American Goldfinch in Winter

i Jan 30th No Comments by

Authored by Phil Doerr

In winter, American Goldfinch females and males really look alike, as males drop the very distinctive black wing feathers and brilliant yellow body plumages. By now (February) males have molted and replaced the bright yellow body feathers of late August w/ the drab plumage that will see them through winter. Females do the same but it’s not so noticeable!  It’s a definite advantage to be less visible to predators as the birds forage leafless treetops and fields in groups of a dozen or more. Some winters when we have “finch years” goldfinches may be seen in tree tops or at feeders, in the company of a hoard of pine siskins. Siskins are by comparison a bit smaller, and with some yellow wing and tail feathers that contrast with a streaky brown head and body.

Male American Goldfinch in Winter

Female American Goldfinch in Winter

Goldfinches (and other finches) that regularly visit our thistle seed and sunflower feeders in winter are known from banding studies to make the rounds of available feeder stations within a 4-mile radius. This behavior seems to decrease the likelihood that  the birds will encounter an empty feeder! This semi-nomadic behavior also keeps the birds moving about in more natural agricultural and woodlot areas with seed producing grasses, forbs, wildflowers and a variety of “weeds”. In flight, groups can be heard vocalizing their “potato chip” call. Keep an eye out for these wonderful winter wanderers and see if you tell the males from the females at winter feeders.

Cautionary… There’s a downside to the observed finch behavior we’ll  consider next month

Thanks for caring for the birds, they do tell us  to “Act on Climate!” Spread the word!

Ways to Help Vultures

i Nov 29th No Comments by
Authored by  Kyra Thurow Bartow.
Vultures are vital for our ecosystems. As many of them are obligate scavengers, vultures help to keep ecosystems clean of decaying matter. They also provide disease control as their extremely acidic stomachs as well as special enzymes can help destroy anthrax, tuberculosis, botulism, cholera, and rabies. Vulture populations throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia have plummeted by up to 99% since 1990, and vultures often encounter persecution throughout the entire world. Here are some ways you can help vultures:
1. Tell people about how important and cool vultures are!
2. Get a different perspective on vultures by following some social media accounts:
– Andy N. Condor (Andean Condor) from the Tracy Aviary
– George the Vulture (Turkey Vulture) from the American Eagle Foundation
– Bash the Vulture (Black Vulture) from the American Eagle Foundation
3. Support Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facilities. These organizations are required to have conservation actions in order to be accredited under the AZA umbrella. One such project is called AZA SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction), with a focus on African Vultures. They have partnered with the Denver Zoo, NC Zoo, VulPro, Kalahari Research and Conservation, and the Peregrine Fund in order to have people on the ground in Africa looking into how to save their vultures. Visit these websites for more information:
– AZA SAFE African Vultures
– Raptor TAG
4. If you are a hunter or know a hunter, have them switch to copper bullets rather than lead bullets. Better for people and vultures!
5. Celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day! This occurs on the first Saturday of September each year.

6. Tell your local government about your commitment to vultures and vulture-safe practices.

Close-up of Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture photo by Bartow

Close-up of Black Vulture

Black Vulture photo by Bartow

Bird Counts in Robeson County

i Apr 10th No Comments by

Authored by Erik Thomas and Liling Warren.  All photos by Liling.

On March 27, board members Erik Thomas and Liling Warren traveled to Robeson County to conduct some bird counts.  The bird counts were for two projects, monitoring of the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA) and the NC Bird Atlas.  The Lumber River IBA has pre-designated stops along local roads at which counters list all birds seen or heard within a ten-minute period, with notes on how far away each bird was and when during the ten-minute period the bird made itself known.  All of these stops lie in the lower part of the watershed of the Lumber River.  The NC Bird Atlas, conversely, has all of North Carolina divided into rectangular blocks of land whose edges are several miles long.  The aim of the NC Bird Atlas is to document breeding and wintering birds found in each block.  One sixth of all the blocks are designated as “priority blocks,” those in which a more concerted effort is to be made in order to complete a thorough inventory of birds that dwell there.  Observations of breeding behaviors are especially important.  The ten-minute time limit does not apply to NC Bird Atlas counts.  However, counting for the NC Bird Atlas will take place from March, 2021, through February, 2026, whereas the Lumber River IBA is a continuous project with no set termination.

