Authored by Jeff Beane, trip leader.
15 April 2023 (9:00 a.m. – ca. 5:30 p.m.)
NC Sandhills (Moore, Richmond, and Scotland counties)
Participants: Jeff Beane, Louise Belk, Mary Frazer, Ernie Hahn, Stephanie Horton, Michelle Measday, Tess Moody, Dave Powell, Stephen Prior
We had a great time.
We saw many wildflowers.
Unusual find of the day: Mary spotted this Venus Flytrap in an area west of the species’ known range, in a county that has been intensively surveyed by botanists for decades. Flytraps are transplanted by well-meaning but misguided plant enthusiasts, and given that this is an extremely well-known botanical site, several the state’s botanists agree that this occurrence probably represents an introduction.
Vertebrate Species Observed (list is probably incomplete)
Elassoma evergladei Everglades Pygmy Sunfish (at least 2)
Necturus punctatus Dwarf Mudpuppy (several juveniles)
Notophthalmus viridescens dorsalis Broken-striped Newt (1 adult)
Eurycea arenicola Carolina Sandhills Salamander (1 larva)
Pseudotriton m. montanus Eastern Mud Salamander (1 adult)
Acris gryllus Southern Cricket Frog (several seen and heard)
Hyla andersonii Pines Barrens Treefrog (a few heard)
Pseudacris crucifer Spring Peeper (tadpoles seen)
Rana [Lithobates] clamitans Green Frog (a few heard; a few tadpoles seen)
Rana sphenocephala Southern Leopard Frog (many tadpoles seen)
Kinosternon s. subrubrum Eastern Mud Turtle (1 juv.)
Sceloporus undulatus Eastern Fence Lizard (1 adult)
Cnemidophorus sexlineatus Six-lined Racerunner (1 dead adult)
Eumeces [Plestiodon] fasciatus Five-lined Skink (1 adult)
Eumeces [Plestiodon] inexpectatus Southeastern Five-lined Skink (1 juv.)
Heterodon platirhinos Eastern Hognose Snake (1 adult female DOR)
Pituophis m. melanoleucus Northern Pine Snake (1 telemetered adult male)
Aix sponsa Wood Duck
Colinus virginianus Northern Bobwhite
Zenaida macroura Mourning Dove
Archilochus colubris Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Cathartes aura Turkey Vulture
Colaptes auratus Northern Flicker
Dryobates pubescens Downy Woodpecker
Melanerpes carolinus Red-bellied Woodpecker
Tyrannus tyrannus Eastern Kingbird
Lanius ludovicianus Loggerhead Shrike
Vireo flavifrons Yellow-throated Vireo
Vireo griseus White-eyed Vireo
Vireo olivaceus Red-eyed Vireo
Corvus brachyrhynchos American Crow
Cyanocitta cristata Blue Jay
Baeolophus bicolor Tufted Titmouse
Poecile carolinensis Carolina Chickadee
Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow
Sitta pusilla Brown-headed Nuthatch
Thryothorus ludovicianus Carolina Wren
Polioptila caerulea Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Turdus migratorius American Robin
Dumetella carolinensis Gray Catbird
Mimus polyglottos Northern Mockingbird
Sialia sialis Eastern Bluebird
Haemorhous mexicanus House Finch
Spinus tristis American Goldfinch
Peucaea aestivalis Bachman’s Sparrow
Pipilo erythrophthalmus Eastern Towhee
Spizella passerina Chipping Sparrow
Spizella pusilla Field Sparrow
Icterus spurius Orchard Oriole
Parkesia motacilla Louisiana Waterthrush
Setophaga americana Northern Parula
Setophaga discolor Prairie Warbler
Setophaga dominica Yellow-throated Warbler
Setophaga pinus Pine Warbler
Setophaga ruticilla American Redstart
Cardinalis cardinalis Northern Cardinal
Sigmodon hispidus Hispid Cotton Rat
Authored by Jeff Beane
On Friday-Sunday, 13-15 November, Wake Audubon held its Alligator River Adventure trip, a joint field trip between and Wake Audubon and the Museum of Natural Sciences, usually offered every two to three years. Trip leaders were Jerry Reynolds and Jeff Beane. Also participating were Herb Amyx, Pat Amyx, Betty Lou Chaika, David Chaika, Dan Harvey, Sue Harvey, Cindy Lincoln, Mary Martorella, Ann McCormick, Betsy McCormick, Betty Ann O’Brien, Adair Pickard, Louise Romanow, Mary Ann Rood, and Bill Swallow.
