Protect Henslow’s Sparrows’ Breeding Grounds

i Feb 17th No Comments by

Authored by Gerry Luginbuhl

The Wildlife Diversity staff with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission have submitted a proposal to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to manage 1,645 acres of the 2,800 acre former Voice of America (VOA) site. This former transmission facility is the largest expanse of contiguous grassland in North Carolina. The transfer of these acres to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission will, for the first time, allow the public access to the only robust population of breeding Henslow’s Sparrows in the eastern Unite States. The VOA closed in 2006 and is now disposing of the land. Beaufort County has been given first option to develop a parks and recreation plan for the entire site, and the Wildlife Commission’s proposal will complement active recreation facilities which may occur on the remaining acreage.

To read more about the proposed development of the former Voice of America site and to learn what you can do the protect this valuable resource, please visit our Advocacy page.

HenslowsSparrow2LG copy

North Carolina is for the Birds During the Great Backyard Bird Count

i Feb 3rd No Comments by

Great Backyard Bird Count
February 13-16

Join citizen scientists and bird nerds across North Carolina when they direct their eyes to the sky for Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) over Valentine’s Weekend. Now in its 18th year, the four-day event is encouraging bird watchers of all ages and skill level to contribute to research and conservation on a global level.

How it Works

The GBBC is for everyone, everywhere! Becoming a citizen-scientist is easy when you count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, and submit your sightings to And the information gathered by volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible!

What We’ll Learn

The Great Backyard Bird Count is the perfect follow-up to the Christmas Bird Count allowing us to track birds movements throughout the winter months. The data collected by thousands of citizen scientists across North Carolina is increasingly important to Audubon’s work as we develop new conservation methods to protect our birds from the effects of climate change.

North Carolina continues to be a top-performing state for the GBBC. During last year’s citizen science event, more than 5,000 checklists were submitted in our state. The largest single species count was 12,000 Redheads at Ocracoke Island, and the most frequently reported species were the Northern Cardinal and Dark-eyed Junco. In total, 204 individual species were spotted during the four-day event.


A Family Affair

For those bird nerds in need of a fun activity to share with their kids, the GBBC has plenty to choose from! With its less structured design, this weekend event is a great opportunity to introduce children of all ages to the excitement of bird watching. Audubon has created games and activities to help parents engage their kids in the count, and foster a love of citizen science from an early age.

Where to Bird

With 96 classified Important Bird Areas comprising 4.9 million acres, diverse landscapes from the mountains to the coast, and the state’s position along the Atlantic Flyway migration path, North Carolina is for the birds. And with so many species to spot, our citizen scientists have made NC one of the top performing states in the Count each year.

The GBBC continues to grow thanks to integration with the eBird online checklist program. Bird watchers from 135 countries participated in the 2014 count, documenting nearly 4,300 species on more than 144,000 bird checklists. Many fell in love with the magnificent Snowy Owl during the last count when the birds were reported in unprecedented numbers across southeastern Canada, the Great Lakes states, the Northeast and down the Atlantic Coast. Expect Snowy Owls to show up in higher numbers during this year’s GBBC, too.

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada. To learn more about Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count visit

North Carolina is for the Birds During the Great Backyard Bird Count is
re-posted with permission from Audubon North Carolina. Originally posted on January 27, 2015 by maholley

If You Build It, Will They Come?

i Jan 19th No Comments by

Authored by Clara Chaisson. The newly built tower at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh, North Carolina, offers comfortable accommodations for guests and 5,000 of their closest friends. Though it’s simply a 30-foot shaft with no windows, to chimney swifts (that’s swifts, not sweeps) the tower is like a five-star hotel. And the scientists who dreamed up the faux chimney are hoping that come spring, flocks of the birds will be checking in (so the researchers can check them out). To continue reading this blog and to see an amazing video, please click the underlined link.

