Wake Audubon Blog

Feb 11th Meeting Canceled

i Feb 11th No Comments by

No Wake Audubon meeting tonight due to the chance of dangerous driving conditions.

Brief History of Wake Audubon Society

i Jan 3rd 3 Comments by

In 1975 the Raleigh Bird Club voted to become affiliated with Audubon and thus became the Wake Audubon Society. The first president of Wake Audubon was Ken Knapp, and chapter membership was about 200. Meetings were held monthly at Meredith College until the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, when they were moved to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Monthly field trips have been offered since the chapter’s inception, and all programs and trips are published in the Chapter’s Annual Calendar of Events. The chapter also invests considerable time in stewardship projects including a streamwatch adoption, along with Purple Martin, Bluebird, Wood Duck and meadow species conservation. In 2000, the chapter published A Birdwatcher’s Guide to the Triangle highlighting the best places in the region to enjoy birds. In 2007, Wake Audubon received the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Environmental Organization of the Year.

Throughout its history, Wake Audubon has responded to threats to local natural areas by petitioning local government to create nature parks and by providing guidance in natural area management. Raleigh city parks that Wake Audubon has been involved in include Anderson Point, Durant Nature Park and Horseshoe Farm Nature Park. Wake County’s Historic Yates Millpond and Cary’s Hemlock Bluffs Nature Park also received early support from Wake Audubon. Petitions and speaking before city and county governing bodies have been on-going activities. In 2001 the chapter received the Fred Fletcher Volunteer Organization of the Year from the Raleigh Parks Department.

Wake Audubon began a “Bird of the Year” program in 2007 in order to educate our community about the challenges these local birds face. We have also maintained special relationships with two species of birds, the American Woodcock and the Chimney Swift. Annual Valentine’s Day (approximately) Woodcock courtship walks are a tradition, and one couple even got engaged during one of the walks. We are working on an agreement with the NC State Forestry department to help maintain Woodcock habitat within their teaching property, Schenk Forest. Wake Audubon began taking inventory of Wake County Chimney Swift roosting chimneys in 1985. As the number of such chimneys decreased, we began developing a plan to provide a safe permanent chimney that could also serve research purposes. That effort led to a partnership with the Museum of Natural Sciences and will shortly lead to the construction of a roosting chimney on their property at Prairie Ridge Ecostation.

Our members have been involved in many statewide projects, including protests against the US Navy’s proposed Outer Landing Field in eastern North Carolina. We have done bird surveys in the Lumber River IBA. Our annual Wild-a-thon supports the Coastal Sanctuaries and Project Bog Turtle as well as local projects. We have spoken at many community clubs meetings, school programs, and events.

As part of our outreach efforts, Wake Audubon began a Meetup group in 2009. The Meetup group currently has 388 members and has listed over 450 Wake Audubon meetings, bird walks and field trips. In 2009, the chapter also began a Young Naturalist group for twelve to eighteen-year olds. This group, currently about fifteen active members, is led by adult volunteers and supported through grants. The chapter as a whole has grown through the years and now boasts over 1500 members.

Adventures with Fungus, Crayfish and Chiggers

i Jul 8th No Comments by

By Brandt (Wake Audubon Young Naturalist since 2010)

Participation in the Young Naturalists Club’s outings has given me some of the best adventures of my life. Take the last excursion, for example. We went on an over-night trip to explore and camp in the Uwharrie National Forest, an ancient and almost mystical place in the center of our state.  Mr. Gerwin and Mr. Sean were our intrepid leaders.  Their knowledge about every living thing we encountered was amazing.  My favorite discovery on the trail was the purple coral fungus, clavaria zollingeri:

Isn’t it cool?  I read that it grows in coniferous areas all across Canada and southward in mountain areas.  So that’s why we found it in the Uwharrie’s.

At a stream on our first hike, Lily, The Fearless,  and Sean showed me proper crayfish holding technique. It was the first time I ever held a crayfish. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Crayfish was a good size for a beginner – not big enough to pinch hard:

Camping was fun. We enjoyed roasted marshmallows over the campfire. One of my marshmallows turned into a chemistry experiment as it reduced itself to a black mass of carbon – I guess I toasted it a little TOO long. We were all tired out from the day, but it was hard to get to sleep because some of the neighbors were pretty noisy until late at night. Around 5 am we had a surprise visitor. A whip-poor-will flew right into our campsite and landed on the picnic bench! He gave a rousing serenade before flying off again. He must have received word that we were all disappointed about not hearing any Nightjars during the YNC Nightjar Survey at Jordan Lake. He made up for that!

