Authored by Bob Oberfelder
A recent trip to Phoenix Arizona provided an opportunity for my wife and I to check out the Burrowing Owls at Zanjero Park. This was one of several places that we birded, and future posts will display our sightings in those other locations. The park is an unassuming place with about a mile of horse trails and a walking/bicycling path as well. It has been made into habitat for Burrowing Owls by installing pipes in the ground (along the walking/bicycling trail) that serve as burrows for the owls. Since the owls are diurnal, they are visible throughout the day. According to the locals, at least a few owls can typically be seen throughout the day. We were there in the early afternoon and saw two that were lounging in front of their burrows. There appear to be at least 50 burrows, but I do not know how many are occupied. We viewed these owls from about 15 feet away and they did not seem to be disturbed by our presence. These owls are small, with a total height of 9.5 inches but they were kind of sitting down so they were probably only about 7 inches tall. The noonish light was probably not ideal, but we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see and photograph them.
John A. Gerwin, Wake Audubon board member
On March 5, I was out of bed by 4 a.m. to get ready for an early flight, and it was 36 degrees outside! It may not feel much like spring these days, but a few days of low temperatures does not dissuade our local birds. They are tuned to multiple factors, and it seems clear that daylength is one that sends a strong if not the strongest signal that it is time to get the house ready – the kids are coming.
For the past 2 weeks, folks have been emailing or otherwise telling me about their observations of a couple species that are indeed conducting nest building activities – the Red-shouldered Hawk, and the Brown-headed Nuthatch. The former is our Bird of the Year, and the latter of course has been a focus for several chapters selling “nuthatch” nest boxes (Wake Audubon has sold many hundreds!).
In a “normal” year around the Piedmont of NC, Red-tailed hawks begin nest building (or refurbishing last year’s nest) in mid-to-late January, which can go on for a week or two. The Red-shouldered Hawk begins 2-3 weeks later and thus this year, they are “on time” as some folks reported watching adults carrying sticks to nest locations, in mid-February.
On this schedule, for those young who make it “all the way”, the Red-tails will fledge in late May, whereas the Red-shouldered’s will do so in mid-to-late June. May is a noisy month with many begging Buteo’s around town.
Similarly, I received my first “Nuthatch alert” in mid-February – an adult was excavating a cavity in a dead snag in a neighbor’s yard. In addition, Wake Audubon board member and Flickr manager Bob Oberfelder found an adult excavating along the American Tobacco Trail on February 21. Once again, these birds are “on time”. Bob got some great shots of the adult tossing wood chips out of the cavity, which I include here. I’m also including a shot or two of eggs from a nest box I installed at a nearby elementary school. Another neighbor and her pre-teen daughter have been checking this and 10 other boxes I put up, for the past 2 seasons. Our small bit of data show that nuthatches can be incubating eggs from the second week of March into late-April. That is, some lay as early as mid-March, whereas others, for some reason, lay in mid-April (you may recall it takes about 10 days for a BH Nuthatch egg to hatch).
Hopefully, you have your ‘nuthatch’ boxes up, but if not, now you know there are some late layers out there. So go ahead and put up another if you wish to.
Authored by Courtney Rousseau
It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday, March second, out at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and it was perfect for erecting a brand-new Deluxe 12 gourd rack with 12 Excluder gourds from the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA). The sun was a welcome sight after the grey, rainy days of late. Rob and I arrived around 1:00pm to get the equipment out of the shed and down to the area next to the outdoor classroom. We took all of the parts out of the boxes and read over the instructions to make sure we understood what to do before the kids showed up. We decided to divide them into two groups: one would work on the pole and the gourd rack hardware, and the other would prep the gourds for mounting.