Raleigh Christmas Bird Count – 2014

i Dec 24th No Comments by

Authored by John A. Gerwin, Wake Audubon/Museum of Natural Sciences

This year’s count day brought some of the most oppressive weather, for conducting an outdoor activity! For the most part, it was a very cold drizzle – no amount of shivering under layers of clothing could get us warm. The banter along the path was often about getting back to a car, a bathroom, or “why didn’t I bring those chemical foot warmers?”…….. it required some effort to stay focused on birds, both figuratively and literally. We had to keep wiping off our binocular lenses every 10 minutes because the good news is, we kept seeing birds, constantly.
In spite of the rough weather, there were numerous highlights for those who participated. I led a small group along the Walnut Creek greenway, from 0700-1130. One of the highlights turned out, ironically, to be a weather event! For about 30 minutes (from around 0800-0830), we had snow. And it was a wonderful little snowfall. The flakes were big enough to really be snow. And they were soft. It was a really magical moment for those of us who love snow.
I hosted 4 Young Naturalists, and a couple adults. One of those adults, Ben Nickley, is a recent college grad and a new volunteer bird bander for us at Prairie Ridge. And, he’s an excellent birder. I cannot hear so well anymore, so it was great to have him along. Plus, he loves working with the public, of all ages, and so he had a fine time describing the various birds sounds to the young naturalist girls along.
The Young Nat’s who came out were: Emma Little (15), Olivia and Vanessa Merritt (almost 17), and Abigail Coleman (13). They kept up a great spirit of birding, in spite of the challenging weather conditions. Indeed, it was an amazing ‘bird’ morning for us in that each of them found a really good bird, and all within about 30 minutes at one location. I found another, which made for 4 species for which these were the only reports for the entire count (pending a few more incoming reports). Two other Young Nat’s, Mia and Mya Velasco, came for an hour or so. One was nursing a cold and it was very brave of her to try and tough it out but in the end, the damp chill was just too much. Wisely, Mom took them home to watch birds through the windows at the feeders.
One of our very first Young Naturalist’s was on the count this year, but now as a co-leader. Kyle Kittelberger has been involved with birding, and Wake Audubon, for a decade or so (like some of the others above, he began at an early age). It’s wonderful to see this “return on investment”. Kyle, along with Brian Bockhahn, took kayaks and paddled Swift Creek from Old Stage Road to the upper marshes of Lake Benson. Now, as you can imagine, this affords some sightings of things most folks are simply not going to see otherwise. They got a high count for Wood Duck, and a few neat birds that are the only reports thus far for the count: Herring Gull, Am. Woodcock, Horned Grebe, and Am. Coot. They also had Fish Crow, one of only two reports (we had the others at Walnut Creek). Again, it’s wonderful to see the youngsters coming out and being involved, and then return to take the lead for an area.
Now, for the Walnut Creek gang…….. first, fairly early on, Abigail spotted a sleek shape zipping overhead while we were all looking another direction. Fortunately she got us on it quickly – it was moving east fast. But Ben and I got the binos on it and could readily tell it was a male Merlin. We hardly ever see this species on this bird count. 20 minutes later, I spotted some blackbirds fly up alongside the State Street bridge. Walnut Creek count area is THE place where we consistently get Rusty Blackbird, so we are always on the lookout. The lighting was terrible, but we were able to re-position and indeed confirm that these were 5 Rusty Blackbirds. But, they quickly flew off; very frustrating as not everyone got a very good look at them. And we did not see any more the rest of the morning.
One rather amazing sight that took us to the bridge in the first place, was ~60 Eastern Bluebirds! I’ve seen small flocks of bluebirds, but never this many in one tree. They descended into a large bunch of Climbing Euonymus to gorge on the fruits, and some of the Privet fruits just below. Both of these plants are non-native and highly invasive but bear a fruit that some of these birds really like. Thus, the seeds are spread and unfortunately the Walnut Creek area has some of the highest densities of these two plants I’ve ever seen in Wake County. Waxwings and robins were also chowing down, and just below, some Hermit thrushes. Then, the bluebirds bolted and I hollered “Must be a hawk!” Within seconds, one of the gang spotted an incoming Sharp-shinned Hawk, which landed right in front of us, at eye level! It was just across the street and as it sat there for a few minutes, we got great looks and I got a few decent shots.
After this hawk departed, without a meal, Olivia spotted a small songbird below us in the shrubs within the powerline right of way. She commented “It’s an odd-looking one, like some warbler”. Indeed it was on both accounts. It was an Orange-crowned Warbler, my first in Wake County. It was a really nice plumage, where even the gray seemed vibrant. As it was right below us, we all got great looks. It was a bummer for me when it flew too far away before I could get my camera out.
So, at and near the bridge, we found several species that are almost never seen on this bird count: the Merlin, Sharpy, Rusty’s, and Orange-crowned Warbler. The Sharpy, as a rare bird, is a fairly recent phenomenon. I’ve not read any definitive reasons for why it has become as rare as it has. But in our area, reports have dropped off a lot over the past decade or so.
Then about 30 minutes later as we continued east along the greenway, Emma heard a strange sound that she alerted us to, feeling it was a Gray Catbird. We harassed that sound for 20 minutes, with playback and trying to penetrate a privet hedge that, in the end, was nearly impossible to penetrate. We never did find the bird but it did call a few more times, and Ben and I heard it well enough to agree it was a Catbird. During the lunchtime overview, it was the only Catbird for the count. And this is another species that we don’t always get. And then the day after the count, I got a note from a woman over behind Whole Foods that a Catbird was coming to her suet feeder and she saw it on Saturday. And, she’d had one last year on the bird count so we counted it that year as well! She may have had the only one in 2013. Interestingly, where Emma found the Walnut Creek Catbird is the same spot I found one (and managed to see it), in 2012. We now know that many birds have a very strong sense of “place”. Other studies have shown that indeed these are the same individuals that return again and again to the same spots, be it a breeding territory, migratory stopover site, or “home for the holidays”.
At the end of the day, our groups had found 93 species, and it’s likely that a few more will be reported over the next week or so. A hearty thanks to all who persevered the very uncomfortable weather to make this a really interesting count for the species found. And a huge thanks to Wake Audubon board member John Connors for once again coordinating the group leader/participant assignments.

