Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘North Carolina Birding’ Category

Early October is usually good for migration here in Forsyth County, North Carolina, and this year was no exception. The third 3-week stretch of the fall Yard Squad Challenge went from October 5 to 25.  I am happy that I found 14 new birds during that time.  The first day started with one of my favorite migrants right on my deck – Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

A few days later, I found a bird that made me even happier.  It was one of those days that I didn’t get out until after 2:00 PM, so I headed to the Walnut Bottoms trail which is short, flat, and easy.  I wandered along the fence row and saw a pretty Cape May Warbler.  Next, I headed to the back corner where I found both male and female Black-throated Blue Warblers, a new bird for my team, Yardbirds Remastered.  Surprisingly, I did not see any of these lovely birds in my yard this fall as I usually do.

A Cape May Warbler in the late afternoon light at Walnut Bottoms

A Cape May Warbler in the late afternoon light at Walnut Bottoms

I intended a short walk, but something kept calling me to stay.  After I had already been there for three hours, I started following a big flock of Common Grackles in hopes of getting a good photo of one.  Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but I’m inspired by a local birder who was photographing American Robins in her yard a few years ago when she found a Henslow’s Sparrow.  The grackles led me through the woods and back out into one of the fields where I spotted a flycatcher on a power pole guy-wire.  I’m the opposite of those birders who turn common birds into rarities.  When I see a small flycatcher, I usually figure it’s an Eastern Wood-Pewee or at best an Acadian Flycatcher.  This day something told me to get a photo of the bird.  So, in the last light of the day, I worked hard to get the photo below which was good enough to confirm this bird as a Least Flycatcher.  They are not common birds here, yet every serious birder in the county except me had managed to see one.  I was thrilled to finally add it to my Forsyth County list and especially proud of finding it myself.

Least Flycatcher at Walnut Bottoms - a new county bird for me!

Least Flycatcher at Walnut Bottoms – a new county bird for me!

The next day, October 9, was the best day of fall in my yard.  I enjoyed sitting on my deck and watching the action in the Devil’s Walking Sticks which were loaded with berries.  In less than an hour, I observed four Cardinals, a Parula, a Scarlet Tanager, and two Swainson’s Thrushes feasting on the berries.

A Swainson's Thrush in the Aralia spinosa, Devil's Walking Stick

A Swainson’s Thrush in the Aralia spinosa, Devil’s Walking Stick

This Scarlet Tanager was also eating Aralia spinosa berries, but it popped out in the open for a photo.

This Scarlet Tanager was also eating Aralia spinosa berries, but it popped out in the open for a photo.

I continued to find nice birds for my Yard Squad circle, but nothing new for the Yardbirds.  With two other team members in the East (Ohio and Florida), we had a lot of overlap in species.  At Long Creek Park, I found my first Pine Siskins on October 16.  It’s an irruption year that some are calling the invasion of the Siskins.  A few days after I took this photo, birders around the state started reporting dozens of these birds at their feeders.  A couple of people reported hundreds of Siskins.  People are joking about second mortgages and 401K withdrawals to finance enough bird seed to keep these greedy little things happy.  If you are not familiar with avian irruptions, you can read about the phenomenon here.  See the Winter Finch Forecast for current predictions.

A Pine Siskin at Long Creek Park

A Pine Siskin at Long Creek Park

Swamp Sparrow at Long Creek Park

Swamp Sparrow at Long Creek Park

I also found a really interesting thrush at Long Creek Park on October 17th.  I am calling it a Hermit Thrush, but it was a difficult ID even for the expert birders who advised me.  It alternately looked like a Gray-cheeked Thrush, a Swainson’s Thrush, and a Hermit Thrush depending upon the light.  Adding to the difficulty of the ID was the timing; migrating Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrushes were still around and Hermit Thrushes were just arriving for the winter.

A newly-arrived Hermit Thrush enjoying wild grapes at Long Creek Park

A newly-arrived Hermit Thrush enjoying wild grapes at Long Creek Park

Here’s a bird that can’t be mistaken for anything else, an Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Bluebird at Long Creek Park

Eastern Bluebird at Long Creek Park

My heart has a soft spot for Hairy Woodpeckers, so I was thrilled to see this female come to my yard for a visit.  I was sitting at the kitchen table when I took this photo – across the kitchen, through two panes of glass, and on far side of the deck.