The two counters spent the morning counting at Lumber River IBA sites.  Because these spots all lie in bottomland areas, the birds that occur there are those that occur near water, along rivers or in swamps.  We found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest, frescoed with lichens as is typical of that species.  White-eyed Vireos were already back from the tropics and singing.  We did exceptionally well with warblers, coming across eight species: Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Pine, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, and Prairie.  It was surprising to see Prothonotary Warblers so early in the spring, but apparently they now reach the southern part of the state, where Robeson County is situated, in late March.

In the afternoon, we shifted to counting on upland sites for the NC Bird Atlas.  Chipping Sparrows and Eastern Bluebirds were plentiful.  We also encountered a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes and a Horned Lark.  The most exciting find of the day, however, was a Swallow-tailed Kite that was heading northward as we stood in the Marietta Cemetery. Swallow-tailed Kites are magnificent birds—and virtually impossible to mistake.  You can enjoy some of Liling Warren’s fine camera work of the kite and other birds here.  For the entire day, we completed 21 counts, 10 of which were at Lumber River IBA sites.  We entered all 21 in the NC Bird Atlas, and of those, 12 were in priority blocks.

Lumber River birding in June

i Jul 29th No Comments by

authored by Erik Thomas

On June 15, I conducted some bird counts at the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA), which the Wake Audubon Society monitors.  Counting consists of stopping for ten minutes at designated spots and making a record of all birds seen or heard.  All of the sites in the Lumber River IBA are wetland habitats. This time, however, I decided to do something a little different.  I counted at six of the designated sites along Ashpole Swamp, which parallels the South Carolina border a few miles away, and six other spots at nearby upland sites that are not designated locations.

The contrast in birdlife between the bottomland sites and the upland sites was striking.  Down in the bottomlands, birds of wooded swamps were plentiful.  I heard Yellow-billed Cuckoos at several sites, Red-shouldered Hawks at a few, and various kinds of woodpeckers.  Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were easy to find, and I heard—but only occasionally saw—quite a few Carolina Wrens and some Acadian Flycatchers.  Prothonotary Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Yellow-throated Warblers were actively defending territories.  Here and there a White-eyed Vireo chattered.  There was even a flock of Wood Storks passing overhead.

Northern Parula. Photo by Ed Schneider

Northern Parula. Photo by Ed Schneider

Yellow-throated Warbler. Photo by Chris Wood Glamor

Yellow-throated Warbler. Photo by Chris Wood Glamor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just up the hill from the swamp, however, the birds changed dramatically. Three members of the icterid family—the Eastern Meadowlark, Orchard Oriole, and Red-winged Blackbird—appeared there.  Indigo Buntings were singing at several spots, and Northern Mockingbirds guarded yards throughout.  Mourning Doves sat on power lines or flew by nearly everywhere.  Cattle Egrets were attending a group of steers at one site and a Chipping Sparrow was singing heartily at another.  Most impressively, a congregation of Mississippi Kites—I counted nine, but there may have been more—was sailing over some fields.

Indigo Bunting at Yates Mill Park. Photo by Bob Oberfelder.

Indigo Bunting at Yates Mill Park. Photo by Bob Oberfelder.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to see more details, I’ve uploaded all the counts I did to eBird. One additional sighting I had was a series of realtor signs in Ashpole Swamp.  It seems that most of the swamp is for sale.  It’s too wet to develop for housing (fortunately!), but logging interests may want to pounce on it.  It would be desirable if the state or an environmental organization could acquire this valuable and extensive habitat, perhaps to be added to Lumber River State Park at some future date.

 

–Erik Thomas

Bird-friendly Coffee

i Feb 1st 2 Comments by

Authored by John Gerwin

A significant element of the Nicaragua economy is based on coffee exports. Based on numerous surveys, a significant number of birds thrive among the vegetation found in traditional coffee farms and there are many such farms in northern Nicaragua. On a traditional farm, the coffee bushes are planted under the canopy of taller trees. Those trees can be a broad mix of native species, or a mix of native and fruit/nut bearing trees, or even a single species. Although a forest consisting of a mix of native species is preferred, even one of only a layer of the Flowering Inga can provide food and “lodging” for a suite of birds. And of course, coffee growing/harvesting/processing is a form of agriculture, and this suite of activities yields employment for many people.

