Action Alert from the National Audubon Society
Every year hundreds of millions of birds die when they fly into unseen or reflective glass in buildings. Many of these deaths could be prevented by commonsense bird-friendly building standards. Please join us in urging your congressional representative to support the Bird-Safe Buildings Act https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/cFKDdto0hEC6HqnxgB0y-Q2 to reduce these unnecessary bird deaths.
Since 2013, over a dozen Wake Audubon Society volunteers have monitored the number of migratory birds killed locally by building collisions. Sadly, we have seen no reduction in bird deaths despite the City of Raleigh’s support for the Lights Out initiative. We need to take additional steps to make a difference for birds. Let your congressional representative know https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/cFKDdto0hEC6HqnxgB0y-Q2 that you want them to act to protect birds.
Authored by John Gerwin
The Raleigh Christmas Bird Count in 2018 was very different from recent past years – it was relatively warm! I won’t say ‘balmy’ but compared to the below-freezing dawn temps some of us have experienced the past few years, this year felt a little, well, balmy. But it was also rather drizzly and indeed for the first 90 minutes, most of us experienced some form of light precipitation. I continued my tradition of providing a couple boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts (assorted variety), a thermos of bird-friendly coffee, for those willing to join me for one pre-dawn hour on site, to listen for any wood-be owl. To date, I have heard only one such owl in 5 or so years of this, and by the end of the hour, I am still at 1. But I always enjoy a few donuts and many many ounces of coffee. I have also enjoyed the company of a variety of other “dawn birds”. This year, my “flock” consisted of a couple Young Naturalists, a couple recent YNC graduates, some Audubon members, and a couple folks from the Museum.
Our overall effort this year took the form of 19 groups, covering their respective areas. By 12:30pm, with about “half the precincts” reporting, the species list total was at 95. This is noticeably higher than years past. Some of the groups will be sending in their reports in the coming 2 weeks, and the total species number may reach 100, something that hasn’t happened on this count in many years.
But it’s not just a high number that matters. Indeed, the main focus on the count is to cover the areas we do in a consistent manner. The data we collect are submitted to a national database, and this database is available to the general public. Many folks have performed a variety of analyses on these data, which span 118 years for some locations.
This is a ‘big year’ for seeing some “northern” species, which are moving into the SE in large numbers this fall/winter. Pine siskins have been showing up at various feeders. We found a couple Red-breasted Nuthatches at Walnut Creek.
Last year, we flushed an amazing Wood duck from the Garner Road pond along the Walnut Creek greenway – this year only half a dozen flew by. It’s pretty unusual to find 75 Wood ducks in such an urban setting. And some of our crew managed to flush a Gray Catbird, always rare for this count. Folks over along Swift Creek found some Rusty Blackbirds, anther good find.
A Peregrine Falcon and Merlin were seen along Mid Pines Road. A Peregrine was seen at the same spot last year, and the year before. Surely this Peregrine is a returning individual, enjoying some of the many pigeons along that stretch.
By 0900, the drizzle had stopped and the next few hours were nice for walking and birding. One of my favorite birding experiences of the year happened at the end of our count. A few of us wandered east along the Greenway into an adjoining neighborhood of southeast Raleigh (which is how the Greenway was planned at this section). In 20 minutes, covering about 3 blocks with normal yards and houses, but Walnut Creek nearby, we found nearly 75 individual birds of over 20 species. This was a section we have never covered before, but this year we had time. And it goes to show how interesting it can be to wander into such an area and see what you can find.
Indeed, the new organizer, Brian O’Shea, and I were discussing this very topic right before the count. And that we plan to get some folks into such areas in the future and thus expand coverage. There are many wooded neighborhoods within the count circle, that are never covered. If you are interested in being one of our “urban” stealth bird counters in the future, just let us know and we will set you up.
In the meantime, a big thanks to all who helped out. In the end, our Walnut Creek totals (species and individuals) were almost the same as 2017 – only a tad lower. I would have bet money that both were “a lot lower” but I would have lost. That’s in part why we do what we do. Even in a light drizzle.
This way we have real data, and we don’t have to rely on Gerwin’s faulty memory.
Here are photos of two other birds that were spotted.
Authored by Jeff Beane
This is a report on a joint field trip between NC State Museum of Natural Sciences and Wake Audubon. We visited the following areas between November 17th and
19th: 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.
Trip leaders: Jerry Reynolds, Jeff Beane, Martha Fisk
Other participants: Betty Lou Chaika, David Chaika, Marty Demko, Phyllis Demko, Eileen Hancox, Sue Harvey, Stephanie Horton, Jerry Johnson, Debbie Ludas, Mary McClure, Adair Pickard, Carole Stevens
* = observed only as dead-on-road (DOR) or otherwise dead specimens.
All photos by Jeff Beane.