Hairy Woodpecker on my deck

Hairy Woodpecker on my deck

As we headed into the last week of the competition, there were three birds that I needed to find for my team – Blue-headed Vireo, Winter Wren, and Purple Finch.  Winter Wren was the only one of these that I was sure I could find.  Several other birders had seen Blue-headed Vireos at Long Creek Park, but I tried three days before I could find one.  But, what great luck I finally had!  Blue-headed Vireos seem curious and sweet; they are my favorite vireo.  None of the other vireos come close to check you out and then go about their business of foraging just over your head.

Blue-headed Vireo at Long Creek Park

Blue-headed Vireo at Long Creek Park

The next morning, I headed to Walnut Bottoms where I was hoping to find a Winter Wren.  I walked a short way down the trail to Muddy Creek and played the call.  Like a shot, a wren flew up from the creek bed and landed ten feet in front of me.  Success!  I watched it for a few minutes and then continued on the trail to the first open field where I quickly found a Purple Finch feeding in the weeds.

Purple Finch at Walnut Bottoms. This is likely a female, but it's nearly impossible to distinguish the females from first year males.

Purple Finch at Walnut Bottoms. This is likely a female, but it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the females from first year males.

Now I could relax!  I had successfully found my targets and could just enjoy birding for the last few days of the challenge.  The Purple Finch was the 100th bird that I observed during the fall Yard Squad Challenge in my 1-mile circle.  Forty-one of those birds added to the tally for my team, Yardbirds Remastered.  We ended with an impressive 479 species, but the competition was fierce so that put us in position 5 of 7 teams.

Eastern Box Turtle at Walnut Bottoms

Eastern Box Turtle at Walnut Bottoms

For the iNaturalist part of the competition we came in right in the middle of the pack at 4th place with 446 species of non-avian observations.  With 151 species, I was the iNat leader for my team.  The iNat competition renewed my interest in moths.  I found about a dozen species that I’d never seen before.  I also found that I enjoyed butterflies and found two “lifers”, Dun Skipper and Little Yellow.  Some of the other insects were interesting, too.  Did you know that there really is a living thing called a conehead?  Yep, and I found two different species of them at my moth lights.

Here are a few of the “leps” (lepidoptera – butterflies and moths) from the last stretch that I especially liked.

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skipper

American Lady

American Lady

Common Checkered-Skipper

Common Checkered-Skipper

Long-tailed Skipper

Long-tailed Skipper

And, that’s a wrap for the fall Yard Squad Challenge.  Credit goes to Matt Smith for creating, hosting, and managing the game.  And, thanks to Joost Brandsma for leading the Yardbirds Remastered.  It was great fun and my obsession with the game gave me an excuse to put off cleaning and decluttering my house for two more months.  You can find more of my photos on eBird (contributor Shelley Rutkin) or iNaturalist (user shelleydee).

 

Read Full Post »

The middle stretch of the fall Yard Squad Challenge was similar to the middle weeks of the spring challenge.  Other birders always seemed to find the migrants before I did.  With a larger patch to bird, though, it was easier to catch up.  I missed a few birds that I would like to have seen, but I found 16 new species in this three-week period.  That put my total number of birds for the challenge at 86, exactly what Matt’s magic formula predicted that I should be able to find.  Every new species now added to my list will be “above par”, so I’m happy.

So, what were those 16 new birds?  This isn’t one of the them because I first saw it on September 8 (this middle stretch started on September 14), but this sweet little bird stayed for over a week.  I was able to see it again on the 15th and even get a photo.  Kentucky Warbler is not a common species for my county, so it was a real thrill to see this lovely bird twice.

Kentucky Warbler at Bethania's Walnut Bottoms

Kentucky Warbler at Bethania’s Walnut Bottoms

New birds that I did see included Red-tailed Hawk and Song Sparrow.  What?  Those are common birds.  I’m learning that even species that are present year-round can be much easier to find some weeks than others.  Song Sparrows breed in my county, but they are quiet during the summer.  Species like the sparrow and Brown Thrashers are much easier to find once they start foraging in fall when abundant natural food is everywhere.