In Pursuit of a Tiny Bird in a Big Forest

i Dec 1st No Comments by

Authored by Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu, with minor contributions by John Gerwin.

I have been studying the Black-throated Green Warbler in the Uwharries region of central NC for the past few years. This includes capturing some individual birds and applying bands and radio transmitters. I work with colleagues from the Greater Uwharries Conservation Partnership, especially Joe Poston of Catawba College, and Crystal Cockman of the Land Trust for Central North Carolina. Museum research associate Sharna Tolfree has been instrumental. Crystal and I co-host a “Naturalist Day” on the second Saturday in May. And recently I and my Museum colleague Jerry Reynolds led a day trip to the region. Crystal has several interns each spring/summer and as part of our collaboration, I get to take one into the field. This year’s intern was a young woman from China who is doing an advanced degree at Duke University in Environmental Engineering. The internship is designed to give them experience in land conservation work, including biotic surveys and in my case, some research. Often this is outside the “comfort zone” of the intern. We asked Zoe to write a little something about her experience with the work for the Black-throated Green Warbler, in May. Although not part of this story, it was great that Zoe was able to come back in June and assist for two of the 5 days when I had several Young Naturalist/Junior Curators. One of the Junior Curators is half Chinese and was thrilled to have some time chatting with Zoe. You never know what you will find in the forest.

Black-throated Green Warbler photo by Joe Poston, Catawba College

Zoe’s words –

I’ve spent the spring and early summer in pursuit of a tiny, black and yellow bird with a buzzy song – the black-throated green warbler of the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s made for an experience I’ll never forget.