Our itinerary included Alligator River, Pea Island, and Pocosin Lakes national wildlife refuges; Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve; Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Pettigrew and Jockey’s Ridge state parks; and a few other stops.
We left from the Museum’s Research Lab at 10 a.m. Friday morning, and returned at about 6 p.m. Sunday evening. We had good weather—sunny to partly cloudy and somewhat unseasonably warm. We identified 107 vertebrate species, including at least 83 birds, nine mammals, seven reptiles, five amphibians, and three fishes. A few other species were glimpsed but not positively identified. Highlights included good looks at several black bears, at least a dozen species each of waterfowl and shorebirds, good looks at American white pelicans and bald eagles, a few late-season reptiles basking, and a fresh road-killed mink. Bill glimpsed a short-eared owl, but he was the only one to see it. We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Nags Head, where some of us could see many species from out our motel room windows, and we enjoyed picnic and fast food lunches and fine dinner dining at Basnight’s Lone Cedar and La Fogata Mexican restaurants. Good times were had by all.
* = observed only as dead-on-road (DOR) or otherwise dead specimens.
Not all species were seen by all members of the group; some may have been seen by only one or two people.
Strongylura marina Atlantic Needlefish (at least 2)
Cyprinodon variegatus Sheepshead Minnow (many)
Gambusia holbrooki Eastern Mosquitofish (many)
Ambystoma opacum Marbled Salamander (4 adults)
Bufo [Anaxyrus] [cf. americanus x terrestris] “American/Southern Toad” (1 adult female)
Acris gryllus Southern Cricket Frog (at least 2)
Hyla cinerea Green Treefrog (a few)
Rana catesbeiana [Lithobates catesbeianus] American Bullfrog (at least 2 or 3)
Chrysemys p. picta Eastern Painted Turtle (several)
Clemmys guttata Spotted Turtle (at least 1)
Pseudemys rubriventris Red-bellied Cooter (many)
Trachemys s. scripta Yellow-bellied Slider (many)
Nerodia erythrogaster Red-bellied Water Snake (1 adult)
Nerodia fasciata Banded Water Snake (1 adult)
Thamnophis s. sauritus Eastern Ribbon Snake (1 small adult male DOR) *
Aix sponsa Wood Duck (at least 7)
Anas acuta Northern Pintail (several)
Anas americana American Widgeon (many)
Anas clypeata Northern Shoveler (many)
Anas crecca Green-winged Teal (many)
Anas discors Blue-winged Teal (at least 1)
Anas platyrhynchos Mallard (many)
Anas rubripes American Black Duck (many)
Anas strepera Gadwall (many)
Branta canadensis Canada Goose (many)
Cygnus columbianus Tundra Swan (many)
Lophodytes cucullatus Hooded Merganser (a few)
Oxyura jamaicensis Ruddy Duck (many)
Colinus virginianus Northern Bobwhite (at least 6-7)
Meleagris gallopavo Wild Turkey (at least 27)
Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed Grebe (many)
Morus bassanus Northern Gannet (many)
Phalacrocorax auritus Double-crested Cormorant (many)
Pelecanus erythrorhynchos American White Pelican (many)
Pelecanus occidentalis Brown Pelican (many)
Ardea alba Great Egret (many)
Ardea herodias Great Blue Heron (many)
Egretta thula Snowy Egret (a few)
Egretta tricolor Tricolored Heron (a few)
Eudocimus albus White Ibis (many)
Cathartes aura Turkey Vulture (many)
Coragyps atratus Black Vulture (several)
Accipiter cooperii Cooper’s Hawk (at least 1 or 2)
Accipiter striatus Sharp-shinned Hawk ( at least 2 or 3)
Buteo jamaicensis Red-tailed Hawk (many)
Circus cyaneus Northern Harrier (many)
Haliaeetus leucocephalus Bald Eagle (several)
Falco sparverius American Kestrel (many)
Fulica americana American Coot (at least 1)
Rallus limicola Virginia Rail (several heard; at least 2 seen)
Charadrius semipalmatus Semipalmated Plover (at least 1)
Charadrius vociferus Killdeer (many)
Pluvialis squatarola Black-bellied Plover (many)
Haematopus palliatus American Oystercatcher (at least 2)
Recurvirostra americana American Avocet (many)
Arenaria interpres Ruddy Turnstone (several)
Calidris alba Sanderling (many)
Calidris alpina Dunlin (many)
Calidris canutus Red Knot (1)
Tringa flavipes Lesser Yellowlegs (many)
Tringa melanoleuca Greater Yellowlegs (many)
Tringa semipalmata Willet (many)
