Welcome to the month of spring!

i Feb 29, 2024 No Comments by

Authored by John A. Gerwin

As I write this, in late February, there are many trees in flower, along with the usual spate of Daffodils and a few other early herb arrivals.  Speaking of early, I watched a pair of Carolina wrens gathering large clumps of moss, and begin constructing a nest in a shrub in the backyard, on February 21. It seemed amazingly early.  Soon, we will be seeing additional “early birds”.

Normally, we expect to see the first returning Purple Martins to Wake County in early March. That said, our colleague Courtney Rousseau recently reported one from Holly Springs, on February 24. Things are happening earlier and earlier.  Considering history, we expect to get a few reports of Ruby-throated hummingbirds in North Carolina in late March. However, most of us in Wake County are accustomed to seeing our first of the year hummers in the first two weeks of April.  You can follow along at this website: https://maps.journeynorth.org/map/?map=hummingbird-ruby-throated-first&year=2024

In most migratory bird species, males move through or arrive to a territory prior to the females. This makes sense in that males are racing to get back, get a prime piece of habitat, and establish a territory. Ruby-throats are similar in this regard.

In order to return to its breeding area, a given hummingbird will once again fatten up, the way it did when it was getting ready to head south. An individual that is not in migratory status or condition will weigh 3-4 grams. By the time it is ready to migrate it may weigh 6g. Note that in some cases, the bird has doubled its weight!

So, for most Ruby-throats, March is a month of gluttony as it were – they are still on the non-breeding grounds in a Mexican or a Central American locality. Many are also completing the body molt. Studies show that the head and throat (gorget) feathers will finish growing in by around mid-March.

Indeed, when you see your first males, try to assess the lower edge of the red gorget. A bird hatched in the previous year will often show a somewhat jagged edge whereas the older birds (greater than 1 year old) exhibit a more concise, straight-edge. It’s now always easy to tell with binoculars, but it can be with a digital photograph. That red gorget by the way will look black at certain angles and the way the light is hitting – but the edges are still edges.

Note that across the species broad range, we see quite a bit of variation from year to year in terms of “first seen” dates, and numbers visiting feeders. This is how nature is – there are various factors that affect the timing of movements of birds, and their subsequent distribution. And we don’t understand all of these factors.

As we are seeing more and more, plants are springing forth sooner in the season. Some birds are beginning to nest earlier than ever before. One way we discern these patterns is through the contributions of many amateur naturalists. So if you are so inclined, be sure to post your observations to your favorite website  – which may be eBird, or Journey North, or iNaturalist.  Here’s the map from 2023 for Ruby-throat observations submitted to Journey North. You can use the slider to see how things look by the week.


And now that you know some hummers may show up as early as late March, you can plan to have your hummingbird feeders ready to go.  In the early spring, I prefer to start out with very small quantities of my homemade nectar. I know that visits to my feeders, in early April, we will few and far between. If I put out a feeder full of nectar, it usually gets moldy long before it is consumed. So I wait and see how many hummers seem to be around before I put out a larger quantity.

And remember – these little tykes consume many small arthropods. Indeed these make up about 50% of their diet.

Attached are some pictures to get your ready. I realize this only makes the month of March feel that much longer….. but this year we have Easter Weekend to help with the waiting….. maybe your Good Friday will be super good when you spot your first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of 2024.

Photo legends:

All photos by Bob Oberfelder

#1: Here is a “classic” view with full light hitting the gorget of a male Ruby-throat.

#2: This male might be a younger male – the edge of the gorget is slightly jagged. Note the darker area of the throat due to the angle of light, which in this case is not refracting to allow the red wavelengths.

#3: The color on the gorget of this individual appears a bit duller. The color is derived from the interaction of light waves and the feather structures and the way they overlap. Small changes in the structures (wear) or overlapping (puffed up or not)  can yield slightly different hues to the red.

