Authored by Harry LeGrand
It is with great sorrow that I report the news that John Finnegan, a long-time birder/biologist based in Raleigh, passed away November 10th after a 7-8-month bout of cancer. I had lunch with John only 8 days earlier, and though weak (after much chemo and pills) and in an easy chair at home, he was quite responsive and talking freely with several of us. Thus, even though he was expected to live only a handful of weeks or a month or two longer, the news of his passing so quickly came as a shock to his friends.
John and his wife Stephanie Horton did a considerable amount of birding and herping in the state, especially in Wake County and in the Sandhills. His good friend Jeff Beane was with him on many of these trips, including several decades of participation on the Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands Christmas Bird Counts. He participated in the Wake County bird counts for several decades and was a very active member of the Wake Audubon Society as well as the NC Herpetological Society. He conducted two Breeding Bird Survey routes in the Sandhills for a number of years. He, Jeff, Stephanie, and one or two others conducted a Wildathon Big Day each May to record the number of species of vertebrates in a single day, with contributions based on number of species going to NC Audubon for conservation purposes.
He observed and identified the first inland Gray Kingbird that was confirmed by photographs (later in the day by another birder), just south of Raleigh. He also identified the first inland spring Arctic Tern in NC, at Lake Waccamaw, confirmed by photos from Jeff Beane.
He was the Data Manager for the NC Natural Heritage Program for around 25 years, where he worked several rooms or cubicles from me during that time; I was the Terrestrial Zoologist. Though his job was not one that got him in the field often, he and Stephanie were afield on most weekends.
He will be sorely missed on several Christmas Bird Counts, on many birding and herping outings,and at Audubon and Herp Society meetings. His departure leaves a great hole not only for the Natural Heritage Program to fill, but to his numerous friends and fellow biologists.
On Saturday, August 27th, Wake Audubon and the Museum of Natural Sciences co-sponsored a workshop to learn some of the finer points of bird identifications for a variety of challenging species. Twelve folks ventured out and into the murky world of “little brown jobs” which actually included some big brown “jobs” and a few other types added for good measure.
Three of most active Young Naturalists provided tremendous support (one is a former Museum Junior Curator who has been affiliated with the YNC program the past 2 years). These 3 helped to pull ~75 bird specimens from the Museum’s ornithology collections, to represent some of the more challenging plumages of species found in North Carolina, and often in Wake County. These included various species of warblers (fall, immature plumages), sparrows, raptors (“all immature raptors seem to be brown on the back and streaked underneath”….), and some of the finch/bunting types. There were others and as the saying goes, you just had to be there.
Specimens were arranged on tabletops in their respective groups, and John Gerwin and the 3 assistants held court at the resulting tables, where they could go over each specimen/species and compare and contrast with others that look so much alike.
Olivia and Vanessa Merritt, and Edward Landi, have assisted John with numerous bird banding events over the past 3 years, which includes 4 projects. They have spent many hours handling live sparrows, buntings and warblers in the Fall at both Prairie Ridge and a grassland/shrub site in the Uwharries, as part of ongoing bird banding studies at each site. They also assist with tasks in the Museum’s ornithology collections. So these three have gained quite a bit of experience with these more challenging species (some of our other Young Naturalists have been participating as well but were unavailable to help on Saturday).
In addition to the specimens, John showed a few dozen images of the species of interest, during which time we were able to discuss the field marks, and see how things might look through optics (versus a specimen in your hand!). This gave folks a chance to guess at identifications, which is always a combination of fun and internal strife!
By the end, we were all sufficiently overwhelmed by the many shades of browns, grays, olive greens, but we agreed that in spite of their more “quiet” look, they are really quite lovely once you see them up close the way we did.
Attached are a few of the species we covered – click on the image to enlarge it. See which ones you can ID (then look at the end of the blog for the answers).
