Authored by Erik Thomas and Liling Warren. All photos by Liling.
On March 27, board members Erik Thomas and Liling Warren traveled to Robeson County to conduct some bird counts. The bird counts were for two projects, monitoring of the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA) and the NC Bird Atlas. The Lumber River IBA has pre-designated stops along local roads at which counters list all birds seen or heard within a ten-minute period, with notes on how far away each bird was and when during the ten-minute period the bird made itself known. All of these stops lie in the lower part of the watershed of the Lumber River. The NC Bird Atlas, conversely, has all of North Carolina divided into rectangular blocks of land whose edges are several miles long. The aim of the NC Bird Atlas is to document breeding and wintering birds found in each block. One sixth of all the blocks are designated as “priority blocks,” those in which a more concerted effort is to be made in order to complete a thorough inventory of birds that dwell there. Observations of breeding behaviors are especially important. The ten-minute time limit does not apply to NC Bird Atlas counts. However, counting for the NC Bird Atlas will take place from March, 2021, through February, 2026, whereas the Lumber River IBA is a continuous project with no set termination.
The two counters spent the morning counting at Lumber River IBA sites. Because these spots all lie in bottomland areas, the birds that occur there are those that occur near water, along rivers or in swamps. We found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest, frescoed with lichens as is typical of that species. White-eyed Vireos were already back from the tropics and singing. We did exceptionally well with warblers, coming across eight species: Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Pine, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, and Prairie. It was surprising to see Prothonotary Warblers so early in the spring, but apparently they now reach the southern part of the state, where Robeson County is situated, in late March.
In the afternoon, we shifted to counting on upland sites for the NC Bird Atlas. Chipping Sparrows and Eastern Bluebirds were plentiful. We also encountered a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes and a Horned Lark. The most exciting find of the day, however, was a Swallow-tailed Kite that was heading northward as we stood in the Marietta Cemetery. Swallow-tailed Kites are magnificent birds—and virtually impossible to mistake. You can enjoy some of Liling Warren’s fine camera work of the kite and other birds here. For the entire day, we completed 21 counts, 10 of which were at Lumber River IBA sites. We entered all 21 in the NC Bird Atlas, and of those, 12 were in priority blocks.
authored by Erik Thomas
On June 15, I conducted some bird counts at the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA), which the Wake Audubon Society monitors. Counting consists of stopping for ten minutes at designated spots and making a record of all birds seen or heard. All of the sites in the Lumber River IBA are wetland habitats. This time, however, I decided to do something a little different. I counted at six of the designated sites along Ashpole Swamp, which parallels the South Carolina border a few miles away, and six other spots at nearby upland sites that are not designated locations.
The contrast in birdlife between the bottomland sites and the upland sites was striking. Down in the bottomlands, birds of wooded swamps were plentiful. I heard Yellow-billed Cuckoos at several sites, Red-shouldered Hawks at a few, and various kinds of woodpeckers. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were easy to find, and I heard—but only occasionally saw—quite a few Carolina Wrens and some Acadian Flycatchers. Prothonotary Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Yellow-throated Warblers were actively defending territories. Here and there a White-eyed Vireo chattered. There was even a flock of Wood Storks passing overhead.
Just up the hill from the swamp, however, the birds changed dramatically. Three members of the icterid family—the Eastern Meadowlark, Orchard Oriole, and Red-winged Blackbird—appeared there. Indigo Buntings were singing at several spots, and Northern Mockingbirds guarded yards throughout. Mourning Doves sat on power lines or flew by nearly everywhere. Cattle Egrets were attending a group of steers at one site and a Chipping Sparrow was singing heartily at another. Most impressively, a congregation of Mississippi Kites—I counted nine, but there may have been more—was sailing over some fields.
If you’d like to see more details, I’ve uploaded all the counts I did to eBird. One additional sighting I had was a series of realtor signs in Ashpole Swamp. It seems that most of the swamp is for sale. It’s too wet to develop for housing (fortunately!), but logging interests may want to pounce on it. It would be desirable if the state or an environmental organization could acquire this valuable and extensive habitat, perhaps to be added to Lumber River State Park at some future date.
Authored by John Gerwin
A significant element of the Nicaragua economy is based on coffee exports. Based on numerous surveys, a significant number of birds thrive among the vegetation found in traditional coffee farms and there are many such farms in northern Nicaragua. On a traditional farm, the coffee bushes are planted under the canopy of taller trees. Those trees can be a broad mix of native species, or a mix of native and fruit/nut bearing trees, or even a single species. Although a forest consisting of a mix of native species is preferred, even one of only a layer of the Flowering Inga can provide food and “lodging” for a suite of birds. And of course, coffee growing/harvesting/processing is a form of agriculture, and this suite of activities yields employment for many people.
One of those jobs is the “cortador”, or harvester; a.k.a coffee picker. Well, the person is not picking “coffee” but rather, coffee beans. And technically, coffee fruit, called a “cherry” because the typical fruit is a bright red color when it is mature. Finca Esperanza Verde is located in the north-central highlands of Nicaragua. In these parts, the coffee cherries mature between December to mid-February. Some bushes will continue to yield ripe fruit into early March, at higher elevations. The cherries on a given bush do not all ripen at once. Thus, pickers will re-visit bushes several times during the harvest season.
