Annual Great Backyard Bird Count Is this Month

i Feb 3rd No Comments by

Making your hearth a home for Chimney Swifts!

i Mar 23rd No Comments by

By Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member

Birdwatchers in North Carolina’s Piedmont should be on the lookout for the eminent return of Chimney Swifts from their wintering range in Amazon South America. Historically, Swifts nested in hollow snags across eastern North America but quickly took to residential chimneys as a replacement, from whence their common name is derived. The birds are actually quite nice to have around for homeowners as they feed on thousands of small and annoying flying insects per day.

Unfortunately, chimney caps and screens have become more prevalent as some homeowners either don’t want swifts nesting on their property or don’t understand that caps can have an effect on locally nesting swifts. But by taking a few steps you can easily encourage swifts to come to your own chimney where you can enjoy them all summer. And besides, you weren’t using your chimney in the heat anyway, were you?

Wake Audubon member Erla Beegle has put together some tips borne of experience; she fledged 3 chicks in her chimney last summer!

Chimney Swift Checklist:

– Do you have a suitable chimney? (brick inside – not slippery metal or porcelain, and a “cap” that can be easily removed. Any chimney eight feet or taller is high enough. )

– BEFORE YOU REMOVE THE CAP: Call a chimney cleaning company before late April and get the chimney cleaned out! (Dirty chimneys can lead to nest failure, as the nest can break off with a big flake of creosote when the babies get big)

– Get the metal lid (“cap”) off your chimney before late April (save the cap for the winter). The cleaning company might remove it for you for a small fee, or ask a contractor, if you do not want to climb onto the roof.

– Keep the flue CLOSED during the nesting season (just in case a baby swift has to climb back up.)

– Do NOT use the chimney during the nesting season (gas fireplace owners: put a sign on the switch so guests do not make that mistake! I put a sign on the flue handle for my wood-burning fireplace.)

– If you are lucky enough to have a pair of swifts in your chimney: Congratulations! You will hear peeping and chattering for several weeks (any time in May and June). This wonderful sound can be quite loud, and goes on from dawn to dusk. Turn up the radio and you won’t notice it. They are quiet once the sun goes down.

– There’s only one pair of swifts per chimney, and it will be their home all spring and summer. The parents and “kids” may roost in your chimney throughout the late summer, so keep the cap off until late fall.

– To keep your insurance company happy: re-attach the chimney cap in late fall before you start using the fireplace again. The cap prevents sparks from landing on the roof.

Thank you for opening your hearth to swifts!

Peregrine Falcon nests in western North Carolina

i Nov 9th No Comments by

Attempts to re-introduce nesting Peregrine Falcons to western North Carolina continue to be successful.  Beginning in 1984 with the release of four captive bred falcons, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission hacked (captive bred and released) Peregrine Falcons in several sites in Appalachian North Carolina through 1997.  Western North Carolina has several sites suited for the birds, with many steep, exposed rock faces that the species prefers.

Since then, NCWRC staff and volunteers have located several potential nesting spots and monitored them every year for Falcon breeding activity, recording the number of wild fledged young when the Falcons do nest successfully.  While Peregrine Falcon has been delisted from the Federal Endangered Species list, due to significant increases in the western part of the species’ North American range, it’s still protected by the state of North Carolina and remains an uncommon breeder in the Appalachians of North Carolina.

Here’s a summary of 2010 peregrine falcon nest results for North Carolina as reported by Chris Kelly of the NCWRC.  Many are great spots for birders who want to get a look at the birds too!

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) , photo from Steve Spitzer, used with permission

* 10 of the 13 “known” territories were occupied this year.  Falcons were not found at Moore’s Wall, Buzzard’s Roost, or Shortoff Mountain.
* 2 “new” pairs were found this year: Pickens Nose and Victory Wall.
* Nest success improved:  58%. Seven of 12 nesting pairs were successful in raising young.
* Productivity improved: 1.25 nestlings/pair (based on 15 nestlings from 12 nesting pairs).
* Second year females were found at three sites: Big Lost Cove, Grandfather Mountain, and NC Wall.  The female at Grandfather Mtn was banded; first instance of a banded PEFA found nesting in western NC.  Her state of origin could not be determined.