On Day 2 of our trip, we visited the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area. That’s a nice unspoiled area; a place where you can escape the crazy, noisy, hustle and bustle of modern life. We saw a great specimen of a Hognose Snake:

Even in these mountains, it was getting hot and sticky by the end of the trail. We all felt like Roger, the guide dog puppy, and wanted to cool off in the stream:

The one thing I would have liked to have missed on the trip were the chiggers. I’m still itching! The whole idea that a mite too small to see can unleash enzymes that turn parts of me into its personal protein smoothie is just gross. Dealing with the leftovers of its stylostome “straw” in one’s skin is maddening, to say the least.  Next time, I’ll be ready with more bug defenses.

I’m looking forward to the next YNC outing to Grandfather Mountain. I love the Boone area. See you there!

(The Wake Audubon Young Naturalist Club offers youth ages 12-18 opportunities to explore nature together.  Monthly outings include environmental service projects, local bird walks and full-day adventures from the mountains to the coast.)

Mysterious Carolina Bay Lakes Excursion

i May 24th No Comments by

By Sean Higgins, Wake Audubon Board member

In April, 15 teens joined the Mysterious Carolina Bay Lakes excursion cosponsored by the Wake Audubon Young Naturalists and the Museum of Natural Sciences Junior Curators. Many people generously contributed resources, time and energy to make this a Spring Break to remember for these youth.

Lynn Cross has an absolutely amazing rapport with high school students (not to mention her expertise in the art of smores)! Big props to staff at Singletary Lake State Park and Lake Waccamaw State Park. Staff of both went way out of their way to accommodate our group and make us feel quite welcome… despite both parks having major events on the same days including a county-wide Environmental Field Day at Lake Waccamaw. Ranger Lane Garner gave a great overview of “What is a Carolina Bay?”, Superintendent Chris Helms guided us in a freshwater mussel survey, and I&E Specialist Brittany Whitaker guided night activities. We even had an impromptu live alligator program onboard the bus when N.C. Museum of Forestry educator Kellie Lewis flagged us down on the side of the road.

Who knows where Spring Break 2012 could take these groups? Bear Island? A river trip? Or will the groups brave the unpredictable spring weather in the mountains?

You are receiving this email because you play a valuable role in these programs, perhaps behind the scenes. Cheers to a new generation of conservationists!

Canoeing at Singletary Lake. With the fierce wind, we made it all the way around the lake in about 2 1/2 hours. Next time we’ll bring a catamaran.

Collecting and observing aquatic critters as the sun sets on Singletary Lake. You can almost hear the voice of Otis Redding through the trees.

Add Tidewater Fatmucket to your life list!

Don’t pick up hitchhikers… especially the crocodilian kind.

Log… log… log… whoa, there’s a gator!

The Evolution of Darwin’s Finches

i Apr 1st No Comments by

by Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member

A talk that may be of interest to birders in the area is coming to the Museum of Natural Sciences. Legendary evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant present highlights of their life’s work on in a free program in the auditorium at 7 pm on April 11.

Peter Grant is professor emeritus of zoology, and Rosemary Grant is a retired senior research scholar, both in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton. In their dogged study of a population of birds popularly known as “Darwin’s finches,” the Grants have won renown for detecting and recording evolution in action, and proving and extending the theories of pioneering evolutionist Charles Darwin, work for which they were recently awarded the prestigious Kyoto Prize.

For much of the public, the work of the Grants first came to light in Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of their efforts, “The Beak of the Finch.” Published in 1994, the book detailed the couple’s arduous, yearly six-month stay in tents on Daphne Major, a desolate volcanic island 600 miles west of Ecuador. There, since 1973, they have undertaken what was described in Weiner’s book as one of the most intensive and valuable animal studies ever conducted in the wild.

“We choose a single group of related species for close scrutiny,” the Grants wrote, “and attempt to answer the following questions: Where did they come from, how did they diversify, what caused them to diversify as much as they did (and no more) and over what period of time did this happen?” What the Grants have shown through their relentless study and cataloging of 14 varieties of island finches is how beak size and shape evolve through natural selection within a dramatically changing environment, according to certain mechanisms and conditions.

This presentation is made possible through a partnership between the Museum, North Carolina State University’s WM Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent).

Making your hearth a home for Chimney Swifts!

i Mar 23rd No Comments by

By Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member

Birdwatchers in North Carolina’s Piedmont should be on the lookout for the eminent return of Chimney Swifts from their wintering range in Amazon South America. Historically, Swifts nested in hollow snags across eastern North America but quickly took to residential chimneys as a replacement, from whence their common name is derived. The birds are actually quite nice to have around for homeowners as they feed on thousands of small and annoying flying insects per day.