Chroicocephalus philadelphia Bonaparte’s Gull (several)
Larus argentatus Herring Gull (many)
Larus delawarensis Ring-billed Gull (many)
Larus marinus Great Black-backed Gull (many)
Leucophaeus atricilla Laughing Gull (many)
Sterna forsteri Forster’s Tern (many)
Thalasseus maximus Royal Tern (several)
Columba livia Rock Pigeon (many)
Zenaida macroura Mourning Dove (many)
Asio flammeus Short-eared Owl (1)
Megaceryle alcyon Belted Kingfisher (at least 2)
Colaptes auratus Northern Flicker (several)
Melanerpes carolinus Red-bellied Woodpecker (several)
Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe (a few)
Corvus brachyrhynchos American Crow (many)
Corvus ossifragus Fish Crow (at least 1)
Cyanocitta cristata Blue Jay (at least 2)
Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow (many)
Poecile carolinensis Carolina Chickadee (several)
Cistothorus palustris Marsh Wren (at least 1)
Thryothorus ludovicianus Carolina Wren (several)
Troglodytes aedon House Wren (at least 1)
Turdus migratorius American Robin (several)
Dumetella carolinensis Gray Catbird (a few)
Mimus polyglottos Northern Mockingbird (many)
Sturnus vulgaris European Starling (many)
Bombycilla cedrorum Cedar Waxwing (several)
Setophaga coronata Yellow-rumped Warbler (many)
Melospiza melodia Song Sparrow (a few)
Passerculus sandwichensis Savannah Sparrow (many)
Zonotrichia albicollis White-throated Sparrow (at least 1 or 2)
Cardinalis cardinalis Northern Cardinal (a few)
Agelaius phoeniceus Red-winged Blackbird (many)
Quiscalus major Boat-tailed Grackle (many)
Sturnella magna Eastern Meadowlark (many)
Carpodacus mexicanus House Finch (a few)
Didelphis virginiana Virginia Opossum (many DOR en route) *
Ursus americanus American Black Bear (at least 6-7)
Procyon lotor Common Raccoon (several DOR) *
Mephitis mephitis Striped Skunk (1 adult DOR en route) *
Neovison [Mustela] vison Mink (1 adult female DOR) *
Urocyon cinereoargenteus Gray Fox (at least 1 or 2 DOR en route) *
Sciurus carolinensis Eastern Gray Squirrel (several alive and DOR)
Odocoileus virginianus White-tailed Deer (many alive and DOR, mostly en route)
Megaptera novaeangliae Humpback Whale (remains of 1 dead on beach) *
Fishes: at least 3
Amphibians: at least 5
Birds: at least 83
Mammals: at least 9
By Bob Oberfelder
Lake Betz is a unique habitat with a huge concentration of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is located behind the Cisco Systems and Network Appliance facilities between Louis Stephens Drive and Kit Creek Road (in the Research Triangle Park area). The safest place to park is in a gravel covered recreation parking lot off of Louis Stephens Drive. There are Port-a-potties there as well as some volleyball nets. If you walk across Louis Stephens Drive from the recreation area you will see an asphalt trail that leads over to the lake and swamp area.
There is a small lake here and adjacent to the lake is a swampy area filled with dead snags that have attracted large numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is possible to encounter as many as 7 woodpecker species in a single visit in this area in the winter. I have observed nesting Osprey, Northern Flickers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Common Grackles and Tree swallows. Large numbers of Green Herons appear to spend their summers here. During a recent visit, late May 2015, I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher and Belted Kingfishers are a common year-round sight. For people interested in photography, it is possible to get quite close to the birds since they frequent the foliage between the lake and the swampy area and many of the snags frequented by the woodpeckers are close to the walking trail. I am including a few recent photos taken at Lake Betz to wet your appetite for this unique place.
By John Connors and Bryan England
All photos by Bryan England
In the last week I’ve heard reports of Monarch caterpillars feeding on previous milkweed plantings at Horseshoe Farm, Monarchs flying at Anderson Point, and I saw one flying Saturday at Yates Mill Pond. All good news! So the time has come to add to the inventory of milkweed available at public parks around Wake County.
