Wake Audubon Blog

Alligator River Adventure!

i Nov 30th No Comments by

Authored by Jeff Beane

On Friday-Sunday, 13-15 November, Wake Audubon held its Alligator River Adventure trip, a joint field trip between and Wake Audubon and the Museum of Natural Sciences, usually offered every two to three years. Trip leaders were Jerry Reynolds and Jeff Beane. Also participating were Herb Amyx, Pat Amyx, Betty Lou Chaika, David Chaika, Dan Harvey, Sue Harvey, Cindy Lincoln, Mary Martorella, Ann McCormick, Betsy McCormick, Betty Ann O’Brien, Adair Pickard, Louise Romanow, Mary Ann Rood, and Bill Swallow.

Birders on the Alligator River field trip

Birders on the Alligator River field trip

Our itinerary included Alligator River, Pea Island, and Pocosin Lakes national wildlife refuges; Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve; Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Pettigrew and Jockey’s Ridge state parks; and a few other stops.

We left from the Museum’s Research Lab at 10 a.m. Friday morning, and returned at about 6 p.m. Sunday evening. We had good weather—sunny to partly cloudy and somewhat unseasonably warm. We identified 107 vertebrate species, including at least 83 birds, nine mammals, seven reptiles, five amphibians, and three fishes. A few other species were glimpsed but not positively identified. Highlights included good looks at several black bears, at least a dozen species each of waterfowl and shorebirds, good looks at American white pelicans and bald eagles, a few late-season reptiles basking, and a fresh road-killed mink. Bill glimpsed a short-eared owl, but he was the only one to see it. We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Nags Head, where some of us could see many species from out our motel room windows, and we enjoyed picnic and fast food lunches and fine dinner dining at Basnight’s Lone Cedar and La Fogata Mexican restaurants. Good times were had by all.

American Oystercatcher at Oregon Inlet

American Oystercatcher at Oregon Inlet

 

 

Dunlin at Oregon Inlet

Dunlin at Oregon Inlet

 

Sanderlings on the beach at Pea Island NWR

Sanderlings on the beach at Pea Island NWR

Savannah Sparrow at Pea Island NWR

Savannah Sparrow at Pea Island NWR

A Red-tailed Hawk at Alligator River sizes up the Museum bus: Nope; a little too large to handle as prey.

A Red-tailed Hawk at Alligator River sizes up the Museum bus: Nope; a little too large to handle as prey.

Boat-tailed Grackle at the Nags Head Comfort Inn

Boat-tailed Grackle at the Nags Head Comfort Inn

Bears! How fortunate that there are still places left for them in our world, and the Albemarle Peninsula is one such place. The group was afforded good looks at several on this trip.

Bears! How fortunate that there are still places left for them in our world, and the Albemarle Peninsula is one such place. The group was afforded good looks at several on this trip.

The dune-sheltered maritime forest and interdunal freshwater ponds at Nags Head Woods provide unique habitat for species like the Marbled Salamander and Southern Cricket Frog, which are common on the mainland but unable to survive on most of the Outer Banks.

The dune-sheltered maritime forest and interdunal freshwater ponds at Nags Head Woods provide unique habitat for species like the Marbled Salamander and Southern Cricket Frog, which are common on the mainland but unable to survive on most of the Outer Banks.

Black-bellied Plover on beach at Pea Island NWR

Black-bellied Plover on beach at Pea Island NWR

Ruddy Turnstone on beach at Pea Island NWR

Ruddy Turnstone on beach at Pea Island NWR

Willet on beach at Nags Head

Willet on beach at Nags Head

Forster's Tern on beach at Nags Head

Forster’s Tern on beach at Nags Head

 

Green Treefrog finds refuge in a PVC pipe at Nags Head Woods

Green Treefrog finds refuge in a PVC pipe at Nags Head Woods

The weather was warm enough for this Banded Water Snake and Red-bellied Water Snake to seek some late-season sun along the Pocosin Lakes Visitor Center boardwalk.

The weather was warm enough for this Banded Water Snake and Red-bellied Water Snake to seek some late-season sun along the Pocosin Lakes Visitor Center boardwalk.

Vertebrate Species Observed

* = observed only as dead-on-road (DOR) or otherwise dead specimens.

Not all species were seen by all members of the group; some may have been seen by only one or two people.