Here are the detailed site summaries:

Big Lost Cove (Avery County)
* Result:  nest failure
* Observations:  The female was a sub-adult based on plumage.
* History:  Falcons were first discovered at this site in 1997 and have reared nine chicks. They were successful for four of the first five years and were successful in 2008-09.

Hickory Nut Gorge (Rutherford County)
* Result:  Two (2) fledglings.
* Observations:  Nesting activity observed at Blue Rock early in season, then they were not often seen. Reece Mitchell observed fledglings in early June. Based on activity and white wash, suspect the birds nested at Blue Rock, approx 1 mi up the gorge from Chimney Rock.
* History:  First successful nest since 1990.

Devil’s Courthouse (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Nest failure
* Observations:  Pair on territory.
* History:  The pair at Devil’s Courthouse has been successful eight of the last eleven years, raising a total of 14 chicks. This cliff is a popular tourist attraction on the Blue Ridge Parkway and an easy place for birders to get a good view of the falcons’ breeding activities.

Grandfather Mountain (Avery County)
* Result:  unknown
* Observations:  Second year, banded female on territory with adult male. Active at usual nest ledge, but not clear if they nested.
* History:  Grandfather Mountain is very remote with plenty of rock faces. A total of 9 chicks have been raised here.

Hanging Rock State Park (Stokes County)
* Result:  Unoccupied
* Observations:  Falcons were not observed during two four-hour observation sessions, along with several shorter observation sessions throughout the winter and spring.
* History:  Falcons returned to Hanging Rock in 2007 after a three year absence and have been successful three times (2001, 2007, and 2008) raising at least three chicks. The falcons face considerable competition from the many ravens and vultures in the area.

Shortoff Mountain (Linville Gorge, Burke County)
* Result:  unoccupied
* Observations:  Falcons were seen on just one occasion near the nest ledge.
* History: A pair has been in the gorge at NC Wall, Shortoff, or Gold Coast every year since reintroduction began.  Although falcons were largely unsuccessful at first, they have produced 24 fledglings in the past eleven years.

North Carolina Wall (Linville Gorge, Burke County)
* Result:  Nest failure
* Observations:  Second year female and adult male on territory.
* History:  North Carolina Wall is the site of the earliest post-reintroduction nesting attempts in Linville Gorge (1987-2000). NC Wall and Shortoff Mtn are now the two closest known nesting sites, less than three miles apart.

Looking Glass (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Three (3) fledglings.
* Observations:  Following a few years of nest failure, this site was successful this year.
* History:  In 1957, Looking Glass hosted the last known pair of falcons before the species was extirpated from North Carolina. A total of 31 chicks have fledged here, including 19 in the past eleven years.

Panthertail Mountain (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Two (2) nestlings.
* History:  Falcons were first successful at Panthertail in 1995. Since then, 29 chicks have fledged from this site.

Buzzard’s Roost (Pigeon River Gorge, Haywood County)
* Result:  unoccupied
* Observations:  Due to the I-40 rock slide closure, the first opportunity to visit the site was in May, late in the nesting season. Falcons were not observed on two visits, though there was fresh white wash.
* History:  In 2004, a pair established a territory but nesting was not documented.

White Rock (Madison County)
* Result: Two (2) fledglings
* Observations:  New nest ledge on the right side of the cliff.
* History:  The female was a sub-adult in 2008 and had the distinct blond wash of a young bird in 2009.

Whiteside Mountain (Jackson County)
* Result:  Two (2) fledglings
* Observations:  New nest ledge on right side of the cliff.
* History:  This enormous cliff has been the most successful peregrine falcon breeding site in North Carolina since 1984. A total of 45 chicks (28 in the past ten years) have fledged at Whiteside.

Dunn’s Rock (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Nest failure
* Observations:  Pair on territory. Lots of vulture activity near the eyrie.
* History:  The pair nested successfully in 2007.

Chris also checked a few secondary sites this year. These are sites where there is decent cliff nesting habitat, but no records (recently or ever) of nesting peregrines.

Pickens Nose (Macon County)
* Result:  Minimum two (2) fledglings
* Observations:  No clear view of the eyrie.  Adults active at site all spring. Could hear at least two young calling.  Later observed one fledgling at a time flying.
* History:  A birder reported PEFAs at this site in 2009.  Pickens Nose was historically used as a hack site during PEFA reintroductions.

