Authored by John Connors
Friday, May 22, after a morning of banding birds, Eddie Owens and I were getting ready to hop in our cars when he pointed to a small group of swifts circling above the Chimney Swift Roost Tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation in west Raleigh.
As we watched, one of the birds took a quick turn and disappeared down the mouth of the chimney. We were thrilled to confirm reports from others that swifts had discovered our tower. But this wasn’t the first bit of good news Wake Audubon had received about swifts this spring.
Earlier in May, I watched four chimney swifts circle over an information kiosk at Anderson Point Park in east Raleigh. The swifts were noisy and clearly eyeing the structure. Of course this wasn’t just any old information kiosk; it was one Wake Audubon had commissioned several years ago to be built by an Eagle Scout, and it had a swift nesting chimney installed as its center.
Soon the birds circled higher, and I was able to watch a swift fly through the top of a tall maple to grab dead twigs. They returned to the kiosk. One of the swirling swifts raised its wings high, slowed down, and descended into the chimney’s center. It was the first confirmation that swifts are using the kiosk for nesting!
All of this began with Wake Audubon’s ambitious undertaking to install the Chimney Swift Roost Tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, a field research and education center for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
We spent three years planning and raising funds for the $36,000 project. More than 150 of you bought inscribed bricks. We secured donations from the Carolina Bird Club and the estate of Vicki Weiss, as well as grants from the Toyota TogetherGreen by Audubon program. Frank Harmon Associates donated design services and Custom Brick & Supply of Raleigh donated the bricks. Installation of the tower was completed in November.
The tower is one of just a few large brick chimneys that have been built specifically for roosting swifts in the eastern U.S. We think it is, in fact, one of only three. Our tower is large: 30 feet tall with a 5-foot by 5-foot opening, designed to accommodate thousands of roosting swifts. There are portholes for looking inside the tower and for installing cameras and scientific equipment. We are hopeful, but there are no guarantees with these things.
Of course we did our homework, which meant contacting Paul and Georgeann Kyle in Austin, Texas, who established a chimney swift research center in Austin and spearheaded the chimneyswifts.org website. They have years of experience experimenting with the design of swift nesting structures, including the practical swift nesting information kiosk that proved successful at Anderson Point Park. And they have had some success with small roosts.
With the tower completed, our attention turns to celebrating it with you, together with experts from across North America who have tirelessly worked to conserve this species of concern. In March, Wake Audubon received a Toyota TogetherGreen Alumni Award to host a chimney swift conservation forum and workshop.
When we began thinking about hosting a forum, our first invitation was sent to the Kyles, who agreed to be our featured speakers and will give an overview of their decades spent working with swifts. But there will be more, much more.
Researchers from UNC Chapel Hill will offer a three-dimensional look at the flight patterns of swift flocks filmed flying above downtown Raleigh; Amy Weidensaul and Brian Shema from Audubon Pennsylvania will discuss educational programming at swift roosts; Charles Collins, a retired biologist from California, will compare swifts from around the world, and Larry Schwitter will describe Vaux’s Happenings in Washington state. Audubon NC plans to highlight chimney swifts across the state next year.
Join us Friday evening, August 21, at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences for the symposium. On Saturday, August 22, Wake Audubon will partner with the museum to host the Chimney Swift Family Festival at Prairie Ridge Ecostation — our official celebration of the completion of the Chimney Swift Roost Tower. This will be a family-friendly event starting mid-afternoon. The festivities will include games for all ages, such as a roost-hole corn-hole contest, swift nest and mask making, and catch-a penny stealer bug chase games. (Intrigued? We know you are!) We will also have educational tables, arts and crafts, food trucks, music, guided hikes, and a roost viewing as the sun sets. Sunday at dusk, join us for swift roost viewings at other county sites.
Details on these events will be posted here, on our Celebrate Swifts page. All are free admission.
We can use volunteer help at Family Festival. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to help. And please plan to attend the Friday chimney swift forum the Saturday family festival and the Sunday swift viewing the weekend of August 21-23.