Unfortunately, chimney caps and screens have become more prevalent as some homeowners either don’t want swifts nesting on their property or don’t understand that caps can have an effect on locally nesting swifts. But by taking a few steps you can easily encourage swifts to come to your own chimney where you can enjoy them all summer. And besides, you weren’t using your chimney in the heat anyway, were you?

Wake Audubon member Erla Beegle has put together some tips borne of experience; she fledged 3 chicks in her chimney last summer!

Chimney Swift Checklist:

– Do you have a suitable chimney? (brick inside – not slippery metal or porcelain, and a “cap” that can be easily removed. Any chimney eight feet or taller is high enough. )

– BEFORE YOU REMOVE THE CAP: Call a chimney cleaning company before late April and get the chimney cleaned out! (Dirty chimneys can lead to nest failure, as the nest can break off with a big flake of creosote when the babies get big)

– Get the metal lid (“cap”) off your chimney before late April (save the cap for the winter). The cleaning company might remove it for you for a small fee, or ask a contractor, if you do not want to climb onto the roof.

– Keep the flue CLOSED during the nesting season (just in case a baby swift has to climb back up.)

– Do NOT use the chimney during the nesting season (gas fireplace owners: put a sign on the switch so guests do not make that mistake! I put a sign on the flue handle for my wood-burning fireplace.)

– If you are lucky enough to have a pair of swifts in your chimney: Congratulations! You will hear peeping and chattering for several weeks (any time in May and June). This wonderful sound can be quite loud, and goes on from dawn to dusk. Turn up the radio and you won’t notice it. They are quiet once the sun goes down.

– There’s only one pair of swifts per chimney, and it will be their home all spring and summer. The parents and “kids” may roost in your chimney throughout the late summer, so keep the cap off until late fall.

– To keep your insurance company happy: re-attach the chimney cap in late fall before you start using the fireplace again. The cap prevents sparks from landing on the roof.

Thank you for opening your hearth to swifts!

Review: The Crossley ID Guide

i Mar 1st No Comments by

By Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member

I love field guides. Just love ‘em. I love the way how what can seem like an essentially static form, a paperback book to help you identify the birds around can be interpreted in so many ways by so many different people. Granted, ever since Peterson came up with the illustrations facing information format back in 1934 the cast was essentially set for the next 80 years.  As such field guide innovation has been limited to more (or less) information or better illustrations or illustrative photos or different tips for identifying birds packed into increasingly, and unfortunately, unread introductions.  With ever more information about identifying birds at our disposal, perhaps it was inevitable that a bird guide (I wouldn’t dream of tying the adjective “field” to these most recent behemoths) would come out that sought to incorporate it all.  We got just that late last year in the Stokes recent magnum opus, a jolly orange giant that is easily the most informative field guide currently available, if not the most user-friendly, that seemed to seek to make the rest of the genre obsolete from the perspective of a pure, unadulterated data crush.  One guide to bring them all in, indeed. And when I reviewed that guide several months ago I asked, is this the ultimate culmination of the field guide genre?  Is there ever going to be anything new under the sun?

The much anticipated new bird guide from Richard Crossley looks to answer that question with an enthusiastic “yes!”.  Birders have been privy to the Frankenstein’s monster Crossley had been working on for some time, as he doled out finished plates on his own website before the book was published, so we sort of understand what he’s going for here.  Each plate is a composite of many different photographs, mostly Crossley’s own work, showing a single species of bird at multiple angles and multiple positions and multiple plumages all stitched together via the magic of photo-editing software into a mostly seamless whole.  And that’s essentially it; the gimmick that we’ve known would make or break the book from the moment we saw the first plate on Crossley’s website.

The question is, does it work?

For me, the answer is yes and no.  Crossley clearly deserves to be cheered for his creativity.  This is a very different guide from what we’re used to, for better and for worse, and his treatment seems to work better for some species than for others.  Flocking birds such as waterfowl, and larger open country species that are often observed in flight come out really, really well here.  It’s incredibly useful to see distant flocks of Scoters, for instance, in a guide, or to have in front of you examples of the many ways a field birder might see a Sandwich Tern or a Rough-legged Hawk.

Shorebirds, too, translate exceptionally well to this approach.  Not that this is to be unexpected for one of the authors of The Shorebird Guide, one of the best, if not the best, family specific guides on the market, but it stands to be reiterated that Crossley has an innate sense of how these species manifest themselves to field birders, and presents them as such.  That’s why it seems odd, though, that I end up disliking some of the perching bird plates for precisely the same reasons I love the larger bird plates.  The birds can seem cluttered and awkwardly shuffled into their habitats.  In these plates the limitations of the photo-editing seem more obvious and the whole plate can be a tad overwhelming with multiple birds in multiple and often inconsistent light schemes, devolving into little more than a game of “Where’s Bird-o”.