#4: A classic “I think I have discovered a new species of hummingbird!”.  I have received many such emails and phone calls. Many folks do not realize that the gorget color is the result of structural features of the throat feathers, and not pigments. If the light does not hit and/or refract back in a Goldilocks manner (“just right”), the color appears dark, or black, as in this individual.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – 2024 Bird of the Year

i Dec 30, 2023 No Comments by

Authored by Brittany Righards.  Goodbye. Hello! While this tiniest of feeder visitors may have bid backyards farewell months ago, Wake Audubon Society warmly welcomes as its 2024 Bird of the Year, Archilochus colubris: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird!

Even as the days grew shorter and pumpkins began appearing on porches, you replenished your nectar, just in case the emerald-backed and ruby-throated birds that enchanted you all summer needed a final sip of fuel before they began their long journey south. But as the maples and sweetgums turned crimson and gold, you realized your feeders had fallen silent, and you resigned yourself to the fact that even the last stragglers of the season had moved on, and you will have to await the ruby-throateds’ return in the spring. 

But where will the birds who nipped nectar all summer in your yard spend their winter? As improbable as it may seem, these birds, with an average weight of just about 1/10 of an ounce – less than the weight of a single nickel – will travel thousands of miles to reach their wintering grounds in Central America (extending from southern Mexico, throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, to as far south as Panama). A smaller population of birds will stay along the tip of Florida and the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the US to spend their winters stateside. So when our North Carolina days have become chilly and our flowers have all but disappeared for the season, the birds who flitted and fed around your yard all summer may be as far as 3,000 miles away enjoying a verdant, tropical winter.

Surprisingly little is known about the exact routes and duration of their migration, but research suggests that birds stopover throughout the Gulf coast, feeding and refueling for only a few days at most before continuing their journey to their final destination. It is believed that birds follow both an overland route, but also an overwater route that requires an 18-22 hour nonstop flight of 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico. Just as amazingly, all ruby-throated hummingbirds make this trek alone, even first year migrants, who navigate on instinct alone without a parent to guide them. One study of ruby-throated hummingbirds showed that the southernmost birds of the summer range migrate first. So with our hummingbirds in North Carolina generally departing in late summer, those October feeder visitors very well may be birds from further north just passing through on their way south. 

Though it was once feared that leaving feeders out too late in the fall would discourage hummingbirds from migrating, it is now known that this is a myth. It seems a combination of hormonal signals, the availability of natural food sources, and the decreasing amount of daylight triggers the migration instinct. So while it is certainly reasonable to store your feeder when it has been two weeks since your last sighting of a hummingbird, it will do no harm to leave it out longer. And in fact, should you decide to provide nectar all winter, you might even spot a visit from a so-called winter vagrant. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only species with a breeding range in the eastern United States, but with increasing frequency, species either beyond their typical range or birds overwintering between October 15 and March 15 can be spotted in North Carolina. In particular, eastern sightings of the western species, the Rufous Hummingbird, which usually winters in Mexico, are being seen at feeders in the southeast US. It is unknown if more birds are actually spending their winters outside their usual wintering grounds, or if more people are just monitoring their feeders throughout the winter and reporting these sightings. If you do spot a winter visitor, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has an ongoing project to track these vagrants, and you can report your own sighting on their website

Most of us may not enjoy this jewel-toned wonder again until the coming spring, but Wake Audubon Society looks forward to celebrating and exploring the beautiful and fascinating ruby-throated hummingbird all year! 

Adieu to Our 2023 Bird of the Year – the American Goldfinch

i Nov 30, 2023 No Comments by

The American Goldfinch Wake Audubon’s 2023 Bird of the Year!  by Phil Doerr

It’s time to bid this year’s star adieu and turn our attention to a new rising star coming in January when a new bird ascends! But for now, our American Goldfinch will be with us all winter. They will of course be a bit less obvious, as the fall molt to much duller colors is  happening before our very eyes, so watch carefully! And don’t forget  to keep track of these wonderful birds when they visit bird feeders in your neighborhood, or look for them along roadside ditches, and old fields. They’ll still be there, dangling upside down from sweet gum balls, or dried goldenrod flowerheads .

