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:
By Bob Oberfelder
How good do your bird photos need to be? Yes, I know this is a topic for endless debate and it is a debate I constantly have with myself. This blog will NOT definitively answer this question, I am writing merely to define the issue a bit more clearly. It is important to decide what the purpose of your picture will be. If you want a crystal clear photo that can be made into a poster size print, you had better have first rate camera equipment, plenty of mega pixels, lots of time to engineer the perfect shot and good light so you can shoot with low ISO settings. This kind of perfection is available to only a few with the requisite time, money, interest and incentive. Now it is time to set realistic goals. Crisp 8X10 inch pictures are readily accessible with a decent camera (some point and shoot cameras will do just fine) a bit of skill finding the subject of choice, and decent light conditions to make an appealing photo. Many of us, myself included, are capable of achieving this level of success. The real purpose of this blog is to advocate for a different level of photographic success.
Many of us are competent birders for common species and for bright and distinctive spring plumages. The problem comes when you see something that is a rare bird, an immature bird, or a bird with a plumage that is between the plumages shown in the guidebooks. This is perhaps one of the most useful arenas in which to use photography. Photography can be used as a critical tool for improving your identification skills and for documenting rare or unusual species. For these objectives, first-rate photos are often not necessary (desirable, yes, essential, no.)
A recent trip to Mid Pines Road illustrates this point. This road is surrounded by North Carolina State University land and it often harbors rare and interesting species. (Mid Pines Road connects Wheeler Road and Tryon Road and it is near Historic Yates Mill County Park.) I spent a bit of time taking photos of the Wake Audubon Bird of the Year, the Field Sparrow and Horned Larks were present there as well. Neither of these species is particularly unusual for Mid Pines Road. I did, however, encounter a bird that was clearly a falcon, and I was uncertain about the identity of this bird. The most reasonable options for that area were an American Kestrel, a Merlin, or Peregrine Falcon. It was very far away, perhaps 1000 feet from where I was standing and I had no opportunity to get closer. I decided that the only option was to take some crummy pictures and forward them to my go-to local experts Erla Beegle and John Gerwin. A couple of crummy photos were enough for Erla and John to both proclaim it a Peregrine Falcon. This kind of photo may not be worth a thousand words, but you might be able to get a bird ID out of it. John says that it is often possible to identify a bird with one or more crummy photographs (good photos are always better) so he advocates taking pictures, even lousy ones, of unusual or hard to identify birds so you have a chance to identify them. This is an approach I have sometimes used and perhaps should use more often. It is a way to learn to identify challenging birds and may even be sufficient to document truly rare birds.
Authored by John Connors
Report from the Field
The Raleigh Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 19. After an extended warm spell, Saturday was clear but seasonably cold with early morning temperatures below freezing, and the wind picked up as the day advanced.
Twenty-one groups with more than 70 participants surveyed the same southern Wake County parks, reservoirs and farmlands that bird counters have been visiting since the Raleigh Count was initiated in 1937. As compiler, I organize the group leaders and assign participants before the count, and then I tally and submit the results to a national database afterward.
I haven’t received all the count tallies yet, but preliminary results list 95 species of birds sighted by our groups. Many counters reported low overall bird numbers, and some species were noticeably uncommon, for example, Goldfinch. But diversity and numbers for most species was comparable to other years.
Some highlights include:
Redhead Duck (2) at Lake Wheeler, Northern Harrier (1) near Schenck Forest, Horned Lark (1) and American Pipits (45) at Mid-Pines, Loggerhead Shrike (1) at Schenck Forest, Blue-headed Vireo (1) at Walnut Creek, Common Raven (2) at Umstead State Park, as well as singles and multiple sightings of the following: House Wren, Gray Catbird, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole and Purple Finch.
The best bird of the day might be a Red-necked Grebe that was seen at Lake Benson by our paddling birding team of Kyle Kittelberger and Brian Bockhahn. This might be the first ever reported on our count.
Notable misses up to this point include: Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Screech Owl, Herring Gull, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskin.