Most of the kids showed up around 1:45pm. We sent them on a brief walk on the trails while we waited for the last scouts to arrive. Once everyone was there, we got to work. We had 5 scouts. Rob led the hardware group, and Courtney showed the other group how to prep gourds. First, we got out the non-stick cooking spray and sprayed and wiped the upper inside area of the gourds to keep wasps from hanging nests there before martins move in. After each gourd was sprayed, another scout put in a handful of pine straw as a pre-nest. After these two scouts were finished, another scout looked over their work to make sure they didn’t miss any spots or get too skimpy with the pine straw. Shortly after they finished the gourds, the pole was ready to erect. Rob and 2 scouts set the pole upright, and then all of the scouts helped to hang the gourds. We wrote numbers on each gourd for easy record-keeping. Each scout took turns at the winch handle, since everyone wanted to raise it up. After the rack was up, we hung the predator guard on the pole. It’s 4 ft from the ground to the top of the predator guard, which is the recommended distance. However, we know they have some big rat snakes out there, so the guard should be waxed, at the very least! We discussed why a predator guard was necessary with the scouts. Today, the scouts learned about teamwork, martin conservation, carefully following procedures, and quality control to assure uniformity of their work. They are all excited to come back later in the season to watch banding or to see the martins using the new rack. While we were there, a few members of the public also came up to ask us about the gourd rack, so it was a good opportunity to engage them as well.
Photos here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/xrVCSB8scg1hFgoi9
Action Alert from the National Audubon Society
Every year hundreds of millions of birds die when they fly into unseen or reflective glass in buildings. Many of these deaths could be prevented by commonsense bird-friendly building standards. Please join us in urging your congressional representative to support the Bird-Safe Buildings Act https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/cFKDdto0hEC6HqnxgB0y-Q2 to reduce these unnecessary bird deaths.
Since 2013, over a dozen Wake Audubon Society volunteers have monitored the number of migratory birds killed locally by building collisions. Sadly, we have seen no reduction in bird deaths despite the City of Raleigh’s support for the Lights Out initiative. We need to take additional steps to make a difference for birds. Let your congressional representative know https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/cFKDdto0hEC6HqnxgB0y-Q2 that you want them to act to protect birds.
Authored by John Gerwin
The Raleigh Christmas Bird Count in 2018 was very different from recent past years – it was relatively warm! I won’t say ‘balmy’ but compared to the below-freezing dawn temps some of us have experienced the past few years, this year felt a little, well, balmy. But it was also rather drizzly and indeed for the first 90 minutes, most of us experienced some form of light precipitation. I continued my tradition of providing a couple boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts (assorted variety), a thermos of bird-friendly coffee, for those willing to join me for one pre-dawn hour on site, to listen for any wood-be owl. To date, I have heard only one such owl in 5 or so years of this, and by the end of the hour, I am still at 1. But I always enjoy a few donuts and many many ounces of coffee. I have also enjoyed the company of a variety of other “dawn birds”. This year, my “flock” consisted of a couple Young Naturalists, a couple recent YNC graduates, some Audubon members, and a couple folks from the Museum.
Our overall effort this year took the form of 19 groups, covering their respective areas. By 12:30pm, with about “half the precincts” reporting, the species list total was at 95. This is noticeably higher than years past. Some of the groups will be sending in their reports in the coming 2 weeks, and the total species number may reach 100, something that hasn’t happened on this count in many years.
But it’s not just a high number that matters. Indeed, the main focus on the count is to cover the areas we do in a consistent manner. The data we collect are submitted to a national database, and this database is available to the general public. Many folks have performed a variety of analyses on these data, which span 118 years for some locations.
This is a ‘big year’ for seeing some “northern” species, which are moving into the SE in large numbers this fall/winter. Pine siskins have been showing up at various feeders. We found a couple Red-breasted Nuthatches at Walnut Creek.
Last year, we flushed an amazing Wood duck from the Garner Road pond along the Walnut Creek greenway – this year only half a dozen flew by. It’s pretty unusual to find 75 Wood ducks in such an urban setting. And some of our crew managed to flush a Gray Catbird, always rare for this count. Folks over along Swift Creek found some Rusty Blackbirds, anther good find.
A Peregrine Falcon and Merlin were seen along Mid Pines Road. A Peregrine was seen at the same spot last year, and the year before. Surely this Peregrine is a returning individual, enjoying some of the many pigeons along that stretch.