As a Duke University graduate student, I’ve been an intern during May and June with the Land Trust for Central North Carolina, assisting John Gerwin, an ornithologist from the N.C. Museum of Nature Sciences, with his bird and vegetation surveys in the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Our main object is the Black-throated Green Warbler. We try to collect physiological and genetic data by catching, tagging, and releasing the birds. While we work, we look for birds captured in previous years and record information about their habitat.

The Black-throated Green Warbler is a small songbird of the New World warbler group. Its black bib and bright yellow face are unique among birds of the eastern U.S. This bird can be recognized easily, not only by sight, but also by its sound, a song that sounds like “zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee” or “zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-zee”.

The warbler breeds in coniferous and mixed forest but occupies a wide range throughout its life. In August, it flies south to its Central American wintering grounds. The warbler nests in parts of North Carolina in the higher southern Appalachians, a few coastal plain sites, and in the Uwharries region. Our survey focuses on the black-throated green warblers found in the Uwharrie National Forest, which seems to be an isolated habitat for them.

The Uwharrie National Forest is primarily in Montgomery County, but extends into Randolph and Davidson counties in south central North Carolina. Most of the time, we are on Daniel Mountain or other mountains near it. According to former reports, the Black-throated Green Warbler is usually heard on the N/NE slopes of the mountains.

We begin our hike through the mountain trails at 7:30 a.m. daily, then head off the trail on a zigzag pattern through the terrain. When we hear the songs of a black-throated green warbler, we stop at one spot and play a recording of the bird’s song. In general, the male bird will be attracted by this imaginary male’s song and will come close to find out who might be challenging him for his territory. If we find a male bird is interested in our fake song, we will set a vertical net in the clearing and put a decoy model of a Black-throated Green Warbler and audio player on the branch nearby. The male will try to flush the decoy bird and get tangled in the net. The process requires a lot of waiting, watching and luck.
If we catch a bird, there’s a lot to do before he’s released. First, we put a small, numbered metal ring on the warbler’s feet to identify it. Then, using special measuring tools, we tally the bird’s wing length, weight and fat condition. During this process, we noticed that this year’s birds weigh about 8.5 grams, lighter than the typical weight of 9 grams.

Using a special needle, we draw blood from the tiny bird’s wing vein, an operation that doesn’t hurt the bird. The blood sample allows us to collect genetic data on the animal.

For our next step, we will do some vegetation surveys to know more about the warblers’ Uwharrie habitat. The Black-throated Green Warbler brings more vitality to the Uwharries, and I hope our efforts will help people understand more about the birds, so that we can live together with them long into the future.

Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu is a Duke University graduate student who interned with the Land Trust for Central North Carolina.
Re-posted with permission from Zhuoyun Pu and the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte. First posted at

Author Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu with a Black-throated Green Warbler. Photo: John Gerwin

American Woodcock Courtship Grounds

i Nov 17th No Comments by

Authored by John Connors

Wake Audubon volunteers and students from the NC State College of Natural Resources spent Saturday morning clearing saplings from a half-acre plot at Schenck Forest. Our goal was simple…to maintain a setting for woodcock courtship next spring. Although it was cold, the shining sun warmed us quickly as we clipped blackberry vines, small pines and hardwoods leaving intact a broomsedge-dominated opening.

Here we are at the start of the morning.

Schenck Forest is an outdoor teaching lab for the Department of Forestry at NC State University. Much of it is managed as pine forest, but in a recent agreement with Wake Audubon, sections will be maintained as early successional forest to improve wildlife habitat and viewing opportunities associated with them.