But of course they have to be like that, it’s not as if Crossley could switch his format up half-way through. This is what makes the book unique and, as Crossley himself states in the introduction, very often this is how you see the bird in the field.  Games of “Where’s Bird-o” are all too common among birders picking warblers out of treetops so why shouldn’t an ostensibly useful field guide seek to illustrate this on its pages?

And that’s what I think is the crux of what Crossley is trying to convey.  What should be obvious for any self-professed connoisseur of field guides is that it is incredibly difficult to re-invent the wheel in this genre.  Not only are there 80 years of avocational inertia Crossley has to overcome, but there are very good reasons why field guides show the things they do and are laid out the way they are.  Notably, because it’s generally the easiest way for observers to narrow down the birds they have seen in the field so that they can identify them.

They have seen.  Past tense.

If I am looking to use a field guide to help me puzzle out a difficult identification of a bird I’ve seen, Crossley’s guide would not be the first book I’d use. I have Sibley, of course, and Kaufman’s Advanced Birding if it’s relevant. Maybe throw in the Collins Europe guide or Crossley’s Shorebird Guide or Howell and Dunn’s Gull guide depending on the family I’m dealing with.  I even have the Pyle guides if we’re really stuck, so to be honest, Crossley would probably not be in the top five.  Those other books lay the potential confusion species out in a systematic way.  They point to relevant field marks and generally get me to the right bird eventually after a series of steps I have to follow.  They’re roadmaps.

But Crossley’s guide is not a roadmap, it’s more like a Fodor’s guide.  This is what struck me most about the way Crossley lays out his guide because it was intentionally meant to be more than just a means by which you identify that weird bird that you saw.  He means to change the way we think about birding, how we think about the resources we use, for the better.  He wants us to look at his guide and prepare yourself for what you might see before you go out in the field.  It may not be a novel approach for us – how many of us have a field guide on the coffee table to flip through absent-mindedly in spare minutes – but for the vast majority of the bird guide buying public, this is something of a revelation.   And it works too, because if I’m going to a new place and I want to familiarize myself with a new suite of birds so that I can easily identify them when I get there, I’m going to want to see them in multiple lighting schemes and multiple angles and different distances.  In these cases, Crossley’s guide may well be the first one I reach for.

Other reviews have pointed out that this is emphatically not a “field” guide in the conventional sense, but it’s not meant to be for reasons beyond its heft.  It’s more obviously a tool to teach you how to identify birds rather than a bird catalog, to know what to look for and to prepare you for the potential pitfalls so that when you find that bird you’ll be able to identify it without the book.  It’s more of a textbook rather than an identification key, and should be taken on those terms.

So while there are some issues (an out of place and unidentified female Mallard in with the Cinnamon Teal (p59), and the Saltmarsh Sparrow is incorrectly labeled “Sharp-tailed Sparrow” (p464) to name two), this book is one I think birders should feel legitimately excited about.  It is, bar none, the closest anyone has gotten to actually showing what the birds look like in life short of a video recording, and there’s no better way to train yourself to be a better birder than by seeing birds in life.

And until everyone starts carrying around pocket video field guides, the Crossley ID Guide may be the nearest thing we get.

Thanks to Princeton University Press for providing me with a review copy

crossposted at The Drinking Bird

February bird walk at Anderson Point Park

i Feb 21st No Comments by

By Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board Member

I led the monthly Wake Audubon field trip to Anderson Point Park, one of Raleigh’s city parks and the one with which Wake Audubon has had a long-standing partnership, last week.  A group of a dozen joined me as we strolled through the fields and forests puzzling over myriad sparrows, gaping at gorgeous Eastern Bluebirds singing atop the nest boxes erected by Wake Audubon, and chatting about birds at feeders and what we’ve seen recently.  You know, the usual stuff.  A Fish Crow honked overhead early on, the first one I’ve seen this year and the first real sign that spring is around the corner in this part of North Carolina.

We followed the path into the woods to the actual “point”, where Crabtree Creek flows into the Neuse River, and came across a beautiful adult Red-headed Woodpecker.  Red-heads have grown scarce in the Triangle, especially within the city limits, and you couldn’t really get a nicer bird for a bird walk if you’d ordered it out of a catalog.  Everyone got fantastic looks as it vaulted back and forth between a massive sycamore and a broken oak limb.  He paid close attention to the tip of the break, and we wondered if he’d cached acorns there.