Victory Wall (Haywood County)
* Result:  Two (2) nestlings.
* Observations: Two young observed in nest before leaves blocked view.
* History:  Falcons were observed nesting here in the 1990s, then moved to Devil’s Courthouse. In June 2009, NCWRC observed an adult PEFA on territory, but it was too late in the season to determine if nesting had taken place.


i Oct 5th No Comments by

From Nathan Swick and cross-posted on The Drinking Bird.

Up until the last week or so I’d been feeling that our fall migration was mostly a bust. Between the lingering summer temperatures and the weather systems conspiring to hold birds up in parts farther north, I was worried that the whole of fall migration would blow past us on a day when I was otherwise indisposed, building and moving past me all too fast, more like the frantic sprint of spring than the long easy jog we’re usually familiar with around here. I needn’t have really concerned myself; the nature of fall migration means the birds are more apathetic about moving, more keen to take in the sights, and I would eventually get my fall warblers even if it ended up taking an extra week or two for them to make their way to where I am.

It’s a battle I end up having to fight with myself every fall. Maybe one of these years the compulsive need, the small-scale zugunruhe that more than drives me outdoors, but makes every glance at the treetops mildly anxiety ridden, will subside. But maybe I don’t want it too either. The quarry is warblers, and around here the fall offers more variety and numbers that you can get in spring. From late August to mid-October, nearly anything is possible, but where and when they are is a crapshoot.

I had headed to Ebenezer Point Recreational Area on Jordan Lake hoping that warblers would be on the agenda. This park is well known for its impressive views of the reservoir itself, which is great for scanning the water for waterfowl and gulls in the winter, but the inlets and peninsulas make for excellent land birding in the fall as well. Songbirds are reluctant to cross open water, even if it’s no more than a couple hundred meters across, so birds tend to pile up in the north side of the lake shore until they reach critical mass, and all burst across the water in one loose flock of warblers. It’s the same principle that makes a place like Magee Marsh on the shore of Lake Eire so productive in the spring, but writ tiny. Instead of thousands of birds, it’s dozens, but still enough to make a morning. I was banking on the recent cold bringing northwest winds to put the warblers on the move.


Local Bird Strike

i Nov 9th No Comments by

In the news today a “Chicken Hawk”  struck a Duke Medical Helicopter.  Fortunatley no humans were hurt.  However what exactly is a Chicken Hawk, anyway?

Marvelous Martins!

i Jul 29th No Comments by

Over the weekend 20 of us went down to view the Purple Martins that roost under the William B Umstead Bridge, which is the “old” Hwy 64 bridge to Manteo from Wanchese.  Between June and September, over 100,000 Purple Martins, from as far away as Virginia spend the nights here before migrating down to South American for the winter. During the day the birds eat insects as they soar over the surrounding islands and farms.

Watching the birds arrive at the roost at night is quite a spectacle: clouds of Martins flying in from all directions!  The noise is amazing as they arrange themselves on the I-beams below the bridge.  One of the reasons this is such a popular roost is because its above water, which prevents many predators from getting the birds.

The bridge has special flashing speed limit signs warning motorists to slow down for the birds (though sadly, many people do not).   There are hopes that  maybe a fence can be put up.  Dare county is going to build a viewing platform at the Wanchese end of the bridge for folks to watch the birds from.

For more information, check out The Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society’s webpage.  Thanks to everyone who came on the trip this weekend!

Purple Martin nestling banding 6/11!

i Jun 3rd No Comments by

FIELD TRIP: Bird Monitoring on the Lumber River-VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!!!!
Where: Lumber River State Park
What: Come help with our bird count at our adopted Important Bird Area ( No experience necessary! We especially need folks who can help keep tallies and keep time for the counters. If you can bird by ear, we need YOU!
When: Friday, June 5, 2009-Sunday, June 7, 2009
Meet either in Raleigh around 3pm on Friday or in Lumberton for dinner. Volunteers can either camp at Lumber River State Park or stay at a local motel. We will get back to Raleigh around 4pm on Sunday. Contact Richard for more details!
Leader: Richard Brown
Contact Info:

June 11:
Where: NCSU University Club, 4200 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, NC
What: Come and see the banding of the babies! Wake Audubon Society, along with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the Purple Martin Conservation Association will be banding baby martins.
When: Thursday, June 11, 2009, 7:00 am
Contact Info: Tim Francis