Coffee from Finca Esperanza Verde

Coffee from Finca Esperanza Verde

One of those jobs is the “cortador”, or harvester; a.k.a coffee picker. Well, the person is not picking “coffee” but rather, coffee beans. And technically, coffee fruit, called a “cherry” because the typical fruit is a bright red color when it is mature. Finca Esperanza Verde is located in the north-central highlands of Nicaragua. In these parts, the coffee cherries mature between December to mid-February. Some bushes will continue to yield ripe fruit into early March, at higher elevations. The cherries on a given bush do not all ripen at once. Thus, pickers will re-visit bushes several times during the harvest season.

Another critical element of life here is the machete. In Spanish, the verb

Twins with machetes

Twins with machetes

“cortar” also means to cut. Here our Young Naturalists learn the importance of knowing homonyms (“twin” words).

 

 

 

On a traditional coffee farm, the cherries are picked by hand. In some places, the pickers cheat a bit and strip all the cherries off, discarding unripened ones. This is a bad technique for two reasons. It wastes those unripened fruits that would continue to ripen if left on the bush; and it damages the stem where the cherry had been attached and this can cause that part of the bush to not fruit again. So, on a farm that is designated, or strives to be, sustainable, pickers are not allowed to use that technique. Each farm employs a “coffee manager” who oversees how the picking is done and how it is proceeding each year, which ensures compliance. At FEV, a coffee cherry is picked, one by one. As you can imagine, this is a laborious process.
In this photo of coffee cherries, red are ripe, green or ‘reddish’ are still ripening.

Coffee bush with cherries at different stages of ripening

Coffee bush with cherries at different stages of ripening

To get a sense of just how laborious, I asked Vanessa and Olivia to give it

Getting a basket and instructions

Getting a basket and instructions

a try one morning. We set out with Luis, the resident coffee “mandador” on a bright sunny morning in mid January. Luis helped them attach the baskets around their waists that local pickers use. Two sizes can be found – the women got a size that holds about 15 pounds of coffee cherries. With baskets tied around their waists followed by a quick introduction to picking, it was time to get to work. Each spent the next hour tugging, pulling, and twisting away.

When a basket is full, a worker will empty it and return to pick more. At the end of a day, her coffee haul is weighed and she is paid for the day. In the Matagalpa region and provinces to the north, most of the pickers are women. Different folks have told me that the women have better dexterity and concentration. And as is the case in most cultures, their focus is on providing for the family. Pickers may move around a province, or remain in a smaller area, perhaps working a few farms. But the work is considered “migratory”.  Often, women bring their children along (there is no school in January; also a Fair Trade certified farm cannot allow children at all). When a social cproblem arises among a group of pickers it tends to be testosterone-driven, exacerbated by alcohol abuse. Thus, overall, women are preferred.

Thus, I felt it was best to just have Vanessa and Olivia do the picking while I watched and took photographs……. I’m sure you would all agree.

Our Young Naturalists now hard at work (yet still smiling)

Picking coffee

Picking coffee

Picking coffee

Picking coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

A skilled picker will pick enough coffee cherries to yield 130-160 pounds. In January of 2017, a picker will receive 200 cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) for 130 pounds picked, which is nearly $7 USD at this time. And so, after one hour, Vanessa and Olivia ended their coffee-picking session and it was time to weight the fruits of their labors.

So how did our industrious Young Naturalists fare? Will they earn enough to eat dinner tonight? More importantly, will they earn enough to feed their mentor Juancito dinner tonight?

Coffee cherries picked when ripe

Coffee cherries picked when ripe

Olivia and Vanessa with the coffee cherries they harvested

Olivia and Vanessa with the coffee cherries they harvested

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each picked about 3 ½ pounds. After doing some complicated math, we come to the realization that we will all be going to bed hungry tonight. They have each earned about $0.10 in one hour, so if they were to work a 10-hour day, they would each get $1 USD. Of course, with enough time, practice, and putting their deXXterity and concentration into play, I’m sure they would soon be up to the more livable $7 USD/day. That is livable right?  Parents’ wishes notwithstanding, I ask each if they would like to come back and be a seasonal coffee picker, or go home and on to college – for now, they will go to college. It’s nice to have such choices.