A Wood Thrush on the path at Walnut Bottoms was a welcome sight and a new species for the Yardbirds.  I had feared that I wouldn’t be able to find one without hearing their beautiful song.

I was also happy to see Osprey and Great Egret and add them to the growing list for my circle.  Neither were new for the Yardbirds, but they add to our total ticks.  The egret was a real surprise as this is another species that isn’t common in my county.  We usually have a few somewhere, but this was only the third time that I’ve seen one at this pond.

Great Egret at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

Great Egret at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been more common this fall than they were in the spring.  The males aren’t sporting their snazzy black, white, and rose attire now, but I think they are beautiful birds irregardless.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) at Lake Hills Pond & Marsh

I continued to enjoy the non-avian iNaturalist part of the challenge and added an Eastern Chipmunk.  I remember feeling excited about living in a part of the county that has chipmunks when I moved to North Carolina.  I didn’t realize how quickly I would get tired of the evil little things who eat all the bird food and just laugh at me.  See if you learn anything new about chipmunks in this story, NOT Alvin and the Chipmunks: 10 Facts You May Not Know about the Real Rodents.  Did you note the part about eating bird eggs and nestlings?  Yep, I hate these little monsters.  It’s hard to deny that they are cute, though.

Eastern Chipmunk on my deck

Eastern Chipmunk on my deck

Here are a few more of my iNat observations during this period.  If you want to see my other sightings, you can find me on iNat with username shelleydee.

This was a new moth for my yard and one of my favorites, Orange-shouldered Sherbet Moth.  Its wings were translucent and a photo can't really capture its delicate beauty.

This was a new moth for my yard and one of my favorites, Orange-shouldered Sherbet Moth.  Its wings were translucent and a photo can’t really capture its delicate beauty.

 

I didn't get any more life butterflies, but this Variegated Fritillary was a new iNat observation for me.

I didn’t get any more life butterflies, but this Variegated Fritillary was a new iNat observation for me.

 

An American Toad surprised us when I was birding with friends at Walnut Bottoms. They are difficult to distinguish from the similar Fowler's Toad which also occurs here. Experts in a Facebook group helped with the ID.

An American Toad surprised us when I was birding with friends at Walnut Bottoms. They are difficult to distinguish from the similar Fowler’s Toad which also occurs here. Experts in a Facebook group helped with the ID.

Participating in iNat led to more than wildlife sightings; it also gave me a new friend.  Linda saw some of my observations and contacted me.  We discovered that we had much in common and went for a walk together at Long Creek Park.  We had a great time and spent over four hours surveying the park for interesting flora and fauna.  Linda is a better nature watcher than I am and her sharp eye caught this skink.

Common Five-lined Skink or Southeastern Five-lined Skink? I don't think it's possible to determine from this photo.

Common Five-lined Skink or Southeastern Five-lined Skink? I don’t think it’s possible to determine from this photo.

Another of my favorite sightings with Linda was a small clump of ferns.  I was surprised that in September they still looked fresh and perfect.

Broad beech fern at Long Creek Park

Broad beech fern at Long Creek Park

I still love birds best and even the young Northern Cardinals on my deck made me happy.  I’ve watched these two girls and a young male nearly every day.

Immature female Northern Cardinals

Immature female Northern Cardinals

This Yellow-billed Cuckoo also made me very happy.  It’s always fun to watch them successfully forage for caterpillars.  I watched this one while birding with friends at Walnut Bottoms.  Like its name implies, this is a spot with many black walnut trees which seem to host a lot of caterpillars.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with an unidentified caterpillar

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with an unidentified caterpillar

During the last three days of this stretch I was able to find a new bird for my team every day.  On October 2, a sweet little group of at least three Tennessee Warblers foraged in the weeds at the edge of a large field at Long Creek Park.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

A Hooded Warbler at Walnut Bottoms was new on October 3.  And, finally, on the last day of this stretch of the Yard Squad Challenge, October 4, I found nothing new in my 3-1/2 hours of birding in the morning.  As I sat on my deck that afternoon, a Cape May Warbler came by and spent a few minutes checking out the seeds on the deck rail and the suet in a little cup.  I had foolishly not taken my camera on the deck, so here is a photo of another Cape May Warbler that stopped by for a bath a few years ago.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

There are not many new birds that I can find in the last stretch of the challenge, but I do expect to see a Black-throated Blue Warbler.  Follow along with me and see if I’m successful.