By 0900, the drizzle had stopped and the next few hours were nice for walking and birding. One of my favorite birding experiences of the year happened at the end of our count. A few of us wandered east along the Greenway into an adjoining neighborhood of southeast Raleigh (which is how the Greenway was planned at this section). In 20 minutes, covering about 3 blocks with normal yards and houses, but Walnut Creek nearby, we found nearly 75 individual birds of over 20 species. This was a section we have never covered before, but this year we had time. And it goes to show how interesting it can be to wander into such an area and see what you can find.
Indeed, the new organizer, Brian O’Shea, and I were discussing this very topic right before the count. And that we plan to get some folks into such areas in the future and thus expand coverage. There are many wooded neighborhoods within the count circle, that are never covered. If you are interested in being one of our “urban” stealth bird counters in the future, just let us know and we will set you up.
In the meantime, a big thanks to all who helped out. In the end, our Walnut Creek totals (species and individuals) were almost the same as 2017 – only a tad lower. I would have bet money that both were “a lot lower” but I would have lost. That’s in part why we do what we do. Even in a light drizzle.
This way we have real data, and we don’t have to rely on Gerwin’s faulty memory.
Here are photos of two other birds that were spotted.
authored by Erik Thomas
On June 15, I conducted some bird counts at the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA), which the Wake Audubon Society monitors. Counting consists of stopping for ten minutes at designated spots and making a record of all birds seen or heard. All of the sites in the Lumber River IBA are wetland habitats. This time, however, I decided to do something a little different. I counted at six of the designated sites along Ashpole Swamp, which parallels the South Carolina border a few miles away, and six other spots at nearby upland sites that are not designated locations.
The contrast in birdlife between the bottomland sites and the upland sites was striking. Down in the bottomlands, birds of wooded swamps were plentiful. I heard Yellow-billed Cuckoos at several sites, Red-shouldered Hawks at a few, and various kinds of woodpeckers. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were easy to find, and I heard—but only occasionally saw—quite a few Carolina Wrens and some Acadian Flycatchers. Prothonotary Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Yellow-throated Warblers were actively defending territories. Here and there a White-eyed Vireo chattered. There was even a flock of Wood Storks passing overhead.
Just up the hill from the swamp, however, the birds changed dramatically. Three members of the icterid family—the Eastern Meadowlark, Orchard Oriole, and Red-winged Blackbird—appeared there. Indigo Buntings were singing at several spots, and Northern Mockingbirds guarded yards throughout. Mourning Doves sat on power lines or flew by nearly everywhere. Cattle Egrets were attending a group of steers at one site and a Chipping Sparrow was singing heartily at another. Most impressively, a congregation of Mississippi Kites—I counted nine, but there may have been more—was sailing over some fields.
If you’d like to see more details, I’ve uploaded all the counts I did to eBird. One additional sighting I had was a series of realtor signs in Ashpole Swamp. It seems that most of the swamp is for sale. It’s too wet to develop for housing (fortunately!), but logging interests may want to pounce on it. It would be desirable if the state or an environmental organization could acquire this valuable and extensive habitat, perhaps to be added to Lumber River State Park at some future date.
Authored by Jeff Beane
This is a report on a joint field trip between NC State Museum of Natural Sciences and Wake Audubon. We visited the following areas between November 17th and
19th: Alligator River, Pea Island, and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges; Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve; Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Pettigrew and Jockey’s Ridge State Parks; and a few other stops.
Trip leaders: Jerry Reynolds, Jeff Beane, Martha Fisk
Other participants: Betty Lou Chaika, David Chaika, Marty Demko, Phyllis Demko, Eileen Hancox, Sue Harvey, Stephanie Horton, Jerry Johnson, Debbie Ludas, Mary McClure, Adair Pickard, Carole Stevens
* = observed only as dead-on-road (DOR) or otherwise dead specimens.
All photos by Jeff Beane.