Picking coffee fruit is only the beginning of a very detailed, laborious, multi-multistep process in getting fresh beans to your local roaster. I won’t go into all those details (you can find a lot written and described online). Suffice it to say, to produce really good coffee beans requires a lot of hands-on work, with an eye towards minutiae. Good coffee is expensive and I understand why. I wish the people in Nicaragua were paid more, but that’s how the market works. In the end, I’m grateful for the opportunity to enjoy good coffee, and the birds I love (both at home and in the tropics). And once/year visit my second family here at Finca Esperanza Verde (Green Hope Farm).

Emerald Toucanet at Finca Esperanza Verde, Nicaragua

Emerald Toucanet at Finca Esperanza Verde, Nicaragua

John Gerwin is Treasurer of Wake Audubon and
Research Curator, Ornithology, NC Museum of Natural Sciences

All photos are by John.

Migrants in Nicaragua – Goldenwings, Merritts and Me – Part 1

i Jan 22nd 1 Comment by

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

I have been visiting Nicaragua since 2005. It is a country with wonderful birds, coffee and lovely people. I was invited by Dave Davenport and John Connors, who had been co-leading some ecotours to Nicaragua since 2000. They had helped a group out of Durham (Sister Communities of Durham/San Ramon=SCDSR) to set up trails and cabins for a tourist operation at a restored shade-coffee farm, called Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV), near the town of San Ramon in Matagalpa province. I was asked to initiate some bird-banding and add to their bird-watching activities and I confess I was leery of going. But after just one visit, I was smitten. For the next 7 years we did 1-2 tours/year, during March, mostly with classes from North Carolina State University or Guilford College. In 2012 FEV was put up for sale. At that time, I had two new graduate students and decided to take them to another farm north of FEV to do some studies on Golden-winged and Wilson’s warblers – two species found to be fairly common in several coffee farms in northern Nicaragua. In 2013, FEV was sold to new owners but SCDRN remained active in supporting the local community and offering its own tours. Dave, John, and I have continued to bring tour groups down each year.

We have helped to train Humberto and Omar, shown below, to be nature guides & excellent birdwatchers. Donations from recent trip participants and a generous discount from Tracy at the Wild Bird Center in Chapel Hill, paid for the purchase of 2 new pairs of Nikon binoculars.

John Connors and John Gerwin flank Humberto and Omar.

John Connors and John Gerwin flank Humberto and Omar.

John Gerwin. and Dave Davenport give a (feeble) shout out to ecotourism.

John Gerwin. and Dave Davenport give a (feeble) shout out to ecotourism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Golden-winged Warbler (GWWA) is a species now quite threatened. Population numbers have declined dramatically in the past 20 years. As is often the case, we do not fully understand why – there are numerous factors involved. And like many (I suppose most) migrants, the Golden-wing spends 5-6 months in Central or South America. And so, to do effective conservation work, there is an International coalition of biologists who are working together to get, and share, as much data as we can about GWWA, across the species entire range (that is, breeding, migration, and non-breeding).

Male Golden-winged Warbler Color-banded

Male Golden-winged Warbler Color-banded

My now-former student and I returned to FEV in 2014 to continue our studies of the GWWA. We have continued tagging individual warblers with color bands/rings, radio transmitters, and in 2015, geolocators. The radio transmitters allow us to track individual birds over very short distances/areas – the radio signal transmits about 500 meters from the bird to our receiver. With this technology we can find tagged birds and observe behaviors, e.g. how they feed, where they feed, who they are with, how much space they use, and more. In 2015 we were invited to participate in a multi-country effort to put a different type of tag on individuals of this species, that would track and record their migration. These are called geolocators. The units are solar-powered and last for up to one year. The units are attached using degradable thread tied in a figure-8 harness. They take many measurements each day to record the length of daylight, the date and time of day.  These data can be used to estimate the location of the bird at the time of the recording because daylength varies by latitude and of course, changes as the seasons do. The units record the data – they do not transmit it – so the device must be recovered in order to download the data. To do that, we have to return to where we first caught the birds and try to recapture them. We have documented that 30-50% of the GWWA’s banded in one year will return to the same site the next, which makes this species a good candidate for the use of geolocator technology. The geolocator technology is not perfect. The accuracy of the point locations is good but not great (about 50 miles). But when a bird is migrating from say, Nicaragua to Pennsylvania, a 50 mile accuracy is good enough. If the solar panels can get covered by feathers, or debris; or if the bird spends a lot of time in denser vegetation, these can negatively affect the data collection.

A male Golden-winged Warbler wearing a geolocator.