Another critical element of life here is the machete. In Spanish, the verb
“cortar” also means to cut. Here our Young Naturalists learn the importance of knowing homonyms (“twin” words).
On a traditional coffee farm, the cherries are picked by hand. In some places, the pickers cheat a bit and strip all the cherries off, discarding unripened ones. This is a bad technique for two reasons. It wastes those unripened fruits that would continue to ripen if left on the bush; and it damages the stem where the cherry had been attached and this can cause that part of the bush to not fruit again. So, on a farm that is designated, or strives to be, sustainable, pickers are not allowed to use that technique. Each farm employs a “coffee manager” who oversees how the picking is done and how it is proceeding each year, which ensures compliance. At FEV, a coffee cherry is picked, one by one. As you can imagine, this is a laborious process.
In this photo of coffee cherries, red are ripe, green or ‘reddish’ are still ripening.
To get a sense of just how laborious, I asked Vanessa and Olivia to give it
a try one morning. We set out with Luis, the resident coffee “mandador” on a bright sunny morning in mid January. Luis helped them attach the baskets around their waists that local pickers use. Two sizes can be found – the women got a size that holds about 15 pounds of coffee cherries. With baskets tied around their waists followed by a quick introduction to picking, it was time to get to work. Each spent the next hour tugging, pulling, and twisting away.
When a basket is full, a worker will empty it and return to pick more. At the end of a day, her coffee haul is weighed and she is paid for the day. In the Matagalpa region and provinces to the north, most of the pickers are women. Different folks have told me that the women have better dexterity and concentration. And as is the case in most cultures, their focus is on providing for the family. Pickers may move around a province, or remain in a smaller area, perhaps working a few farms. But the work is considered “migratory”. Often, women bring their children along (there is no school in January; also a Fair Trade certified farm cannot allow children at all). When a social cproblem arises among a group of pickers it tends to be testosterone-driven, exacerbated by alcohol abuse. Thus, overall, women are preferred.
Thus, I felt it was best to just have Vanessa and Olivia do the picking while I watched and took photographs……. I’m sure you would all agree.
Our Young Naturalists now hard at work (yet still smiling)
A skilled picker will pick enough coffee cherries to yield 130-160 pounds. In January of 2017, a picker will receive 200 cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) for 130 pounds picked, which is nearly $7 USD at this time. And so, after one hour, Vanessa and Olivia ended their coffee-picking session and it was time to weight the fruits of their labors.
So how did our industrious Young Naturalists fare? Will they earn enough to eat dinner tonight? More importantly, will they earn enough to feed their mentor Juancito dinner tonight?
Each picked about 3 ½ pounds. After doing some complicated math, we come to the realization that we will all be going to bed hungry tonight. They have each earned about $0.10 in one hour, so if they were to work a 10-hour day, they would each get $1 USD. Of course, with enough time, practice, and putting their deXXterity and concentration into play, I’m sure they would soon be up to the more livable $7 USD/day. That is livable right? Parents’ wishes notwithstanding, I ask each if they would like to come back and be a seasonal coffee picker, or go home and on to college – for now, they will go to college. It’s nice to have such choices.
Picking coffee fruit is only the beginning of a very detailed, laborious, multi-multistep process in getting fresh beans to your local roaster. I won’t go into all those details (you can find a lot written and described online). Suffice it to say, to produce really good coffee beans requires a lot of hands-on work, with an eye towards minutiae. Good coffee is expensive and I understand why. I wish the people in Nicaragua were paid more, but that’s how the market works. In the end, I’m grateful for the opportunity to enjoy good coffee, and the birds I love (both at home and in the tropics). And once/year visit my second family here at Finca Esperanza Verde (Green Hope Farm).
John Gerwin is Treasurer of Wake Audubon and
Research Curator, Ornithology, NC Museum of Natural Sciences
All photos are by John.
Authored by Jeff Beane
Date: 10-11 May 2016
Team: Jeff Beane, Ed Corey, Bob Davis, John Finnegan, Stephanie Horton (“24-Hour Dream Team”) [Also, Nathan Shepard set minnow traps for us in the Sandhills on Tuesday, resulting in three species we did not encounter otherwise.] Species counted: Vertebrates
Time spent: 24 hrs. We officially began our count at 8:11 a.m. on 10 May and ended at 8:11 a.m. on 11 May. Beane, Corey, and Davis participated for the entire 24 hours; Finnegan and Horton participated for about the first 8-9 hours and rejoined us for about the last 2 hours.
Area covered: Our search included portions of Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, Moore, New Hanover, Pender, Richmond, Robeson, and Scotland counties, NC. We began at 1208 Canal Drive (ca. 1.0 airmi. NNE Carolina Beach) in New Hanover County and ended on the Sandhills Game Lands (ca. 5.2 airmi. NW of Marston) in Richmond County.