Read Full Post »

Fall is rapidly approaching, but sadly the Coronavirus is not retreating.  Many people are still social-distancing and staying near home.  So, what does that mean?  It means that the amazing Matt Smith has brought back the Yard Squad Challenge for a Fall Edition.  It’s similar to the spring competition in that we have teams of players from around the globe – seven teams of ten players each.  But instead of limiting each player to their neighborhood patch, each of us were allowed to define a circle with a radius up to five miles.  Instead of the snake draft, Matt queried eBird data and threw it all in the Magic Hat which created teams each having the same number of potential species (470).  Bonus points will be earned with iNaturalist observations of everything except birds.

Butterflies provided some easy iNat bonus points. Great Spangled Fritillary on Ironweed.

Butterflies provided some easy iNat bonus points. Great Spangled Fritillary on Ironweed.

I am on Joost Brandsma’s team again, Yardbirds Remastered.  We have two players in England, one in Alaska, and seven of us scattered around the lower 48 states.  I choose the smallest possible circle with only a one-mile radius, but it includes my two favorite birding hotspots in addition to my neighborhood.  I figured that a larger circle would simply increase my “par” list without significantly increasing my chances of finding additional birds.  My list of potential birds has 86 species, which seems achievable since I found 83 species in the spring competition without even leaving my neighborhood.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Even though my circle is rather small, it doesn’t have the patch feel of the spring competition.  As much fun as that was, I’m happy to have a little more variety.  We started on August 24 and this first stretch (of three total) ended on September 13.  I have birded every day, sometimes more than once.  I also created my brand new iNaturalist account a couple of days before the start of the Yard Squad Challenge.  I had been resisting the urge to “moth” again this year because of the time suck, but now I had to do it for the iNat bonus points.  I enjoyed it as much as ever and was pleasantly surprised that I found several new species of moths.  In my post Summer Nights a few years ago, I described the wonderful peaceful feeling of nighttime on my deck.

A lovely Showy Urola moth with wings that look like satin.

A lovely Showy Urola moth with wings that look like satin.

I haven’t seen a single rare or unexpected bird yet, but with close observation, I find that I am always learning something new.  I was pleased to get a clear image of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but didn’t realize how patchy her feathers were until I looked at the photo.  I mistakenly assumed that it was either a juvenile or sick bird, so I posted the photo to my state birding group on Facebook to learn more.  An expert hummingbird bander told me that it was an adult female in molt and that most of the females they band at this time of year look like this!  I hope she grows new feathers quickly to be in peak condition for her migration south in a few weeks.

Adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

I’d like to think that I always pay attention to flora and fauna, but iNat certainly heightened my alertness.  An interesting find was this lichen in the woods near my house.

How had I never noticed this before? Tentatively identified as Gray Reindeer Lichen.

How had I never noticed this before? Tentatively identified as Gray Reindeer Lichen.

And, just as in this post, my attention quickly shifted between plants, birds, butterflies, and other insects as interesting things constantly caught my eye during  my outings.  Birding has been a bit slower than usual this fall, but I never got bored and always came home with a new iNat observation even when I didn’t find a new avian species for the Yard Squad Challenge.  Here are a few of my sightings.

A beautiful Monarch is always nice to see.

A beautiful Monarch is always nice to see.

 

This Dun Skipper was a "lifer" for me.

This Dun Skipper was a “lifer” for me.

 

Eastern Towhees are common birds in my circle.  This female was accommodating and came to my pishing for a photo.

Eastern Towhees are common birds in my circle.  This female was accommodating and came to my pishing for a photo.

 

White-eyed Vireos have been more numerous than ever this year.  And, they are still singing which makes them easy to find them.

White-eyed Vireos have been more numerous than ever this year.  And, they are still singing which makes them easy to find them.

 

Widow Skimmers are a common dragonfly in my area.

Widow Skimmers are a common dragonfly in my area.

 

As a young girl, I played with grasshoppers and I still like them. This one is a Differential Grasshopper, identified by the black chevrons on its "thighs."

As a young girl, I played with grasshoppers and I still like them. This one is a Differential Grasshopper, identified by the black chevrons on its “thighs.”