The Common Milkweed seedlings have arrived and we have flagged the planting zones at both Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve and Harris Lake County Park. The sites look good…Wilkerson has a clay loam soil and lots of open meadow which was formerly cow pasture- once established milkweed should thrive here and attract many monarchs; Harris Lake has easy to dig sandy loam in a meadow that was once farmed- it will be a good late summer breeding site for monarchs. The Wilkerson meadow was mowed maybe a month ago, so we’ll be planting in openings among the grasses. Harris Lake had a prescribed burn across their meadow…it will be a little easier working there.
We will clip openings in the grass, dig the planting holes, add a little soil improvement, plant the seedling, add a little mulch and water. It may take 3-5 minutes to plant each seedling. We will work in teams.
I imagine we should finish our work by noon, although Wilkerson may take a little longer as the soils will be more difficult to work.
You are part of a nationwide effort in trying to restore Monarch habitat- thanks for your willingness to help. See you in the meadow.
5/16/2015 from Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
I want to thank everyone who came and helped with the planting last Thursday, and especially John for organizing it. I hope I will be able to send you all some pictures of monarchs here visiting “your” milkweeds in the seasons to come. We gave all 96 seedlings a drink of about a quart of water each today. The soil was starting to dry, and soaked the water right up, but all the plants looked healthy, with no post-planting wilting at all (although a couple seemed to have been nibbled by something). The flags and plantings in squares really helped us find them all, and made watering a pretty simple job.
5-23-2015 From Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson.
Nine days after your planting, we have Monarch eggs!
Several of the new plants had eggs like these when I checked today, so we may have caterpillars by sometime next week.
Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve only lost 4 to browsers, and they may still re-sprout from the root. Of the 92 visible plants, 16 have had their top leaves browsed but are recovering with side branch growth.
None of the plants appeared diseased or drought-stressed, so the overall cohort appears strong. Thank you all for making these eggs possible!
5-24-2015 John Connors Wake Audubon Society
Well I didn’t see that coming! I did find three medium to full grown Monarch caterpillars at Raleigh’s Anderson Point Park yesterday, on milkweed I had planted several years ago- and that was without looking very hard. So maybe its going to be a good year for Monarchs.
It certainly will be a better future for Monarchs for the work all of you put in to get the milkweed planted at Wilkerson Preserve and Harris Lake…and for the efforts of staff and volunteers to keep the seedlings watered.
Thanks everyone, and thanks Bryan for keeping us informed.
6-2-2015 Bryan England, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson–
Nineteen days after your planting, we have Monarch caterpillars!
Several of these brightly-striped caterpillars were observed on “your” milkweed plants today, all were about 10mm long (they say the camera always adds 10 lbs…). At one caterpillar per plant, they plants seem to be growing faster than the caterpillars can eat them (for now).
Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve currently “lost” 5 to browsers. Of the 91 remaining visible plants, 27 have had their upper leaves browsed, but most are recovering well with side branch growth. Some of the browsed stems are obviously deer damage (rough, stringy bites), but the majority are rodent/rabbit damage (clean-cut, angled bites). The “wild” milkweeds at Wilkerson have also been browsed over the last week, mostly by deer, so that’s just a natural part of the food chain, too.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Authored by John Gerwin, Research Curator, Ornithology, Museum of Natural Sciences; Treasurer, Wake Audubon.
As many of you know, Wake Audubon has supported a youth group for about 6 years now (the Young Naturalists Club). The Museum of Natural Sciences has supported such groups for many years (e.g. Junior Curators). As part of my job as a bird researcher at a public institution, I get to work with these groups, helping to co-lead various activities. Over the past two years I have been working with a handful of kids from each group. They have been assisting with activities in the bird specimen preparation lab, the bird collections, and bird banding at Prairie Ridge. This year, I was able to offer them a “field camp” to one of my research study sites, to provide additional experiences.
For this, we spent 5 days in mid-June in the Uwharrie National Forest, which is about 30 minutes southwest of Asheboro. The Uwharrie Mountains are the oldest known mountains and as such are well-worn. That makes them small by mountain standards – the highest peaks are only ~1000’ in elevation, with most of them topping out at 700-900 feet. But height is not the only factor – indeed, part of the camp was to see firsthand how the “aspect” of a mountain affects the habitat on that slope (the aspect is the direction the slope faces). And the see firsthand how steep some old mountains are! The bird I study primarily in this region is the Black-throated Green Warbler (BTNW), which is characterized as a bird of “northern” forests. This species is common in the higher Southern Appalachians, on up to Canada. Many such “boreal”, or northern, birds occur at the higher elevations because the habitats they seek are found on the north-facing slopes. BTNW’s in the Uwharries represent a disjunct population and are quite uncommon there. And there is yet another disjunct group in the Coastal Plain, from southeast Virginia to about Charleston, SC. I and colleagues are conducting habitat and genetic studies to understand more about this species across its range, and specifically, its behavior in the Uwharries region. One interesting thing I and my colleagues have documented over the past few years is that the BTNW occurs only on the north, northeast, and east slopes of Uwharrie mountains, but not on all mountains in that region.