John Connors, Wake Audubon’s Woodcock expert, explained that cutting trees in a forest can have benefits for some wildlife species- and that it is essential for species like American Woodcock. John was both a Forestry student and a Wildlife student at NCSU, and studied woodcock at Schenck Forest during that time. “I think it’s great that we can use Schenck as a setting where we showcase the benefits of forest management for both wood products, and wildlife. It’s great for the students to see this. It’s great for the public who like to see the woodcock perform their weird courtship antics. And it’s great for the birds. I’ve led woodcock walks for 35 years here in Raleigh…thousands of people…but this is the first time we’ve been able to give back to the birds who’ve provided so much entertainment. I really appreciate that the managers at Schenck will work with us on this!”

Woodcock is a species of shorebird that has taken to living in the wet, wooded thickets across North Carolina. They are hard to spot because they are medium-sized mottled brown birds that spend their time searching for earthworms in the forest soil and leaf litter. They are extremely well camouflaged.

The best time to observe Woodcock is during their courtship displays. Wake Audubon schedules its annual walk to coincide with Valentine’s Day in February. The males make a strange ‘peenting’ sound on the courtship ground. They then launch into the sky, with wings whistling, as they fly upward. As they reach a height where they are barely visible, the descent begins. They voice a soft, liquid warble until they approach the original launch pad. Then the process begins anew. These courtship displays occur for 20 minutes at dusk and dawn. Look on the Wake Audubon calendar for the next Woodcock walk – sometime next February at Schenck.
Here are before and after pictures.

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

i Sep 7th 3 Comments by

By Fred J. Eckert

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

I didn’t – not until just recently when my wife Karen and I discovered and visited Sylvan Heights Bird Park, located in the tiny northeast North Carolina rural town of Scotland Neck (pop. 2,000), a bit east of Rocky Mount between Tarboro and Roanoke Rapids on NC Route 258. It was only about an hour and a half or so drive from our home in North Raleigh, meaning it’s an easy day trip from anywhere in Wake County.
This fascinating and fun park is home to more than 2,500 birds. Included among them are 18 endangered species; more than 30 species of very rare birds; all 8 swan species; 30 of the just over 30 species of geese and more than 100 species of ducks.
And it truly is a park as opposed to some tourist attraction that merely bills itself as a park. The pleasant, neat, well-maintained 18-acre park-like environment is well laid out in a double-8 clearly marked pathway and divided into sectors dedicated to each of the seven continents (except, because of climate, Antarctica) plus sections focused on exotic birds, finches, pheasant, flamingos and swans, geese and cranes.

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

There is no other place in the country quite like Sylvan Heights Bird Park where visitors can observe up-close, and sometimes even interact with, such an amazing array of exotic and/or endangered birds, ducks, geese and swan from all parts of the world.
This great avian collection is the dream and culmination of a lifetime of work devoted to saving birds and waterfowl of Mike Lubbock who founded and directs this not-for-profit operation with his wife Ali and their son Brent and a small handful of staff and volunteers.
Widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on waterfowl, this farm boy from the Somerset area of England became fascinated with birds as a youth and began his career in ornithology at Britain’s prestigious Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust where he served first as a volunteer then as Curator and ultimately as Director of Aviculture. It’s also where he met his future wife, Ali, who was serving as a volunteer.

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

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

His rare talent for bird breeding — his successes where others had failed – became widely known and resulted in his being personally consulted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who first turned to Mike for advice about her concern that the red-breasted geese among her bird collection at Buckingham Palace were reluctant to breed. The Queen followed his advice and one day she called Mike all excited about the change she credited him with bringing about. He became her go-to expert from then after.
Mike’s passion to preserve threatened waterfowl and other birds and promote conservation efforts has taken him all over the world and he has worked in this field he loves so much in both the UK and the USA. The International Wild Waterfowl Association, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame – they’ve also inducted Ali Lubbock — and bestowed upon him its most prestigious aviculture award, has said: “Mike Lubbock’s avicultural accomplishments on both sides of the Atlantic are legendary. He has brought many new species and new bloodlines in from the wild. He has accomplished many first breedings and he has been a source of bird and breeding advice to many.”