During the year we explored some fascinating  features of the biology of this stunning and remarkable bird. We saw that Goldfinches are able to thwart would be brood parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds simply because they are vegetarian, and cowbird chicks starve without animal protein and fat. We also saw that some clever females hedge their genetic bets by choosing to raise a second brood after the first has fledged into the care of her mate. The second brood is with a different male, so if successful, the female produces a large number of offspring, with a diversity of genetic traits, increasing their survival probabilities and spreading her genotype more broadly. And at the end of the day, that’s what evolution is all about! Whoever leaves more offspring, more widely distributed wins!

We also saw that our local goldfinches are largely non-migratory, but that in winter our region often hosts short distance goldfinch migrants from colder climate areas to our north where goldfinches nest. Consequently, our local goldfinch populations do swell in winter, and they become quite common. And while goldfinches are indeed common throughout  the southeast, the forecast for habitat changes with the current rate of warming associated with climate change, the future for goldfinches in North Carolina is tenuous. North Carolina east of the mountains will become too hot and dry for goldfinches to nest successfully. Goldfinches will shift breeding ranges northward unless we cease pumping fossil fuel residues into the atmosphere, and we will no longer be witness to the stunning gold of the breeding males!

What can we do for American goldfinches, to ensure our grandchildren will see breeding plumage birds? We can advocate for government policies to eliminate fossil fuel burning and promote the conversion of our entire economy to renewable energy. Failure is not an acceptable option, because it’s not just American Goldfinches we’ll lose, its life, and business as we know it. Let’s get to it!

To demonstrate that we can successfully address big environmental challenges, I want to call attention to an anniversary!

2023 is the  50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act!  This monumental bipartisan act of Congress was signed into law by president Richard Nixon, and over the years has been the linchpin contributing to the recovery and delisting of the Bald Eagle, the Peregrine Falcon, the Brown Pelican, the American Alligator, and the Channel Island Fox. In addition, many other species are on the path to recovery with growing numbers because of the protection and positive conservation actions under the ESA. These include Green Sea Turtles, Humpback whales (some populations delisted), Whooping Cranes, Piping Plover, and California Condors among others.  Its an anniversary worth celebrating!

And another success!

We also addressed the threat of the ozone hole in our upper atmosphere! When in the 1980s coolants escaping from refrigeration units and chlorine based propellants from spray cans were discovered depleting the ozone layer humans were at increasing risk from UVB ray induced skin cancers. The ozone layer absorbs UVB and reduces it’s incidence at the earth’s surface, reducing the cancer risk. An international treaty banning these substances facilitated by the United Nations (1989) has resulted in steady recovery of the ozone layer which is on track to full restoration by 2045.

The point is we (the world!) can accomplish big things. Yes, we can! Yes we must!

Have a great holiday season, and new year, and thanks for all the hard work you do for the for the planet!

Phil Doerr, Retiring Wake Audubon Board Member

[email protected]

Migration, Local Movements, and Residential Habitats

i Oct 31, 2023 No Comments by

Authored by Phil Doerr

November! It’s midway past the time of year when fall migration is really exciting! Every day (well actually night-time!!) holds the promise of delivering  another delightful arrival of amazing numbers of birds, and the potential for some of our favorite woodlands to host a new group of warblers and thrushes. We closely monitor the fruiting dogwoods, tupelos, hackberries and persimmons or oaks for activity.  Almost any oak species supports bocoos of the wee invertebrates sought by the famished hordes! October 7, 2023 “Birdcast.info” radar reported 1.2 billion birds were in flight across North America and Wake County recorded passage of more than a million birds that same night! Most of these birds are passing through to Central or South America, but recently we’re seeing the arrival from the north of a number of species of sparrows that will spend the winter with us and brighten our outings at least until April next year! The list includes Song, Chipping, Savannah, White-throated, Swamp, Field, Vesper, and occasionally White crowned sparrows. The brushy areas these birds frequent are often shared with American Goldfinches, our locally nesting birds, most of whom stay with us all year. However, our winter visitors from the north include some goldfinches fleeing northern regions where the cold is more intense. Consequently, American Goldfinches are often considered to be short distance migrants, or largely non-migratory in the south. Collectively there’s a moderate southerly shift to the continental goldfinch population.