A male Golden-winged Warbler wearing a geolocator.

In 2015 we deployed 5 geolocator units. In 2016, I received a small grant to return with more help, and more units. Our work at Finca Esperanza Verde is part of a multi-country effort in collaboration with scientists at Indiana University at Pennsylvania (Dr. Jeff Larkin); Cornell University (Ruth Bennett, Ph.D. candidate); the American Bird Conservancy; Audubon NC; and Jaguar Reserve & Ecolodge north of here. In addition, Jeff and Ruth are working with scientists in Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras to deploy geolocators as well.

In February of 2016, 4 of us went to FEV where we recaptured one of the birds from 2015 and deployed 18 more units on 17 GWWA and one Brewster’s Warbler (a hybrid between GWWA and Blue-winged Warbler).  We also visited a coffee farm just north of FEV and put geolocators on 3 warblers. In November/December I sent two of my technicians back and they recovered 5 of the 18 at FEV – they did not have time to visit the other site. We received news that the unit from 2015 failed at some point in its life – the principle investigator of this project was unable to recover any data from the unit. This was disappointing news but is a typical event in the world if research – it’s always one flap forward and two flaps back.  Jeff and Ruth are receiving units from the other countries. Hopefully a good number will provide data and by this summer, we will have generated a handful of migration maps, and we’ll know where the birds from each country went to breed.

My two technicians also discovered more disappointing news. Many of the areas where we had captured the other birds that we had tagged in February, were occupied by new birds (unbanded). We don’t know if “our” tagged birds had gone to another area after being “asked” to carry this device around for a year, or if they had not yet arrived, or just what. The devices weigh 5% of the birds’ body weight – studies of birds carrying different weights have determined that 5-6% is the upper limit for an individual bird (so we don’t exceed 5%). But there could be other factors that affect a given bird, using this technique, that we don’t fully understand yet.  So to be thorough, I came down in January, along with two Wake Audubon Young Naturalists, Olivia and Vanessa Merritt, to double check the FEV site, and visit that one other site to the north.

Olivia and Vanessa are twin sisters who have worked with me for nearly 5 years, assisting with field and museum work. They are quite experienced at putting up the nets we use to capture birds, at tagging/measuring/releasing birds, and other field tasks as needed. They recently spent 10 weeks in Spain, where their grandmother lives. While there, they assisted with some migration/bird banding on Gibraltar island and during a 4-day period there were so many birds around that each of them removed ~250 birds from the nets – that’s a lot of birds in 4 days. So down we came, on January 3rd, to re-visit areas and assess the situation where the warblers hold territories. Another aspect of our study is to see if birds remain on territory during this non-breeding season. From similar work with Wood Thrush, we are finding that individuals seem to roam during the non-breeding season. And many do not return to the site where they were banded. I have banded many Wood Thrushes here at FEV but over the years, have not recaptured any. But in years past, a handful of our banded GWWA have returned and remained at least into March, so we’re trying to piece together this element of the species life history.

Vanessa clings to her first captured GWWA

Vanessa clings to her first captured GWWA

Olivia poses with her first captured GWWA

Olivia poses with her first captured GWWA

 

Our Young Naturalists returning from a successful warbler-banding venture

Our Young Naturalists returning from a successful warbler-banding venture

John discovers another pair of twins and the finca

John discovers another pair of twins and the finca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first two field techs banded ~20 male and 3 female GWWA’s in Nov/Dec, but reported that there are still unbanded Golden-wings on the property. So we will now try to capture/band as many of those as we can. Another element of our research is to band and monitor these birds for as many years as we can, to learn what we can about which ones return, and for how many years (some migrants we’ve banded in NC returned up to 10 years). So far this trip (in two weeks) we have not found any more of the birds from last year. We will continue to tag with bands (rings, really) any new birds we can capture.

Vanessa and Olivia will also do some GPS (Global Positioning System) work to help create detailed digitized maps of the property (to outline the coffee plots, the forested plots, and other features on the landscape). We are also creating some educational documents that highlight the birds that visit the banana and hummingbird feeders. This farm has some nice cabins that can house up to 28 visitors and there are many tourists that visit between December and April of each year. So we are creating some educational material about both the resident and migratory birds that visit the feeders and are easily observed by the tourists.