Gambusia holbrooki Eastern Mosquitofish (many)
Acris gryllus Southern Cricket Frog (many)
Rana catesbeiana [Lithobates catesbeianus] American Bullfrog (at least 1)
Chrysemys p. picta Eastern Painted Turtle (several)
Pseudemys rubriventris Red-bellied Cooter (several)
Trachemys s. scripta Yellow-bellied Slider (many)
Coluber constrictor Black Racer (1 adult male DOR) *
Nerodia taxispilota Brown Water Snake (1 adult female)
Aix sponsa Wood Duck (at least 2 or 3)
Anas americana American Widgeon (many)
Anas clypeata Northern Shoveler (many)
Anas crecca Green-winged Teal (many)
Anas platyrhynchos Mallard (many)
Anas rubripes American Black Duck (many)
Anas strepera Gadwall (many)
Aythya americana Redhead (several)
Aythya collaris Ring-necked Duck (several)
Bucephala albeola Bufflehead (many)
Melanitta americana Black Scoter (several)
Somateria spectabilis King Eider (1)
Branta canadensis Canada Goose (many)
Oxyura jamaicensis Ruddy Duck (a few)
Meleagris gallopavo Wild Turkey (1 DOR) *
Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed Grebe (many)
Morus bassanus Northern Gannet (many)
Phalacrocorax auritus Double-crested Cormorant (many)
Pelecanus erythrorhynchos American White Pelican (several)
Pelecanus occidentalis Brown Pelican (many)
Ardea alba Great Egret (at least 1)
Ardea herodias Great Blue Heron (many)
Botaurus lentiginosus American Bittern (1)
Egretta caerulea Little Blue Heron (at least 1)
Egretta thula Snowy Egret (a few)
Egretta tricolor Tricolored Heron (at least 1 or 2)
Eudocimus albus White Ibis (many)
Cathartes aura Turkey Vulture (many)
Coragyps atratus Black Vulture (several)
Buteo jamaicensis Red-tailed Hawk (many)
Buteo lineatus Red-shouldered Hawk (at least 1)
Circus cyaneus Northern Harrier (many)
Haliaeetus leucocephalus Bald Eagle (many)
Falco columbarius Merlin (1)
Falco sparverius American Kestrel (many)
Fulica americana American Coot (many)
Charadrius vociferus Killdeer (many)
Pluvialis squatarola Black-bellied Plover (several)
Calidris alba Sanderling (many)
Calidris alpina Dunlin (several)
Gallinago delicata Wilson’s Snipe (1)
Tringa flavipes Lesser Yellowlegs (a few)
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)
Columba livia Rock Pigeon (many)
Zenaida macroura Mourning Dove (many)
Bubo virginianus Great Horned Owl (1 heard)
Strix varia Barred Owl (1)
Megaceryle alcyon Belted Kingfisher (at least 3 or 4)
Colaptes auratus Northern Flicker (several)
Dryocopus pileatus Pileated Woodpecker (at least 2 or 3)
Melanerpes carolinus Red-bellied Woodpecker (several)
Picoides pubescens Downy Woodpecker (at least 2)
Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe (several)
Vireo solitarius Blue-headed Vireo (1)
Corvus brachyrhynchos American Crow (many)
Cyanocitta cristata Blue Jay (several)
Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow (many)
Baeolophus bicolor Tufted Titmouse (several)
Poecile carolinensis Carolina Chickadee (several)
Cistothorus palustris Marsh Wren (at least 1 or 2)
Thryothorus ludovicianus Carolina Wren (many)
Regulus calendula Ruby-crowned Kinglet (many)
Regulus satrapa Golden-crowned Kinglet (several)
Catharus guttatus Hermit Thrush (at least 1)
Sialia sialis Eastern Bluebird (several)
Turdus migratorius American Robin (many)
Dumetella carolinensis Gray Catbird (a few)
Mimus polyglottos Northern Mockingbird (many)
Toxostoma rufum Brown Thrasher (1)
Anthus rubescens American Pipit (a few)
Setophaga coronata Yellow-rumped Warbler (many)
Vermivora celata Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
Junco hyemalis Dark-eyed Junco (a few)
Melospiza georgiana Swamp Sparrow (a few)
Melospiza melodia Song Sparrow (several)
Passerculus sandwichensis Savannah Sparrow (several)
Zonotrichia albicollis White-throated Sparrow (at least 1 or 2)
Cardinalis cardinalis Northern Cardinal (a few)
Passerina cyanea Indigo Bunting (1)
Agelaius phoeniceus Red-winged Blackbird (many)
Quiscalus major Boat-tailed Grackle (many)
Sturnella magna Eastern Meadowlark (many)
Carpodacus mexicanus House Finch (a few)
Passer domesticus House Sparrow (at least 2)
Didelphis virginiana Virginia Opossum (many DOR) *
Ursus americanus American Black Bear (ca. 4)
Procyon lotor Common Raccoon (at least 1 DOR) *
Canis rufus Red Wolf (1)
Sciurus carolinensis Eastern Gray Squirrel (a few)
Odocoileus virginianus White-tailed Deer (at least 3 alive, many DOR)
Tursiops truncatus Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphin (several)
Fishes: at least 1
Reptiles: at least 5
Birds: at least 95
Mammals: at least 7
[Not all species were seen by everyone in the group, and some group members may have seen species not listed above. Some additional species were potentially glimpsed or heard but not positively identified (e.g., Spotted Turtle, Blackpoll Warbler, et al. may have been glimpsed; glimpsed road-kills may have included Gray Fox, Eastern Cottontail, et al.).]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
White-collared Manakin – Manakins are another new world tropical
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.