November Goldfinch photo by Bob Oberfelder.

November Goldfinch photo by Bob Oberfelder.

Above photograph is of a post breeding season, likely male, goldfinch w/buffy wing bars, yellow shoulders and throat with a rich almost rusty back. Some of these have been around us recently, this one was “captured” by Bob Oberfelder. Most goldfinches will seem a bit dull soon as they acquire winter plumage via the fall molt.

For the long distance migrants we’re by now all aware of the extreme dangers the night fliers face from glass towers and artificial lights, especially during heavy migration flights. To prevent thousands of  bird deaths on such nights we turn the lights off from 11pm to 6am. It’s very simple and easy! But what about our more local bird movements? Is there danger here?

If we are indeed making our yards bird friendly, with native plants, replacing all or part of the ecological deserts represented by the “lawn” then it’s important we make our yards bird SAFE!

Lights, and glass in neighborhood parks and nearby residences with good habitat can be a death trap for migrating birds and even our winter residents or visitors. Lights may confuse birds and while the habitat may seem otherwise suitable, even single-story structures with windows will reflect habitat and kill birds.

Recent research from Oklahoma State University biologists that examined how bird population abundance reflected mortality revealed that some species were disproportionately vulnerable. These included Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Brown Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, and American Goldfinch. Of special concern to us is that the first several birds in that list are long distance migrants, but there’s continuum to the last three species (including our BOTY!) that are largely short distance migrants or even non-migratory. The long-distance migrants often travel at night in large flocks and are especially vulnerable to the lighted  glass expanses in large cities. The non-migratory birds, (read goldfinches!) seem more vulnerable to local hazards where they live, and thus residential and business structures may be a frequent problem. This underscores the need to eliminate or reduce lighting in or near our homes, and to use bird safe glass so that our feeder citizens (nuthatches, goldfinches, titmice and chickadees) are less vulnerable to window strikes.

For this end of fall migration season month please:

1)Turn out the Lights 11pm-6am!

2) Leave your leaves (the creeply crawlies need’em) and

3) Leave last year’s flowering stems as well-at least until spring greenup. is starts! (there’s lots of eggs and overwintering bugs in there.

 As always thanks for all ya’ll do for the birds-keep it going!

Phil Doerr,  Wake Audubon Board Member & Volunteer

To see all of the posts on the American Goldfinch, go the our Bird of the Year site

Autumn Garden Activities for a Wildlife-Friendly Yard

i Oct 8, 2023 No Comments by

By Alison Hoover

Autumn is often busy with back-to-school, new schedules, and the rapidly approaching holidays, but fall in North Carolina is an ideal time to be out in the yard and garden. Fall is the perfect time to plant vegetables and bulbs in preparation for spring or prep your lawn for a healthy return in warmer weather. There’s also a lot you can do now to help ensure your yard is wildlife-friendly and help support local ecology. Here are 5 autumn garden activities to foster a wildlife-friendly yard:

  1. Focus on native plants which require less additional water and nutrients, meaning less overall maintenance and impact on the environment. Native plants also support the needs of local wildlife including birds, bugs, insects, and four-legged critters. If your goal is to create a wildlife sanctuary, aim for upward of 70% of all plants in your yard to be native. As the temperatures drop in the fall, you will need less water to help the roots get established. This makes autumn –– particularly September –– the ideal time to install native plants.
  2. Provide food sources with perennials and annuals that bloom throughout the entire growing season. Now is the time to plant bulbs and rip out shrubs or plants you plan to replace come spring. Native plants are best because they are key for encouraging the presence of insects and pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. You want to include nectar plants and host plants, giving these important creatures space to eat and breed.