Coffee is an important product for many people – those who grow it, those who export it, those who roast it, and those of us who drink it. Small “traditional” farms grow their coffee plants in the shade of taller native trees and those trees provide habitat for many birds. Thus, there are two strong connections between a place like northern Nicaragua and North Carolina: the coffee we crave, and the migratory birds we love. And now we have a third connection: a number of these coffee farms provide lodging and guides who are here to showcase the plants and animals, and the coffee process, to anyone who wishes to visit. Birdwatchers/nature lovers are a welcome addition to the economy of this region.

In subsequent posts, I will share a few adventures and discoveries during our time here. I will post images of some bird species that are local residents and which ar very much like some of our own residents, along with some familiar migrants. I will also describe the coffee-picking effort of Olivia and Vanessa and explain why they earned a whopping $0.25 (each) for their one hour of labor. So, make like our favorite local animal here, the sloth, and hang around.

Sloth at Finca Esperanza Verde

Sloth at Finca Esperanza Verde

 

Photos by John Gerwin except first photo by Dave Davenport.

Lumber River Important Bird Area – May Bird Count

i Jul 9th No Comments by

Authored by Erik Thomas.

Two members of the Wake Audubon Society board, Colleen Bockhahn and Erik Thomas, conducted bird counts in the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA) on May 1 and 2.  IBA’s are areas that provide especially extensive areas of prime bird habitat and may harbor uncommon or rare species.  Audubon North Carolina has entrusted the Wake Audubon Society with monitoring the Lumber River IBA, which covers much of the eastern half of Robeson County.  Designated points are established at which the counts take place.  Counting follows a protocol in which counters record the numbers of each species they see or hear within a ten-minute period and approximately how far away each bird was from the point.   WAS members have been monitoring the Lumber River IBA for the past nine years.

The primary goal of this trip was to find migrants.  We found a few transient species during the trip: two Black-throated Blue Warblers, an American Redstart, several Black-and-white Warblers, and one Spotted Sandpiper. For the most part, however, we found local breeding species, in which the Lumber River IBA is notably rich.  The bottomland forest warbler triumvirate of Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, and Yellow-throated Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Northern  Parula. Photo by Ed Schneider

Northern Parula. Photo by Ed Schneider

Yellow-throated Warbler. Photo by Chris Wood Glamor

Yellow-throated Warbler. Photo by Chris Wood Glamor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

was ubiquitous.  Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Barred Owls, Red-shouldered Hawks, and three species of vireos were frequent.  We heard Swainson’s Warblers at three different count points.  Even a few Wild Turkeys materialized.  Perhaps our biggest surprise was a Wood Stork that was soaring overhead at one count point.  One species that we did not find was the Red-headed Woodpecker, a bird that has appeared on many of our previous trips to the Lumber River IBA.  Our total for the IBA on this trip was 73 species.

The records for all of the point counts are entered into a website that Audubon North Carolina keeps.  Although this website is not publicly accessible, we also entered all the counts on eBird, so if you’re curious about what species we found at each site, just go to the eBird website (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/), click on “Explore Data,” and click on “Species Maps” to see any species or “Explore Hotspots” to see any of the individual points, which are designated as “Lumber River IBA D-01,” “Lumber River IBA D-02,” etc.

Highlights of the 2015 Raleigh Christmas Bird Count

i Mar 7th No Comments by

Authored by John Connors

The Raleigh Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19, 2015. It was clear and chilly…a marked change from what had been an extended mild autumn season. Sixty-seven participants were distributed in twenty teams scattered across the top birding spots in southern Wake County. Our Raleigh Christmas Bird Count has taken place in this same 15-mile diameter circle since 1937. The Count Circle center is at the Farmer’s Market along Lake Wheeler Road.

This year we had groups owling at Schenck Forest, Mid-Pines and Lake Raleigh; and one pair of intrepid birders took a pre-dawn paddle into the upper reaches of Lake Benson. Most groups assembled around 7 am and birded through the morning. For those who could make it, we got together for our mid-day Countdown at Yates Mill Pond County Park.

All told we tallied 99 species of birds for the Raleigh Christmas Bird Count- a pretty good count for our area these days.  Years ago the Raleigh CBC would regularly top 110 species, but nowadays we hope for 100.