3 members each from the Young Naturalists and Junior Curator programs came along. Our activities included the following:
In the end, we had no rain the entire time, which was a pleasant surprise as mid-June usually brings some rain, at some point, in a 5-day period. We had a great time experiencing some elements of doing field work to study a bird species. In addition, we took time to enjoy other aspects of nature, such as the skinks and toads that abound, other species of birds, and the many plants around. We allocated time for journaling, reviewing photos, and just chatting around the picnic table. We probably stayed up too late a few nights, but a campfire has a way of causing one to stay up a little longer at night. Of course we did some S’mores one night – I tried out some vegan marshmallows, along with Rainforest Alliance chocolates, and organic graham crackers or flatbread (your choice). The marshmallows were pretty tasty, although I don’t think they toasted quite the same. I hope to do this again in 2015.
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.
By Bob Oberfelder
The Wings Over Water (WOW) festival is an annual event that has provided excellent coastal birding opportunities for 17 years. Up until this year, we (my wife and I) had not been able to participate, but I am glad to report that now that status has changed. Although we would only be able to manage a short, whirlwind trip, we decided to “test the waters,” so to speak. This year we were able to carve out a day and a half from our schedule to sample from the multitude of options that WOW had to offer.
Lincoln Sparrow at Alligator River NWR
We drove to the coast Saturday morning arriving in time to participate in an afternoon trip to Bodie Island and the beach lead by Steve Shultz. In the marsh, Steve played audio recordings to draw out the rails and marsh wrens. Unfortunately we were only able to hear the birds respond, they remained hidden in the marsh grass. Hearing the large number of nearby birds (we were almost stepping on a few of them) was a highlight of that trip. The ducks typically observed in the pond area were not there. We saw and heard about 40 species for the afternoon.
Marsh Wren at Alligator River NWR
The main event on Saturday evening was a seafood buffet dinner at Pamlico Jack’s followed by a presentation by the keynote speaker, Greg Miller, of “The Big Year” fame. Greg’s talk was excellent. He was personable and unassuming but clearly knowledgeable about birding. It was fun to hear him describe his surprise as the events of The Big Year book and movie transpired. He described his developing interest in birding, and his personal Big Year adventures, as well as his experience with being the subject of both the book and the movie. Greg described his strategy (i.e., the top 5 “must” US/Canadian birding spots that provide the opportunity to record over 600 bird species) and the personal and financial costs ($31,000 in travel expenses) of pursuing his big year. He described his surprise at being made one of the subjects of the book (he didn’t actually win his Big Year), which also included descriptions of the experiences of Sandy Komito and Al Levatin, his competitors. He was even more in awe when the movie (loosely associated with the facts of the real events) became a reality. Greg described his joy at being a consultant for the movie and his interactions with the stars of the movie, Jack Black (who portrayed Greg in the movie) Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. Greg held down a full time job and still managed to see 715 species, a total that was third on the all time list. According to the book, Sandy Komito is the only person that has ever seen more than Greg in a Big Year.
Pectoral Sandpiper Alligator River NWR
Sunday morning we visited Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), a trip lead by Jeff Lewis. Our species count was considerably better than the Bodie Island count, but it was more varied habitat, and it was a morning trip so that was not surprising. My one previous experience (on my own) at NWR had been disappointing so I was quite happy with this trip. We saw both marsh and sedge wrens, and a Merlin on the wing. There was a large shorebird collection in a flooded field, which included Wilson’s Snipe, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater, and Lesser Yellowlegs and both Long and Short-billed Dowitchers. There were also a variety of ducks including Northern Shovelers, and Pintails. Perhaps the best bird of the trip, for, me was a Lincoln Sparrow that we saw at our very first stop in the refuge. There were numerous opportunities for photographs at Alligator River NWR. In contrast to my earlier experiences at Alligator NWR, birding with a knowledgeable trip leader made the birding excellent and the photographic opportunities plentiful.