    Shrubs and trees are also important food sources which double as shelter. You can also consider bird and hummingbird feeders. However, you want to be sure to offer quality seeds and sugar water as opposed to synthetic mixtures. You should also be aware that feeders can attract all sorts of wildlife, not just your intended audience. Be sure to change the food regularly, even on those chilly autumn mornings when you might rather stay inside.

  3. Create habitats and safe spaces for animals to sleep, eat, breed, and protect their young. To support a variety of animals, you want to incorporate layers of vegetation. This means including clusters of shrubs, small trees, tall trees, and evergreens. Evergreens are particularly important during the colder months as they provide shelter from winter winds. Trees are important for nesting animals as they provide protection from predators. Finally, large rocks offer a safe space for butterflies and other insects to sun themselves, which is an important part of their lifecycle.

    As you clean up your yard for winter, consider leaving the leaves under and around trees as they provide shelter and warmth for animals over the long winter. If you plan to do any trimming of trees or hedging of bushes, consider the impact you might have on nesting and burrowing animals. Look before you cut in case there is a shelter or nest already established.

  4. Provide water by incorporating at least one water source, be it a bird bath or a puddling dish. You won’t want to fill the container with water once winter approaches, but you should keep fresh water available as long as it’s safe to do so. If you don’t currently have a water source for animals, now is the time to determine where you’ll place it come spring. This is also the time to find fixtures on sale at the local home supply store.

    In the meantime, you can create a puddling dish by filling a saucer or shallow bowl with fresh water. As soon as the temperatures begin to rise again, you will want to provide water at all times. If your yard is large, try to offer multiple water sources. Throughout spring and summer, remember to change the water frequently so it stays clean and safe, and doesn’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

  5. Practice sustainable gardening to ensure a safe and healthy environment today and into the future. Native plants are part of this as they require less additional water, but you also should consider the materials and additives you use. While Americans are pretty enamored by our lawns, all of the fertilizers and chemicals used to make them thrive are terrible for other plants and animal life. Additionally, lawns offer little food or shelter, making them ornamental and not at all useful.

    Instead of adding chemicals, leave the cut grass and fallen leaves on the surface of your lawn. This will add adequate nitrogen and organic matter without introducing dangerous additives. While it isn’t necessary to rip out your lawn altogether, consider how your maintenance practices may impact or support the other efforts you’ve made to create a wildlife-friendly yard. Perhaps you can take autumn as an opportunity to tear out some grass and build a new flower bed for spring.

For a long time, we thought of our yards as simply outdoor spaces that needed to be maintained. With the looming effects of climate change and other results of human activity, we are beginning to see our yards as spaces where we can support wildlife and ecology. Each step toward welcoming and supporting nature is important, no matter how small it may seem.


Wake Audubon “Long Live Longleaf” Field Trip

i Apr 26, 2023 No Comments by

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

Wood Duck Boxes

i Feb 22, 2023 2 Comments by

Authored by Phil Doerr

In recent years the inventory of usable nest boxes had deteriorated so a couple years ago the Wake Audubon Society acquired the lumber to construct new boxes, collaborated with Yates Park and Crowder Park  to assemble the boxes, and then this winter, nest boxes were either repaired or replaced by NCSU Leopold Wildlife Club (and Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society) members assisted by Yates Park Staff. The Leopold Club has for generations provided enthusiastic support and especially labor for projects at Yates Mill, while monitoring the nest boxes nearly every spring since 1947.

Male and Female Wood Ducks on nest box

Male and female Wood Ducks on nest box at Historic Yates Mill Pond. Photograph vy Larry Zoller

The above photo of a pair of Wood Ducks was recently “captured” by Larry Zoller at Yates Mill Historical County Park. These ducks are enjoying the benefits of the wood duck nest box program at Yates Mill Pond

