Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Morning Tour Around Lake Waccamaw.

I signed up to conduct two North American Breeding Bird Survey routes this year. The Breeding Bird Survey is an ongoing project documenting the presence, increase, decrease, and the effects of habitat change, of the breeding birds in a defined area. The same routes are run every year and consist of 50 stops along a 25 mile route determined by the US Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Volunteers start each route exactly 30 minutes before sunrise and spend three minutes at each stop documenting the birds seen and heard. Surveys in our area must be run anytime from May 15 through June 30.

On June seventh I ran the first of my two routes, a route beginning in Hallsboro, North Carolina and running west, southwest and then south of Lake Waccamaw in Columbus and Brunswick counties. Promptly at five-thirty AM I began at the first stop.

Much of the route is open, agricultural land, and the birds are largely the same as similar habitats in the Piedmont. Orchard orioles, blue grosbeaks, indigo buntings, red-winged blackbirds, Northern bobwhite, and yellow-breasted chats were found along the way. It was when the route took me through several swamp forests and across tannin-stained creeks where the bird-life dramatically changed and reminded me I was not in the Piedmont.

At the first bridge spanning a mature swamp I found three black-crowned night-herons and a pair of anhingas leisurely watching me watch them. Prothonotary warblers were thick, golden flashes in the shadows while similar numbers of Northern parulas sang from the higher trees.

An hour later at another small forest pond stop, over 20 great egrets, over ten white ibis, and three wood storks made quite a sight as they gulped down stranded fish in the shrinking water space. Wildlife other than birds was in evidence too. I was serenaded by coyotes at dawn, a beautiful banded water snake safely made it across the pavement, a bobcat bounded across the road, and five species of tree frogs called throughout the morning.

My other route is a Piedmont route, beginning off Camp Stewart Road in Mecklenburg County and ending in Stanly County. I am planning to survey that stretch shortly.

For more information on the North American Breeding Bird Survey, go to https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/about/

Below are some of the birds that highlighted my survey:

Prothonotary warblers are abundant and characteristic inhabitants of southeastern swamps and river / creek bottoms. The males seem to actually glow in the shadows. This species can be found in Mecklenburg County but the numbers do not come near to matching those found further east.
Prothonotary Warbler by John Ennis

Anhingas are fairly common residents in the swamps of the southeast. Anhingas are graceful cousins of cormorants. Their nickname is the "water turkey". They dart thru the water with only their head and neck above the surface. their sharp bills are perfect for spearing fish.   
Anhinga by Jeff Lewis
Black-crowned night-herons are handsome fisher birds from the coast. True to their name, they are most active at night but can be found fairly easily on their daytime roosts. Their cousin the yellow-crowned night-heron nests in Mecklenburg County. The black-crowned does not.