Highlights for this year’s Raleigh Count include:

1 Red-necked Grebe seen by boat at Lake Benson, 3 Redhead Ducks at Lake Wheeler,  1 Northern Harrier at Schenck Forest, 1 Horned Lark and 40 American Pipit along Mid-Pines Road, 2 Common Raven at Umstead State Park,  1 Blue-headed Vireo at Walnut Creek Wetland Center, and 1 Orange-crowned Warbler at Lake Raleigh. The American Bittern made an appearance at Prairie Ridge Eco-station, and an incredible 11 Bald Eagles were seen at various locations across the Count Circle. Other notable species which may have lingered in our area during the warm fall weather include: 2 House Wren, 1 Gray Catbird, 2 Palm Warbler, and 1 Common Yellowthroat.  A total of 11 Fox Sparrow (mostly at Schenck), 3 White-crowned Sparrow, and  13 Rusty Blackbird were also seen.  In addition, 12 Baltimore Oriole, most at Lena Gallitano’s feeders, were tallied. Winter finches were noticeably absent- only 3 Purple Finches were seen.

More worrisome were the low numbers for Loggerhead Shrike (1), and Eastern Meadowlark (7). Bobwhite Quail may have disappeared from the count circle entirely. Perhaps the oddest miss was for the Fish Crow- the first time in many years where none was reported. Of course years ago the species was very rare here. Not to worry, they are now a common breeding bird and as I finish writing this post I can hear some outside my office window.

Thanks to all those who participated and particularly to those who worked as site leaders.  John Connors

All Christmas Bird Count data can be viewed at:

<https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count>

 

Bald Eagle at Shelley Lake

Bald Eagle at Shelley Lake. Photo by Bob Oberfelder

2015 Christmas Bird Count

i Dec 22nd No Comments by

Authored by John Connors

Report from the Field

The Raleigh Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 19. After an extended warm spell, Saturday was clear but seasonably cold with early morning temperatures below freezing, and the wind picked up as the day advanced.

Twenty-one groups with more than 70 participants surveyed the same southern Wake County parks, reservoirs and farmlands that bird counters have been visiting since the Raleigh Count was initiated in 1937. As compiler, I organize the group leaders and assign participants before the count, and then I tally and submit the results to a national database afterward.

I haven’t received all the count tallies yet, but preliminary results list 95 species of birds sighted by our groups. Many counters reported low overall bird numbers, and some species were noticeably uncommon, for example, Goldfinch. But diversity and numbers for most species was comparable to other years.

Some highlights include:

Redhead Duck (2) at Lake Wheeler, Northern Harrier (1) near Schenck Forest, Horned Lark (1) and American Pipits (45) at Mid-Pines, Loggerhead Shrike (1) at Schenck Forest, Blue-headed Vireo (1) at Walnut Creek, Common Raven (2) at Umstead State Park, as well as singles and multiple sightings of the following: House Wren, Gray Catbird, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow,  Rusty Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole and Purple Finch.

The best bird of the day might be a Red-necked Grebe that was seen at Lake Benson by our paddling birding team of Kyle Kittelberger and Brian Bockhahn. This might be the first ever reported on our count.

Notable misses up to this point include: Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Screech Owl, Herring Gull, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskin.

Have a happy, safe and peaceful Holiday season.

 

CBC group at Yates Mill. Photo by Cheryl Siegel

CBC group at Yates Mill. Photo by Cheryl Siegel

Hermit Thrush at Walnut Creek. Photo by John Gerwin

Hermit Thrush at Walnut Creek. Photo by John Gerwin

Rusty Blackbird on the Raleigh Greenway. This photo taken on last year's CBC by John Gerwin

Rusty Blackbird on the Raleigh Greenway. This photo taken on last year’s CBC by John Gerwin

Sharp-shinned Hawk at Walnut Creek. Photo by John Gerwin

Sharp-shinned Hawk at Walnut Creek. Photo by John Gerwin

Great Blue Heron photo by Jeff Beane

Great Blue Heron photo by Jeff Beane

American Bittern at Prairie Ridge. Photo by Jeff Beane

American Bittern at Prairie Ridge. Photo by Jeff Beane

American Kestrel photo by Jeff Beane

American Kestrel photo by Jeff Beane

Eastern Bluebird photo by Jeff Beane

Eastern Bluebird photo by Jeff Beane

 

Count Birds for Christmas!

i Dec 12th No Comments by

by Jeff Beane

Every holiday season, tens of thousands of volunteers, mostly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in at least 15 other countries, brave cold, rain, wind and snow to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. The data they gather are used to assess the health of bird populations and guide conservation actions.