Weather: Mostly sunny to partly cloudy with a high temperature around 90F and lows in the low 60sF. Techniques: Most species were observed via visual and auditory searches, while walking and driving. Binoculars and a spotting scope were used to assist in viewing many species. Several species were taken in dipnets, a 12-ft. seine, and minnow traps; and several were found by turning natural and artificial surface cover. Several species were observed only as road-kills or otherwise dead specimens; these are noted by an asterisk (*).
Lepisosteus osseus Longnose Gar
Amia calva Bowfin
Brevoortia tyrannus Atlantic Menhaden *
Umbra pygmaea Eastern Mudminnow
Esox americanus Redfin Pickerel
Esox niger Chain Pickerel
Notropis maculatus Tailllight Shiner
Notropis petersoni Coastal Shiner
Cyprinodon variegatus Sheepshead Minnow
Fundulus heteroclitus Mummichog
Fundulus lineolatus Lined Topminnow
Fundulus majalis Striped Killifish
Lucania parva Rainwater Killifish
Gambusia holbrooki Eastern Mosquitofish
Heterandria formosa Least Killifish
Poecilia latipinna Sailfin Molly
Aphredoderus sayanus Pirate Perch
Chologaster cornuta Swampfish
Pomatomus saltatrix Bluefish *
Opsanus tau Oyster Toadfish *
Labidesthes [sicculus] vanhyningi Southern Brook Silverside
Chaenobryttus gulosus Warmouth
Enneacanthus chaetodon Black-banded Sunfish
Enneacanthus gloriosus Blue-spotted Sunfish
Enneacanthus obesus Banded Sunfish
Lepomis macrochirus Bluegill
Lepomis marginatus Dollar Sunfish
Lepomis microlophus Redear Sunfish
Micropterus salmoides Largemouth Bass
Elassoma boehlkei Carolina Pygmy Sunfish
Elassoma evergladei Everglades Pygmy Sunfish
Etheostoma olmstedi Tessellated Darter
Perca flavescens Yellow Perch
Lagodon rhomboides Pinfish
Leiostomus xanthurus Spot
Menticirrhus americanus Southern Kingfish *
Micropogonias undulatus Atlantic Croaker
Mugil curema White Mullet
Eleotris pisonis Spinycheek Sleeper
Scomberomorus cavalla King Mackerel *
Scomberomorus maculatus Spanish Mackerel
Necturus punctatus Dwarf Waterdog
Amphiuma means Two-toed Amphiuma
Notophthalmus viridescens Eastern Newt
Eurycea n. sp. “Sandhills Eurycea”
Bufo [Anaxyrus] terrestris Southern Toad
Acris gryllus Southern Cricket Frog
Hyla chrysoscelis Cope’s Gray Treefrog
Hyla cinerea Green Treefrog
Hyla femoralis Pine Woods Treefrog
Hyla gratiosa Barking Treefrog
Hyla squirella Squirrel Treefrog
Pseudacris crucifer Spring Peeper
Pseudacris ocularis Little Grass Frog
Gastrophryne carolinensis Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad
Rana catesbeiana [Lithobates catesbeianus] American Bullfrog
Rana [Lithobates] clamitans Green Frog
Rana sphenocephala [Lithobates sphenocephalus] Southern Leopard Frog
Rana [Lithobates] virgatipes Carpenter Frog
Reptiles (including crocodilians and chelonians)
Alligator mississippiensis American Alligator
Chelydra serpentina Common Snapping Turtle *
Kinosternon baurii Striped Mud Turtle
Sternotherus odoratus Eastern Musk Turtle
Deirochelys reticularia Eastern Chicken Turtle
Pseudemys concinna River Cooter
Trachemys scripta Yellow-bellied Slider
Dermochelys coriacea Leatherback
Anolis carolinensis Green Anole
Sceloporus undulatus Fence Lizard
Cnemidophorus sexlineatus [Aspidoscelis sexlineata] Six-lined Racerunner
Eumeces [Plestiodon] inexpectatus Southeastern Five-lined Skink Eumeces [Plestiodon] laticeps Broadhead Skink
Scincella lateralis Ground Skink
Ophisaurus ventralis Eastern Glass Lizard
Coluber constrictor Black Racer
Diadophis punctatus Ring-necked Snake
Elaphe guttata [=Pantherophis guttatus] Corn Snake *
Elaphe obsoleta [=Pantherophis obsoletus, etc.] Rat Snake *
Farancia abacura Mud Snake
Nerodia fasciata Banded Water Snake *
Nerodia taxispilota Brown Water Snake
Storeria occipitomaculata Red-bellied Snake
Tantilla coronata Southeastern Crowned Snake
Agkistrodon contortrix Copperhead *
Aix sponsa Wood Duck
Anas platyrhynchos Mallard
Branta canadensis Canada Goose
Colinus virginianus Northern Bobwhite *
Meleagris gallopavo Wild Turkey
Gavia immer Common Loon
Morus bassanus Northern Gannet
Phalacrocorax auritus Double-crested Cormorant
Anhinga anhinga Anhinga
Pelecanus occidentalis Brown Pelican
Ardea alba Great Egret
Ardea herodias Great Blue Heron
Butorides virescens Green Heron
Egretta caerulea Little Blue Heron
Egretta thula Snowy Egret
Egretta tricolor Tricolored Heron
Nyctanassa violacea Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Eudocimus albus White Ibis
Plegadis falcinellus Glossy Ibis
Cathartes aura Turkey Vulture
Pandion haliaetus Osprey
Buteo lineatus Red-shouldered Hawk