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

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

How Mike Lubbock path in life led him to realizing his and Ali’s dream of creating their own great avian collection park here in North Carolina is a long story and the subject of a recently released book, The Waterfowl Man of Sylvan Heights. What we Wake Audubon Society members need to know is that such a great birding experience that so few of us have been aware of for too long is so near-by and so well worth a visit.
The 18-acre park which is open to the public is an outgrowth of its adjacent 10-acre Breeding Center devoted to raising rare and endangered species of waterfowl. “The Park is designed to educate people about waterfowl and the importance of preserving them,” says Mike Lubbock. “Our goal is to tell visitors the story of every species–where it comes from, what habitat it prefers and why the species is important to our world. Visitors are also immersed into a wetland setting, so the feel and scope of a primary waterfowl habitat can be fully experienced.” Park generated revenue also helps fund the Breeding Center.
Among the many interesting facts about Sylvan Heights: It is credited with breeding 17 species of waterfowl for the first time in the world and 15 species for the first time in the North America and nearly one-third of the world’s once perilously endangered White-winged Wood Duck population reside here.

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

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

Naturally a place where visitors can come see waterfowl and other birds that include endangered and very rare species has to house them in a protective captive environment. For anyone who suggests that it is not a good thing to have birds in such a protected area, Mike Lubbock has a question: “Would you rather view an endangered species alive in a nice park-like environment such as Sylvan Heights Bird Park or dead in some museum?”
It is obvious that great thought and care have gone in to making Sylvan Heights the best possible experience both for those who visit it and for the birds and waterfowl who reside there. Besides being so pleasant and well-maintained the areas are extra good sized with exceptionally high nets. The water is very clear. The design is such as to insure maximum safety for the birds and waterfowl.

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

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

And here’s something truly smart that anyone who likes to photograph birds will appreciate: In places where otherwise you would normally expect to have to shoot through a wire fence, ruining any possibility of getting a very good photo, Sylvan Heights enables photographers to open an area in the fence that is wide enough to poke through a long lens and easily move it up or down and from side to side. You’ll need a key, which you can use while your driver’s license is held to insure its return. I thought this was a fantastic plus but asked if it didn’t pose any risk of what was being photographed somehow escaping through the resulting temporary small hole in the fence. No chance – the design prevents such a possibility.
Yet another interesting feature of Sylvan Heights is that within the park you can also observe and photograph birds and waterfowl in the wild. At Beaver Pond Blind, which overlooks a wetland, as its name suggests you can observe and photograph looking out of one of its many blinds. The wheelchair accessible Treehouse is a large roofed viewing platform located over another, larger wetland.

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

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

The feature probably most popular with kids in the interactive Landing Zone, a good sized building where parakeets will fly to you if you have a seed stick and you can feed flamingoes out of your hand. Seed sticks for the parakeets and food for feeding to flamingoes cost $1 and are available in the Landing Zone or the Visitor Center gift shop. Besides a variety of parakeets and the American Flamingos inside The Landing Zone visitors encounter parrots, doves, pheasants, pigeons and the white-rumped shama, a small passerine bird.
Tours of Sylvan Heights Bird Park begin at the Visitors Center, where you can watch an introductory video and check out some displays, sometimes baby birds or waterfowl. Its Gift Shop is small but nice. Sylvan Park does not operate any food service – but this very-family-friendly attraction welcomes anyone to bring a picnic lunch and provides a playground for the kids and a couple of picnic areas. It’s only a few minutes’ drive to any one of several restaurants and fast-food outlets in town.
While anyone living in Wake County or close by can do Sylvan Heights as a day-trip, we opted to devote more time and were glad we did. Anyone who enjoys photographing beautiful birds, as I certainly do, really should devote more than just one day to this great experience and take advantage of being able to shoot different sections in different lighting conditions.
What we would not recommend doing is following the accommodations recommendations of some of the reservations booking sites. Most we checked recommended staying in Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount or Tarboro – and each place is a 30 to 40 minute commute to and from Sylvan Heights on small country roads that are pitch black at night and best avoided at night especially, say, during deer season.