Have a happy, safe and peaceful Holiday season.
by Jeff Beane
Every holiday season, tens of thousands of volunteers, mostly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in at least 15 other countries, brave cold, rain, wind and snow to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. The data they gather are used to assess the health of bird populations and guide conservation actions.
What they are
Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, Christmas Bird Counts are held each year between December 14th and January 5th. Their basic purpose is to census bird populations. Each regional count covers a “count circle” 15 miles in diameter, or about 177 square miles. Participants divide into small groups, and each group covers a specific assigned portion of the circle as thoroughly as possible. They identify and count, to the best of their ability, every bird seen during their 24 hour count date. Participants may count birds all day, or for only a few hours. Some prefer to watch their feeders and report those results. Usually one person serves as coordinator, organizing participation, compiling data, and submitting final results to National Audubon.
How they started
Attitudes toward, and appreciation for, wildlife and conservation in this country have changed drastically over the years. In the 19th century, before there were laws protecting migratory birds, “side hunts” were a popular holiday tradition. Contestants would choose sides and see how many birds and other animals a team could shoot in a single day. Frank M. Chapman, a young ornithologist and early officer in the newly formed Audubon Society, was outraged by this senseless killing and waste of wildlife. In protest, on Christmas Day 1899, he counted live birds for three hours, publishing his results in the newly created Bird-Lore magazine (which later became Audubon), and encouraged other bird lovers to do the same. The next year, 1900, the first national count was held, with 27 participants counting in 25 locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Each year since then, the Christmas Bird Counts, or CBCs, have grown. Well over 2,000 regional counts are now held, with over 70,000 participants. About 40 are held in North Carolina. This year’s 116th annual count promises to be the biggest yet. The Raleigh CBC, sponsored by Wake Audubon, will be held on Saturday, 19 December 2015. Contact John Connors firstname.lastname@example.org or John Gerwin email@example.com if you would like to participate.
Why they’re important
CBCs are among the best data sources we have on bird populations. They can depict trends and population fluctuations over time. They are also the best-known citizen science projects in the world—allowing ordinary citizens to gather data that contribute to the overall body of our knowledge about birds. The counts certainly have their flaws and shortcomings. Not every part of a count circle can be covered. Certainly not every bird gets seen or identified. Large flocks can’t be counted precisely. It’s hard to be sure that some birds don’t get counted more than once. But the sheer volume of information and the consistency of holding the counts in the same places, during the same seasons, often with the same participants counting in the same fashion, year after year, make the data very valuable. Studies have shown that CBC data correlate closely with those gathered using more rigorous scientific methods. Hundreds of peer-reviewed articles have been published in scientific journals using analyses done with CBC data. State and federal agencies also use the information to make important bird conservation decisions.
Why they’re fun
CBCs are good opportunities to learn about birds from skilled and knowledgeable birders. They are also social events, where birders can make new friends, or spend time with old ones. These are the biggest reasons that many people participate. Many counts have special traditions, including lunches, dinners, and countdown parties during which data are compiled and stories are shared. Some even have their own T-shirts. The Raleigh CBC’s annual potluck dinner, the venison chili and pralines usually to be had at the Southern Pines count, and the Key lime pie and seafood featured at the tally rally following the Ocracoke and Portsmouth counts, will be enough to keep you coming back. But even better are the things you’ll see and learn, and the friends and memories you’ll make.
If you don’t know birds very well, you can still be placed with a team of good birders and help by spotting birds for them to identify, or by helping them keep their list. Birding with experts is one of the best ways to learn. Even if you don’t participate in an organized count or project, birding is fun and educational in its own right, and is one of the easiest outdoor activities to get interested in, because you can watch birds anywhere. A pair of binoculars and a good field guide are all you need to get started. And you have all year to learn and practice for those Christmas Counts!
Atlas of Wintering North American Birds: An Analysis of Christmas Bird Count Data by Terry Root, University of Chicago Press, 1988.
“Out for the Count” by Jeff Beane, Wildlife in North Carolina, December 2006.