Circus cyaneus Northern Harrier
Haliaeetus leucocephalus Bald Eagle
Rallus elgans King Rail
Rallus longirostris Clapper Rail
Charadrius semipalmatus Semipalmated Plover
Charadrius vociferus Killdeer
Charadrius wilsonia Wilson’s Plover
Pluvialis squatarola Black-bellied Plover
Haematopus palliatus American Oystercatcher
Arenaria interpres Ruddy Turnstone
Actitis macularia Spotted Sandpiper
Calidris alba Sanderling
Calidris alpina Dunlin
Calidris mauri Western Sandpiper
Calidris minutilla Least Sandpiper
Calidris pusilla Semipalmated Sandpiper
Limnodromus griseus Short-billed Dowitcher
Numenius phaeopus Whimbrel
Tringa melanoleuca Greater Yellowlegs
Tringa semipalmata Willet
Tringa solitaria Solitary Sandpiper
Larus argentatus Herring Gull
Larus delawarensis Ring-billed Gull
Larus marinus Great Black-backed Gull
Leucophaeus [Larus] atricilla Laughing Gull
Gelochelidon [Sterna] nilotica Gull-billed Tern
Rhynchops niger Black Skimmer
Sterna forsteri Forster’s Tern
Sternula antillarum Least Tern
Thalasseus maximus [Sterna maxima] Royal Tern
Thalasseus [Sterna] sandvicensis Sandwich Tern
Columba livia Rock Pigeon
Streptopelia decaocto Eurasian Collared-Dove
Zenaida macroura Mourning Dove
Coccyzus americanus Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Strix varia Barred Owl
Caprimulgus carolinensis Chuck-Will’s-Widow
Caprimulgus vociferus Whip-Poor-Will
Chordeiles minor Common Nighthawk
Chaetura pelagica Chimney Swift
Archilochus colubris Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Megaceryle alcyon Belted Kingfisher
Colaptes auratus Northern Flicker
Dryocopus pileatus Pileated Woodpecker
Melanerpes carolinus Red-bellied Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus Red-headed Woodpecker
Picoides borealis Red-cockaded Woopecker
Picoides pubescens Downy Woodpecker
Picoides villosus Hairy Woodpecker
Contopus virens Eastern Wood-Pewee
Empidonax virescens Acadian Flycatcher
Myiarchus crinitus Great Crested Flycatcher
Sayornis phoebe Eastern Phoebe
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
Corvus ossifragus Fish Crow
Cyanocitta cristata Blue Jay
Hirundo rustica Barn Swallow
Progne subis Purple Martin
Stelgidopteryx serripennis Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow
Baeolophus bicolor Tufted Titmouse
Poecile carolinensis Carolina Chickadee
Sitta pusilla Brown-headed Nuthatch
Cistothorus palustris Marsh Wren
Thryothorus ludovicianus Carolina Wren
Polioptila caerulea Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Catharus ustulatus Swainson’s Thrush
Hylocichla mustelina Wood Thrush
Sialia sialis Eastern Bluebird
Turdus migratorius American Robin
Dumetella carolinensis Gray Catbird
Mimus polyglottos Northern Mockingbird
Toxostoma rufum Brown Thrasher
Sturnus vulgaris European Starling
Bombycilla cedrorum Cedar Waxwing
Cardellina canadensis Canada Warbler
Geothlypis formosa KentuckyWarbler
Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat
Icteria virens Yellow-breasted Chat
Limnothlypis swainsonii Swainson’s Warbler
Mniotilta varia Black-and-White Warbler
Parkesia motacilla Louisiana Waterthrush
Protonotaria citrea Prothonotary Warbler
Seiurus aurocapillus Ovenbird
Setophaga americana Northern Parula
Setophaga citrina Hooded Warbler
Setophaga discolor Prairie Warbler
Setophaga dominica Yellow-throated Warbler
Setophaga palmarum Palm Warbler
Setophaga petechia Yellow Warbler
Setophaga pinus Pine Warbler
Setophaga ruticilla American Redstart
Setophaga striata Blackpoll Warbler
Piranga olivacea Scarlet Tanager
Piranga rubra Summer Tanager
Aimophila aestivalis Bachman’s Sparrow
Pipilo erythrophthalmus Eastern Towhee
Spizella passerina Chipping Sparrow
Spizella pusilla Field Sparrow
Cardinalis cardinalis Northern Cardinal
Passerina caerulea Blue Grosbeak
Passerina ciris Painted Bunting
Passerina cyanea Indigo Bunting
Agelaius phoeniceus Red-winged Blackbird
Icterus spurius Orchard Oriole
Molothrus ater Brown-headed Cowbird
Quiscalus major Boat-tailed Grackle
Quiscalus quiscula Common Grackle
Carpodacus mexicanus House Finch
pinus [Carduelis] tristis American Goldfinch
Passer domesticus House Sparrow
Total Vertebrate Species: 231
Tuesday, 1:57 p.m. By far the highlight of this year’s Wildathon was the sighting of several Leatherbacks—one from the Kure Beach pier and
several off the beach at Ft. Fisher. A very unique species, the Leatherback is the most massive reptile in the world, occasionally weighing over a ton. Many of them were passing through the area to feed on cannonball jellyfish. This spectacular sea turtle was a lifer for everyone on the team.