We focus on the Chimney Swift because this species lives across the eastern half of North America. We are working to protect this species, which is threatened by loss of nesting and roosting habitat. But there are three other species of swifts in North America. What about them? Our symposium on August 21st will provide more information on all the American swifts. Here is some background information.
In western America there are no Chimney Swifts (maybe a few wanderers), however, there are three other swift species: Vaux’s, White-throated, and Black Swifts. Vaux’s Swifts, Chaetura vauxi , breed in the Pacific Northwest – British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. They nest in hollows of large trees, a resource that is disappearing as old growth forests continue to be logged. They have also started nesting in chimneys. This is the same story as we have with the Chimney Swifts. The Vaux’s Swifts migrate to their wintering habitat in Central America and Venezuela. During their migration, large flocks of up to 20,000 birds can be seen entering large chimneys along the route. A popular viewing site is in Portland, Oregon. Visit the Audubon Portland website to learn more and see more pictures of the Vaux’s Swift.
White-throated Swift’s, Aeronautes saxatalis, breed in the Rocky Mountains and high plains of America. Unlike the Chimney and Vaux’s Swifts, the White-throated Swifts build their nests on the sides of cliffs and roost in large groups in the fissures of cliff faces during migration. Their wintering grounds are in the Southwestern US, Mexico and Central America.
The Black Swift, Cypseloides niger, is the largest swift, but its population is the smallest. They can be found nesting on cliffs from the American plains to the Pacific Ocean. They even nest on the rock cliffs behind waterfalls. They are mostly found in British Columbia, but local populations exist throughout the western US. Recent information puts their wintering grounds in Brazil. Although we focus mainly on the Chimney Swift, you can learn more about all of the swift species at Wake Audubon’s Swift Symposium. Please join us on Friday, August 21st from 6-9 pm at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
By Bob Oberfelder
Lake Betz is a unique habitat with a huge concentration of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is located behind the Cisco Systems and Network Appliance facilities between Louis Stephens Drive and Kit Creek Road (in the Research Triangle Park area). The safest place to park is in a gravel covered recreation parking lot off of Louis Stephens Drive. There are Port-a-potties there as well as some volleyball nets. If you walk across Louis Stephens Drive from the recreation area you will see an asphalt trail that leads over to the lake and swamp area.
There is a small lake here and adjacent to the lake is a swampy area filled with dead snags that have attracted large numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is possible to encounter as many as 7 woodpecker species in a single visit in this area in the winter. I have observed nesting Osprey, Northern Flickers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Common Grackles and Tree swallows. Large numbers of Green Herons appear to spend their summers here. During a recent visit, late May 2015, I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher and Belted Kingfishers are a common year-round sight. For people interested in photography, it is possible to get quite close to the birds since they frequent the foliage between the lake and the swampy area and many of the snags frequented by the woodpeckers are close to the walking trail. I am including a few recent photos taken at Lake Betz to wet your appetite for this unique place.
Authored by Bob Oberfelder
If you find photographs of birds engaging, viewing the award winners from the Audubon photography competition will be rewarding. Some of the birds are exotic and others are common, but the photos are all extraordinary. If you view the winners at the link Audubon Photo Winners you will be as impressed as I am with the quality of these pictures. The photographers have revealed the personas of the birds they have digitally captured. These pictures are a result of the confluence of an artistic eye, careful assessments of the lighting conditions, patience in getting the ideal pose, and high quality photographic equipment. The winners deserve accolades for the quality of their submissions, but I suspect even the average submission is worthy of praise.
If you wish to see photos from Wake Audubon field trips and activities, they can be viewed using the following link: Wake Audubon Photos. Though the quality of these photos in not in a class with the winners, they display the birds and other wildlife that have been seen on Wake Audubon field trips. Perhaps you will find them engaging enough to entice you to join us on one of our upcoming field trips.