John Gerwin, Treasurer, Wake Audubon and Research Curator, Ornithology, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Upper left: Palm, western subspecies
Upper right: Cape May, female
Lower left: Blackpoll
Lower middle: “Yellow”, or Eastern Palm
Lower right: Prairie
Lower left: Cooper’s, immature female
Upper middle: Sharp-shinned, adult
Upper right, Sharp-shinned, immature
Lower right: Cooper’s, adult on Starling
Right: White-crowned, immature
Ammodramus: this slide shows the underside of the two species of what were once considered one: Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Now known as: Nelson’s, and Saltmarsh, sparrow. The specimen labels reflect this current taxonomy.
Authored by John Gerwin
I went outside this week, on a couple afternoons, to check out the butterflies. A number of butterfly-attracting plants are now blooming nicely (New York Ironweed, Cup Plant, Smooth Oxeye, Green-headed Sneezeweed/Coneflower, Summer Phlox). And, as I’d expected/hoped, a number of Skipper butterflies have now appeared to feed at these flowers (I saw 4 Skipper species that day, in an hour of looking around).
The Skipper group of butterflies is a large, worldwide group. The common name derives from the flight of many of them, a flight during which they “skip” through the air. Species in this group have some of the strongest flight muscles and are some of the fastest flying Lepidoptera – they bounce erratically through the air, and are often tough to visually follow. Indeed, they appear to come and go in a flash. And some are territorial, so they attack anything that walks or flies by – anything.
In addition, as a group, Skippers are known as dull, drab, difficult to identify butterflies. Even when graced with some spots/blotches, there can be several species whose spots are so similar that they are still tough to ID. Many show sexual dimorphism (males and females look different) – so different you’d think they are two species. And to make matters more fun, the sex of one might look like one of the others. They are, in essence, the “sparrows, or gulls, of the butterfly world”. Few people subject themselves to what can be a torturous experience – identifying a Skipper.
But, there are in fact a number of species who are quite wonderfully marked, and/or show some fine coloration. So, to those trying to learn some new species out there, I say take a look for, and at, these more elaborately colored species. As always, I encourage anyone to go along with a simple point and shoot camera and take plenty of shots. You can then go home and put a name to your butterflies later (or you can ask some of us on this list).
For now, let me show case a few that I see in the yard, or nearby in some neighbor’s yard.
Zabulon, Clouded, Fiery Skippers
One of the brightest skippers I see out in the yard is the male Zabulon Skipper. But, in a slightly more subdued way, the female is no snoozer either. So the Zabulon show sexual dimorphism and “interestingly” enough, the Clouded Skipper (either sex as they are nearly identical) looks much like the female Zabulon. And as you’ll see from the pics, the two sexes of Zabulon are wildly different-looking. If you find one that looks like a female Zabulon, a great way to tell which species it is, is if you see the fine white line on the upper (leading) edge of the hindwing. You may think “I’ll never see that tiny bit of white! Gerwin’s crazy!” But in fact, it is pretty noticeable (notwithstanding that Gerwin can still be crazy).
I find the chestnut coloration of the female Zabulon quite beautiful – in this species, this color shows best when fresh and when the light hits it just right. I also appreciate the “dusty” or “frosted” appearance of the Clouded Skipper, which is on the underside of this species. I might have named this one “Foggy” Skipper, as that is how that marking appears to me, when I see it. Although grayish-white may not seem like an appealing coloration, it looks quite lovely to me, set against the dark background.
The Fiery Skipper is also fairly bright, as you can see. And it is a dimorphic species. The male is a brighter yellow-orange with small spots, whereas the female is a quieter yellow-orange, with larger brownish spots. Unfortunately, I somehow managed to photograph the undersides of only male Fiery’s. I will be on the lookout now! The Fiery Skipper is one of the most abundant skippers I see out there, and it is particularly fond of Lantana. I know Lantana is not native to these parts, but it produces some good nectar and I confess, I grow some in a pot or two around here, and many many butterflies are attracted to it. The butterflies have spoken.
Many Skipper larvae feed on a variety of grasses. Two of the kinds that the Zabulon will feed on are Poa and Eragrostis species. I am particularly fond of Eragrostis, one of which is the Purple Love Grass (I love purple so this circle is complete). I have planted some (Purple Love Grass) in the front yard. Poa’s are common everywhere and Poa annua is considered a real pest, and many folks spray a lot of herbicide to try and control it. Poa glauca is an ornamental Bluestem that is commonly planted.