That success being the news to share with Wake Audubon members, many of whom frequent Yates Mill Pond, I thought a bit of history appropriate. The wood duck boxes were in place when I came to NCSU in 1973 as a bright eyed assistant professor. Dr. Fred Frederick Schenck Barkalow, Jr was the Wildlife Biologist /mammologist in the then Zoology Department. He and the Leopold Wildlife Club began the wood duck nest box program shortly after his arrival in 1947. Then, Wood ducks were a very much depleted species throughout their range and were in the early stages of recovery from near extinction due to extensive logging and drainage of bottomlands in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The NCSU nest box program was one of thousands introduced to facilitate recovery.  Dr. Fred served as faculty advisor to the Leopold Club from the early days until I arrived and succeeded him in that role, which I happily filled until my retirement in 2007. Over the decades countless wood ducks fledged at Yates and contributed to the remarkable range wide recovery of the species. Every year a couple pairs of screech owls also used the wood duck nest boxes and fledged numerous young. And every spring a new class of NCSU wildlife graduates fledged!

Congratulations Michi Vojta – Lifetime Presidential Volunteer Service Award Rrecipient

i Sep 28, 2022 No Comments by

Wake Audubon is fortunate to have a lot of fantastic volunteers. Our Treasurer Michi Vojta’s volunteer service is so extensive that she recently was awarded a Lifetime Presidential Volunteer Service Award (PVSA). Congratulations, Michi!

Michi volunteered to serve as our Treasurer, a critical and demanding officer position, in 2020. She does a great job of staying on top of our finances and keeping the rest of the board informed while finding time to be involved in other ways from conservation activities to community outreach. In addition to her boundless energy, Michi shares insightful feedback and creative ideas about how we can do our work better. We cherish her contributions and are delighted that she’s being recognized for her service.

Recipients of the Lifetime PVSA have donated over 4,000 hours of their time in eligible volunteer service. Michi has selflessly given more than double that during the last 30 years. Here’s what Shannon Robinson, PVSA Coordinator for Cary Homeschoolers, shared about Michi at a recent award ceremony:

“Michi Vojta served as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Kenya from 1993-1996 as the local forester/agroforestry specialist.  In addition, she organized field days on Solar Cooking and other fuel efficient stoves, built mud stoves, organized and hosted free eye clinics with a nearby hospital, and implemented a penpal exchange program involving around 60 students from 8 Kenyan schools and 30 students from Oregon.

After returning to the US, she volunteered over 1000 hours with the 1999 Special Olympics World Games here in Raleigh and coached youth soccer, moving up with the same group of girls through 5 or 6 seasons.  In 2005, she served again with Peace Corps Response, working in New Orleans with those impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

Michi still volunteers regularly in her community, through City Parks, local public schools, Wake County and NC Senior Games.  She has been a recipient of the silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award for the past 5 years, averaging 344 hours of service per year.

During the past year alone, here some of what she’s been involved with:

Michi helped paint a mural in downtown Raleigh to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9-11.  She participated in litter pickups at Lake Johnson and Crabtree Creek.  On one day, her team collected 905 pounds of litter!  She planted trees, daffodils, and tulips at Pullen Park.  She volunteered at the Dorothea Dix 5K, the Raleigh Parks Fall Festival, and several special events at the NC Museum of Natural Science, including Bug Fest and Darwin Day.  Michi worked extensively with the West Raleigh Citizen Advisory Council, attended monthly Tree Advocacy meetings, frequently assisted the Friends of the Athens Drive Community Library, and served as Treasurer on the board of the Wake Audubon Society.  Michi spent many hours monitoring and caring for wild bird boxes.  She distributed food via the Food Ark and helped with numerous staff appreciation events at Ligon Middle School.

I contacted some of the organizations that Michi works with to offer them an opportunity to send their thoughts, and the response was overwhelming.   Here are some of their comments.

Mary Abrams, the President of the Wake Audubon Society, said  “Michi brings her endless energy to our conservation activities and community outreach”

Aleix K Murphy from Ligon Middle School emphasized “Michi is a rock star!!”

Yevonne Brannon from the Athens Drive Library offered “You can always count on Michi to be front and center in any effort to help neighbors.”

Sheila B. Jones from Wake County Soil and Water Conservation said “Michi’s community spirit and passion for embracing sustainability is unmatched!”

Representatives of the West Raleigh Citizen Advisory Council shared their thoughts, too!