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.
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.
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.
One that is rare on the property (and elsewhere in the country it seems)
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.
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.
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…..
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.
I just have to point out that the intrepid, adaptable House Sparrow is
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.
Vesper Rat – there are many rodents in these parts. And sometimes,
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.
Three-toed Sloth – one can never get enough sloth pictures.
[photos by John Gerwin, except where noted]
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.
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.
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.
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.
Authored by Harry LeGrand
It is with great sorrow that I report the news that John Finnegan, a long-time birder/biologist based in Raleigh, passed away November 10th after a 7-8-month bout of cancer. I had lunch with John only 8 days earlier, and though weak (after much chemo and pills) and in an easy chair at home, he was quite responsive and talking freely with several of us. Thus, even though he was expected to live only a handful of weeks or a month or two longer, the news of his passing so quickly came as a shock to his friends.
John and his wife Stephanie Horton did a considerable amount of birding and herping in the state, especially in Wake County and in the Sandhills. His good friend Jeff Beane was with him on many of these trips, including several decades of participation on the Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands Christmas Bird Counts. He participated in the Wake County bird counts for several decades and was a very active member of the Wake Audubon Society as well as the NC Herpetological Society. He conducted two Breeding Bird Survey routes in the Sandhills for a number of years. He, Jeff, Stephanie, and one or two others conducted a Wildathon Big Day each May to record the number of species of vertebrates in a single day, with contributions based on number of species going to NC Audubon for conservation purposes.
He observed and identified the first inland Gray Kingbird that was confirmed by photographs (later in the day by another birder), just south of Raleigh. He also identified the first inland spring Arctic Tern in NC, at Lake Waccamaw, confirmed by photos from Jeff Beane.
He was the Data Manager for the NC Natural Heritage Program for around 25 years, where he worked several rooms or cubicles from me during that time; I was the Terrestrial Zoologist. Though his job was not one that got him in the field often, he and Stephanie were afield on most weekends.
He will be sorely missed on several Christmas Bird Counts, on many birding and herping outings,and at Audubon and Herp Society meetings. His departure leaves a great hole not only for the Natural Heritage Program to fill, but to his numerous friends and fellow biologists.
On Saturday, August 27th, Wake Audubon and the Museum of Natural Sciences co-sponsored a workshop to learn some of the finer points of bird identifications for a variety of challenging species. Twelve folks ventured out and into the murky world of “little brown jobs” which actually included some big brown “jobs” and a few other types added for good measure.
Three of most active Young Naturalists provided tremendous support (one is a former Museum Junior Curator who has been affiliated with the YNC program the past 2 years). These 3 helped to pull ~75 bird specimens from the Museum’s ornithology collections, to represent some of the more challenging plumages of species found in North Carolina, and often in Wake County. These included various species of warblers (fall, immature plumages), sparrows, raptors (“all immature raptors seem to be brown on the back and streaked underneath”….), and some of the finch/bunting types. There were others and as the saying goes, you just had to be there.
Specimens were arranged on tabletops in their respective groups, and John Gerwin and the 3 assistants held court at the resulting tables, where they could go over each specimen/species and compare and contrast with others that look so much alike.
Olivia and Vanessa Merritt, and Edward Landi, have assisted John with numerous bird banding events over the past 3 years, which includes 4 projects. They have spent many hours handling live sparrows, buntings and warblers in the Fall at both Prairie Ridge and a grassland/shrub site in the Uwharries, as part of ongoing bird banding studies at each site. They also assist with tasks in the Museum’s ornithology collections. So these three have gained quite a bit of experience with these more challenging species (some of our other Young Naturalists have been participating as well but were unavailable to help on Saturday).
In addition to the specimens, John showed a few dozen images of the species of interest, during which time we were able to discuss the field marks, and see how things might look through optics (versus a specimen in your hand!). This gave folks a chance to guess at identifications, which is always a combination of fun and internal strife!
By the end, we were all sufficiently overwhelmed by the many shades of browns, grays, olive greens, but we agreed that in spite of their more “quiet” look, they are really quite lovely once you see them up close the way we did.
Attached are a few of the species we covered – click on the image to enlarge it. See which ones you can ID (then look at the end of the blog for the answers).
John Gerwin, Treasurer, Wake Audubon and Research Curator, Ornithology, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Upper left: Palm, western subspecies
Upper right: Cape May, female
Lower left: Blackpoll
Lower middle: “Yellow”, or Eastern Palm
Lower right: Prairie
Lower left: Cooper’s, immature female
Upper middle: Sharp-shinned, adult
Upper right, Sharp-shinned, immature
Lower right: Cooper’s, adult on Starling
Right: White-crowned, immature
Ammodramus: this slide shows the underside of the two species of what were once considered one: Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Now known as: Nelson’s, and Saltmarsh, sparrow. The specimen labels reflect this current taxonomy.