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Posts Tagged ‘Cape May Warbler’

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).

 

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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.

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