Authored by Gerry Luginbuhl
The Wildlife Diversity staff with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission have submitted a proposal to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to manage 1,645 acres of the 2,800 acre former Voice of America (VOA) site. This former transmission facility is the largest expanse of contiguous grassland in North Carolina. The transfer of these acres to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission will, for the first time, allow the public access to the only robust population of breeding Henslow’s Sparrows in the eastern Unite States. The VOA closed in 2006 and is now disposing of the land. Beaufort County has been given first option to develop a parks and recreation plan for the entire site, and the Wildlife Commission’s proposal will complement active recreation facilities which may occur on the remaining acreage.
To read more about the proposed development of the former Voice of America site and to learn what you can do the protect this valuable resource, please visit our Advocacy page.
Great Backyard Bird Count
Join citizen scientists and bird nerds across North Carolina when they direct their eyes to the sky for Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) over Valentine’s Weekend. Now in its 18th year, the four-day event is encouraging bird watchers of all ages and skill level to contribute to research and conservation on a global level.
How it Works
The GBBC is for everyone, everywhere! Becoming a citizen-scientist is easy when you count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, and submit your sightings to www.BirdCount.org. And the information gathered by volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible!
What We’ll Learn
The Great Backyard Bird Count is the perfect follow-up to the Christmas Bird Count allowing us to track birds movements throughout the winter months. The data collected by thousands of citizen scientists across North Carolina is increasingly important to Audubon’s work as we develop new conservation methods to protect our birds from the effects of climate change.
North Carolina continues to be a top-performing state for the GBBC. During last year’s citizen science event, more than 5,000 checklists were submitted in our state. The largest single species count was 12,000 Redheads at Ocracoke Island, and the most frequently reported species were the Northern Cardinal and Dark-eyed Junco. In total, 204 individual species were spotted during the four-day event.
A Family Affair
For those bird nerds in need of a fun activity to share with their kids, the GBBC has plenty to choose from! With its less structured design, this weekend event is a great opportunity to introduce children of all ages to the excitement of bird watching. Audubon has created games and activities to help parents engage their kids in the count, and foster a love of citizen science from an early age.
Where to Bird
With 96 classified Important Bird Areas comprising 4.9 million acres, diverse landscapes from the mountains to the coast, and the state’s position along the Atlantic Flyway migration path, North Carolina is for the birds. And with so many species to spot, our citizen scientists have made NC one of the top performing states in the Count each year.
The GBBC continues to grow thanks to integration with the eBird online checklist program. Bird watchers from 135 countries participated in the 2014 count, documenting nearly 4,300 species on more than 144,000 bird checklists. Many fell in love with the magnificent Snowy Owl during the last count when the birds were reported in unprecedented numbers across southeastern Canada, the Great Lakes states, the Northeast and down the Atlantic Coast. Expect Snowy Owls to show up in higher numbers during this year’s GBBC, too.
The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada. To learn more about Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count visit birdsource.org/gbbc.
North Carolina is for the Birds During the Great Backyard Bird Count is
re-posted with permission from Audubon North Carolina. Originally posted on January 27, 2015 by maholley
Authored by Clara Chaisson. The newly built tower at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh, North Carolina, offers comfortable accommodations for guests and 5,000 of their closest friends. Though it’s simply a 30-foot shaft with no windows, to chimney swifts (that’s swifts, not sweeps) the tower is like a five-star hotel. And the scientists who dreamed up the faux chimney are hoping that come spring, flocks of the birds will be checking in (so the researchers can check them out). To continue reading this blog and to see an amazing video, please click the underlined link. http://www.onearth.org/earthwire/raleigh-chimney-swift-tower
Authored by John A. Gerwin, Wake Audubon/Museum of Natural Sciences
This year’s count day brought some of the most oppressive weather, for conducting an outdoor activity! For the most part, it was a very cold drizzle – no amount of shivering under layers of clothing could get us warm. The banter along the path was often about getting back to a car, a bathroom, or “why didn’t I bring those chemical foot warmers?”…….. it required some effort to stay focused on birds, both figuratively and literally. We had to keep wiping off our binocular lenses every 10 minutes because the good news is, we kept seeing birds, constantly.