Gambusia holbrooki Eastern Mosquitofish (many)
Acris gryllus Southern Cricket Frog (many)
Rana catesbeiana [Lithobates catesbeianus] American Bullfrog (at least 1)
Chrysemys p. picta Eastern Painted Turtle (several)
Pseudemys rubriventris Red-bellied Cooter (several)
Trachemys s. scripta Yellow-bellied Slider (many)
Coluber constrictor Black Racer (1 adult male DOR) *
Nerodia taxispilota Brown Water Snake (1 adult female)
Aix sponsa Wood Duck (at least 2 or 3)
Anas americana American Widgeon (many)
Anas clypeata Northern Shoveler (many)
Anas crecca Green-winged Teal (many)
Anas platyrhynchos Mallard (many)
Anas rubripes American Black Duck (many)
Anas strepera Gadwall (many)
Aythya americana Redhead (several)
Aythya collaris Ring-necked Duck (several)
Bucephala albeola Bufflehead (many)
Melanitta americana Black Scoter (several)
Somateria spectabilis King Eider (1)
Branta canadensis Canada Goose (many)
Oxyura jamaicensis Ruddy Duck (a few)
Meleagris gallopavo Wild Turkey (1 DOR) *
Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed Grebe (many)
Morus bassanus Northern Gannet (many)
Phalacrocorax auritus Double-crested Cormorant (many)
Pelecanus erythrorhynchos American White Pelican (several)
Pelecanus occidentalis Brown Pelican (many)
Ardea alba Great Egret (at least 1)
Ardea herodias Great Blue Heron (many)
Botaurus lentiginosus American Bittern (1)
Egretta caerulea Little Blue Heron (at least 1)
Egretta thula Snowy Egret (a few)
Egretta tricolor Tricolored Heron (at least 1 or 2)
Eudocimus albus White Ibis (many)
Cathartes aura Turkey Vulture (many)
Coragyps atratus Black Vulture (several)
Buteo jamaicensis Red-tailed Hawk (many)
Buteo lineatus Red-shouldered Hawk (at least 1)
Circus cyaneus Northern Harrier (many)
Haliaeetus leucocephalus Bald Eagle (many)
Falco columbarius Merlin (1)
Falco sparverius American Kestrel (many)
Fulica americana American Coot (many)
Charadrius vociferus Killdeer (many)
Pluvialis squatarola Black-bellied Plover (several)
Calidris alba Sanderling (many)
Calidris alpina Dunlin (several)
Gallinago delicata Wilson’s Snipe (1)
Tringa flavipes Lesser Yellowlegs (a few)
Tringa semipalmata Willet (many)
Chroicocephalus philadelphia Bonaparte’s Gull (several)
Larus argentatus Herring Gull (many)
Larus delawarensis Ring-billed Gull (many)
Larus marinus Great Black-backed Gull (many)
Leucophaeus atricilla Laughing Gull (many)
Sterna forsteri Forster’s Tern (many)
Columba livia Rock Pigeon (many)
Zenaida macroura Mourning Dove (many)
Bubo virginianus Great Horned Owl (1 heard)
Strix varia Barred Owl (1)
Megaceryle alcyon Belted Kingfisher (at least 3 or 4)
Colaptes auratus Northern Flicker (several)
Dryocopus pileatus Pileated Woodpecker (at least 2 or 3)
Melanerpes carolinus Red-bellied Woodpecker (several)
Picoides pubescens Downy Woodpecker (at least 2)
Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe (several)
Vireo solitarius Blue-headed Vireo (1)
Corvus brachyrhynchos American Crow (many)
Cyanocitta cristata Blue Jay (several)
Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow (many)
Baeolophus bicolor Tufted Titmouse (several)
Poecile carolinensis Carolina Chickadee (several)
Cistothorus palustris Marsh Wren (at least 1 or 2)
Thryothorus ludovicianus Carolina Wren (many)
Regulus calendula Ruby-crowned Kinglet (many)
Regulus satrapa Golden-crowned Kinglet (several)
Catharus guttatus Hermit Thrush (at least 1)
Sialia sialis Eastern Bluebird (several)
Turdus migratorius American Robin (many)
Dumetella carolinensis Gray Catbird (a few)
Mimus polyglottos Northern Mockingbird (many)
Toxostoma rufum Brown Thrasher (1)
Anthus rubescens American Pipit (a few)
Setophaga coronata Yellow-rumped Warbler (many)
Vermivora celata Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
Junco hyemalis Dark-eyed Junco (a few)
Melospiza georgiana Swamp Sparrow (a few)
Melospiza melodia Song Sparrow (several)
Passerculus sandwichensis Savannah Sparrow (several)
Zonotrichia albicollis White-throated Sparrow (at least 1 or 2)
Cardinalis cardinalis Northern Cardinal (a few)