 

Cicadas, however, are on the short list of insects that I do not like.  I’ve been told that they don’t bite or sting, but they still look evil and freak me out.  

Cicadas, however, are on the short list of insects that I do not like.  I’ve been told that they don’t bite or sting, but they still look evil and freak me out.

 

I'll end with this sweet little fawn that I saw on a misty gray day. White-tailed Deer.

I’ll end with this sweet little fawn that I saw on a misty gray day. White-tailed Deer.

I found 70 species of birds in the first three-week stretch of the Yard Squad Challenge.  The height of migration for my area will be the next three weeks, so I should find new species.  There are several large clumps of Devil’s Walking Stick berries in my backyard that are nearly ripe.  They are always a favorite of tanagers and warblers.  Who will make is easy by just appearing on my deck?

Read Full Post »

On August 5, 2018, I went birding at Lake Waccamaw State Park.  The birds were more scarce than I’d expected, but I finally found Blue Jays and a few other common birds near the Visitor Center.  Why is this even worthy of mention?  Because the park is in Columbus County, the last of North Carolina’s 100 counties in which I have observed birds.  Yep, I’ve now seen birds in every county in my home state.  If you are not a birder, you may still think that this is not worthy of mention and you should stop reading now.

No, these particular birds were not my life Forsyth County Brown-headed Nuthatches, but you weren't going to keep reading without some cute photos, were you?

No, these particular birds were not my life Forsyth County Brown-headed Nuthatches, but you weren’t going to keep reading without some cute photos, were you?

County birding is my favorite of games birders play, but it took a while before I got serious.  In December 2009, eBird introduced county birding to “inspire people to go birding in places that don’t typically get much coverage.”  I am a huge fan of eBird, so I wanted to help with this effort.  I started birding the counties adjacent to Forsyth that didn’t have many checklists.  Sometimes I went alone, but frequently I enlisted friends Carol or Brent to go with me.  We had great fun on our outings and it wasn’t long until Carol and I found a county record Horned Grebe for Stokes County.  It was the first time that anyone had reported the species in that county.

In the County Birding "game," an American Robin counts just as much as a rare bird.

In the County Birding “game,” an American Robin counts just as much as a rare bird.

At some point I became aware that county birding was more than an eBird effort; it was almost a competitive sport.  I discovered that birders in Texas, Florida, California, and a few other states were obsessed with focused on county birding.  And then I met Derek, right here in Forsyth County, who had seen birds in all of North Carolina’s counties.  I started joining him occasionally for a day of birding as he upped his county ticks.  County ticks are simply the sum of one’s life lists for each county in an area (usually a state).  So, if I had seen 200 birds in Forsyth County and 100 birds in Guilford County, I would have 300 county ticks for NC.  It didn’t take many days of birding with Derek until I decided that I, too, wanted to see birds in all of North Carolina’s counties.

Cynthia and I spent a day with this Golden-winged Warbler in Watauga County

Cynthia and I spent a day with this Golden-winged Warbler in Watauga County

I also birded with other friends whenever I had a chance.  One of my favorite county birds was the gorgeous Golden-winged Warbler in the photo above.  My good friend, Cynthia, wrote a guest post on this blog, Golden-winged Wonders, about our experiences with “Andy.”

I am especially grateful for my friend, David, and my son-in-law, Jeff.  David is not a birder, but he understood my craziness and helped me in the western part of the state.  It can be hard to find birds in those small mountainous counties and I was happy to have the company and the help.  Jeff is only a casual birder, but he spent several days with me in the northeast corner of the state searching for birds.

A pretty Hermit Thrush that Jeff and I found in Chowan County.

A pretty Hermit Thrush that Jeff and I found in Chowan County.

I wish that I’d kept notes on every outing, every new milestone, but I did not.  Instead, I have only delightful random memories, like a stream of consciousness.  Please indulge me as I share a few of those memories.

Derek is an excellent birder with the energy that comes from being young.  And, he was willing to go birding with me – a woman with bad eyesight and old enough to be his grandmother.  The love of birds and birding that transcends all other differences is one of the things that I love about the birding community.  But, I digress.