Clouded and Fiery Skipper larvae feed on St. Augustine Grass, another common ornamental, and Fiery’s will also feed on Bermuda Grass, yet another non-native.
Take a walk around the neighborhood this month and enjoy the challenge of identifying some of these butterflies sipping and skipping into autumn.
First published on the Wild West blog site: wildwestavent.wordpress.com
A poem by Jill Walsh ~ August 9, 2016
A little bird came hopping by, foraging for seeds
Enchanted I sat witness to, his dance amid the trees
A tail of white-tipped feathers splayed, head bobbing up and down
The subtle sound of shuffling feet, as he scratched the fertile ground
He waltzed through dappled waves of light, with wings of brilliant hue
While rays of glistening sun unveiled, opalescent shades of blue
A triumphant chirp did soon resound, when grasped within his beak
The treasured prize uncovered, beneath the fallen leaves
Authored by Bob Oberfelder
In early May 2016, the fields next to Mid Pines Road were alive with a huge flock of Bobolinks. There were at least 150 Bobolinks in total with the flock breaking up into two or more flocks periodically and then joining together to form one really large flock. This Bobolink flock was the largest flock I have ever seen at one time in one place, and it doubled the number of Bobolinks I have ever seen. The first photo shows a very small part of the flock in flight. According to Harry Legrand, it is not unusual to see even larger flocks migrating along the coast. Since we only see these birds as spring migrants, a sighting in any given year in the area around Mid Pines Road is a hit or miss proposition. In breeding plumage, the males are quite showy as seen in the second photo. In contrast to the showy breeding plumage males, the females resemble an Eastern Meadowlark without a bib or some strange sparrow. The final photo shows one of the female Bobolinks. The contrast between males and female is quite striking. This flock attracted lots of attention from the local birding community and cooperated by staying in the area for at least 2-3 weeks. Although frequent rain showers accompanied the flock during the first week it was present, the latter part of their stay permitted better pictures.
Authored by Erik Thomas.
Two members of the Wake Audubon Society board, Colleen Bockhahn and Erik Thomas, conducted bird counts in the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA) on May 1 and 2. IBA’s are areas that provide especially extensive areas of prime bird habitat and may harbor uncommon or rare species. Audubon North Carolina has entrusted the Wake Audubon Society with monitoring the Lumber River IBA, which covers much of the eastern half of Robeson County. Designated points are established at which the counts take place. Counting follows a protocol in which counters record the numbers of each species they see or hear within a ten-minute period and approximately how far away each bird was from the point. WAS members have been monitoring the Lumber River IBA for the past nine years.
The primary goal of this trip was to find migrants. We found a few transient species during the trip: two Black-throated Blue Warblers, an American Redstart, several Black-and-white Warblers, and one Spotted Sandpiper. For the most part, however, we found local breeding species, in which the Lumber River IBA is notably rich. The bottomland forest warbler triumvirate of Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, and Yellow-throated Warbler
was ubiquitous. Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Barred Owls, Red-shouldered Hawks, and three species of vireos were frequent. We heard Swainson’s Warblers at three different count points. Even a few Wild Turkeys materialized. Perhaps our biggest surprise was a Wood Stork that was soaring overhead at one count point. One species that we did not find was the Red-headed Woodpecker, a bird that has appeared on many of our previous trips to the Lumber River IBA. Our total for the IBA on this trip was 73 species.
The records for all of the point counts are entered into a website that Audubon North Carolina keeps. Although this website is not publicly accessible, we also entered all the counts on eBird, so if you’re curious about what species we found at each site, just go to the eBird website (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/), click on “Explore Data,” and click on “Species Maps” to see any species or “Explore Hotspots” to see any of the individual points, which are designated as “Lumber River IBA D-01,” “Lumber River IBA D-02,” etc.