Passerina cyanea Indigo Bunting (1)
Agelaius phoeniceus Red-winged Blackbird (many)
Quiscalus major Boat-tailed Grackle (many)
Sturnella magna Eastern Meadowlark (many)
Carpodacus mexicanus House Finch (a few)
Passer domesticus House Sparrow (at least 2)
Didelphis virginiana Virginia Opossum (many DOR) *
Ursus americanus American Black Bear (ca. 4)
Procyon lotor Common Raccoon (at least 1 DOR) *
Canis rufus Red Wolf (1)
Sciurus carolinensis Eastern Gray Squirrel (a few)
Odocoileus virginianus White-tailed Deer (at least 3 alive, many DOR)
Tursiops truncatus Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphin (several)
Fishes: at least 1
Reptiles: at least 5
Birds: at least 95
Mammals: at least 7
[Not all species were seen by everyone in the group, and some group members may have seen species not listed above. Some additional species were potentially glimpsed or heard but not positively identified (e.g., Spotted Turtle, Blackpoll Warbler, et al. may have been glimpsed; glimpsed road-kills may have included Gray Fox, Eastern Cottontail, et al.).]
Authored by Erik Thomas
Wake Audubon board member Erik Thomas engaged in monitoring of the Lumber River IBA (Important Bird Area) on October 6-8, 2017. He was able to conduct counts at 27 of the 41 roadside sites over the weekend. The weather was rainy and some of the counts took place in drizzle. The hope was that he could document southward-bound migrants in the area. Unfortunately, the only transient birds that appeared were a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and two Black-and-white Warblers, and the latter may have been wintering in the area. One surprise was a flock of Cattle Egrets, which are common in that area in the spring but unusual this late in the year. They were feeding, predictably, with a herd of cows, but not at any of the official count sites. The big stars of the trip were acorn-eating birds. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Blue Jays each appeared at most of the sites. There were Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers at some sites as well. They were all vocal and foraging actively for acorns. At this time of year, these birds are busy collecting and caching acorns for winter storage, and they play a crucial role in disseminating acorns to locations far from the parent tree. Oaks are highly dependent on jays and woodpeckers for spreading their seeds. Many nut-caching birds, including jays, have phenomenal memories for locations where they have buried nuts, but they never retrieve every nut they’ve cached.
You may not have thought of acorns as a food source, but they are edible. In fact, Native Americans in California relied heavily on acorns as a source of food. If you have a ready supply of acorns, you can make acorn bread. Some labor is involved, however. First, you have to crack and clean the acorns. This is the step that involves the most work. Acorn shells are soft and a standard nutcracker will suffice. Some acorns will have weevil larvae, so you’ll have to remove the weevils and frass. (Hint—put the weevil larvae in your birdfeeder.) You’ll probably want to peel off the fibrous covering from the nut meats. Once you’ve done that, you need to chop the acorn meats into small pieces. Then you boil them in several changes of water—two or three changes of water will do for white oak acorns, but you’ll probably need more for red oak acorns. The purpose of the boiling is to leach out the bitter tannins. Once that part is done, dry the chopped acorns out. You may want to beat them into a powder at this point. Then you’ll need equal amounts of acorn meal, flour, and milk, as well as an egg, a few tablespoons each of sugar and cooking oil, a tablespoon or two of baking powder, and a little salt. Mix the dry and fluid ingredients separately and then mix the two together. Pour the batter into a baking pan and bake it at 250º for an hour. The bread will appear marbled with brown streaks when you cut into it, and it has a unique but pleasant flavor.