Tuesday, 2:10 p.m. Gull-billed Terns at Ft. Fisher. Not always an easy species to see in NC.
We counted only those species which we could positively identify to the agreement of our team. We recorded several species not found on any of our previous Wildathons. Leatherback and Spinycheek Sleeper were lifer species for everyone on the team. We omitted from the list a few species that we were uncertain of.
Our total species count was the fourth-highest of the 24-hour Dream Team’s 17 Wildathons to date (our record was 248, in 2014). Our bird list was our second-best ever. For the 10th straight year, it was a pleasure to begin the event with two Ophisaurus ventralis at Carolina Beach in New Hanover County, in the backyard of the former home of the late Ms. Myrtle Curry, mother of team member Bob Davis. The last species recorded was Sceloporus undulatus, on Sandhills Game Lands in Richmond County with less than 30 seconds remaining. Two road-killed snakes were salvaged, and one fish was collected, for the collections of the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, and swabs were taken from a few amphibians and reptiles for a study on four emerging pathogens in amphibians and reptiles. Many observational records for various species were added to the Museum’s files and the NC Natural Heritage Program’s database.
We dedicate this Wildathon to our teammate John Finnegan, who is battling cancer; to the late Dave Lenat, who recently lost his fight with it; and to all wild, free things everywhere.
We wish to thank everyone who pledged our team this year. At this point, our pledged sponsors include Sunny and Lee Allen, Rudy Arndt, Jeff Beane, Erla Beegle, Ann Bilobrowka, Colleen Bockhahn, Hal Broadfoot, Alan Cameron, Sue Cameron, Angelo Capparella, Ed Corey, Bob Davis and Judy Morgan-Davis, Kelly Davis, Angie and Bill DeLozier, Janet Edgerton, John Finnegan and Stephanie Horton, Lena Gallitano, Jim Green, Luke and Shannon Groff, Jeff Hall, Diane Hardy, Andy Harrison, Julie Horvath, Ted Kahn, Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell, Roland Kays, Susan Kelemen, Sam Kennedy, Jane and Craig Lawrence, Tony Leiro, Greg Lewbart and Diane Deresienski, Lloyd Lewis, Gerry Luginbuhl, Jeff Marcus, Bob Oberfelder, Justin Oguni, Linda Rudd, Annie Runyon, Melody Scott, Megan Serr, Olivia and Jill Slack, Kim Smart, Dorothy Stowe, Leslie and John Watschke, Jan Weems, Kari Wouk, Steve Zimmerman, and almost certainly some others we may have inadvertently left out. Special thanks to Nate Shepard for help with trapping, to Ed Corey for the use of his vehicle, and to Jeff Beane and Bob Davis for providing their houses as bases of operation and lodging for the very tired. All monies raised will be used to support the same projects as previous years (Audubon’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, local Wake Audubon projects, Project Bog Turtle, and Project Simus). Your generous support is greatly appreciated! You are the reason we keep doing it every year.
It’s not too late to make a donation! If you haven’t already done so, please send your pledges to the address below (or give them to any of our team members or to Wake Audubon Treasurer John Gerwin) as soon as possible. Make checks payable to “Wake Audubon” (or “NC Herpetological Society” if you want to donate only to those projects). You can also use the PayPal option on Wake Audubon’s website (under “donate” on the home page), but please indicate that your donation is for the Wildathon, and let us know that you’ve paid via that option. Please contact one of us if you have any other questions.
We thoroughly enjoyed the event, and we are already looking forward to participating again next year. Sincere thanks from all of us!
￼￼Tuesday, 7:42 p.m. A Little Blue Heron rookery at Lake Waccamaw.
Tuesday, 8:55 p.m. A Mud Snake near Lake Waccamaw kicks off the long night. After finding three of these beautiful semiaquatic serpents road-killed, we were pleased to see one alive.
Wednesday, 4:08 a.m. Minnow traps yielded a Two-toed Amphiuma. This unique, eel-like salamander is North America’s longest amphibian and supposedly has the largest red blood cells of any animal.
Wednesday, 7:29 a.m. We saw many Killdeer during this year’s Wildathon. We could only hope our resolve during the final hour was as strong as that of this tenacious female protecting her eggs.
￼￼Wednesday, 3:02 a.m. Sneaking up on nightjars is a fun way to stay awake in the wee hours. Much more often heard than seen, Chuck-Will’s-Widows have shown up on all of our Wildathons to date.