 

Fishes

Strongylura marina  Atlantic Needlefish (at least 2)

Cyprinodon variegatus  Sheepshead Minnow (many)

Gambusia holbrooki  Eastern Mosquitofish (many)

Amphibians

Ambystoma opacum  Marbled Salamander (4 adults)

Bufo [Anaxyrus] [cf. americanus x terrestris] “American/Southern Toad” (1 adult female)

Acris gryllus  Southern Cricket Frog (at least 2)

Hyla cinerea  Green Treefrog (a few)

Rana catesbeiana [Lithobates catesbeianus]  American Bullfrog (at least 2 or 3)

Reptiles

Chrysemys p. picta  Eastern Painted Turtle (several)

Clemmys guttata  Spotted Turtle (at least 1)

Pseudemys rubriventris  Red-bellied Cooter (many)

Trachemys s. scripta  Yellow-bellied Slider (many)

Nerodia erythrogaster  Red-bellied Water Snake (1 adult)

Nerodia fasciata  Banded Water Snake (1 adult)

Thamnophis s. sauritus  Eastern Ribbon Snake (1 small adult male DOR) *

 Birds

Aix sponsa  Wood Duck (at least 7)

Anas acuta  Northern Pintail (several)

Anas americana  American Widgeon (many)

Anas clypeata  Northern Shoveler (many)

Anas crecca  Green-winged Teal (many)

Anas discors  Blue-winged Teal (at least 1)

Anas platyrhynchos  Mallard (many)

Anas rubripes  American Black Duck (many)

Anas strepera  Gadwall (many)

Branta canadensis  Canada Goose (many)

Cygnus columbianus  Tundra Swan (many)

Lophodytes cucullatus  Hooded Merganser (a few)

Oxyura jamaicensis  Ruddy Duck (many)

Colinus virginianus  Northern Bobwhite (at least 6-7)

Meleagris gallopavo  Wild Turkey (at least 27)

Podilymbus podiceps  Pied-billed Grebe (many)

Morus bassanus  Northern Gannet (many)

Phalacrocorax auritus  Double-crested Cormorant (many)

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos  American White Pelican (many)

Pelecanus occidentalis  Brown Pelican (many)

Ardea alba  Great Egret (many)

Ardea herodias  Great Blue Heron (many)

Egretta thula  Snowy Egret (a few)

Egretta tricolor  Tricolored Heron (a few)

Eudocimus albus  White Ibis (many)

Cathartes aura  Turkey Vulture (many)

Coragyps atratus  Black Vulture (several)

Accipiter cooperii  Cooper’s Hawk (at least 1 or 2)

Accipiter striatus  Sharp-shinned Hawk ( at least 2 or 3)

Buteo jamaicensis  Red-tailed Hawk (many)

Circus cyaneus  Northern Harrier (many)

Haliaeetus leucocephalus  Bald Eagle (several)

Falco sparverius  American Kestrel (many)

Fulica americana  American Coot (at least 1)

Rallus limicola  Virginia Rail (several heard; at least 2 seen)

Charadrius semipalmatus  Semipalmated Plover (at least 1)

Charadrius vociferus  Killdeer (many)

Pluvialis squatarola  Black-bellied Plover (many)

Haematopus palliatus  American Oystercatcher (at least 2)

Recurvirostra americana  American Avocet (many)

Arenaria interpres  Ruddy Turnstone (several)

Calidris alba  Sanderling (many)

Calidris alpina  Dunlin (many)

Calidris canutus  Red Knot (1)

Tringa flavipes  Lesser Yellowlegs (many)

Tringa melanoleuca  Greater Yellowlegs (many)

Tringa semipalmata  Willet (many)

Chroicocephalus philadelphia  Bonaparte’s Gull (several)

Larus argentatus  Herring Gull (many)

Larus delawarensis  Ring-billed Gull (many)

Larus marinus  Great Black-backed Gull (many)

Leucophaeus atricilla  Laughing Gull (many)

Sterna forsteri  Forster’s Tern (many)

Thalasseus maximus  Royal Tern (several)

Columba livia  Rock Pigeon (many)

Zenaida macroura  Mourning Dove (many)

Asio flammeus  Short-eared Owl (1)

Megaceryle alcyon  Belted Kingfisher (at least 2)

Colaptes auratus  Northern Flicker (several)

Melanerpes carolinus  Red-bellied Woodpecker (several)

Sayornis phoebe  Eastern Phoebe (a few)

Corvus brachyrhynchos  American Crow (many)

Corvus ossifragus  Fish Crow (at least 1)

Cyanocitta cristata  Blue Jay (at least 2)

Tachycineta bicolor  Tree Swallow (many)

Poecile carolinensis  Carolina Chickadee (several)

Cistothorus palustris  Marsh Wren (at least 1)

Thryothorus ludovicianus  Carolina Wren (several)

Troglodytes aedon  House Wren (at least 1)

Turdus migratorius  American Robin (several)

Dumetella carolinensis  Gray Catbird (a few)

Mimus polyglottos  Northern Mockingbird (many)

Sturnus vulgaris  European Starling (many)

Bombycilla cedrorum  Cedar Waxwing (several)

Setophaga coronata  Yellow-rumped Warbler (many)

Melospiza melodia  Song Sparrow (a few)

Passerculus sandwichensis  Savannah Sparrow (many)

Zonotrichia albicollis  White-throated Sparrow (at least 1 or 2)

Cardinalis cardinalis  Northern Cardinal (a few)

Agelaius phoeniceus  Red-winged Blackbird (many)

Quiscalus major  Boat-tailed Grackle (many)

Sturnella magna  Eastern Meadowlark (many)

Carpodacus mexicanus  House Finch (a few)

Mammals

Didelphis virginiana  Virginia Opossum (many DOR en route) *

Ursus americanus  American Black Bear (at least 6-7)

Procyon lotor  Common Raccoon (several DOR) *

Mephitis mephitis  Striped Skunk (1 adult DOR en route) *

Neovison [Mustela] vison  Mink (1 adult female DOR) *

Urocyon cinereoargenteus  Gray Fox (at least 1 or 2 DOR en route) *

Sciurus carolinensis  Eastern Gray Squirrel (several alive and DOR)

Odocoileus virginianus  White-tailed Deer (many alive and DOR, mostly en route)

Megaptera novaeangliae  Humpback Whale (remains of 1 dead on beach) *

 

Totals

Fishes:  at least 3

Amphibians:  at least 5

Reptiles:  7

Birds:  at least 83

Mammals:  at least 9

Total Vertebrate Species:  at least 107

[Some additional species—mostly birds and fishes—were potentially glimpsed or heard but not positively identified.]

 

 

 

 

–Jeff Beane

Lake Betz is the Betz

i Jun 30th 2 Comments by

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.

Great-Crested Flycatcher

Great-Crested Flycatcher

Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted)

Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted)

Osprey

Osprey

Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-Headed Woodpecker

Green Heron

Green Heron

Milkweed for Monarchs

i Jun 18th No Comments by

By John Connors and Bryan England

All photos by Bryan England
Hi Everyone.
In the last week I’ve heard reports of Monarch caterpillars feeding on previous milkweed plantings at Horseshoe Farm, Monarchs flying at Anderson Point, and I saw one flying Saturday at Yates Mill Pond. All good news! So the time has come to add to the inventory of milkweed available at public parks around Wake County.

Milkweed seedlings-Bryan_England

The Common Milkweed seedlings have arrived and we have flagged the planting zones at both Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve and Harris Lake County Park. The sites look good…Wilkerson has a clay loam soil and lots of open meadow which was formerly cow pasture- once established milkweed should thrive here and attract many monarchs; Harris Lake has easy to dig sandy loam in a meadow that was once farmed- it will be a good late summer breeding site for monarchs. The Wilkerson meadow was mowed maybe a month ago, so we’ll be planting in openings among the grasses. Harris Lake had a prescribed burn across their meadow…it will be a little easier working there.

We will clip openings in the grass, dig the planting holes, add a little soil improvement, plant the seedling, add a little mulch and water. It may take 3-5 minutes to plant each seedling. We will work in teams.

I imagine we should finish our work by noon, although Wilkerson may take a little longer as the soils will be more difficult to work.

Milkweed planting-Bryan_England

You are part of a nationwide effort in trying to restore Monarch habitat- thanks for your willingness to help. See you in the meadow.

-John Connors

Milkweed planting2-Bryan_England

5/16/2015 from Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve

I want to thank everyone who came and helped with the planting last Thursday, and especially John for organizing it.  I hope I will be able to send you all some pictures of monarchs here visiting “your” milkweeds in the seasons to come.  We gave all 96 seedlings a drink of about a quart of water each today.  The soil was starting to dry, and soaked the water right up, but all the plants looked healthy, with no post-planting wilting at all (although a couple seemed to have been nibbled by something).  The flags and plantings in squares really helped us find them all, and made watering a pretty simple job.

5-23-2015   From Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve

Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson.

Nine days after your planting, we have Monarch eggs!

Monarch egg-Bryan_England

Several of the new plants had eggs like these when I checked today, so we may have caterpillars by sometime next week.

Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve only lost 4 to browsers, and they may still re-sprout from the root.  Of the 92 visible plants, 16 have had their top leaves browsed but are recovering with side branch growth.

None of the plants appeared diseased or drought-stressed, so the overall cohort appears strong.  Thank you all for making these eggs possible!

5-24-2015 John Connors Wake Audubon Society

Well I didn’t see that coming! I did find three medium to full grown Monarch caterpillars at Raleigh’s Anderson Point Park yesterday, on milkweed I had planted several years ago- and that was without looking very hard. So maybe its going to be a good year for Monarchs.

It certainly will be a better future for Monarchs for the work all of you put in to get the milkweed planted at Wilkerson Preserve and Harris Lake…and for the efforts of staff and volunteers to keep the seedlings watered.

Thanks everyone, and thanks Bryan for keeping us informed.

6-2-2015 Bryan England, Wilkerson Nature Preserve

Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson–

Nineteen days after your planting, we have Monarch caterpillars!

Monarch caterpillar-Bryan_England

Several of these brightly-striped caterpillars were observed on “your” milkweed plants today, all were about 10mm long (they say the camera always adds 10 lbs…).  At one caterpillar per plant, they plants seem to be growing faster than the caterpillars can eat them (for now).

Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve currently “lost” 5 to browsers.  Of the 91 remaining visible plants, 27 have had their upper leaves browsed, but most are recovering well with side branch growth.  Some of the browsed stems are obviously deer damage (rough, stringy bites), but the majority are rodent/rabbit damage (clean-cut, angled bites).  The “wild” milkweeds at Wilkerson have also been browsed over the last week, mostly by deer, so that’s just a natural part of the food chain, too.

An Amazing Bird Park So Close to Raleigh — Yet So Few Know About It. You should visit it.

i Sep 7th 3 Comments by

By Fred J. Eckert

If you live in or near Raleigh you are an easy drive away from the largest bird park in North America and largest waterfowl park in the world.
Did you realize that? Few do.
ECK_8030
The scarlet ibis inhabits tropical South America and islands of the Caribbean.

I didn’t – not until just recently when my wife Karen and I discovered and visited Sylvan Heights Bird Park, located in the tiny northeast North Carolina rural town of Scotland Neck (pop. 2,000), a bit east of Rocky Mount between Tarboro and Roanoke Rapids on NC Route 258. It was only about an hour and a half or so drive from our home in North Raleigh, meaning it’s an easy day trip from anywhere in Wake County.
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.

ECK_8206
The knob-billed duck, also known as a comb duck, is found in tropical wetlands in several areas of the world – sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, in Asia from southern China and Laos to Pakistan and in areas of South America, including Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina.

There is no other place in the country quite like Sylvan Heights 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.

An egret -- vaguely distinguished from a heron. Its name is from the French word “aigrette’ which means “brush” or “silver heron” because of the way its feathers appear to cascade down its back during breeding season.

An egret — vaguely distinguished from a heron. Its name is from the French word “aigrette’ which means “brush” or “silver heron” because of the way its feathers appear to cascade down its back during breeding season.

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.”

The white-cheeked pintail, also known as the Bahama pintail or summer duck, is found in South America, the Galapagos Islands and in the Caribbean.

The white-cheeked pintail, also known as the Bahama pintail or summer duck, is found in South America, the Galapagos Islands and in the Caribbean.

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.

Both the male and female ringed teal, a small duck of South American forests, remain colorful all year.

Both the male and female ringed teal, a small duck of South American forests, remain colorful all year.

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.

The southern screamer, also known as the crested screamer, is found in South America in areas of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

The southern screamer, also known as the crested screamer, is found in South America in areas of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

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. 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 hyacinth macaw or hyacinthine macaw, is the largest macaw and largest flying parrot species and is found in eastern and central South America. Endangered because of declining habit and trappings for the pet trade.

The hyacinth macaw or hyacinthine macaw, is the largest macaw and largest flying parrot species and is found in eastern and central South America. Endangered because of declining habit and trappings for the pet trade.

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, we 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.

A crown pigeon, from Papua New Guinea, is the largest member of the pigeon family, as large as a full grown turkey hen.

A crown pigeon, from Papua New Guinea, is the largest member of the pigeon family, as large as a full grown turkey hen.

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.

The mute swan, so named because it is less vocal than other swans, is found in much of Europe and Asia and is an introduced species in North America, Australasia and southern Africa.

The mute swan, so named because it is less vocal than other swans, is found in much of Europe and Asia and is an introduced species in North America, Australasia and southern Africa.

When’s the best time of year to visit? Anytime. Ducks are at their best colors during the early months of the year, 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.
The photos I’ve submitted to illustrate this feature give you a taste of the sorts of birds and waterfowl you will see, but to try to give you a better feel I’ve created a slide show video using images I took there. To watch it click on A Visit to Sylvan Heights Bird Park. You will be asked to enter a password. Enter: Birds. Capital B then lower case.

 

Passing it on

i Jul 8th No Comments by

Authored by John Gerwin, Research Curator, Ornithology, Museum of Natural Sciences; Treasurer, Wake Audubon.

As many of you know, Wake Audubon has supported a youth group for about 6 years now (the Young Naturalists Club).  The Museum of Natural Sciences has supported such groups for many years (e.g. Junior Curators).  As part of my job as a bird researcher at a public institution, I get to work with these groups, helping to co-lead various activities. Over the past two years I have been working with a handful of kids from each group. They have been assisting with activities in the bird specimen preparation lab, the bird collections, and bird banding at Prairie Ridge.  This year, I was able to offer them a “field camp” to one of my research study sites, to provide additional experiences.

Male Black-throated Green Warbler with color bands

Male Black-throated Green Warbler with color bands. Uwharrie Mountains 2014. Photo by John Gerwin

For this, we spent 5 days in mid-June in the Uwharrie National Forest, which is about 30 minutes southwest of Asheboro. The Uwharrie Mountains are the oldest known mountains and as such are well-worn. That makes them small by mountain standards – the highest peaks are only ~1000’ in elevation, with most of them topping out at 700-900 feet. But height is not the only factor – indeed, part of the camp was to see firsthand how the “aspect” of a mountain affects the habitat on that slope (the aspect is the direction the slope faces).  And the see firsthand how steep some old mountains are!  The bird I study primarily in this region is the Black-throated Green Warbler (BTNW), which is characterized as a bird of “northern” forests. This species is common in the higher Southern Appalachians, on up to Canada.  Many such “boreal”, or northern, birds occur at the higher elevations because the habitats they seek are found on the north-facing slopes.  BTNW’s in the Uwharries represent a disjunct population and are quite uncommon there.  And there is yet another disjunct group in the Coastal Plain, from southeast Virginia to about Charleston, SC.  I and colleagues are conducting habitat and genetic studies to understand more about this species across its range, and specifically, its behavior in the Uwharries region.  One interesting thing I and my colleagues have documented over the past few years is that the BTNW occurs only on the north, northeast, and east slopes of Uwharrie mountains, but not on all mountains in that region.

3 members each from the Young Naturalists and Junior Curator programs came along.  Our activities included the following:

  • Use a compass, read a topo map, then head out with a map and compass to find, and survey for the warblers, on those NNE slopes.  GPS may not always work, and batteries die so it’s important to know how to use a compass and a map for field work.
  • Practice radio telemetry. I use this technique to learn about how the birds utilize the landscape. For that, we attach small radios on birds, which we can then find with a receiver and antenna. For this “field camp” exercise, I had access to a collar that had been used on some large mammals but was no longer being used. We were able to hide the collar in various places on a hillside and then allow each person to go find it.  There is a bit of an art to this, especially when you are traipsing across a steep, often rocky hillside, strewn with fallen tree trunks and branches, along with patches of dense understory shrubs/saplings. The metal, rigid antenna is 2’ long with 3 tines on each side that are about 15”, and this is attached by a cable. All of this makes for some interesting “footwork” to get to where you want to go to find the beeping transmitter.  Of course we hid the unit in challenging situations!
Young Naturalist practicing telemetry at Uwharrie field camp
Young Naturalist practicing telemetry at Uwharrie field camp
  • Learn how to do a “vegetation plot”. This is one element of understanding how an animal uses an area, and why. We record a suite of characteristics about the places where we detect our marked birds. It takes about 45 min to do one plot and for a study, we will do 20-30 such plots for each bird tracked. Once again students could better understand how challenging this can be.
  • Use our mist net/bird banding experience to capture and band some birds. Several unbanded warblers were found during the initial surveys; yay!  We then went back to the two locations where these birds were found, set up mist nets, and used song playback along with a wooden model to lure any birds in. In the end, we captured and banded two one year old males. In the other location, the two birds would not come down low enough to be caught.  They did respond to the playback, but remained higher than the nets (which only go up to 10’), and mostly sang back to the playback.  I presume these were older birds who are typically more cautious especially at this time of year (they have finished their first breeding attempt and by the second round, older birds are typically less aggressive – the two younger males likely did not have mates).
Black-throated Green Warbler model.

Black-throated Green Warbler model. Photo by John Gerwin

Color bands on Black-throated Green Warbler.

Color bands on Black-throated Green Warbler. Photo by Olivia Merritt

  • Walked a lot of steep slopes in the forest with food, gear, water, and fairly high temperatures (upper 80’s each day, even low 90’s on one or two). As one student pondered near the end of our 5 days…..”You guys do this for HOW many hours/day? And HOW many days each season?”   It’s great to be outside, but the days are long and there are many challenges, which all were able to experience.
  • We camped at a nice Forest Service campground. Nonetheless, some nights brought very noisy neighbors!  This is another challenging element of field work.  Fortunately, there is a gas station/market nearby, along the highway, that serves good ice cream!  Somehow we managed to swing by that spot several times.
  • We drove to the Carolina Raptor Center one morning to do a mist net demo for a group of 5th graders who were doing their own “summer camp” week with raptor center staff.  In addition one of our newest Young Naturalists was able to join us there. She and her family were headed to Atlanta that day and were able to detour for most of it; a pleasant addition. We set up a couple nets, one near their feeder. We also deployed a couple of our wooden models, in order to show their kids how to use binoculars (which they had), with some positive reinforcement (models are much easier to find than a moving bird!).  Just after lunch we caught a titmouse at the feeder, so their kids got to experience that as well.

In the end, we had no rain the entire time, which was a pleasant surprise as mid-June usually brings some rain, at some point, in a 5-day period.  We had a great time experiencing some elements of doing field work to study a bird species. In addition, we took time to enjoy other aspects of nature, such as the skinks and toads that abound, other species of birds, and the many plants around. We allocated time for journaling, reviewing photos, and just chatting around the picnic table.  We probably stayed up too late a few nights, but a campfire has a way of causing one to stay up a little longer at night.  Of course we did some S’mores one night – I tried out some vegan marshmallows, along with Rainforest Alliance chocolates, and organic graham crackers or flatbread (your choice).  The marshmallows were pretty tasty, although I don’t think they toasted quite the same.  I hope to do this again in 2015.

Eastern Box Turtle.

Eastern Box Turtle. Photo by Olivia Merritt

Five-lined Skink.

Five-lined Skink. Photo by Olivia Merritt

 

Spring Mountain Birding Fieldtrip

i Jun 29th 2 Comments by

Authored by John Gerwin

The now-annual spring (mid-May) mountain birding trip, co-sponsored by Wake Audubon and the Museum of Natural Sciences, was another fantastic weekend of bird-watching.  We were not-so-pleasantly surprised to wake up on Saturday morning to a temperature of 37 degrees!  And again it was mid-May. But that is how it is in the “northern” mountains of NC.

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Bobolink in flight. Photo by Dan and Sue Harvey

We left Friday morning, and our first birding stop was at a familiar hayfield along the Blue Ridge Parkway where a dozen or more Bobolinks have been breeding for nearly a decade.  This year the winds were high which made for some great views of males doing their aerial courtship display flights, and chases of both males and females. Those same winds made it impossible to hear any sparrows that might have been singing – we suspect no self-respecting sparrow was even trying.  We next headed to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express (which gives our group a super low rate for this time of year).

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Dark-eyed Junco female with nest material. Photo by Dan and Sue Harvey

On Saturday morning, the 23 of us headed for Trout Lake trails at Moses Cone Memorial Park. Here we found various warblers, such as Black-throated Blue, Canada, Hooded, Chestnut-sided and Blackburnian.  We watched a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers at their nest, feeding young, and an adorable Junco with nest material in its beak that looked like Witch’s Broom material – wispy, reddish-brown strands of something, nearly as long as the bird.

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Baltimore Oriole. Photo by Dan and Sue Harvey

We headed to the Valle Crucis Community Park for lunch and after-lunch birding. This site is wonderful for finding some cool birds that are then easy to view, such as Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Cedar Waxwing, Least and Willow Flycatchers, Yellow Warbler, and this year, a Yellow-throated Vireo at near eye level and a mere 30’ away when found and first watched.

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Scarlet Tanager. Photo by Dan and Sue Harvey

On Sunday we spend the morning hours at a pullover just west of Elk Knob State Natural Area. Here we found Golden-winged Warbler and more Chestnut-sided Warblers, American Redstart, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, and Common Raven. We then went into the Park to rustle up a few more species. After this we headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Jeffress Park overlook. Here we found, as before, great views of Black-throated Green Warbler.  We heard Cerulean and Blackburnian but did not see either this time (we have in the past, at this spot). All in all, in spite of the low 30’s on Saturday, we had another great time enjoying the birds of this region, along with some of the spring flowers, and notoriously bad puns of from a couple of the leaders.

A Smattering of Wings Over Water

i Mar 18th No Comments by

By Bob Oberfelder

The Wings Over Water  (WOW) festival is an annual event that has provided excellent coastal birding opportunities for 17 years.  Up until this year, we (my wife and I) had not been able to participate, but I am glad to report that now that status has changed.  Although we would only be able to manage a short, whirlwind trip, we decided to “test the waters,” so to speak. This year we were able to carve out a day and a half from our schedule to sample from the multitude of options that WOW had to offer.

Lincoln Sparrow at Alligator River NWR

We drove to the coast Saturday morning arriving in time to participate in an afternoon trip to Bodie Island and the beach lead by Steve Shultz.  In the marsh, Steve played audio recordings to draw out the rails and marsh wrens. Unfortunately we were only able to hear the birds respond, they remained hidden in the marsh grass.  Hearing the large number of nearby birds (we were almost stepping on a few of them) was a highlight of that trip.  The ducks typically observed in the pond area were not there.  We saw and heard about 40 species for the afternoon.

Marsh Wren at Alligator River NWR

The main event on Saturday evening was a seafood buffet dinner at Pamlico Jack’s followed by a presentation by the keynote speaker, Greg Miller, of “The Big Year” fame.  Greg’s talk was excellent.  He was personable and unassuming but clearly knowledgeable about birding.  It was fun to hear him describe his surprise as the events of  The Big Year book and movie transpired. He described his developing interest in birding, and his personal Big Year adventures, as well as his experience with being the subject of both the book and the movie. Greg described his strategy  (i.e., the top 5 “must”  US/Canadian birding spots that provide the opportunity to record over 600 bird species) and the personal and financial costs ($31,000 in travel expenses) of pursuing his big year.  He described his surprise at being made one of the subjects of the book (he didn’t actually win his Big Year), which also included descriptions of the experiences of Sandy Komito and Al Levatin, his competitors. He was even more in awe when the movie (loosely associated with the facts of the real events) became a reality.  Greg described his joy at being a consultant for the movie and his interactions with the stars of the movie, Jack Black (who portrayed Greg in the movie) Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson.  Greg held down a full time job and still managed to see 715 species, a total that was third on the all time list.   According to the book, Sandy Komito is the only person that has ever seen more than Greg in a Big Year.

Pectoral Sandpiper Alligator River NWR

Sunday morning we visited Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), a trip lead by Jeff Lewis. Our species count was considerably better than the Bodie Island count, but it was more varied habitat, and it was a morning trip so that was not surprising.  My one previous experience (on my own) at NWR had been disappointing so I was quite happy with this trip. We saw both marsh and sedge wrens, and a Merlin on the wing. There was a large shorebird collection in a flooded field, which included Wilson’s Snipe, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater, and Lesser Yellowlegs and both Long and Short-billed Dowitchers. There were also a variety of ducks including Northern Shovelers, and Pintails.  Perhaps the best bird of the trip, for, me was a Lincoln Sparrow that we saw at our very first stop in the refuge. There were numerous opportunities for photographs at Alligator River NWR. In contrast to my earlier experiences at Alligator NWR, birding with a knowledgeable trip leader made the birding excellent and the photographic opportunities plentiful.

Greater Yellowlegs Alligator River NWR

Our first experience with Wings Over Water was a success. The trip leaders were excellent, the birding was good, and the photography opportunities were plentiful. The dinner was enjoyable and the keynote speaker was outstanding.  The consensus was that the earlier date for the festival, October instead of November, probably attenuated the total bird count and decreased the number of species as well.  If our schedule permits, we will certainly participate in Wings Over Water next year.

Adventures with Fungus, Crayfish and Chiggers

i Jul 8th No Comments by

By Brandt (Wake Audubon Young Naturalist since 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine Island Trip Report

i Feb 14th No Comments by

February Blog – Pine Island Trip Report
Our chapter’s first field trip to the North Carolina Outer Banks was a great success. Thirty-seven chapter members and friends attended the January 4-6th trip. The main building at the Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary is an old hunting lodge. Several participants stayed at the lodge and enjoyed the rustic but comfortable setting. Others stayed at a hotel across the street and drove over to the lodge for the Friday evening wine and cheese social (thanks to all who contributed food and drink). Saturday morning we again met at the lodge to hear about the history of the Pine Island Sanctuary property and about Audubon’s plans for modest upgrades to the lodge, parking and trails. The property will be a place for research and education focusing on the birds of the marsh.

A coyote loped across the lawn, ending our talk of plans for the lodge and sending us outside. We walked down to the marsh where Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons watched the serene beauty of the winter marsh landscape. After a short tour to the rest of the sanctuary we headed south to explore Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Bodie Island Lighthouse and adjacent pond, the Bonner Bridge area and the ocean, via the beach and pier.

A group went to the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge to view the Snow Geese and Tundra Swans coming in from their day of foraging in neighboring fields. On Sunday, some folks stopped at Lake Mattamuskeet. A great variety of ducks, thousands of Tundra Swans, an American Bittern, and White-crowned Night Herons were the highlights. Here is a list of the birds seen on Saturday.

Loon, Red-throated
Loon, Common
Grebe, Pied-billed
Grebe, Horned


Gannet, Northern
Pelican, Brown
Cormorant, Double-crested
Heron, Great Blue
Egret, Great


Egret, Snowy
Heron, Tricolored
Ibis, White
Swan, Tundra
Goose, Canada
Goose, Snow
Duck, Wood
Teal, Green-winged
Duck, American Black
Mallard
Pintail, Northern
Teal, Blue-winged
Shoveler, Northern
Gadwall
Wigeon, American
Scoter, Black
Bufflehead
Merganser, Hooded
Merganser, Red-breasted
Duck, Ruddy
Vulture, Black
Vulture, Turkey
Eagle, Bald
Harrier, Northern
Moorhen, Common
Coot, American
Killdeer
Avocet, American
Yellowlegs, Greater
Willet
Sanderling
Sandpiper, Purple (Oregon Inlet)
Dunlin
Gull, Ring-billed
Gull, Herring
Gull, Great Black-backed
Tern, Caspian
Tern, Forster’s


Dove, Mourning
Pigeon (Dove, Rock)
Kingfisher, Belted
Crow, Fish
Crow, American
Chickadee, Carolina
Wren, Carolina
Wren, Marsh
Kinglet, Golden-crowned
Robin, American
Mockingbird, Northern
European Starling
Warbler, Yellow-rumped
Warbler, Palm
Yellowthroat, Common
Cardinal, Northern
Sparrow, Chipping
Sparrow, Savannah
Junco, Dark-eyed
Blackbird, Red-winged
Meadowlark, Eastern
Grackle, Boat-tailed
Finch, House

Thanks to Bob Oberfelder, one of our Wake Audubon trip participants, for sharing some of his photographs. To view more of his photographs from this trip, see the Wake Audubon Meet-up site, past trips.

Gerry Luginbuhl, President, Wake Audubon Society

Birthday Adventure of a Perpetual Wanderer

i Sep 20th No Comments by

Having been in the area just short of four years, I have spent much of my spare time exploring what North Carolina and Southern Virginia have to offer.  This year, for my birthday weekend (the big 3-5), I decided to venture a little farther North to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  This choice resulted in one of the best trips of the year and in finding one of my new favorite places!  A fellow member of my hiking group accompanied me on this trip to unchartered territory, but we were well researched; armed with countless trail maps and trip reviews from the internet, and a very full agenda!  Our home for the long weekend was Big Meadows, right off of Skyline Drive.

Unbeknownst to me, Skyline Drive is a continuation of the Blue Ridge Parkway and is every bit as beautiful.  While there seem to be less sweeping views of the mountain ranges, there are still a lot of overlooks where you can pull off.  Despite the fact that it was late August, the wildflowers were still plentiful as well.

Perhaps due to the heavier canopy, I saw far more wildlife in three passes on Skyline than I ever have on the BRP.  We certainly learned quickly why the maximum posted speed is 35mph.  Aside from the twisting and turning of the road itself (which is in great shape with fabulous rock walls lining much of the drive), seemingly suicidal deer are plentiful.  These four-legged friends are quite tame, likely due to exposure to tourists like ourselves, and did not spook easily.  This was sad to us, but great for photo ops and entertainment at the campground.

While the deer were our most frequent sightings (and hazards) along the drive, particularly in the fog and at dusk, Skyline Drive was also the setting for my very first black bear sighting as well as an encounter with some unruly turkeys.

I did note that we did hit the area trails, right?  The hiking within Shenandoah National Park did not disappoint either!  On Friday, we hiked the White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run circuit which was a strenuous 8 miles or so with significant elevation gain, but very much worth the effort.  There are over six waterfalls along the trail, but unfortunately the water flow was fairly minimal.  Within our first couple of miles, we encountered a rare, midday bat sighting.  While the orange substance on/around the ears didn’t resemble and photos I had seen of white-nose syndrome, we were not sure if the little guy was sick or not, so we were sure to keep our distance.  We also found what I later researched and believe to be a white-spotted slimy salamander.  This little guy was actually a pretty good size, I would guess about 5 inches long.  This hike also provided us with the opportunity to be startled several times!  In waiting for my counterpart near a large rock outcropping, I almost wandered dangerously close (for my comfort anyway!) to a fairly good sized copperhead before spotting it.  Luckily, it seemed quite comfortable and didn’t react poorly to my presence or proximity.  A short while down the trail, we also had to zip past a ground hive of bees of some sort.  They seemed content in going about their business as well and left us alone, as we did them.  This had turned out to be quite the adventure and it was only day 1!

-Justine Homiak, Wake Audubon Board Member