Greater Yellowlegs Alligator River NWR
Our first experience with Wings Over Water was a success. The trip leaders were excellent, the birding was good, and the photography opportunities were plentiful. The dinner was enjoyable and the keynote speaker was outstanding. The consensus was that the earlier date for the festival, October instead of November, probably attenuated the total bird count and decreased the number of species as well. If our schedule permits, we will certainly participate in Wings Over Water next year.
By Brandt (Wake Audubon Young Naturalist since 2010)
Participation in the Young Naturalists Club’s outings has given me some of the best adventures of my life. Take the last excursion, for example. We went on an over-night trip to explore and camp in the Uwharrie National Forest, an ancient and almost mystical place in the center of our state. Mr. Gerwin and Mr. Sean were our intrepid leaders. Their knowledge about every living thing we encountered was amazing. My favorite discovery on the trail was the purple coral fungus, clavaria zollingeri:
Isn’t it cool? I read that it grows in coniferous areas all across Canada and southward in mountain areas. So that’s why we found it in the Uwharrie’s.
At a stream on our first hike, Lily, The Fearless, and Sean showed me proper crayfish holding technique. It was the first time I ever held a crayfish. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Crayfish was a good size for a beginner – not big enough to pinch hard:
Camping was fun. We enjoyed roasted marshmallows over the campfire. One of my marshmallows turned into a chemistry experiment as it reduced itself to a black mass of carbon – I guess I toasted it a little TOO long. We were all tired out from the day, but it was hard to get to sleep because some of the neighbors were pretty noisy until late at night. Around 5 am we had a surprise visitor. A whip-poor-will flew right into our campsite and landed on the picnic bench! He gave a rousing serenade before flying off again. He must have received word that we were all disappointed about not hearing any Nightjars during the YNC Nightjar Survey at Jordan Lake. He made up for that!
On Day 2 of our trip, we visited the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area. That’s a nice unspoiled area; a place where you can escape the crazy, noisy, hustle and bustle of modern life. We saw a great specimen of a Hognose Snake:
Even in these mountains, it was getting hot and sticky by the end of the trail. We all felt like Roger, the guide dog puppy, and wanted to cool off in the stream:
The one thing I would have liked to have missed on the trip were the chiggers. I’m still itching! The whole idea that a mite too small to see can unleash enzymes that turn parts of me into its personal protein smoothie is just gross. Dealing with the leftovers of its stylostome “straw” in one’s skin is maddening, to say the least. Next time, I’ll be ready with more bug defenses.
I’m looking forward to the next YNC outing to Grandfather Mountain. I love the Boone area. See you there!
(The Wake Audubon Young Naturalist Club offers youth ages 12-18 opportunities to explore nature together. Monthly outings include environmental service projects, local bird walks and full-day adventures from the mountains to the coast.)
February Blog – Pine Island Trip Report
Our chapter’s first field trip to the North Carolina Outer Banks was a great success. Thirty-seven chapter members and friends attended the January 4-6th trip. The main building at the Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary is an old hunting lodge. Several participants stayed at the lodge and enjoyed the rustic but comfortable setting. Others stayed at a hotel across the street and drove over to the lodge for the Friday evening wine and cheese social (thanks to all who contributed food and drink). Saturday morning we again met at the lodge to hear about the history of the Pine Island Sanctuary property and about Audubon’s plans for modest upgrades to the lodge, parking and trails. The property will be a place for research and education focusing on the birds of the marsh.
A coyote loped across the lawn, ending our talk of plans for the lodge and sending us outside. We walked down to the marsh where Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons watched the serene beauty of the winter marsh landscape. After a short tour to the rest of the sanctuary we headed south to explore Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Bodie Island Lighthouse and adjacent pond, the Bonner Bridge area and the ocean, via the beach and pier.
A group went to the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge to view the Snow Geese and Tundra Swans coming in from their day of foraging in neighboring fields. On Sunday, some folks stopped at Lake Mattamuskeet. A great variety of ducks, thousands of Tundra Swans, an American Bittern, and White-crowned Night Herons were the highlights. Here is a list of the birds seen on Saturday.
Heron, Great Blue
Duck, American Black
Sandpiper, Purple (Oregon Inlet)
Gull, Great Black-backed
Pigeon (Dove, Rock)
Thanks to Bob Oberfelder, one of our Wake Audubon trip participants, for sharing some of his photographs. To view more of his photographs from this trip, see the Wake Audubon Meet-up site, past trips.
Gerry Luginbuhl, President, Wake Audubon Society