Many of us in Wake Audubon submitted comments on the proposals for the Bonner Bridge replacement and associated up-grades to the existing highway 12 route along the outer banks, several years ago. Our interests stemmed from the fact that highway 12 runs along the coast, and through a National Wildlife Refuge, and was constantly washing out. This has resulted in a lot of DOT funds spent over the years to repair the road, and thus, a lot of impact on the refuge and on local traffic.
This project affects the southern portion of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Rodanthe area. An Environmental Assessment was done in 2012 or so, and the first EA report released in December 2013. More comments were received and this month, a new report was released, indicating a new “preferred” alternative.
The original report recommended replacing the original bridge pretty much in the same place, but many of us and many folks in the Rodanthe area disagreed. The new recommendation is to build a new bridge in Pamlico Sound, to the west of the current Highway 12.
This new bridge location would minimize impacts to the wildlife refuge, the ocean/shore beach, the Rodanthe community and submerged aquatic vegetation in the sound. This new preferred alternative has the support of federal and state environmental and regulatory agencies and the residents of Rodanthe.
As proposed in this new plan, the part of Highway 12 within the current refuge would be removed, and that land returned to the Refuge management. Some of the original road would remain to allow access by local Rodanthe residents.
If you would like to read more, or see maps, about this project, please visit the following website:
During our last field trip to the outer banks we saw many birds. Here are photos by Bob Oberfelder.
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 (*).
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
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
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
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 *
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Total Vertebrate Species: 231
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, 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.
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, 7:20 a.m. Less than an hour remaining; exhaustedly scrambling for a few more species. Luckily, we knew where to find Tree Swallows.
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.
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.
Authored by John Connors
The Raleigh Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19, 2015. It was clear and chilly…a marked change from what had been an extended mild autumn season. Sixty-seven participants were distributed in twenty teams scattered across the top birding spots in southern Wake County. Our Raleigh Christmas Bird Count has taken place in this same 15-mile diameter circle since 1937. The Count Circle center is at the Farmer’s Market along Lake Wheeler Road.
This year we had groups owling at Schenck Forest, Mid-Pines and Lake Raleigh; and one pair of intrepid birders took a pre-dawn paddle into the upper reaches of Lake Benson. Most groups assembled around 7 am and birded through the morning. For those who could make it, we got together for our mid-day Countdown at Yates Mill Pond County Park.
All told we tallied 99 species of birds for the Raleigh Christmas Bird Count- a pretty good count for our area these days. Years ago the Raleigh CBC would regularly top 110 species, but nowadays we hope for 100.
Highlights for this year’s Raleigh Count include:
1 Red-necked Grebe seen by boat at Lake Benson, 3 Redhead Ducks at Lake Wheeler, 1 Northern Harrier at Schenck Forest, 1 Horned Lark and 40 American Pipit along Mid-Pines Road, 2 Common Raven at Umstead State Park, 1 Blue-headed Vireo at Walnut Creek Wetland Center, and 1 Orange-crowned Warbler at Lake Raleigh. The American Bittern made an appearance at Prairie Ridge Eco-station, and an incredible 11 Bald Eagles were seen at various locations across the Count Circle. Other notable species which may have lingered in our area during the warm fall weather include: 2 House Wren, 1 Gray Catbird, 2 Palm Warbler, and 1 Common Yellowthroat. A total of 11 Fox Sparrow (mostly at Schenck), 3 White-crowned Sparrow, and 13 Rusty Blackbird were also seen. In addition, 12 Baltimore Oriole, most at Lena Gallitano’s feeders, were tallied. Winter finches were noticeably absent- only 3 Purple Finches were seen.
More worrisome were the low numbers for Loggerhead Shrike (1), and Eastern Meadowlark (7). Bobwhite Quail may have disappeared from the count circle entirely. Perhaps the oddest miss was for the Fish Crow- the first time in many years where none was reported. Of course years ago the species was very rare here. Not to worry, they are now a common breeding bird and as I finish writing this post I can hear some outside my office window.
Thanks to all those who participated and particularly to those who worked as site leaders. John Connors
All Christmas Bird Count data can be viewed at: