Wake Audubon Blog

October Lumber River IBA Expedition – and a recipe

i Oct 23rd No Comments by

Authored by Erik Thomas

Wake Audubon board member Erik Thomas engaged in monitoring of the Lumber River IBA (Important Bird Area) on October 6-8, 2017.  He was able to conduct counts at 27 of the 41 roadside sites over the weekend.  The weather was rainy and some of the counts took place in drizzle.  The hope was that he could document southward-bound migrants in the area.  Unfortunately, the only transient birds that appeared were a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and two Black-and-white Warblers, and the latter may have been wintering in the area.  One surprise was a flock of Cattle Egrets, which are common in that area in the spring but unusual this late in the year.  They were feeding, predictably, with a herd of cows, but not at any of the official count sites.  The big stars of the trip were acorn-eating birds.  Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Blue Jays each appeared at most of the sites.  There were Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers at some sites as well.  They were all vocal and foraging actively for acorns.  At this time of year, these birds are busy collecting and caching acorns for winter storage, and they play a crucial role in disseminating acorns to locations far from the parent tree.  Oaks are highly dependent on jays and woodpeckers for spreading their seeds.  Many nut-caching birds, including jays, have phenomenal memories for locations where they have buried nuts, but they never retrieve every nut they’ve cached.

You may not have thought of acorns as a food source, but they are edible.  In fact, Native Americans in California relied heavily on acorns as a source of food.  If you have a ready supply of acorns, you can make acorn bread.  Some labor is involved, however.  First, you have to crack and clean the acorns.  This is the step that involves the most work.  Acorn shells are soft and a standard nutcracker will suffice.  Some acorns will have weevil larvae, so you’ll have to remove the weevils and frass.  (Hint—put the weevil larvae in your birdfeeder.)  You’ll probably want to peel off the fibrous covering from the nut meats.  Once you’ve done that, you need to chop the acorn meats into small pieces.  Then you boil them in several changes of water—two or three changes of water will do for white oak acorns, but you’ll probably need more for red oak acorns.  The purpose of the boiling is to leach out the bitter tannins.  Once that part is done, dry the chopped acorns out.  You may want to beat them into a powder at this point.  Then you’ll need equal amounts of acorn meal, flour, and milk, as well as an egg, a few tablespoons each of sugar and cooking oil, a tablespoon or two of baking powder, and a little salt.  Mix the dry and fluid ingredients separately and then mix the two together.  Pour the batter into a baking pan and bake it at 250º for an hour.  The bread will appear marbled with brown streaks when you cut into it, and it has a unique but pleasant flavor.

Butterflies of the Raleigh Area Field Trip

i Aug 6th No Comments by

Authored by John Gerwin, trip leader.

Our August Butterfly Walk began at Raulston Arboretum at 9 am on Saturday, August 5th.  We had 16 participants, 11 of which of which followed us to Prairie Ridge for part 2. (for about an hour at the end). Thanks to everyone who came out.

We had ~19 species including a cool one I have not seen in years, called Hayhurst’s Scallopwing. The larvae of the Scallopwing feed on Lambs Quarters, which is a common “weed”. Which is closely related to Quinoa.

HayhurstsScallopwing-3_WAS-butterflyWalk2017_JohnGerwin

HayhurstsScallopwing-3_WAS-butterflyWalk2017_JohnGerwin

Another good one for the day was a Gulf Fritillary.  This is a more “tropical” species that reaches the Raleigh area now almost every year. That is, early broods way down south (Florida, Georgia) grow up, lay more eggs, and the new ones sort of “drift” northward. Almost like the Monarch pattern. The larvae of this one feed on Passionflower.

The Pipevine Swallowtail larvae feed on plants in the genus Aristolochia. In the mountains, this is a vine called Dutchman’s Pipe and this butterfly is really a “mountain” butterfly, where it is far more abundant. Here are photos of the Pipeline and the Black Swallowtail, both of which we saw.

BlackSwallowtail-underneath-3_WAS-butterflyWalk2017_JohnGerwin

Black Swallowtail-underneath. Photo by JohnGerwin

PipevineSwallowtail-hindwing-underneath-4_WAS-butterflyWalk2017_JohnGerwi

Pipevine Swallowtail-hindwing-underneath-butterfly. Photo by John Gerwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-banded Hairstreak:  the larvae feed on fallen, decaying leaves of Wax Myrtle and several Sumac species. It seems no one has documented them feeding on live leaves, or rarely. Those who raise them in captivity raise them on decaying/dead leaves and some studies in nature find the same thing.

Red-bandedHairstreak-1_WAS-butterflyWalk2017_JohnGerwin

Red-banded Hairstreak. Photo by John Gerwin

Ephemeral Ponds Field Trip

i Mar 28th No Comments by

Authored by Jeff Beane

On Saturday, 25 March, I led a field trip, “Ephemeral Ponds in the North Carolina Sandhills,” as a follow-up to my talk on ephemeral wetlands at the 14 March general meeting. Participating were Colleen Bockhahn, Genya Bragina, Chad Chandler, Carol Cunningham, Stephanie Horton, Annie Runyon, and Joanne St. Clair. We met at 9:30 a.m. at my Sandhills house near Hoffman and visited a variety of ephemeral wetlands (seven total) within the longleaf pine ecosystem in Scotland and Hoke counties. Sites ranged from large to small, from artificial borrow pits to clay-based Carolina Bays, and from completely dry to too-deep-for-hip-waders—well illustrating the nature of ephemeral wetlands. We turned up a total of 11 amphibian species (about four of them obligate ephemeral wetland breeders, and a few others heavily dependent upon ephemeral wetlands). We also turned up four lizard species, and saw three fox squirrels (a lifer for some trip participants) as well as many interesting plants, birds, and invertebrates. We made a few brief detours to look at a pitcher plant seep, radio-track a coachwhip, and visit the world champion turkey oak. The weather was beautiful—mostly sunny and 70s°F. We ended the enjoyable day with dinner in a Mexican restaurant in Aberdeen, and most folks headed back toward Raleigh at around 9:00 p.m. A good time was had by all, and everyone learned something.

Amphibians observed

Ambystoma mabeei  Mabee’s Salamander (2 larvae)

Ambystoma t. tigrinum  Eastern Tiger Salamander (1 dead, partially eaten larva)

Notophthalmus viridescens dorsalis  Broken-striped Newt (2 adults)

Pseudotriton m. montanus  Eastern Mud Salamander (1 adult)

Bufo [Anaxyrus] terrestris  Southern Toad (at least 1 calling; eggs; 1 dead, partially eaten adult)

Acris gryllus  Southern Cricket Frog (many seen and calling)

Pseudacris crucifer  Spring Peeper (at least 3 seen; several calling)

Pseudacris nigrita  Southern Chorus Frog (several seen and calling)

Rana [Lithobates] capito  Carolina Gopher Frog (1 large tadpole)

Rana [Lithobates] clamitans  Green Frog (a few tadpoles)

Rana sphenocephala [Lithobates sphenocephalus]  Southern Leopard Frog (tadpoles; eggs; a few calling)

Reptiles observed

Anolis carolinensis  Green Anole (at least 1 or 2)

Sceloporus undulatus  Fence Lizard (1 adult male)

Eumeces [Plestiodon] inexpectatus  Southeastern Five-lined Skink (1 adult)

Scincella lateralis  Ground Skink (at least 8)

The group at “Antioch Bay,” a clay-based Carolina bay owned by The Nature Conservancy. Clay-based bays are rich in rare plant and animal species. Photo by Jeff Beane.

A quick side stop to visit the World Champion Turkey Oak (Quercus laevis) along NC 211 in Moore County.

A quick side stop to visit the World Champion Turkey Oak (Quercus laevis) along NC 211 in Moore County. Photo by Jeff Beane.

“Seventeen Frog Pond” on Sandhills Game Lands is one of the highest-quality ephemeral wetlands remaining in the Sandhills region, and a stronghold for several rare and declining species. Photo by Jeff Beane.

“Seventeen Frog Pond” on Sandhills Game Lands is one of the highest-quality ephemeral wetlands remaining in the Sandhills region, and a stronghold for several rare and declining species. Photo by Jeff Beane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once abundant in southeastern NC, the Southern Chorus Frog (Pseudacris nigrita) has declined in the past few decades. This species depends on ephemeral wetlands for breeding. Photo by Jeff Beane.

Once abundant in southeastern NC, the Southern Chorus Frog (Pseudacris nigrita) has declined in the past few decades. This species depends on ephemeral wetlands for breeding. Photo by Jeff Beane.

More often seen than heard, the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) is common throughout North Carolina. Although it can breed in some permanent waters, it prefers ephemeral wetlands. Photo by Jeff Beane.

More often seen than heard, the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) is common throughout North Carolina. Although it can breed in some permanent waters, it prefers ephemeral wetlands.
Photo by Jeff Beane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus), was the one amphibian species we encountered that does not use ephemeral ponds. It breeds in small streams and mucky seeps, and we found it in a pitcher plant seep. Photo by Jeff Beane.

This Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus), was the one amphibian species we encountered that does not use ephemeral ponds. It breeds in small streams and mucky seeps, and we found it in a pitcher plant seep. Photo by Jeff Beane.

Any Wake Audubon trip is going to turn up birds. This Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) was already busy feeding nestlings. Photo by Jeff Beane

Any Wake Audubon trip is going to turn up birds. This Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) was already busy feeding nestlings. Photo by Jeff Beane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dwarf Iris (Iris verna), Large Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia inflata), and Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) were just a few of the wildflowers blooming in the Sandhills.Photo by Jeff Beane

Selected Bird Highlights from Nicaragua

i Feb 6th No Comments by

Authored by John A. Gerwin, Treasurer, Wake Audubon Society and
Research Curator, Ornithology, NC Museum of Natural Sciences

This is a final note from Finca Esperanza Verde, in the north central highlands of Nicaragua. I have included here a mix of birds we see on our excursions to this reserve and ecolodge, my home away from home. Some of the species shown are tropical residents which remind me of birds back home. Others are indeed migrants that bred back in the U.S. or Canada sometime last year and flew here for half a year. Others are just notable tropic-colorific. I hope you enjoy the images below and more so, I hope you get the chance to visit a tropical forest some day.

Lineated Woodpecker – this one looks very similar to our Pileated, and it

Lineated Woodpecker

Lineated Woodpecker

is in the same genus. We found a pair investigating a cavity and according to one of our local guides, they are beginning to breed now. Instead of offering suet, lodges here offer bananas to any interested birds.

 

 

 

 

Pale-billed Woodpecker

Pale-billed Woodpecker

Pale-billed Woodpecker – this species is in the same genus as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. And this one will make a “double knock” bill-strike-on-wood that is similar to that described for the Ivory-bill. Vanessa found one at a nest cavity, apparently feeding young. We know little about the life history of this species in Nicaragua. The Costa Rica field guide indicates this one finishes nesting in late December so perhaps up here, a little further north, they finish in January.

Black-cheeked woodpecker – this species is in the same genus as our Red-bellied Woodpecker. They are normally found just east of here, at lower elevations. The property at this site is between 1000-1200 meters and this woodpecker is mostly below 1000m. But we see numerous “Caribbean slope” species up here – presumably due to the local geography. The sound of this woodpecker reminds me of the Red-bellied.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodcreepers.  In the New World Tropics there is a group of birds called Woodcreepers. They are sort of in between a woodpecker and a brown creeper.  They creep and probe in loose bark, mosses, and other epiphytes. Most of these species have stiff tail tips.  They range in size from a Downy Woodpecker to a Flicker. They never stop moving
(except at night of course) so I can never seem to get a good shot of one,
except when I can hold it very still…….

The Spotted Woodcreeper in the photo shows the tail tips very well, along with an oversized bill.

Spotted Woodcreeper

Spotted Woodcreeper

Lesson’s (formerly Blue-crowned) Motmot – This is one of a few species of Motmot’s found in the humid forests, where we are working. The national bird of Nicaragua is a dry forest species called Turquoise-browed Motmot, and I have also included an image of that species. The Motmot’s are another new world tropical group of birds. They nest in cavities dug into mud banks. No one seems to know for sure where the word Motmot comes from, although I have read at least one interesting note about this. I just can’t remember where I read it, sorry. For now, enjoy the photos.

Lesson's Motmot

Lesson’s Motmot, formerly Blue-crowned Motmot

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Turquoise-browed Motmot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bushy-crested Jay – the tropics is full of some fun-looking jays. In addition, some clearly carry on the black and blue theme of a jay. This species has a rather small range – it is found from Guatemala to No. Nicaragua. I recently found a family of them just off the west edge of the Finca property which represents about the southernmost sighting for this species and what is essentially the first for the Finca. As you can see, a jay is a jay anywhere you go.

Bushy-crested Jay

Bushy-crested Jay

Bushy-crested Jay

Bushy-crested Jay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White-collared Manakin – Manakins are another new world tropical

White-collared Manakin

White-collared Manakin

group of birds. Males gather at leks to sing and dance and carry on, to try and attract a mate. You can search the Internet for some very amusing videos. Here is one of 4 species we find at the Finca property and this is one Olivia captured in a mist net, while trying to lure in a Golden-winged and/or a Brewster’s Warbler (we found both warblers occupying the same area).

 

Rufous-browed Peppershrike/Yellow-throated Vireo – The Peppershrike is essentially a tropical vireo. At our site we get this species plus a couple neotropical migrants, the Blue-headed (rare) and the Yellow-throated shown here.

Rufous-browed Pepperstrike

Rufous-browed Pepperstrike

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warblers – here, the most common warblers are some neotropical migrants: Chestnut-sided, Wilson’s, Tennessee, and Black-throated green; and many Golden-wings. This Tennessee Warbler is proof enough that one man’s trash is another bird’s treasure.  Both coffee and Chestnut-sided’s migrate to the U.S. at some point. And then, we also find some resident warbler species, and this Rufous-capped Warbler is one of my favorites.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

Cheastnut-sided Warbler

Cheastnut-sided Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler, photo by Olivia Merritt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Pauraque – this is one of many nightjar species found in the tropics. It’s a cross between our familiar Whippoorwill and Chuck-wills-widow although more like the former to me. Fortunately, we seem to be able to find at least one each trip. Olivia Merritt photographed this one.

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are ~340 species of hummingbirds.  Species diversity peaks in Colombia (~150), but Ecuador and Peru are not far behind. While Nicaragua has many fewer, it’s nice that 10 species of hummingbirds visit the feeders at this lodge. Some have only been seen at the feeders a few times over the past 7 years or so.  The Crowned Woodnymph is a species more commonly found at lower elevations on the east/Caribbean slope – but a few individuals are regular in the forests and at the feeders.

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One that is rare on the property (and elsewhere in the country it seems)

White-bellied Emerald

White-bellied Emerald

is the White-bellied Emerald. It looks like a female Ruby-throated. This individual has been visiting the feeders for almost a year. But up until now, we almost never saw it on site. I have captured 3 in 20 mornings of mist-netting, over a 10-year span. We don’t really know much about how it makes a living, at least, not in Nicaragua.

 

 

The Violet Sabrewing is named for the shape of the outer flight feathers, easily seen here. And the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is, well, aptly named. Note the outer flight feathers of this Sabrewing.

Violet Sabrewing

Violet Sabrewing

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then here’s one that Vanessa spotted one drizzly afternoon, as the rest of us were looking in the other direction. I won’t print her initial reaction – but it got my attention. And I’m glad, because it was a new species to our list for this property (after some 20 trips) – called the White-necked Jacobin. It is another one that occurs mostly at lower elevations – we’re pretty much at the upper limit for this species, at the Finca. Vanessa Merritt regained enough composure to capture a nice memory.

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tanagers. We love our tanagers in North Carolina, and for good reason. Now, it seems, a tanager is not a tanager. That is, who is related to whom has changed with new genetic studies. In the meantime, one can visit the tropics and find some real jewels in the real tanager cohort. Included here are a few examples. Crimson-collared and Passerini’s tanagers are closely related and spend much of their time in the understory and along forest edges. The Golden-hooded Tanager is an example of the genus Tangara – a group of spectacularly colored birds that reaches its colorific peak in the eastern Andean cloud forests. The colors of this Golden-hooded Tanager are more electric in the sunlight…..

Crimson-collared Tanager (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus)

Crimson-collared Tanager

Passerini's Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii)

Passerini’s Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golden-hooded Tanager, scientific name Tangara larvata

Golden-hooded Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Tanager – the Central American forests are full of migratory birds. This is a very familiar species to us all, although you may not have realized how much it loves bananas.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

I just have to point out that the intrepid, adaptable House Sparrow is

House Sparrow in Nicaragua

House Sparrow in Nicaragua

found throughout Central and South America. In spite of what they represent, I find them rather adorable and I have to give them credit for being so adaptable. So, I couldn’t help but snap a few images when I found a small group of them just over the mountain in the small town of San Ramon. Who knows, these may be the only pictures of House Sparrow from Nicaragua……… here’s one.

Non-avian considerations:

Vesper Rat – there are many rodents in these parts. And sometimes,

Vesper Rat

Vesper Rat

those “parts” include a bedroom or kitchen. Here is one of the cutest little rodents around, trying to make a home behind a hanging over Vanessa’s bed. But this is only after it failed to finish a nest in her binocular case, and after chewing up one of her shirts for bedding material. In spite of these pesky events, I still find it mighty adorable – more so because it is in their room and not mine (it seems to come back each night……).

 

Spiders – no surprise, this area is full of them. It’s been fun to see some that are familiar, like this Aranea species – very similar to the one that we find in lovely webs on our front porches in late summer/fall. Another species both here and back home is this Orchard Spider. One this is also familiar, but for a different reason, is this Tarantula species. This one was climbing a post in the dining lodge (outdoor eating area). It’s been cold at night here, in January, and I wish I had more clothes like what this guy is wearing.

Araneus species Spider (Orb-weaver)

Araneus species Spider (Orb-weaver)

Orchard Spider

Orchard Spider

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tarantula species

Tarantula species

 

Three-toed Sloth – one can never get enough sloth pictures.

Three-toed Sloth

Three-toed Sloth

 

[photos by John Gerwin, except where noted]

 

 

 

 

Raleigh Christmas Bird Count, Walnut Creek – 2016

i Dec 28th No Comments by

Submitted by: John Gerwin, Treasurer, Wake Audubon; co-leader, Young Naturalists Club

I am writing this on Christmas Day, and I am staring into a cool fog drifting over the New River, thinking back on 2016. Recently, Wake Audubon hosted the Raleigh Christmas Bird Count.  The day began with a chill, and cloud cover, and I was looking forward to a fine day of birding. In the past, cool and cloudy has usually brought us many more birds than warm with clear skies.

I took a small flock of Young Naturalists and some parents and other adults with me, to a section of Raleigh Greenway that begins at the Walnut Creek Wetland Center. Some of us met at 0545.  I always begin my count day an hour before first light, to listen for owls. I never hear any but it’s a good excuse to drink coffee, eat some donuts and other Christmas goodies, and chat with whomever ventures out with me in that pre-dawn period. Two years ago, I thought I had heard the call of a Northern Saw-whet Owl in the privet bushes that are rampant behind the Wetland Center (and all along the Greenway). This owl species does roost in such hedges in the winter, especially in the coastal plain of NC. To be honest, we know very little about its occurrence in NC in the winter (most of what I know comes from salvaged specimens we’ve received at the Museum of Natural Sciences). We tried broadcasting Saw-whet calls from Emma’s smartphone (one of the Young Naturalist’s with me that year), to no avail. But, in the past, when I have used such playbacks to attract small owls, they seldom call back – if they respond, they approach silently – sometimes quite close!

I have worked closely with several of our Young Naturalists, both in the field and the Museum’s bird collections. Several of them have become proficient at catching/tagging birds (“bird banding”).  Thus, given that these small owls generally respond by approaching quietly, I thought it would be fun to let them put up a couple nets, try some playback calls, and see what happens. Of course, it’s now years later but as the saying goes, you don’t know till you try.

We were joined by two new Young Naturalists and a few adults! Quite a party at 0600.  Emma, Olivia and Vanessa and I put up 2 nets and began the playback – after 20 minutes, we also tried the other “normal” owls. We did not get any response from any owls. This is comforting in a way since, after many years of doing owl “surveys” and not having heard one owl, I have grown accustomed to the s-owl-nd of silence……. Not unlike those college football teams who have grown so accustomed to, and celebrate, their long losing streak.  For me, the hot coffee on a cold morning with the donuts and great camaraderie yields priceless memories.

Christmas Bird Count folks at the Wetlands Center, 2016

Christmas Bird Count folks at the Wetlands Center, 2016

At 0700 we were joined by a few more folks and thus began our morning walk/count. In contrast to what I had anticipated, it turned out to be a fairly quiet morning with few birds overall. We did, however, encounter two mixed species flocks and those two alone boosted our numbers to “near-normal”.  For the rest of the time it was a bit dull, so we’re grateful for those two flocks that kept us busy. In the second flock, Emma spotted a small songbird and asked “Could this be a Orange-crowned Warbler?”. That is a rare Christmas Count species and thus, always a great find. Fortunately, a number of us were able to find it in the flock that included many kinglets of both species! Along with a couple Pine Warblers – it could not have been a more challenging situation. But indeed, Emma was correct and there we enjoyed some good views of what would be our “best” bird of the morning. Last year, one of our other Young Naturalists, Olivia, had found this species. These two are the only two I’ve ever seen on the Raleigh Christmas bird count in all my years participating.

Although it was a bit slow for birds, we saw just enough and as always, enjoyed the company of each other. It’s a great way to get our new Young Naturalists introduced to the idea of a survey and, have time to go over the finer points of bird identification and natural history. We had 7 Young Nat’s (that I’m remembering, ha ha). We were delighted that one fellow from John Connor’s Neighborhood Ecology Corp program also joined us – a program that John conducts at the Wetland Center for residents in the southeast Raleigh area. I had help from a few adults, which I really appreciate, especially when we hit those mixed species flocks and birds are all around us. For the past few years I have integrated a “work break” midway through the morning, which includes a different hot choc-concoction that I invent each year. This year, due to the damp cold, we stopped a little earlier than “midway” and broke out the hot chocolate, cookies, brownies, etc.

As we enjoyed our snack break, one of our adult participants, Robert, spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk in large tree but in the open and just back from where we had come. The hawk was having a break of its own, munching away on something whose identity we could not ascertain.  Another highlight included one of the more gorgeous Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot as I co-led a 3-year study of this species up in our higher mountains. This male had such intense colors – everyone commented on it. I was unable to get a photo – instead, I’ve included another lovely example from up along the Parkway. Note that the bird in the photo is fairly white underneath whereas our Xmas Count bird was very very yellow – more yellow than I’d ever seen.

Red-shouldered Hawk. Photo by Carla Burgess

Red-shouldered Hawk. Photo by Carla Burgess

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, male. Photo taken at Julian Price Park, NC by John Gerwin.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, male. Photo taken at Julian Price Park, NC by John Gerwin.

Par for the course, White-throated Sparrow topped the list of most abundant on our walk. Although I am not a fan of the non-native privets in our area and all over Walnut Creek, I applaud the resilience of those lovely little sparrows.  They seem to inhabit a bit of every woodsie habitat. Another common denizen of this area is the Red-bellied Woodpecker, and it’s one I can still hear from a fair distance, for which I am grateful.  This year, we counted a few extra White-breasted Nuthatches, than in years past. It’s hard to explain any year to year variation but that is why we conduct this survey every year. Over time, scientists of various types can analyze these data, and discover patterns and sometimes come up with explanations. It’s a great way to contribute to the bigger picture.

White-throated Sparrow. Photo by Bob Oberfelder.

White-throated Sparrow. Photo by Bob Oberfelder.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, male. Photo by Carla Burgess.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, male. Photo by Carla Burgess.

We returned to the Wetland Center parking lot by noon, and there we added our final birds to the list along with more hot chocolate provided by staff at the Center. We really appreciate the help of the Wetland Center staff, for allowing us access to the bathrooms at 0700 (they normally open at 0900) and for coming along on our walk. We spent a fine morning watching birds, telling stories, looking back at 2016 and ahead to 2017.

John Finnegan – We Will Miss You

i Nov 16th No Comments by

Authored by Harry LeGrand

It is with great sorrow that I report the news that John Finnegan, a long-time birder/biologist based in Raleigh, passed away November 10th after a 7-8-month bout of cancer. I had lunch with John only 8 days earlier, and though weak (after much chemo and pills) and in an easy chair at home, he was quite responsive and talking freely with several of us. Thus, even though he was expected to live only a handful of weeks or a month or two longer, the news of his passing so quickly came as a shock to his friends.

John and Stephanie at a Wake Audubon volunteer work day at Schenck Forest

John and Stephanie at a Wake Audubon volunteer work day at Schenck Forest

John and his wife Stephanie Horton did a considerable amount of birding and herping in the state, especially in Wake County and in the Sandhills. His good friend Jeff Beane was with him on many of these trips, including several decades of participation on the Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands Christmas Bird Counts. He participated in the Wake County bird counts for several decades and was a very active member of the Wake Audubon Society as well as the NC Herpetological Society.  He conducted two Breeding Bird Survey routes in the Sandhills for a number of years. He, Jeff, Stephanie, and one or two others conducted a Wildathon Big Day each May to record the number of species of vertebrates in a single day, with contributions based on number of species going to NC Audubon for conservation purposes.

He observed and identified the first inland Gray Kingbird that was confirmed by photographs (later in the day by another birder), just south of Raleigh. He also identified the first inland spring Arctic Tern in NC, at Lake Waccamaw, confirmed by photos from Jeff Beane.

He was the Data Manager for the NC Natural Heritage Program for around 25 years, where he worked several rooms or cubicles from me during that time; I was the Terrestrial Zoologist. Though his job was not one that got him in the field often, he and Stephanie were afield on most weekends.

He will be sorely missed on several Christmas Bird Counts, on many birding and herping outings,and at Audubon and Herp Society meetings.  His departure leaves a great hole not only for the Natural Heritage Program to fill, but to his numerous friends and fellow biologists.

Bird ID Workshop – Those “Little Brown Jobs”

i Aug 29th No Comments by

Authored by
John Gerwin

On Saturday, August 27th, Wake Audubon and the Museum of Natural Sciences co-sponsored a workshop to learn some of the finer points of bird identifications for a variety of challenging species. Twelve folks ventured out and into the murky world of “little brown jobs” which actually included some big brown “jobs” and a few other types added for good measure.
Three of most active Young Naturalists provided tremendous support (one is a former Museum Junior Curator who has been affiliated with the YNC program the past 2 years). These 3 helped to pull ~75 bird specimens from the Museum’s ornithology collections, to represent some of the more challenging plumages of species found in North Carolina, and often in Wake County. These included various species of warblers (fall, immature plumages), sparrows, raptors (“all immature raptors seem to be brown on the back and streaked underneath”….), and some of the finch/bunting types. There were others and as the saying goes, you just had to be there.

Olivia and Vanessa Merritt - Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Olivia and Vanessa Merritt – Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Edward Landi - Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Edward Landi – Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Specimens were arranged on tabletops in their respective groups, and John Gerwin and the 3 assistants held court at the resulting tables, where they could go over each specimen/species and compare and contrast with others that look so much alike.
Olivia and Vanessa Merritt, and Edward Landi, have assisted John with numerous bird banding events over the past 3 years, which includes 4 projects. They have spent many hours handling live sparrows, buntings and warblers in the Fall at both Prairie Ridge and a grassland/shrub site in the Uwharries, as part of ongoing bird banding studies at each site. They also assist with tasks in the Museum’s ornithology collections. So these three have gained quite a bit of experience with these more challenging species (some of our other Young Naturalists have been participating as well but were unavailable to help on Saturday).
In addition to the specimens, John showed a few dozen images of the species of interest, during which time we were able to discuss the field marks, and see how things might look through optics (versus a specimen in your hand!). This gave folks a chance to guess at identifications, which is always a combination of fun and internal strife!
By the end, we were all sufficiently overwhelmed by the many shades of browns, grays, olive greens, but we agreed that in spite of their more “quiet” look, they are really quite lovely once you see them up close the way we did.
Attached are a few of the species we covered – click on the image to enlarge it. See which ones you can ID (then look at the end of the blog for the answers).

Raptors_JohnGerwin

Raptors_JohnGerwin

SparrowComparrow

Warblers_JohnGerwin

Warblers_JohnGerwin

John Gerwin, Treasurer, Wake Audubon and Research Curator, Ornithology, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences


Warblers:
Upper left: Palm, western subspecies
Upper right: Cape May, female
Lower left: Blackpoll
Lower middle: “Yellow”, or Eastern Palm
Lower right: Prairie

Hawks:
Lower left: Cooper’s, immature female
Upper middle: Sharp-shinned, adult
Upper right, Sharp-shinned, immature
Lower right: Cooper’s, adult on Starling

Thrushes:
Left: Gray-cheeked
Right: Swainson’s

Sparrows:
Left: Field
Right: White-crowned, immature
Ammodramus: this slide shows the underside of the two species of what were once considered one: Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Now known as: Nelson’s, and Saltmarsh, sparrow. The specimen labels reflect this current taxonomy.

Don’t Skip These

i Aug 21st No Comments by

Authored by John Gerwin

I went outside this week, on a couple afternoons, to check out the butterflies. A number of butterfly-attracting plants are now blooming nicely (New York Ironweed, Cup Plant, Smooth Oxeye, Green-headed Sneezeweed/Coneflower, Summer Phlox). And, as I’d expected/hoped, a number of Skipper butterflies have now appeared to feed at these flowers (I saw 4 Skipper species that day, in an hour of looking around).

The Skipper group of butterflies is a large, worldwide group. The common name derives from the flight of many of them, a flight during which they “skip” through the air. Species in this group have some of the strongest flight muscles and are some of the fastest flying Lepidoptera – they bounce erratically through the air, and are often tough to visually follow. Indeed, they appear to come and go in a flash. And some are territorial, so they attack anything that walks or flies by – anything.

In addition, as a group, Skippers are known as dull, drab, difficult to identify butterflies. Even when graced with some spots/blotches, there can be several species whose spots are so similar that they are still tough to ID. Many show sexual dimorphism (males and females look different) – so different you’d think they are two species. And to make matters more fun, the sex of one might look like one of the others. They are, in essence, the “sparrows, or gulls, of the butterfly world”. Few people subject themselves to what can be a torturous experience – identifying a Skipper.

But, there are in fact a number of species who are quite wonderfully marked, and/or show some fine coloration. So, to those trying to learn some new species out there, I say take a look for, and at, these more elaborately colored species. As always, I encourage anyone to go along with a simple point and shoot camera and take plenty of shots. You can then go home and put a name to your butterflies later (or you can ask some of us on this list).

For now, let me show case a few that I see in the yard, or nearby in some neighbor’s yard.

Zabulon, Clouded, Fiery Skippers

One of the brightest skippers I see out in the yard is the male Zabulon Skipper. But, in a slightly more subdued way, the female is no snoozer either. So the Zabulon show sexual dimorphism and “interestingly” enough, the Clouded Skipper (either sex as they are nearly identical) looks much like the female Zabulon. And as you’ll see from the pics, the two sexes of Zabulon are wildly different-looking. If you find one that looks like a female Zabulon, a great way to tell which species it is, is if you see the fine white line on the upper (leading) edge of the hindwing. You may think “I’ll never see that tiny bit of white! Gerwin’s crazy!” But in fact, it is pretty noticeable (notwithstanding that Gerwin can still be crazy).

I find the chestnut coloration of the female Zabulon quite beautiful – in this species, this color shows best when fresh and when the light hits it just right. I also appreciate the “dusty” or “frosted” appearance of the Clouded Skipper, which is on the underside of this species. I might have named this one “Foggy” Skipper, as that is how that marking appears to me, when I see it. Although grayish-white may not seem like an appealing coloration, it looks quite lovely to me, set against the dark background.

The Fiery Skipper is also fairly bright, as you can see. And it is a dimorphic species. The male is a brighter yellow-orange with small spots, whereas the female is a quieter yellow-orange, with larger brownish spots. Unfortunately, I somehow managed to photograph the undersides of only male Fiery’s. I will be on the lookout now! The Fiery Skipper is one of the most abundant skippers I see out there, and it is particularly fond of Lantana. I know Lantana is not native to these parts, but it produces some good nectar and I confess, I grow some in a pot or two around here, and many many butterflies are attracted to it. The butterflies have spoken.

Many Skipper larvae feed on a variety of grasses. Two of the kinds that the Zabulon will feed on are Poa and Eragrostis species. I am particularly fond of Eragrostis, one of which is the Purple Love Grass (I love purple so this circle is complete). I have planted some (Purple Love Grass) in the front yard. Poa’s are common everywhere and Poa annua is considered a real pest, and many folks spray a lot of herbicide to try and control it. Poa glauca is an ornamental Bluestem that is commonly planted.

Clouded and Fiery Skipper larvae feed on St. Augustine Grass, another common ornamental, and Fiery’s will also feed on Bermuda Grass, yet another non-native.

Take a walk around the neighborhood this month and enjoy the challenge of identifying some of these butterflies sipping and skipping into autumn.

cloudedskipper_female John Gerwin

cloudedskipper_female John Gerwin

cloudedskipper_sideview John Gerwin

cloudedskipper_sideview John Gerwin

cloudedskipper_sideview2_johngerwin

cloudedskipper_sideview2 John Gerwin

cloudedskipper_upsidedown John Gerwin

cloudedskipper_upsidedown John Gerwin

fieryskipper-female-wingsopen John Gerwin

fieryskipper-female-wingsopen John Gerwin

fieryskipper-male_sideview1 John Gerwin

fieryskipper-male_sideview1 John Gerwin

fieryskipper-male_sideview2 John Gerwin

fieryskipper-male_sideview2 John Gerwin

fieryskipper-male-wingsopen John Gerwin

fieryskipper-male-wingsopen John Gerwin

fieryskipper-male-wingsopen-2 JohnGerwin

fieryskipper-male-wingsopen-2 JohnGerwin

zabulonskip-female-sideview-4 Allie Stewart

zabulonskip-female-sideview-4 Allie Stewart

zabulonskipper-female_sideview-1 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-female_sideview-1 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-female_sideview-2 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-female_sideview-2 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-female_sideview-3_ John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-female_sideview-3_ John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-female_wingsopen Allie Stewart

zabulonskipper-female_wingsopen Allie Stewart

zabulonskipper-male-wingsopen-2 johngerwin

zabulonskipper-male-wingsopen-2 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-male_sideview-1_johngerwin

zabulonskipper-male_sideview-1 john Gerwin

zabulonskipper-male-sideview1_johngerwin_resize

zabulonskipper-male-sideview1 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-male-wingsopen-1 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-male-wingsopen-1 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-male-wingsopen-2 John Gerwin

zabulonskipper-male-wingsopen-2 John Gerwin

First published on the Wild West blog site:  wildwestavent.wordpress.com

A Little Bird

i Aug 14th 2 Comments by

A poem by Jill Walsh ~ August 9, 2016

 

A little bird came hopping by, foraging for seeds

Enchanted I sat witness to, his dance amid the trees

 

A tail of white-tipped feathers splayed, head bobbing up and down

The subtle sound of shuffling feet, as he scratched the fertile ground

 

 He waltzed through dappled waves of light, with wings of brilliant hue

While rays of glistening sun unveiled, opalescent shades of blue

 

A triumphant chirp did soon resound, when grasped within his beak

The treasured prize uncovered, beneath the fallen leaves

 

Poem illustration

Poem Ilustration

The “Links” of 2016

i Jul 16th No Comments by

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.

 

Bobolink flock in flight at Mid Pines Road, Raleigh. Photo by Bob Oberfelder

Bobolink flock in flight at Mid Pines Road, Raleigh. Photo by Bob Oberfelder

Male Bobolink at Mid Pines Road in Raleigh, May 2016. Photo by Bob Oberfelder

Male Bobolink at Mid Pines Road in Raleigh, May 2016. Photo by Bob Oberfelder

Female Bobolink at Mid Pines Road in May. Photo by Bob Oberfelder

Female Bobolink at Mid Pines Road in May. Photo by Bob Oberfelder