National Audubon Society: Christmas Bird Count:
A group for bird lovers in the Carolinas:
Birding with a purpose—learn about bird citizen science projects:
An online checklist program to count, report, and keep track of birds anytime, anywhere:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and information on many bird projects:
By Fred J. Eckert
One of the best places in the United States and perhaps in the entire world to see – and photograph — a bountiful variety of incredibly colorful ducks is an easy day trip from anywhere in or near Wake County – only about an hour-and-a-half drive.
It constantly amazes me that so few of even the most avid birders in our area are aware of this fantastic attraction that lies so near to us.
Right now through mid-May are the months to savor these ducks — more than 100 species of them from all parts of the world — at their peak color.
Sylvan Heights Bird Park, located in the tiny northeast North Carolina rural town of Scotland Neck, a bit east of Rocky Mount between Tarboro and Roanoke Rapids on NC Route 258, is the largest bird park in North America and largest waterfowl park in the world.
This fascinating and fun park is home to more than 2,500 birds. Included among them are 18 endangered species; more than 30 species of very rare birds; all 8 swan species; 30 of the just over 30 species of geese and more than 100 species of ducks.
And it truly is a park as opposed to some tourist attraction that merely bills itself as a park. The pleasant, neat, well-maintained 18-acre park-like environment is well laid out in a double-8 clearly marked pathway and divided into sectors dedicated to each of the seven continents (except, because of climate, Antarctica) plus sections focused on exotic birds, finches, pheasant, flamingos and swans, geese and cranes.
There is no other place in the country quite like SylvanHeights Bird Park where visitors can observe up-close, and sometimes even interact with, such an amazing array of exotic and/or endangered birds, ducks, geese and swan from all parts of the world.
This great avian collection is the dream and culmination of a lifetime of work devoted to saving birds and waterfowl of Mike Lubbock who founded and directs this not-for-profit operation with his wife Ali and their son Brent and a small handful of staff and volunteers.
Widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on waterfowl, this farm boy from the Somerset area of England became fascinated with birds as a youth and began his career in ornithology at Britain’s prestigious Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust where he served first as a volunteer then as Curator and ultimately as Director of Aviculture. It’s also where he met his future wife, Ali, who was serving as a volunteer.
His rare talent for bird breeding — his successes where others had failed – became widely known and resulted in his being personally consulted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who first turned to Mike for advice about her concern that the red-breasted geese among her bird collection at Buckingham Palace were reluctant to breed. The Queen followed his advice and one day she called Mike all excited about the change she credited him with bringing about. He became her go-to expert from then after.
Mike’s passion to preserve threatened waterfowl and other birds and promote conservation efforts has taken him all over the world and he has worked in this field he loves so much in both the UK and the USA. The International Wild Waterfowl Association, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame – they’ve also inducted Ali Lubbock — and bestowed upon him its most prestigious aviculture award, has said: “Mike Lubbock’s avicultural accomplishments on both sides of the Atlantic are legendary. He has brought many new species and new bloodlines in from the wild. He has accomplished many first breedings and he has been a source of bird and breeding advice to many.”
How Mike Lubbock path in life led him to realizing his and Ali’s dream of creating their own great avian collection park here in North Carolina is a long story and the subject of a recently released book, The Waterfowl Man of Sylvan Heights. What we Wake Audubon Society members need to know is that such a great birding experience that so few of us have been aware of for too long is so near-by and so well worth a visit.
The 18-acre park which is open to the public is an outgrowth of its adjacent 10-acre Breeding Center devoted to raising rare and endangered species of waterfowl. “The Park is designed to educate people about waterfowl and the importance of preserving them,” says Mike Lubbock. “Our goal is to tell visitors the story of every species–where it comes from, what habitat it prefers and why the species is important to our world. Visitors are also immersed into a wetland setting, so the feel and scope of a primary waterfowl habitat can be fully experienced.” Park generated revenue also helps fund the Breeding Center.
Among the many interesting facts about Sylvan Heights: It is credited with breeding 17 species of waterfowl for the first time in the world and 15 species for the first time in the North America and nearly one-third of the world’s once perilously endangered White-winged Wood Duck population reside here.
