Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kites Increasing in Our Area?

Last week I related the sighting of a Mississippi kite off Marvin road in southern Mecklenburg County. Since then, there have been regular sightings of kites over Providence Springs Elementary School and last year's nesting area, off Alexander Road.

There is evidence that these sightings may involve more than one nesting pair. If area birders could confirm two nesting pairs of kites in the county that would double the previous high number of one.

Like last year, I suspect there is a nest in someone's yard. Study the photos below if you are seeing a raptor nesting in your yard. If the birds in the photos look like ones you are seeing you could be seeing Mississippi kites. Let me know at piephofft@aol.com




Mississippi kite by Phil Fowler

Here are the kites in flight silhouette.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What is This Dove Thinking?

I am amazed at the places various bird species will claim as nest sites. Some are ingenious, Some not so much. and sometimes I just wonder what the bird was thinking.

I thought the object of building a nest and raising young was an undertaking best kept secret. Apparently this mourning dove did not think those were requirements. I will be interested  to see if the nesting is successful.


Mourning Dove and Nest by Mike Petrie

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cedar Waxwings Inundating the Area

The trees have been giving off a shrill, wheezy sound of late. Cedar waxwings have descended onto Mecklenburg County by the hundreds and their characteristic calls seem to be everywhere. Large tulip poplars and their large nectared flowers are the favorite tree right now. but you might have a flock come into a bird bath or a fruiting mulberry tree.

They are just passing through, and a little later than usual this spring. A few pairs will stay behind to nest but there are hard to find by summer.

They are handsome birds. A feather never seems to ruffled or out of place. They appear to be the most social and friendly of birds. you might even see them passing a berry back and forth among themselves, each bird too polite to eat the last one!


Black masks, yellow-tipped tails, gray-blue rumps, prominent crests, and red waxy structures attached to the wings are characteristic field marks of cedar wax wings.

Cedar Waxwings by Lee Weber
  





























In the photo below notice the waxy red structures attached to the wings.

Cedar Waxwing by Cathy Miller



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Two Local Rarities in One Day

Prior to leading a bird walk yesterday at Six-Mile Creek Greenway off Marvin road in the southern part of Mecklenburg County, I stopped in at a wetland behind Pike's Nursery off Johnston Road. The purpose was to search for a warbling vireo reported from that area the day before.

Warbling vireo is tough to find in this county. There are no nesting records, and migrants are not reported every year. the bird present now is in perfect breeding habitat so I hope it is able to attract a mate and attempt a nesting. I was able to relocate it in a willow thicket, the same area it was seen previously. It is a drab species that sings a song somewhat similar to the very-common house finch. Perhaps that is why it is often overlooked .

Warbling Vireo by Jeff Lewis



During the bird walk, fourteen birders enjoyed great looks at a Mississippi kite as it dipped and soared right over our heads. The species is another local rarity with only one of two pairs having been confirmed nesting. Hope fully the bird seen is trying to establish a nesting territory.

Mississippi kits are beautiful birds. From the topside, two large white wing patches aid in long-distance identification.


Mississippi Kite

Monday, May 4, 2015

Brilliant Colors Flying Through the Trees

 I had the pleasure of leading a group of enthusiastic birders through Dilworth's Latta Park yesterday. In a little over two hours of birding we tallied 41 species. After the group broke up I stayed a few more minutes and added more species to my daily list..

Highlights were brilliant adult male blackburnian warbler, Cape May warbler, scarlet tanager, and five rose-breasted grosbeaks in one small tree. Spring migration is at its peak. There is a lot of color in the trees right now.The day's list is below:


Blackburnian Warbler by Cathy Miller


Scarlet Tanager by Harrol Blevins




Cape May Warbler by Ron Clark




Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Ron Clark




Cooper's Hawk
1
Red-shouldered Hawk
2
Broad-winged Hawk
1
Mourning Dove
1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
1
Barred Owl
3
Chimney Swift
6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
2
Red-bellied Woodpecker
3
Downy Woodpecker
2
Eastern Wood-Pewee
1
Eastern Phoebe
1
Great Crested Flycatcher
1
Red-eyed Vireo
2
American Crow
2
Fish Crow
2
Carolina Chickadee
3
Tufted Titmouse
1
White-breasted Nuthatch
2
Brown-headed Nuthatch
2
Carolina Wren
2
Swainson's Thrush
2
Wood Thrush
1
American Robin
20
Gray Catbird
3
Brown Thrasher
2
European Starling
2
Cedar Waxwing
2
Ovenbird
3
Northern Waterthrush
1
Black-and-white Warbler
4
Common Yellowthroat
1
American Redstart
2
Cape May Warbler
3
Northern Parula
4
Blackburnian Warbler
1
Black-throated Blue Warbler
5
Palm Warbler
1
Yellow-rumped Warbler
4
Black-throated Green Warbler
3
Eastern Towhee
3
Chipping Sparrow
5
White-throated Sparrow
4
Scarlet Tanager
3
Northern Cardinal
6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
7
Indigo Bunting
1
Common Grackle
5
Brown-headed Cowbird
2
Baltimore Oriole
1
House Finch
1
American Goldfinch
2











Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Going Cuckoo in Mecklenburg County


Yesterday was a special day for spring migration birding. Poor flying weather had grounded the northbound migrants for the previous two days but Sunday night cleared and the breezes carried a flood of migrants into the southern Piedmont.

One of those birds was a black-billed cuckoo that finally settled down at Harrisburg Road Park to refuel by searching for caterpillars. 

That's where I happened to be too, and if that bird hadn't decided to give its rhythmic coo-coo-coo coo-coo-coo song, I would have never known it was there. 

There are two cuckoo species that are found in North Carolina. The yellow-billed cuckoo nests here, is pretty common, and is much more vocal. The black-billed cuckoo is more mysterious. It doesn't nest in the Piedmont. A small population nests in the mountains but even there it is a tough bird to find. Though both cuckoos are large birds ( larger than a sharp-shinned hawk), they can be extremely tough to see. They often sit motionless in the tree canopy or thick brush, and when they do move it is with a sluggish demeanor. Sometimes you just have to lucky to see them.

I have seen black-billed cuckoo just once before in Mecklenburg County; some 20 years ago. There is a report or two every year but they typically move on before local birders can see them. This time I was able to alert some locals who did show up in time to see and hear this odd bird.

Below is a comparison of the two cuckoo species in our area:

                                                                                    
The main physical difference between the two is the bill color. note the black bill on this black-billed cuckoo. But bills can be hard to see, especially on a bird hiding in thick foliage, which this species seems partial to doing. 

Black-billed Cuckoo by Blayne Olsen

The yellow bill can be readily seen on this yellow-billed cuckoo. This species is a tad less shy than its cousin but can still be hard to see. Even their songs are similar but can be told apart with some experience. 

Yellow-billed cuckoo by Blayne Olsen



















Friday, April 24, 2015

This Nest is Amazing

I have always been intrigued with how birds are able to construct marvelous creations we call nests. Innumerable types of materials are used by various species; from plain mud to finely woven baskets of grass.

I was fortunate enough to see a blue-gray gnatcatcher nest along a portion of the Mallard Creek Greenway last Wednesday. Blue-gray gnatcatchers get started early on nest building, often completing the initial nests well before the leaves come out on the nest tree. Consequently, the nest must be well hidden while remaining in plain sight.


  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on Nest by Kevin Burrell


Gnatcatchers are tiny birds and of course build a tiny cup of a nest. What is so fascinating to me is that the nest is constructed almost entirely of spider webs and tree lichens. The pair will weave in some fine grasses and animal hairs to give the structure some firmness and stability. If you look closely at the photo you can actually see the spider web strands anchoring the nest to the branch. The lichens are built into the spider web cup to make for perfect camouflage and additional stability. After completion, the nest resembles just another knot on a tree limb. This nest was just about three inches in diameter. No wonder blue-gray gnatcatchers are so common… few predators can find the nests!