take their first flight). It is similar in shape/size/appearance to another (dull) flycatcher called the Eastern Wood Pewee (which also gets its name from its call). I have also attached two pics of that species. The Pewee is a forest bird, either pine, hardwood, or mixed, but you need a good-sized patch to find one during the breeding season (like Umstead Park).

The Phoebe is a short-distance migrant, if one migrates at all. If the water in its feeding area does not freeze, many of them will hang around all winter. During hard freezes, they seem to have the ability to move to open water areas, and survive. We do not understand how this occurs (Robins do the same thing). What is interesting is that many flycatchers, including phoebes, become frugivorous (fruit-eating) in the fall and winter. But because they still seem to like to have some open water around, they must be eating some bugs as well. Each fall we find one helping itself to some of the Beautyberries in our front yard over here.

An interesting tidbit is that the phoebe was the first “banded” bird. John James Audubon tied some silvered thread to several birds on his property in Pennsylvania in 1804 and the next year, one returned.

Pewees are a long-distance migrant. They head to South America for the most part. And they remain insectivorous.

If you are interested in hosting a “ledge”-nesting bird, you can try building a nest shelf, with the plans I have included. There are numerous websites devoted to attracting and identifying birds these days, but one very useful one is www.allaboutbirds.org .

Finally, one other urban, and house-inhabiting flycatcher is the Great Crested Flycatcher. This is one of the “rude” ones. If you have an exhaust pipe for say, your dryer, and you don’t use the dryer much in late April/May when these birds return, one might build a nest in it. But this and other species that may nest within our homes, are fodder for another article.