￼￼Wednesday, 7:20 a.m. Less than an hour remaining; exhaustedly scrambling for a few more species. Luckily, we knew where to find Tree Swallows.
Authored by John Connors
Friday, May 22, after a morning of banding birds, Eddie Owens and I were getting ready to hop in our cars when he pointed to a small group of swifts circling above the Chimney Swift Roost Tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation in west Raleigh.
As we watched, one of the birds took a quick turn and disappeared down the mouth of the chimney. We were thrilled to confirm reports from others that swifts had discovered our tower. But this wasn’t the first bit of good news Wake Audubon had received about swifts this spring.
Earlier in May, I watched four chimney swifts circle over an information kiosk at Anderson Point Park in east Raleigh. The swifts were noisy and clearly eyeing the structure. Of course this wasn’t just any old information kiosk; it was one Wake Audubon had commissioned several years ago to be built by an Eagle Scout, and it had a swift nesting chimney installed as its center.
Soon the birds circled higher, and I was able to watch a swift fly through the top of a tall maple to grab dead twigs. They returned to the kiosk. One of the swirling swifts raised its wings high, slowed down, and descended into the chimney’s center. It was the first confirmation that swifts are using the kiosk for nesting!
All of this began with Wake Audubon’s ambitious undertaking to install the Chimney Swift Roost Tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, a field research and education center for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
We spent three years planning and raising funds for the $36,000 project. More than 150 of you bought inscribed bricks. We secured donations from the Carolina Bird Club and the estate of Vicki Weiss, as well as grants from the Toyota TogetherGreen by Audubon program. Frank Harmon Associates donated design services and Custom Brick & Supply of Raleigh donated the bricks. Installation of the tower was completed in November.
The tower is one of just a few large brick chimneys that have been built specifically for roosting swifts in the eastern U.S. We think it is, in fact, one of only three. Our tower is large: 30 feet tall with a 5-foot by 5-foot opening, designed to accommodate thousands of roosting swifts. There are portholes for looking inside the tower and for installing cameras and scientific equipment. We are hopeful, but there are no guarantees with these things.
Of course we did our homework, which meant contacting Paul and Georgeann Kyle in Austin, Texas, who established a chimney swift research center in Austin and spearheaded the chimneyswifts.org website. They have years of experience experimenting with the design of swift nesting structures, including the practical swift nesting information kiosk that proved successful at Anderson Point Park. And they have had some success with small roosts.
With the tower completed, our attention turns to celebrating it with you, together with experts from across North America who have tirelessly worked to conserve this species of concern. In March, Wake Audubon received a Toyota TogetherGreen Alumni Award to host a chimney swift conservation forum and workshop.
When we began thinking about hosting a forum, our first invitation was sent to the Kyles, who agreed to be our featured speakers and will give an overview of their decades spent working with swifts. But there will be more, much more.
Researchers from UNC Chapel Hill will offer a three-dimensional look at the flight patterns of swift flocks filmed flying above downtown Raleigh; Amy Weidensaul and Brian Shema from Audubon Pennsylvania will discuss educational programming at swift roosts; Charles Collins, a retired biologist from California, will compare swifts from around the world, and Larry Schwitter will describe Vaux’s Happenings in Washington state. Audubon NC plans to highlight chimney swifts across the state next year.
Join us Friday evening, August 21, at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences for the symposium. On Saturday, August 22, Wake Audubon will partner with the museum to host the Chimney Swift Family Festival at Prairie Ridge Ecostation — our official celebration of the completion of the Chimney Swift Roost Tower. This will be a family-friendly event starting mid-afternoon. The festivities will include games for all ages, such as a roost-hole corn-hole contest, swift nest and mask making, and catch-a penny stealer bug chase games. (Intrigued? We know you are!) We will also have educational tables, arts and crafts, food trucks, music, guided hikes, and a roost viewing as the sun sets. Sunday at dusk, join us for swift roost viewings at other county sites.
Details on these events will be posted here, on our Celebrate Swifts page. All are free admission.
We can use volunteer help at Family Festival. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to help. And please plan to attend the Friday chimney swift forum the Saturday family festival and the Sunday swift viewing the weekend of August 21-23.
Authored by Joanne St. Clair, Park Technician of Programs, Harris Lake County Park | the American Tobacco Trail
It is June 3rd, and our wonderful milkweed has been in the ground for just over 2 weeks now (at Harris Lake) and I am happy to report it is doing great! So far, we have had 3 plants nibbled and 2 plants appear to be gone (we have been watering the spots in hopes that there may still be roots present). Out of 96 plants, I’d say that is excellent. All of the plants are showing new growth and appear to be very healthy.
Since this is the first milkweed we have had in our field, John thinks it will be August or so before we start noticing any monarch activity. We can’t wait until the monarchs “discover” us!
I would like to thank you all again for your help and expertise with the planting process. I had a great time, and I hope you all did too! A huge thank you to John Connors for his guidance, experience, passion and organization of this project. We are thrilled to provide Milkweed for Monarchs!
Thanks again and we welcome you to visit “your” milkweed anytime! When it does not rain, we will be watering for several more weeks and I think we’ve got a great system in place. Just let me know if you are interested in coming out.