In spite of the rough weather, there were numerous highlights for those who participated. I led a small group along the Walnut Creek greenway, from 0700-1130. One of the highlights turned out, ironically, to be a weather event! For about 30 minutes (from around 0800-0830), we had snow. And it was a wonderful little snowfall. The flakes were big enough to really be snow. And they were soft. It was a really magical moment for those of us who love snow.
I hosted 4 Young Naturalists, and a couple adults. One of those adults, Ben Nickley, is a recent college grad and a new volunteer bird bander for us at Prairie Ridge. And, he’s an excellent birder. I cannot hear so well anymore, so it was great to have him along. Plus, he loves working with the public, of all ages, and so he had a fine time describing the various birds sounds to the young naturalist girls along.
The Young Nat’s who came out were: Emma Little (15), Olivia and Vanessa Merritt (almost 17), and Abigail Coleman (13). They kept up a great spirit of birding, in spite of the challenging weather conditions. Indeed, it was an amazing ‘bird’ morning for us in that each of them found a really good bird, and all within about 30 minutes at one location. I found another, which made for 4 species for which these were the only reports for the entire count (pending a few more incoming reports). Two other Young Nat’s, Mia and Mya Velasco, came for an hour or so. One was nursing a cold and it was very brave of her to try and tough it out but in the end, the damp chill was just too much. Wisely, Mom took them home to watch birds through the windows at the feeders.
One of our very first Young Naturalist’s was on the count this year, but now as a co-leader. Kyle Kittelberger has been involved with birding, and Wake Audubon, for a decade or so (like some of the others above, he began at an early age). It’s wonderful to see this “return on investment”. Kyle, along with Brian Bockhahn, took kayaks and paddled Swift Creek from Old Stage Road to the upper marshes of Lake Benson. Now, as you can imagine, this affords some sightings of things most folks are simply not going to see otherwise. They got a high count for Wood Duck, and a few neat birds that are the only reports thus far for the count: Herring Gull, Am. Woodcock, Horned Grebe, and Am. Coot. They also had Fish Crow, one of only two reports (we had the others at Walnut Creek). Again, it’s wonderful to see the youngsters coming out and being involved, and then return to take the lead for an area.
Now, for the Walnut Creek gang…….. first, fairly early on, Abigail spotted a sleek shape zipping overhead while we were all looking another direction. Fortunately she got us on it quickly – it was moving east fast. But Ben and I got the binos on it and could readily tell it was a male Merlin. We hardly ever see this species on this bird count. 20 minutes later, I spotted some blackbirds fly up alongside the State Street bridge. Walnut Creek count area is THE place where we consistently get Rusty Blackbird, so we are always on the lookout. The lighting was terrible, but we were able to re-position and indeed confirm that these were 5 Rusty Blackbirds. But, they quickly flew off; very frustrating as not everyone got a very good look at them. And we did not see any more the rest of the morning.
One rather amazing sight that took us to the bridge in the first place, was ~60 Eastern Bluebirds! I’ve seen small flocks of bluebirds, but never this many in one tree. They descended into a large bunch of Climbing Euonymus to gorge on the fruits, and some of the Privet fruits just below. Both of these plants are non-native and highly invasive but bear a fruit that some of these birds really like. Thus, the seeds are spread and unfortunately the Walnut Creek area has some of the highest densities of these two plants I’ve ever seen in Wake County. Waxwings and robins were also chowing down, and just below, some Hermit thrushes. Then, the bluebirds bolted and I hollered “Must be a hawk!” Within seconds, one of the gang spotted an incoming Sharp-shinned Hawk, which landed right in front of us, at eye level! It was just across the street and as it sat there for a few minutes, we got great looks and I got a few decent shots.
After this hawk departed, without a meal, Olivia spotted a small songbird below us in the shrubs within the powerline right of way. She commented “It’s an odd-looking one, like some warbler”. Indeed it was on both accounts. It was an Orange-crowned Warbler, my first in Wake County. It was a really nice plumage, where even the gray seemed vibrant. As it was right below us, we all got great looks. It was a bummer for me when it flew too far away before I could get my camera out.