We saw Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Flickers too, only the Pileated and Hairy away from the woodpecker slam.  No one seemed disappointed though.  The embodiment of economy of color that is a Red-headed Woodpecker tends to sate just about any would-be bird walker.

A flock of sparrows drew my attention so I lead the group to a little seep where we picked up a super obliging (I’m obliged to use that word in a trip report at least once) Hermit Thrush.  When you’re looking to show a group of birders the cool things around them that they might not normally see by themselves, Hermit Thrush is a definite goodie.  Not only does it have lots of memorable field marks, both physically and behaviorally, but it’s quiet and easily overlooked.  This bird stayed right out in the open where everyone got killer looks.  I have to say, as a bird walk leader, I was feeling pretty good about the way things were going.

The resident Loggerhead Shrike was a no-show, and too bad too as I was hoping to pick it up for my Big Year, but the day was a success.  Everyone got great looks at the two best birds and I picked up a Fish Crow for the year.

The next bird walk at Anderson Point Park will be held March 12.  We hope to see you there!

Legislators move to take millions from conservation trusts

i Feb 7th No Comments by

Via Land for Tomorrow:

ACTION ALERT: Legislators move to take millions from conservation trusts – take action now!

On Thursday, February 3, the North Carolina Senate took its first vote on fast-moving legislation that would gut two conservation trust funds. Senate Bill 13 would take $1.8 million from the Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and $8.5 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. This legislation is moving quickly, so write your Representative and Senator today and ask them to oppose Senate Bill 13.

The legislation is part of an effort to shift money from this year’s state budget into the next fiscal year. Legislators are facing a $3.7 billion budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, and are looking for ways to reduce the size of that shortfall.

Taking money from the state’s conservation trust funds is the wrong way to close that gap. These trust funds leverage local dollars, protect farms and create jobs.

Click here to take action now by writing your state legislators. Tell them to protect the state’s conservation trust funds.

Young Naturalists head out east!

i Feb 1st No Comments by

By Jeff Beane, Wake Audubon Vice-President.

The Young Naturalists Club enjoyed a successful trip to the Albemarle Peninsula on Saturday, 22 January 2011. This trip featured the wildlife (focusing on birds and mammals), wildlife refuges, and wild lands of the Albemarle Peninsula, and included portions of Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington counties. Trip leaders were Jeff Beane and Ed Corey; Miranda Wood also attended as a female chaperone. Club participants were Matt Burroughs, Matt Daw, Seth Gaffer, Jo Himes, Nate Laughner, and Kristen Shireman.

Our primary destinations were Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. We left Raleigh at just after 8:00 a.m. En route, we stopped at a couple of places along U.S. 64 to look at waterfowl, and were lucky enough to pick out a couple of Ross’s Geese from a mixed flock of mostly Canada Geese and Snow Geese near Plymouth. These were lifers for most of the group, though we were afforded only a fleeting look at them before a Bald Eagle flushed the flock.

The day was cold, windy, and overcast, and temperatures did not make it above freezing all day. We had a snow shower at Alligator River, which became heavy enough at times to hinder our visibility, but we still saw a good variety of birds, most notable of which was a Swainson’s Hawk that passed directly above our heads. We were also able to approach two American Bitterns very closely. We were not, however, able to turn up any of the hoped-for Black Bears, Bobcats, or Red Wolves.

We next headed for the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes, where we had originally planned to spend a good bit of time. However, having heard several reports that the spectacular Snow Goose flocks of the previous weeks had not been seen recently, and that there had otherwise been little significant activity there, we stopped by that refuge for only an hour or so, during which time we saw very little other than the usual Tundra Swans and a few blackbird flocks. We added only a handful of new species to our bird list and again struck out on bears.

Our last stop of the evening was a Beaufort County wetland mitigation site, where a good number of Short-eared Owls had been reported recently. Arriving about an hour before full dark, we were able to find shelter from the freezing wind behind a storage building; there we waited, keeping watch over a large, wet field where numerous Northern Harriers were foraging. At sunset we were rewarded with probably at least seven Short-eared Owls, and were able to get good looks at some of them. These also represented a lifer bird for most of the group.

We capped off the day with a Pizza Inn buffet in Washington, and arrived back in Raleigh at about 9:10 p.m. We ended with at least 67 bird species, but it was a rather poor day for mammals. White-tailed Deer were the only live mammals that we confirmed; we also saw at least one Nutria, a Gray Fox or two, and several opossums and raccoons as road-kills. Despite the cold weather, a good time was had by all, and everyone learned something.