By Bob Oberfelder
Lake Betz is a unique habitat with a huge concentration of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is located behind the Cisco Systems and Network Appliance facilities between Louis Stephens Drive and Kit Creek Road (in the Research Triangle Park area). The safest place to park is in a gravel covered recreation parking lot off of Louis Stephens Drive. There are Port-a-potties there as well as some volleyball nets. If you walk across Louis Stephens Drive from the recreation area you will see an asphalt trail that leads over to the lake and swamp area.
There is a small lake here and adjacent to the lake is a swampy area filled with dead snags that have attracted large numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers. It is possible to encounter as many as 7 woodpecker species in a single visit in this area in the winter. I have observed nesting Osprey, Northern Flickers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Common Grackles and Tree swallows. Large numbers of Green Herons appear to spend their summers here. During a recent visit, late May 2015, I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher and Belted Kingfishers are a common year-round sight. For people interested in photography, it is possible to get quite close to the birds since they frequent the foliage between the lake and the swampy area and many of the snags frequented by the woodpeckers are close to the walking trail. I am including a few recent photos taken at Lake Betz to wet your appetite for this unique place.
By John Connors and Bryan England
All photos by Bryan England
In the last week I’ve heard reports of Monarch caterpillars feeding on previous milkweed plantings at Horseshoe Farm, Monarchs flying at Anderson Point, and I saw one flying Saturday at Yates Mill Pond. All good news! So the time has come to add to the inventory of milkweed available at public parks around Wake County.
The Common Milkweed seedlings have arrived and we have flagged the planting zones at both Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve and Harris Lake County Park. The sites look good…Wilkerson has a clay loam soil and lots of open meadow which was formerly cow pasture- once established milkweed should thrive here and attract many monarchs; Harris Lake has easy to dig sandy loam in a meadow that was once farmed- it will be a good late summer breeding site for monarchs. The Wilkerson meadow was mowed maybe a month ago, so we’ll be planting in openings among the grasses. Harris Lake had a prescribed burn across their meadow…it will be a little easier working there.
We will clip openings in the grass, dig the planting holes, add a little soil improvement, plant the seedling, add a little mulch and water. It may take 3-5 minutes to plant each seedling. We will work in teams.
I imagine we should finish our work by noon, although Wilkerson may take a little longer as the soils will be more difficult to work.
You are part of a nationwide effort in trying to restore Monarch habitat- thanks for your willingness to help. See you in the meadow.
5/16/2015 from Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
I want to thank everyone who came and helped with the planting last Thursday, and especially John for organizing it. I hope I will be able to send you all some pictures of monarchs here visiting “your” milkweeds in the seasons to come. We gave all 96 seedlings a drink of about a quart of water each today. The soil was starting to dry, and soaked the water right up, but all the plants looked healthy, with no post-planting wilting at all (although a couple seemed to have been nibbled by something). The flags and plantings in squares really helped us find them all, and made watering a pretty simple job.
5-23-2015 From Bryan England, Assistant Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson.
Nine days after your planting, we have Monarch eggs!
Several of the new plants had eggs like these when I checked today, so we may have caterpillars by sometime next week.
Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve only lost 4 to browsers, and they may still re-sprout from the root. Of the 92 visible plants, 16 have had their top leaves browsed but are recovering with side branch growth.
None of the plants appeared diseased or drought-stressed, so the overall cohort appears strong. Thank you all for making these eggs possible!
5-24-2015 John Connors Wake Audubon Society
Well I didn’t see that coming! I did find three medium to full grown Monarch caterpillars at Raleigh’s Anderson Point Park yesterday, on milkweed I had planted several years ago- and that was without looking very hard. So maybe its going to be a good year for Monarchs.
It certainly will be a better future for Monarchs for the work all of you put in to get the milkweed planted at Wilkerson Preserve and Harris Lake…and for the efforts of staff and volunteers to keep the seedlings watered.
Thanks everyone, and thanks Bryan for keeping us informed.
6-2-2015 Bryan England, Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Here’s the Milkweeds for Monarchs update from Wilkerson–
Nineteen days after your planting, we have Monarch caterpillars!
Several of these brightly-striped caterpillars were observed on “your” milkweed plants today, all were about 10mm long (they say the camera always adds 10 lbs…). At one caterpillar per plant, they plants seem to be growing faster than the caterpillars can eat them (for now).
Overall, of the 96 plants, we’ve currently “lost” 5 to browsers. Of the 91 remaining visible plants, 27 have had their upper leaves browsed, but most are recovering well with side branch growth. Some of the browsed stems are obviously deer damage (rough, stringy bites), but the majority are rodent/rabbit damage (clean-cut, angled bites). The “wild” milkweeds at Wilkerson have also been browsed over the last week, mostly by deer, so that’s just a natural part of the food chain, too.