A lovely Cedar Waxwing found on the Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County

A lovely Cedar Waxwing found on the Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County

A typical day of birding with Derek started with meeting around 7:00 AM and driving two to three hours to get to the counties we needed.  Derek is a great planner and he continued to watch bird alerts while I drove.  We birded until dark and then Derek drove on the way home.  Sometimes it was 11:00 PM when I pulled into my driveway.  But, we always had fun and we always got new county birds.

In January 2017, Derek introduced me to the idea of combining county birding and state birding, seeking birds not just new to a particular county, but new for the state.  A rare (for North Carolina) Anna’s Hummingbird had turned up on the coast, inspiring us to make a two-day trip to see this beauty.  We added several new birds for Dare County, including a surprise Brown Thrasher while waiting in line at the Nags Head KFC drive-thru.

The Anna's Hummingbird that Derek and I drove to the NC coast to see

The Anna’s Hummingbird that Derek and I drove to the NC coast to see

Later that year in May, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to see this cooperative Mourning Warbler in Avery County, another state bird for both Derek and me.  This led to stops in Wilkes County, an Alder Flycatcher at a blink-and-you-would-have-missed-it bog on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Burke, and then multiple stops at under-birded hotspots in Mitchell, Yancey, and McDowell counties.  Our favorite location that we discovered that day was the lovely Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County, which I made into an eBird hotspot.

Our lovely Mourning Warbler on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Avery County

Our lovely Mourning Warbler on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Avery County

In addition to finding notable birds, I enjoyed the quirkiness and little surprises of county birding.  Derek and I called it the “wavy road.”  It was as much in the middle of nowhere as any place in NC.  I think we were on a mission to find a Clay-colored Sparrow.  The road was completely level on the middle line, but the edges rose and fell like waves.  Driving the road felt like a ride at an amusement park.  We marveled at the oddity of the road and were happy that it didn’t last too long.  And, yes, we got our bird.

On a day of birding with Hop in Cleveland County, he pished up this Golden-crowned Kinglet.

On a day of birding with Hop in Cleveland County, he pished up this Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Plenty of mistakes were made in my search for new birds, mostly when I was birding alone.  I currently have only one bird for Halifax County even though I spent the night there.  I got confused about the county line and did not even realize where I was!  A more serious mistake occurred when I was birding alone in the Croatan National Forest and became totally lost.  Fortunately, I was able to use the eBird track on my phone to navigate back to my car.  Once on a trip with Derek to the Sandhills area in the middle of summer, I failed to take water on our walk.  When we were almost back to the car, I began to feel sick – very hot and nauseous – so I just lay down on the sand and sent Derek back to the ranger station.  I knew the ranger would come for me in his truck, which he did, and I learned a very valuable lesson.

This young Brown-headed Cowbird appeared to be hot, too, on that sweltering day in Cumberland County.

This young Brown-headed Cowbird appeared to be hot, too, on that sweltering day in Cumberland County.

But, the heat might have been responsible for the wonderful lizards we also found on that hot July day.  Derek and I considered all wildlife sightings a big bonus of county birding.

Eastern Fence Lizard at Carvers Creek State Park, a lifer lizard for me!

Eastern Fence Lizard at Carvers Creek State Park, a lifer lizard for me!

I made even more mistakes finding birds, again usually when I went out on my own.  Many these errors were my poor decisions about which birding hotspots to visit.  A State Recreation Area on a large lake was “Closed for the Season” when I got there in the middle of winter.  Some hotspots no longer had access and some were just about impossible to find.  One location with many great eBird reports appeared to be a road that no one would walk except hunters or crazy young male birders.  I’m pretty brave, but I was not going to park my car on the side of the road and walk alone into the wilderness in a remote, isolated part of the state.

A Great Spangled Fritillary that Derek and I found near Boone in June 2016. We frequently encountered beautiful butterflies while searching for birds.

A Great Spangled Fritillary that Derek and I found near Boone in June 2016. We frequently encountered beautiful butterflies while searching for birds.

As I have written this, more memories keep flooding back.  Looking for Swallow-tailed Kites with Nathan and Sarah.  The Person County Northern Lapwing with David S.  The Brown Booby with Jay.  The Allen’s Hummingbird with Phil and Carol C.  Transylvania County.  Forsyth Audubon and Piedmont Bird Club trips.  I can’t name them all, but I treasure every one of my birding adventures and I am grateful to have shared so many with friends.