So, at and near the bridge, we found several species that are almost never seen on this bird count: the Merlin, Sharpy, Rusty’s, and Orange-crowned Warbler. The Sharpy, as a rare bird, is a fairly recent phenomenon. I’ve not read any definitive reasons for why it has become as rare as it has. But in our area, reports have dropped off a lot over the past decade or so.
Then about 30 minutes later as we continued east along the greenway, Emma heard a strange sound that she alerted us to, feeling it was a Gray Catbird. We harassed that sound for 20 minutes, with playback and trying to penetrate a privet hedge that, in the end, was nearly impossible to penetrate. We never did find the bird but it did call a few more times, and Ben and I heard it well enough to agree it was a Catbird. During the lunchtime overview, it was the only Catbird for the count. And this is another species that we don’t always get. And then the day after the count, I got a note from a woman over behind Whole Foods that a Catbird was coming to her suet feeder and she saw it on Saturday. And, she’d had one last year on the bird count so we counted it that year as well! She may have had the only one in 2013. Interestingly, where Emma found the Walnut Creek Catbird is the same spot I found one (and managed to see it), in 2012. We now know that many birds have a very strong sense of “place”. Other studies have shown that indeed these are the same individuals that return again and again to the same spots, be it a breeding territory, migratory stopover site, or “home for the holidays”.
At the end of the day, our groups had found 93 species, and it’s likely that a few more will be reported over the next week or so. A hearty thanks to all who persevered the very uncomfortable weather to make this a really interesting count for the species found. And a huge thanks to Wake Audubon board member John Connors for once again coordinating the group leader/participant assignments.
Authored by Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu, with minor contributions by John Gerwin.
I have been studying the Black-throated Green Warbler in the Uwharries region of central NC for the past few years. This includes capturing some individual birds and applying bands and radio transmitters. I work with colleagues from the Greater Uwharries Conservation Partnership, especially Joe Poston of Catawba College, and Crystal Cockman of the Land Trust for Central North Carolina. Museum research associate Sharna Tolfree has been instrumental. Crystal and I co-host a “Naturalist Day” on the second Saturday in May. And recently I and my Museum colleague Jerry Reynolds led a day trip to the region. Crystal has several interns each spring/summer and as part of our collaboration, I get to take one into the field. This year’s intern was a young woman from China who is doing an advanced degree at Duke University in Environmental Engineering. The internship is designed to give them experience in land conservation work, including biotic surveys and in my case, some research. Often this is outside the “comfort zone” of the intern. We asked Zoe to write a little something about her experience with the work for the Black-throated Green Warbler, in May. Although not part of this story, it was great that Zoe was able to come back in June and assist for two of the 5 days when I had several Young Naturalist/Junior Curators. One of the Junior Curators is half Chinese and was thrilled to have some time chatting with Zoe. You never know what you will find in the forest.
Black-throated Green Warbler photo by Joe Poston, Catawba College
Zoe’s words –
I’ve spent the spring and early summer in pursuit of a tiny, black and yellow bird with a buzzy song – the black-throated green warbler of the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s made for an experience I’ll never forget.
As a Duke University graduate student, I’ve been an intern during May and June with the Land Trust for Central North Carolina, assisting John Gerwin, an ornithologist from the N.C. Museum of Nature Sciences, with his bird and vegetation surveys in the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Our main object is the Black-throated Green Warbler. We try to collect physiological and genetic data by catching, tagging, and releasing the birds. While we work, we look for birds captured in previous years and record information about their habitat.
The Black-throated Green Warbler is a small songbird of the New World warbler group. Its black bib and bright yellow face are unique among birds of the eastern U.S. This bird can be recognized easily, not only by sight, but also by its sound, a song that sounds like “zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee” or “zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-zee”.
The warbler breeds in coniferous and mixed forest but occupies a wide range throughout its life. In August, it flies south to its Central American wintering grounds. The warbler nests in parts of North Carolina in the higher southern Appalachians, a few coastal plain sites, and in the Uwharries region. Our survey focuses on the black-throated green warblers found in the Uwharrie National Forest, which seems to be an isolated habitat for them.