Naturally a place where visitors can come see waterfowl and other birds that include endangered and very rare species has to house them in a protective captive environment. For anyone who suggests that it is not a good thing to have birds in such a protected area, Mike Lubbock has a question: “Would you rather view an endangered species alive in a nice park-like environment such as Sylvan Heights Bird Park or dead in some museum?”
It is obvious that great thought and care have gone in to making Sylvan Heights the best possible experience both for those who visit it and for the birds and waterfowl who reside there. Besides being so pleasant and well-maintained the areas are extra good sized with exceptionally high nets. The water is very clear. The design is such as to insure maximum safety for the birds and waterfowl.
And here’s something truly smart that anyone who likes to photograph birds will appreciate: In places where otherwise you would normally expect to have to shoot through a wire fence, ruining any possibility of getting a very good photo, Sylvan Heights enables photographers to open an area in the fence that is wide enough to poke through a long lens and easily move it up or down and from side to side. You’ll need a key, which you can use while your driver’s license is held to insure its return – and there is a modest fee. I thought this was a fantastic plus but asked if it didn’t pose any risk of what was being photographed somehow escaping through the resulting temporary small hole in the fence. No chance – the design prevents such a possibility.
Yet another interesting feature of Sylvan Heights is that within the park you can also observe and photograph birds and waterfowl in the wild. At Beaver Pond Blind, which overlooks a wetland, as its name suggests you can observe and photograph looking out of one of its many blinds. The wheelchair accessible Treehouse is a large roofed viewing platform located over another, larger wetland.
The feature probably most popular with kids in the interactive Landing Zone, a good sized building where parakeets will fly to you if you have a seed stick and you can feed flamingoes out of your hand. Seed sticks for the parakeets and food for feeding to flamingoes cost $1 and are available in the Landing Zone or the Visitor Center gift shop. Besides a variety of parakeets and the American Flamingos inside The Landing Zone visitors encounter parrots, doves, pheasants, pigeons and the white-rumped shama, a small passerine bird.
Tours of Sylvan Heights Bird Park begin at the Visitors Center, where you can watch an introductory video and check out some displays, sometimes baby birds or waterfowl. Its Gift Shop is small but nice. Sylvan Park does not operate any food service – but this very-family-friendly attraction welcomes anyone to bring a picnic lunch and provides a playground for the kids and a couple of picnic areas. It’s only a few minutes’ drive to any one of several restaurants and fast-food outlets in town.
While anyone living in Wake County or close by can do Sylvan Heights as a day-trip, my wife and I opted to devote more time and were glad we did. Anyone who enjoys photographing beautiful birds, as I certainly do, really should devote more than just one day to this great experience and take advantage of being able to shoot different sections in different lighting conditions.
What we would not recommend doing is following the accommodations recommendations of some of the reservations booking sites. Most we checked recommended staying in Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount or Tarboro – and each place is a 30 to 40 minute commute to and from Sylvan Heights on small country roads that are pitch black at night and best avoided at night especially, say, during deer season.
We stayed in Scotland Neck at the Scotland Neck Inn which compares favorably to any of the recommend motels that require a long commute. It was comfortable, very clean, good service and it’s reasonably priced, offering a discount for Sylvan Heights visitors. It was hot when we visited the park and it was nice to be able to return to the motel and freshen up during our lunch breaks. There is also a bed-and-breakfast in town.
Not surprisingly there’s not much to do in a town so tiny that it does not have a single traffic light and which, except for a few familiar fast-food spots, looks pretty much as it did in the 1950’s.
What did surprise us, as it has others, is that tiny Scotland Neck has a restaurant serving such outstanding Italian food – LaCasetta. My wife and I know Italian food pretty well, having lived in Rome and having traveled throughout so much of Italy – and LaCasetta, operated by an Italian who hails from Sicily, is great!
For anyone who enjoys birds or anyone who just wants to try something different a visit to Sylvan Heights Bird Park is a wonderful experience. Pretty much everyone who visits it gives it rave reviews.
When’s the best time of year to visit? Anytime. Ducks are at their best colors right now, tropical birds during the summer months.
For more information about Sylvan Heights – including information about its hours, fees, events and its various educational programs – visit its website by clicking here.