My most recently photographed county tick is this Tricolored Heron, right here in Forsyth County, only the second of this species to be observed in our county.  But, I now have an even newer county bird, a Royal Tern that David Disher found at Salem Lake during Hurricane Florence.

My Forsyth County Tricolored Heron

My Forsyth County Tricolored Heron

My eBird map for NC is below.  As you can see, I don’t have many birds in most counties, so I’ll be able to continue the county birding game for quite a while as I add new birds.  I hope to keep birding in North Carolina for a very long time.

Read Full Post »

Cynthia Donaldson and I spent a day with Golden-winged Warblers near Boone, North Carolina, in May.  Here is Cynthia’s story.

The vista from the Audubon NC research site at 4000’ is breathtaking!  The air is clear and clean.  Pale purple hills below roll to the horizon a hundred miles away.  The cool, crisp breeze carries the spring songs of the resident birds as well as the newly arrived migrants.  Shelley and I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful place and observing the intrepid researchers who give their time and talents to a steadily declining jewel of the eastern forest: the Golden-winged Warbler.

View from the Sunalei Preserve clubhouse

View from the Sunalei Preserve clubhouse

Our day began very early on May 13, 2014.  We met in the New Market parking lot in Boone NC at 5:30 AM. Four young people in their early 20’s greeted us with sleepy cheerfulness: Anna Tisdale (Audubon NC’s Graduate Research Assistant at Appalachian State University and field crew leader), Alex Dawson (returning for his second year of working with the warblers), Lee Williams (coordinator of the Forsyth Audubon Brown-headed Nuthatch nest box project and new addition to the NC Audubon team) and Jennifer Tucker (on day two of her internship).

Our first stop was a country market for coffee.  The second stop was at a NC game land. Anna played the Golden-winged Warbler tape at a possible habitat, but no one answered. She did not get a response at a second site either, but as soon as we got out of the car at Sunalei Preserve, near the summit of Snake Mountain, we could hear the Golden-winged Warbler bee-buzz-buzz-buzz coming from three different directions!

The vision of Sunalei Preserve is to develop a community of homes, each on several acres, within a nature preserve.  It’s 1,000 acres straddle the North Carolina and Tennessee border near Boone, NC.  Because of the recession, most of the land is undeveloped and prime Golden-winged Warbler habitat.  The owners of the preserve have graciously given Audubon access to this area for research.

"Andy," a male second-year Golden-winged Warbler

“Andy,” a male second-year Golden-winged Warbler

On this beautiful May morning, Anna told us about the three Sunalei males who were busy defending their newly defined territories.  Anna is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently a graduate student at Appalachian State University.  The important data that she is gathering will be used for her own master’s project as well as North Carolina’s Golden-winged Warbler work in a regional study with other members of the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group.  The work involves gathering data about the demographics, genetics, behavior, productivity, and wintering distribution of the species.  Curtis Smalling, Director of Land Bird Conservation for Audubon North Carolina, directs North Carolina’s Golden-winged Warbler work.  Beginning her second year on this site, Anna is an expert on anything golden-winged.  Her passion for her work was apparent as she explained each step of the sometimes tedious, usually grueling, but always rewarding job.

Shelley and I wanted a taste of field work, so Anna gave us some assignments and then led us to the field of Golden-winged Warbler #2.  Pink tape and Sharpie in hand, we followed her to the territory of this second-year male.  He was new to Sunalei meaning he had never been banded.  Our job was to spot map his territory (define the boundary) with a goal of making 10 marks or points.  Our intrepid leader then left Shelley and me to our assignment.  Shelley recorded perch time data from the upper slope near one of the Golden-winged Warblers’s favorite tulip poplar perches.  I followed him around, recording song type and perch time info on the pink tape, and then tying the tape to each tree that he visited.  The hill was covered with horrendous briars, so I stuck to deer trails as much as I could!  When I first met Anna, I wondered why her arms were completely covered with scratches…..