Authored by John Gerwin, trip leader.
Our August Butterfly Walk began at Raulston Arboretum at 9 am on Saturday, August 5th. We had 16 participants, 11 of which of which followed us to Prairie Ridge for part 2. (for about an hour at the end). Thanks to everyone who came out.
We had ~19 species including a cool one I have not seen in years, called Hayhurst’s Scallopwing. The larvae of the Scallopwing feed on Lambs Quarters, which is a common “weed”. Which is closely related to Quinoa.
Another good one for the day was a Gulf Fritillary. This is a more “tropical” species that reaches the Raleigh area now almost every year. That is, early broods way down south (Florida, Georgia) grow up, lay more eggs, and the new ones sort of “drift” northward. Almost like the Monarch pattern. The larvae of this one feed on Passionflower.
The Pipevine Swallowtail larvae feed on plants in the genus Aristolochia. In the mountains, this is a vine called Dutchman’s Pipe and this butterfly is really a “mountain” butterfly, where it is far more abundant. Here are photos of the Pipeline and the Black Swallowtail, both of which we saw.
Red-banded Hairstreak: the larvae feed on fallen, decaying leaves of Wax Myrtle and several Sumac species. It seems no one has documented them feeding on live leaves, or rarely. Those who raise them in captivity raise them on decaying/dead leaves and some studies in nature find the same thing.
Authored by Jeff Beane
On Saturday, 25 March, I led a field trip, “Ephemeral Ponds in the North Carolina Sandhills,” as a follow-up to my talk on ephemeral wetlands at the 14 March general meeting. Participating were Colleen Bockhahn, Genya Bragina, Chad Chandler, Carol Cunningham, Stephanie Horton, Annie Runyon, and Joanne St. Clair. We met at 9:30 a.m. at my Sandhills house near Hoffman and visited a variety of ephemeral wetlands (seven total) within the longleaf pine ecosystem in Scotland and Hoke counties. Sites ranged from large to small, from artificial borrow pits to clay-based Carolina Bays, and from completely dry to too-deep-for-hip-waders—well illustrating the nature of ephemeral wetlands. We turned up a total of 11 amphibian species (about four of them obligate ephemeral wetland breeders, and a few others heavily dependent upon ephemeral wetlands). We also turned up four lizard species, and saw three fox squirrels (a lifer for some trip participants) as well as many interesting plants, birds, and invertebrates. We made a few brief detours to look at a pitcher plant seep, radio-track a coachwhip, and visit the world champion turkey oak. The weather was beautiful—mostly sunny and 70s°F. We ended the enjoyable day with dinner in a Mexican restaurant in Aberdeen, and most folks headed back toward Raleigh at around 9:00 p.m. A good time was had by all, and everyone learned something.
Ambystoma mabeei Mabee’s Salamander (2 larvae)
Ambystoma t. tigrinum Eastern Tiger Salamander (1 dead, partially eaten larva)
Notophthalmus viridescens dorsalis Broken-striped Newt (2 adults)
Pseudotriton m. montanus Eastern Mud Salamander (1 adult)
Bufo [Anaxyrus] terrestris Southern Toad (at least 1 calling; eggs; 1 dead, partially eaten adult)
Acris gryllus Southern Cricket Frog (many seen and calling)
Pseudacris crucifer Spring Peeper (at least 3 seen; several calling)
Pseudacris nigrita Southern Chorus Frog (several seen and calling)
Rana [Lithobates] capito Carolina Gopher Frog (1 large tadpole)
Rana [Lithobates] clamitans Green Frog (a few tadpoles)
Rana sphenocephala [Lithobates sphenocephalus] Southern Leopard Frog (tadpoles; eggs; a few calling)
Anolis carolinensis Green Anole (at least 1 or 2)
Sceloporus undulatus Fence Lizard (1 adult male)
Eumeces [Plestiodon] inexpectatus Southeastern Five-lined Skink (1 adult)
Scincella lateralis Ground Skink (at least 8)