Authored by Bob Oberfelder
If you find photographs of birds engaging, viewing the award winners from the Audubon photography competition will be rewarding. Some of the birds are exotic and others are common, but the photos are all extraordinary. If you view the winners at the link Audubon Photo Winners you will be as impressed as I am with the quality of these pictures. The photographers have revealed the personas of the birds they have digitally captured. These pictures are a result of the confluence of an artistic eye, careful assessments of the lighting conditions, patience in getting the ideal pose, and high quality photographic equipment. The winners deserve accolades for the quality of their submissions, but I suspect even the average submission is worthy of praise.
If you wish to see photos from Wake Audubon field trips and activities, they can be viewed using the following link: Wake Audubon Photos. Though the quality of these photos in not in a class with the winners, they display the birds and other wildlife that have been seen on Wake Audubon field trips. Perhaps you will find them engaging enough to entice you to join us on one of our upcoming field trips.
Authored by Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu, with minor contributions by John Gerwin.
I have been studying the Black-throated Green Warbler in the Uwharries region of central NC for the past few years. This includes capturing some individual birds and applying bands and radio transmitters. I work with colleagues from the Greater Uwharries Conservation Partnership, especially Joe Poston of Catawba College, and Crystal Cockman of the Land Trust for Central North Carolina. Museum research associate Sharna Tolfree has been instrumental. Crystal and I co-host a “Naturalist Day” on the second Saturday in May. And recently I and my Museum colleague Jerry Reynolds led a day trip to the region. Crystal has several interns each spring/summer and as part of our collaboration, I get to take one into the field. This year’s intern was a young woman from China who is doing an advanced degree at Duke University in Environmental Engineering. The internship is designed to give them experience in land conservation work, including biotic surveys and in my case, some research. Often this is outside the “comfort zone” of the intern. We asked Zoe to write a little something about her experience with the work for the Black-throated Green Warbler, in May. Although not part of this story, it was great that Zoe was able to come back in June and assist for two of the 5 days when I had several Young Naturalist/Junior Curators. One of the Junior Curators is half Chinese and was thrilled to have some time chatting with Zoe. You never know what you will find in the forest.
Black-throated Green Warbler photo by Joe Poston, Catawba College
Zoe’s words –
I’ve spent the spring and early summer in pursuit of a tiny, black and yellow bird with a buzzy song – the black-throated green warbler of the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s made for an experience I’ll never forget.
As a Duke University graduate student, I’ve been an intern during May and June with the Land Trust for Central North Carolina, assisting John Gerwin, an ornithologist from the N.C. Museum of Nature Sciences, with his bird and vegetation surveys in the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Our main object is the Black-throated Green Warbler. We try to collect physiological and genetic data by catching, tagging, and releasing the birds. While we work, we look for birds captured in previous years and record information about their habitat.
The Black-throated Green Warbler is a small songbird of the New World warbler group. Its black bib and bright yellow face are unique among birds of the eastern U.S. This bird can be recognized easily, not only by sight, but also by its sound, a song that sounds like “zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee” or “zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-zee”.
The warbler breeds in coniferous and mixed forest but occupies a wide range throughout its life. In August, it flies south to its Central American wintering grounds. The warbler nests in parts of North Carolina in the higher southern Appalachians, a few coastal plain sites, and in the Uwharries region. Our survey focuses on the black-throated green warblers found in the Uwharrie National Forest, which seems to be an isolated habitat for them.
The Uwharrie National Forest is primarily in Montgomery County, but extends into Randolph and Davidson counties in south central North Carolina. Most of the time, we are on Daniel Mountain or other mountains near it. According to former reports, the Black-throated Green Warbler is usually heard on the N/NE slopes of the mountains.
We begin our hike through the mountain trails at 7:30 a.m. daily, then head off the trail on a zigzag pattern through the terrain. When we hear the songs of a black-throated green warbler, we stop at one spot and play a recording of the bird’s song. In general, the male bird will be attracted by this imaginary male’s song and will come close to find out who might be challenging him for his territory. If we find a male bird is interested in our fake song, we will set a vertical net in the clearing and put a decoy model of a Black-throated Green Warbler and audio player on the branch nearby. The male will try to flush the decoy bird and get tangled in the net. The process requires a lot of waiting, watching and luck.
If we catch a bird, there’s a lot to do before he’s released. First, we put a small, numbered metal ring on the warbler’s feet to identify it. Then, using special measuring tools, we tally the bird’s wing length, weight and fat condition. During this process, we noticed that this year’s birds weigh about 8.5 grams, lighter than the typical weight of 9 grams.
Using a special needle, we draw blood from the tiny bird’s wing vein, an operation that doesn’t hurt the bird. The blood sample allows us to collect genetic data on the animal.
For our next step, we will do some vegetation surveys to know more about the warblers’ Uwharrie habitat. The Black-throated Green Warbler brings more vitality to the Uwharries, and I hope our efforts will help people understand more about the birds, so that we can live together with them long into the future.
Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu is a Duke University graduate student who interned with the Land Trust for Central North Carolina.
Re-posted with permission from Zhuoyun Pu and the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte. First posted at http://ui.uncc.edu/story/black-throated-green-warblers-uwharrie-national-forest
Author Zhuoyun “Zoe” Pu with a Black-throated Green Warbler. Photo: John Gerwin