Jane Harrison said “Michi has an encyclopedic knowledge of issues that matter to her neighbors.”

Don Procipio offered “Michi has been a dedicated, conscientious and key contributor to the West Raleigh CAC for many years.”

Laura Ritchie said “Michi is an integral part of our community, we admire all her hard work!”

Michi has logged a staggering 10,070 hours of service, though we all know the real total is much higher.  As Joe Hartman said, “Michi’s energetic commitment to the whole community’s common good is one-of-a-kind.”

I am deeply honored to announce that Michi has been named a recipient of our highest distinction, the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Michi, thank you for all that you do in our community.  Congratulations!”

We couldn’t have said it better–we’re grateful for your service and proud to have you on our team!

Purple Martin Rescue

i Jul 18, 2022 No Comments by

Authored by Courtney Rousseau, President, North Carolina Purple Martin Society, member, Wake Audubon

It was Friday, June 17th at 6:55pm. We had completed a hot but successful day of banding martins at Prairie Ridge Ecostation and University club. I had just finished dinner with my kids and we were watching TV at our home in Holly Springs, NC. Outside, a violent thunderstorm with high winds had just passed overhead. I was a bit nervous when I heard the winds swirling around, and looked outside at my purple martin gourd rack and pole. It had swayed a little bit but was undamaged. Our power flickered a few times, but stayed on. The chance of rain and storms that day had been low, so this one was a surprise. We counted ourselves lucky and settled in for an evening of Star Trek while my husband was away. Suddenly, I got a notification on my phone from a lady we had just met at our banding event that morning. It was Andrea Miller. She was frantically messaging me that the worst possible scenario for a martin landlord had occurred: the poles at University Club in Raleigh had blown down in the storm. Shocked, I asked her for a photo. Soon thereafter, I got an email from James Ivankovitch, the general manager out at University Club. He, too, informed me that the poles had blown over.  I Felt panic rising in my stomach as I pictured gourds full of eggs and helpless young martin nestlings on the ground. I wondered how many had been hurt. My two sons and I went to the garage to gather up materials we might need for a rescue, and we started the 30 minute drive over to University Club from our house. While I was driving, I instructed my older teenage son to text the first people I could think of to help in this situation. In turn, those folks contacted others. When we arrived at University Club, we hurried over to the martin colony site to assess the damage. My worst fears were confirmed: Both poles were broken, gourds were in disarray, the house was on its side, and martin eggs and featherless young were on the ground. Upset adult martins circled above the housing. Nests had been tossed around inside gourds, and nestlings were buried under nest material. They were cold and weak. Two gourds were broken; fortunately, one of them was unoccupied at the time. All of the eggs on the ground were broken with the exception of one, which seemed to be hatching. I put it aside for a little while on a small towel, and as folks started to arrive to help, we broke into triage teams to work on individual tasks.

Storm-damaged Purple Martin Colony at University Club, Raleigh. Photo by Phil Doerr.

Damaged Purple Martin housing

Some folks cut away the mangled owl caging. Others untangled gourds and set them right side up so that their occupants could be counted and checked against the nest check data sheets. Another group discussed how to put the broken poles upright again, and some folks brought personal items to help, such as flashlights, headlamps, and Hot Hands, which were used to keep featherless nestlings warm through the night. It began to grow dark. Andrea moved her car over to the course and turned on the headlights so we could continue to work. Surprise helpers showed up in the form of the Hastings family from Burkes Brothers Hardware, just down the street from the University Club. They asked what they could do to help, and brought Gorilla tape, some more Hot Hands, and tools from their store. Armed with a sawzall, Mr. Hastings was able to cut off part of the damaged pole of one rack so that it could be removed and set upright again on a surviving ground stake. The other pole on which the Lonestar house and gourd rack was mounted had a section which was completely mangled and had to be removed. The remaining length of pole was then put upright again on a pole connector. Both poles were now upright again, thanks to the lifting power of so many helpers.