Recording the song type was easy because he sang his typical song for the hour or so that we studied him.  Anna returned around 9:00 AM from her census of the other territories to check our work.  Content with our points, she began setting up the mist net.  She shared her future hopes and plans for the project as she pounded the poles into the ground (with a rock) and then stretched the net.  The net was carefully assembled on a flat area in the shade of the favored tulip polar.  Hopefully, the grays of the shadow would disguise the folds of the net gently rippling in the breeze.

"Andy" sporting his silver US Geologic Survey band and the light blue color band selected by Cynthia. Hot pink and purple bands adorn his other leg.

“Andy” sporting his silver US Geologic Survey band and the light blue color band selected by Cynthia. Hot pink and purple bands adorn his other leg.

Her plan worked beautifully.  In less than a minute of playing the recording of a Golden-winged Warbler song, our male flew right in.  Anna was quick to untangle him and put him in a drawstring bag for a little rest.  After laying out all of her banding equipment, she took him out of the bag and we got our first up-close look at this tiny creation!  This .28 ounce male tried to wiggle free every chance he could, but he did not have a chance in Anna’s trained hands.  She expertly measured his beak, wings, and tail.  His silver band bears a 10 digit number that I wish I had written down.  Shelley and I got to choose colors for two of his marker bands:  Shelley chose purple and I chose light blue.  All of Anna’s birds have a hot pink band.  The combination of colors on the legs will identify this male for the rest of his life.  The retrieving of a few feathers and some blood for scientific analysis was (I like to think) more painful for Shelley and me than for him!  When the process was over, I got to hold him and put him in the plastic cylinder for weighing.

Cynthia and "Andy," a second-year male Golden-winged Warbler

Cynthia and “Andy,” a second-year male Golden-winged Warbler

As soon as Anna tipped the cylinder, he flew out, landed for a millisecond and then dove into a thicket.  We tried to find him to assess how he had fared in his ordeal, but he was nowhere to be found.  Lightly concerned, we had no choice but to pack up and return to our cars.  By then, the sun was high on this unusually warm day and we were ready for some refreshment.

After lunch, I went with Anna to a site on the opposite side of the hill to see if we could find a Golden-winged Warbler nest.  The project goal is to find 50 nests!  The male of this territory had a mate, so it was possible that they could have a nest.  Through binoculars, we could see the band color pattern that identified him.  We observed the pair for about an hour as they foraged on the Cherry trees.  Anna marked each tree as we followed them around their territory.  A “new” male flew in for a look-around.  Anna went after him into a lower field and returned excited that this un-banded male might be a new “neighbor.”  She considered catching him, but decided to save him for another day.  Since we did not observe any nesting behavior, like nest material gathering, Anna called it a day.

Shelley and I were allowed to give our bird a name.  As we followed Anna in our car to our next destination, which was the gorgeous club house for the property, Shelley and I came up with the name Andy.  “An” was for Anna and for me, Cynthia “Anne,” and “dy” was for Shelley “Dee.”  Perfect.

Just then, Anna jumped out of her car, doing a dance of joy!  We stopped our car and hurried to find out what she was so happy about.  We were passing the north edge of Andy’s territory, and he was singing!  Just to be sure it was him, Anna played the Golden-winged Warbler song.  He flew in for a moment, singing his warning song, and then flew back down the hill to one of his favorite perches.  As he flew, we had a great look at his pink, purple and light-blue bands!  He was going to be fine.

Perched atop a tulip poplar near the summit of Snake Mountain, Andy, “our” Golden-winged Warbler, scans his briar-covered slope and the smoky-hazed North Carolina and Tennessee mountains below.  Hopefully he will find a female, raise a brood and then leave to fly to warm South America in the fall.  Will he return next spring?  Time will tell.  Anna promised to let us know.  For now, this golden-winged wonder will spend the summer here, in the idyllic setting of Sunalei Preserve.

"Andy," a male second-year Golden-winged Warbler

“Andy,” a male second-year Golden-winged Warbler

Many thanks to Cynthia for writing the above story and allowing me to publish it. Golden-winged Warblers populations have declined sharply (estimated at over 75%) since the 1960’s and it has been petitioned for placement on the Endangered Species List.  The Golden-winged Warbler Working Group is the umbrella organization for conservation efforts.  Cornell provides some interesting facts about this bird.  And, read about the Audubon NC work that Curtis Smalling is heading up here and here.

 

Read Full Post »