The Uwharrie National Forest is primarily in Montgomery County, but extends into Randolph and Davidson counties in south central North Carolina. Most of the time, we are on Daniel Mountain or other mountains near it. According to former reports, the Black-throated Green Warbler is usually heard on the N/NE slopes of the mountains.
We begin our hike through the mountain trails at 7:30 a.m. daily, then head off the trail on a zigzag pattern through the terrain. When we hear the songs of a black-throated green warbler, we stop at one spot and play a recording of the bird’s song. In general, the male bird will be attracted by this imaginary male’s song and will come close to find out who might be challenging him for his territory. If we find a male bird is interested in our fake song, we will set a vertical net in the clearing and put a decoy model of a Black-throated Green Warbler and audio player on the branch nearby. The male will try to flush the decoy bird and get tangled in the net. The process requires a lot of waiting, watching and luck.
If we catch a bird, there’s a lot to do before he’s released. First, we put a small, numbered metal ring on the warbler’s feet to identify it. Then, using special measuring tools, we tally the bird’s wing length, weight and fat condition. During this process, we noticed that this year’s birds weigh about 8.5 grams, lighter than the typical weight of 9 grams.
Using a special needle, we draw blood from the tiny bird’s wing vein, an operation that doesn’t hurt the bird. The blood sample allows us to collect genetic data on the animal.
For our next step, we will do some vegetation surveys to know more about the warblers’ Uwharrie habitat. The Black-throated Green Warbler brings more vitality to the Uwharries, and I hope our efforts will help people understand more about the birds, so that we can live together with them long into the future.
Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu is a Duke University graduate student who interned with the Land Trust for Central North Carolina.
Re-posted with permission from Zhuoyun Pu and the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte. First posted at http://ui.uncc.edu/story/black-throated-green-warblers-uwharrie-national-forest
Author Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu with a Black-throated Green Warbler. Photo: John Gerwin
Authored by John Connors
Wake Audubon volunteers and students from the NC State College of Natural Resources spent Saturday morning clearing saplings from a half-acre plot at Schenck Forest. Our goal was simple…to maintain a setting for woodcock courtship next spring. Although it was cold, the shining sun warmed us quickly as we clipped blackberry vines, small pines and hardwoods leaving intact a broomsedge-dominated opening.
Here we are at the start of the morning.
Schenck Forest is an outdoor teaching lab for the Department of Forestry at NC State University. Much of it is managed as pine forest, but in a recent agreement with Wake Audubon, sections will be maintained as early successional forest to improve wildlife habitat and viewing opportunities associated with them.
John Connors, Wake Audubon’s Woodcock expert, explained that cutting trees in a forest can have benefits for some wildlife species- and that it is essential for species like American Woodcock. John was both a Forestry student and a Wildlife student at NCSU, and studied woodcock at Schenck Forest during that time. “I think it’s great that we can use Schenck as a setting where we showcase the benefits of forest management for both wood products, and wildlife. It’s great for the students to see this. It’s great for the public who like to see the woodcock perform their weird courtship antics. And it’s great for the birds. I’ve led woodcock walks for 35 years here in Raleigh…thousands of people…but this is the first time we’ve been able to give back to the birds who’ve provided so much entertainment. I really appreciate that the managers at Schenck will work with us on this!”
Woodcock is a species of shorebird that has taken to living in the wet, wooded thickets across North Carolina. They are hard to spot because they are medium-sized mottled brown birds that spend their time searching for earthworms in the forest soil and leaf litter. They are extremely well camouflaged.
The best time to observe Woodcock is during their courtship displays. Wake Audubon schedules its annual walk to coincide with Valentine’s Day in February. The males make a strange ‘peenting’ sound on the courtship ground. They then launch into the sky, with wings whistling, as they fly upward. As they reach a height where they are barely visible, the descent begins. They voice a soft, liquid warble until they approach the original launch pad. Then the process begins anew. These courtship displays occur for 20 minutes at dusk and dawn. Look on the Wake Audubon calendar for the next Woodcock walk – sometime next February at Schenck.
Here are before and after pictures.