We then began the task of returning nestlings to their gourds and verifying the contents of all of the gourds. I held the hatching egg in my hand during this process. As it began to warm up, the hatchling inside became more active and pushed its way out of the shell. We tried to find a gourd in which to place it, but the gourd that had the smallest young seemed to be empty now, until John Gerwin started to comb through the nesting material. Eventually, we found the two tiny occupants of the gourd. We placed a Hot Hands packet just under their nesting material and placed the young on top of it, to keep them warm. The broken gourd with 4 feathered occupants was temporarily taped and wired closed and hung back on its proper spot on the rack. Purple martins are very particular about their nesting spot; they remember the compass orientation of their nest cavity and will expect to see the cavity they recognize pointing in that same direction when they return, so ensuring the gourds and house were in the proper position was essential to help prevent the adults from abandoning the nest. After all gourds and house compartments were checked, we began the process of moving the wrecked owl cage and pole section debris to the side for later removal. We cleaned up our tools and headed home.

We did not realize how much time had passed; we were all there for a united purpose, which was to save these martins that depend on us for survival. I left University Club around 11:10pm and arrived home shortly before midnight.  I didn’t sleep much that night, wondering if the adults would return to their nests in the morning, and if the nestlings would survive the night. The next morning, I made my coffee extra strong and headed out the door. When I arrived, a happy sight greeted my eyes: adult martins were swooping around and feeding their hungry nestlings. The tiny hatchling from the previous night was snuggled with its nestmates. A passerby on the golf course had stopped to watch the martins with his young son. I explained to him what had happened the night before, and he thanked me and all the other volunteers who cared enough to save these birds. Some of these volunteers gave up their family time, and others missed their dinners that night. Their efforts were an amazing testament to what can happen when we come together to accomplish a conservation goal.

Why did this accident happen? The two inch square poles had been in place at University Club for over 15 years and had survived many storms. However, the owl cages, which were added last year out of necessity, probably overburdened the poles just a bit. We tried to keep this weight issue in mind when doing nest checks, and never raised the racks more than two thirds of the way up the pole, but it may not have been enough. We will be replacing these poles for next season with stronger, larger 3 inch square poles with thick walls to better withstand storms and support owl caging.

I want to thank the following people who came out that night:

Tommy Hastings, Jeff Hastings, and their family from Burkes Brothers Hardware, Phil Doerr, Anne Miller,John Gerwin, Laura Eason, Bob Oberfelder, Andrea Miller, James Ivankovitch
and my two sons Graham and Lee Rousseau, who gave up their Friday night to step up!

We could not have done it without all of you!

2022 Volunteer and Conservation and Environmental Education Awards

i Apr 14, 2022 1 Comment by

We are happy to announce the recipients of our two awards, created to recognize individuals who have contributed to Wake Audubon’s mission through their service as volunteers and through their work in conservation and education.
Wake Audubon honors deserving volunteers with the Paulette Van De Zande Volunteer Award.
Our 2022 honoree is Erla Beegle
Erla Beegle has been a devoted volunteer with Wake Audubon for over 10 years. She has selflessly shared more than 1,000 hours of her time leading bird walks, working on conservation projects, tabling, and organizing our calendar and Meetup group. Engaging within and beyond Wake Audubon, she builds community around birds by sharing her unflagging enthusiasm, mentoring fledgling birders, and inviting everyone into the group. She has also contributed countless hours to science by recording daily eBird checklists and recording NC Bird Atlas data across the state.
Wake Audubon honors deserving volunteer educators with the John Connors Conservation and Environmental Education Award.
Our 2022 honoree is Courtney Rousseau
Courtney Rousseau is the President of the NC Purple Martin Society. She has unselfishly cared for a Purple Martin colony at the University Club for over 15 years and has advised and helped Wake Audubon install Purple Martin houses at Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and Yates Mill County Park. A respected educator, she has trained folks from Wake Audubon, the NC Museum of Natural Science, and park staff to monitor these and other colonies, protect them from predators, and maintain their homes. Her public engagement and passion fuels the fascination that so many people have for these birds.