What they are

Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, Christmas Bird Counts are held each year between December 14th and January 5th. Their basic purpose is to census bird populations. Each regional count covers a “count circle” 15 miles in diameter, or about 177 square miles. Participants divide into small groups, and each group covers a specific assigned portion of the circle as thoroughly as possible. They identify and count, to the best of their ability, every bird seen during their 24 hour count date. Participants may count birds all day, or for only a few hours. Some prefer to watch their feeders and report those results. Usually one person serves as coordinator, organizing participation, compiling data, and submitting final results to National Audubon.

Young Naturalists participate in the count

Young Naturalists participate in the count

How they started

Attitudes toward, and appreciation for, wildlife and conservation in this country have changed drastically over the years. In the 19th century, before there were laws protecting migratory birds, “side hunts” were a popular holiday tradition. Contestants would choose sides and see how many birds and other animals a team could shoot in a single day. Frank M. Chapman, a young ornithologist and early officer in the newly formed Audubon Society, was outraged by this senseless killing and waste of wildlife. In protest, on Christmas Day 1899, he counted live birds for three hours, publishing his results in the newly created Bird-Lore magazine (which later became Audubon), and encouraged other bird lovers to do the same. The next year, 1900, the first national count was held, with 27 participants counting in 25 locations across the U.S. and Canada.

Each year since then, the Christmas Bird Counts, or CBCs, have grown. Well over 2,000 regional counts are now held, with over 70,000 participants. About 40 are held in North Carolina. This year’s 116th annual count promises to be the biggest yet. The Raleigh CBC, sponsored by Wake Audubon, will be held on Saturday, 19 December 2015. Contact John Connors [email protected] or John Gerwin [email protected] if you would like to participate.

Why they’re important

CBCs are among the best data sources we have on bird populations. They can depict trends and population fluctuations over time. They are also the best-known citizen science projects in the world—allowing ordinary citizens to gather data that contribute to the overall body of our knowledge about birds. The counts certainly have their flaws and shortcomings. Not every part of a count circle can be covered. Certainly not every bird gets seen or identified. Large flocks can’t be counted precisely. It’s hard to be sure that some birds don’t get counted more than once. But the sheer volume of information and the consistency of holding the counts in the same places, during the same seasons, often with the same participants counting in the same fashion, year after year, make the data very valuable. Studies have shown that CBC data correlate closely with those gathered using more rigorous scientific methods. Hundreds of peer-reviewed articles have been published in scientific journals using analyses done with CBC data. State and federal agencies also use the information to make important bird conservation decisions.

Why they’re fun

CBCs are good opportunities to learn about birds from skilled and knowledgeable birders. They are also social events, where birders can make new friends, or spend time with old ones. These are the biggest reasons that many people participate. Many counts have special traditions, including lunches, dinners, and countdown parties during which data are compiled and stories are shared. Some even have their own T-shirts. The Raleigh CBC’s annual potluck dinner, the venison chili and pralines usually to be had at the Southern Pines count, and the Key lime pie and seafood featured at the tally rally following the Ocracoke and Portsmouth counts, will be enough to keep you coming back. But even better are the things you’ll see and learn, and the friends and memories you’ll make.

If you don’t know birds very well, you can still be placed with a team of good birders and help by spotting birds for them to identify, or by helping them keep their list. Birding with experts is one of the best ways to learn. Even if you don’t participate in an organized count or project, birding is fun and educational in its own right, and is one of the easiest outdoor activities to get interested in, because you can watch birds anywhere. A pair of binoculars and a good field guide are all you need to get started. And you have all year to learn and practice for those Christmas Counts!

Further Reading

Atlas of Wintering North American Birds: An Analysis of Christmas Bird Count Data by Terry Root, University of Chicago Press, 1988.

 

“Out for the Count” by Jeff Beane, Wildlife in North Carolina, December 2006.

 

Websites

National Audubon Society: Christmas Bird Count:

http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

 

A group for bird lovers in the Carolinas:

www.carolinabirdclub.org

 

Birding with a purpose—learn about bird citizen science projects:

http://birdsource.org/index.html

 

An online checklist program to count, report, and keep track of birds anytime, anywhere:

http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and information on many bird projects:

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/allaboutbirds