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

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

We stayed in Scotland Neck at the Scotland Neck Inn which compares favorably to any of the recommend motels that require a long commute. It was comfortable, very clean, good service and it’s reasonably priced, offering a discount for Sylvan Heights visitors. It was hot when we visited the park and it was nice to be able to return to the motel and freshen up during our lunch breaks. There is also a bed-and-breakfast in town.
Not surprisingly there’s not much to do in a town so tiny that it does not have a single traffic light and which, except for a few familiar fast-food spots, looks pretty much as it did in the 1950’s.
What did surprise us, as it has others, is that tiny Scotland Neck has a restaurant serving such outstanding Italian food – LaCasetta. My wife and I know Italian food pretty well, having lived in Rome and having traveled throughout so much of Italy – and LaCasetta, operated by an Italian who hails from Sicily, is great!
For anyone who enjoys birds or anyone who just wants to try something different a visit to Sylvan Heights Bird Park is a wonderful experience. Pretty much everyone who visits it gives it rave reviews.

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

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

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


Spring Mountain Birding Fieldtrip

i Jun 29th 2 Comments by

Authored by John Gerwin

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


Bobolink in flight. Photo by Dan and Sue Harvey

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


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

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


Baltimore Oriole. Photo by Dan and Sue Harvey

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


Scarlet Tanager. Photo by Dan and Sue Harvey

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

Bird Window Collisions

i Mar 27th No Comments by

by John Gerwin

Glass is a well-known problem for birds. Bird collisions with glass result in a large number of mortalities – as many as one billion each year. To help homeowners prevent birds hitting their windows the American Bird Conservancy has produced a flyer that can be downloaded at . This flyer describes a variety of treatments that you and I can adopt, to be used on glass, that can greatly reduce the number of birds striking windows. Wake Audubon has received a batch of these for distribution as well. So if you’d prefer to obtain one from us, ask at one of our general meetings or at one of the events in which we participate (like the upcoming April events).

window tape

Application of window tape from ABA

And if you want to learn more about what other work ABC is doing to reduce bird-glass collisions, please visit:

And here is an interesting piece of info to think about when placing feeders: Place your feeders closer than 3 feet to a picture window, or affixed to the glass or window frame, to significantly reduce the likelihood and severity of window collisions. When birds take off from feeders 6 feet or more from windows, they’re going at their top speed when they hit, making the severity of collisions far greater.

Donations from Birdfeeder Cleaning Project

i Dec 12th No Comments by

By Gerry Luginbuhl, Board President

Thanks to all of the folks who donated money to have their bird feeders cleaned this November. Judy, at Logan’s Nursery, contacted me a few months ago to suggest a fundraising idea. She offered to collect people’s birdfeeders during the month of November and keep track of the feeders to make sure everyone got the right feeder back after it had been cleaned. We decided on a suggested donation of five dollars per feeder, and worked out a biweekly pick-up schedule. We put a notice about the cleaning on our web site and Logan’s also sent out a notice in their monthly email. We ended up with 40 feeders (and many baffles). Judy collected the donations as they came in and handed me an envelope full of checks on December 2nd. At five dollars/feeder, that would have brought Wake Audubon two hundred dollars, but, due to the generosity of many, we collected three hundred and forty-five dollars! Way to go! Look for us to repeat this fundraiser next year, probably in October rather than November. We will be looking for some volunteers to help me next time; I have learned how to disassemble and reassemble a bunch of different types of birdfeeders and am happy to do this again next year.

If you missed this year’s feeder cleaning, here is how to do it yourself.
Rinse off loose dirt and seed
Soak feeder in mild detergent solution and scrub inside and out with appropriate sized brush
Sanitize by soaking feeder in a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to 9 parts water)
Allow the feeder to dry completely before refilling it with seed.