Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bluer Birds than Bluebirds

Eastern bluebirds are everybody's favorite it seems but there are a couple of common species just now arriving that are even more blue. Look for blue grosbeaks and indigo buntings in open country and along many of the county greenways where there is plenty of sunshine.

They may even stop in to check out a well-stocked feeder so keep a lookout.

Blue Grosbeak by Lee Weber
More purplish than truly blue, the blue grosbeak is still a striking bird when seen in full sunlight.

Indigo Bumting by Lee Weber
The indigo bunting male seems to actually glow blue in the right sunlight. They are common but small.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Long Day of Spring Birding

I was out of bed at 4:15 am Sunday morning to take part in the Charlotte Spring Bird Count. By 5:30 I was at Renaissance Golf Course and ticking off the first species; American robins in full dawn chorus. It wasn’t long before things got more interesting though.

A pair of barred owls started hootin’ it up at dawn and the neotropics began adding to the chorus. Newly arrived Eastern kingbirds, orchard orioles, indigo buntings, and blue grosbeaks were all accounted for. Birders like to keep a separate list of how many warblers get tallied on spring outings and as usual, the golf course delivered. After three hours 18 species of warblers were tallied including Cape May, worm-eating, hooded, palm, American redstart, ovenbird, Northern parula, pine, black-throated blue, yellow, yellow-rumped, yellow-breasted chat, common yellowthroat, blackpoll, black and white, prairie, Northern waterthrush, and Louisiana waterhrush. That’s a healthy total anytime. Add scarlet and summer tanagers; and a stunning male rose-breasted grosbeak and it made for a great morning.

A marsh wren sang lustily from a small wetland, the fourth straight year that this uncommon migrant has been in that same spot.

Next I checked out an interesting looking field right off Tyvola Road at the new City Park development. I was very surprised to hear the distinctive insect-like buzz of a grasshopper sparrow and I was soon able to find the tiny sparrow perched at the top of a pine sapling. Grasshopper sparrows are tough to find nowadays in Mecklenburg County due to disappearing habitat. I didn’t see a female but I hope he will be successful in attracting one. A pair of killdeer went into a defensive display, obviously guarding and unseen nest somewhere in a gravelly patch of ground.

I checked some small ponds in close-by business parks and was able to locate up to five spotted sandpipers teetering along the shorelines. Those spotteds and the aforementioned killdeer were the only shorebirds seen that day, a little bit disappointing.

All the participants gathered for a tally-up supper at Winghaven at the end of the day. A total of 129 species were reported for the day, a very respectable number. It was a long day for sure but there are birds that must be seen. There’ll be time to rest after migration slows down

Marsh Wren by Jeff Lewis

Hooded warblers love shady damp lowlands. A few breed in Mecklenburg County but they are most numerous along the coast and in the mountains.

Hooded Warbler by Jeff Lewis

Grasshopper sparrows are declining nationwide due to habitat loss as small farms and pastures disappear.

Grasshopper Sparrow by Jim Guyton

Black-throated blue warblers nest in our mountains, but are one of the more common migrant warblers that pass thru. the piedmont. 
Black-throated Blue Warbler by John Ennis

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Fearless Mother

Killdeer are notorious for building their nests in areas of high human traffic. This strategy seems to work; killdeer are very common and successful.

This bird pictured below has scraped out her nest in the middle of a community garden where folks go every day. I checked it out last Friday and could see how the little birds see no problem building where they do. This mother bird was fearless, coming right up to within inches of my feet to drive me away.

The flared tail and drooped wings give the impression the bird is injured; an ingenious ploy to lure predators away from the site. After just a few seconds I walked away, being escorted by the parent leading me right out the gate.

Here is a close-up of the four eggs, perfectly camouflaged if they were on a gravel substrate, which they often are. This nest scrape is in a mulch / wood chip mixture.

Here's profile a shot of an adult bird.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Keep an Eye Out for This Handsome Guy

Rose-breasted grosbeaks arrived in full force last Friday April 22. I received multiple reports of the males showing up at sunflower feeders that day. Over the weekend I received more photos and even saw three birds myself at Latta Park yesterday.

Keep the sunflower feeders stocked for a few more weeks. If you do, you may be lucky enough to enjoy one of these striking birds at close range. They are only passing through so the time frame is brief; only to about May 8.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Ron Clark

Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Ron Clark

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

An Off-Beat Heron Make an Appearance

I checked out a nice extensive wetland across from Carolina Place Mall in Pineville last week in hopes of catching a glimpse of an American bittern that had been reported from that location. It took some diligent scanning and some patience but eventually I was able to enjoy the bird.

Bitterns are large herons that pass through our area during the migrations. unlike the familiar and conspicuous great blue herons and great egrets that occur in our wetlands, American bitterns are more of a challenge to find.They are extremely well camouflaged with brown, cream, and black streaked plumage that hides them perfectly in thick marsh vegetation. they don't stand tall either, preferring to spend their time hunches down and skulking through the tall marsh grasses.

As an added hiding trick, the bitterns will point their bill straight up into the air to look like a marsh reed and will even sway back and forth to mimic vegetation moving in the breeze.

So I am always glad to see one of these off-beat herons whenever I get the chance. in the photos below you can see how they could be difficult to spot.

American Bittern by Phil Fowler

American Bittern by Phil Fowler

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Big Lake Norman Rarity

I got a report that a Western grebe might be hanging out off The Point development in Iredell County over the weekend. After contacting the reporter i was able to drive down Brawley School Road to a cove near the Lake Norman Yacht Club.

Within a minute of scanning the cove and the open water of the main channel I was on the bird. A Western grebe is a bona-fide rarity anywhere, anytime in North Carolina.

There are only a handful of records for the species from the Piedmont, and only one previous from Lake Norman. I was lucky enough to see that bird in 2006 near the Cowan's Ford Dam. The are more records from the coast but they are still very rare on the ocean and sounds too.

Western grebes are large, strikingly marked water birds; twice as large as the familiar horned grebes that winter regularly on Lake Norman. Their range includes most of the western United States but clearly a very few individuals come east in the winter. This bird seems to be taking it's time heading back west. It's photo is below.

Since the bird is in Iredell County, I won't be able to add it to my state or Mecklenburg lists. If I kept an Iredell list I could put it on that one. Maybe I should start one. Western grebe would be a pretty fancy bird to begin a list with.

Western Grebe by Nanci Scott

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Most Brilliant Yellow of All.

I read a report that a male prothonotary warbler had returned to his breeding territory along lower McAlpine Creek Greenway so I snuck over to take a look yesterday. Sure enough, as I approached the described area a loud, rapid, monotonous tweet tweet tweet  rang out from a group of small stumps in the swampy muck. It was the golden swamp warbler indeed!

Prothonotary warblers are in my opinion the most brilliantly colored yellow bird in our area. In high breeding plumage, as this one was, the yellow is so deep that it can take on orange tones around the face. See the photo below. The quarreling males flash gold in the shadows of the swamps that they call home.

This bird was really easy to see. Park at the restroom building and parking lot off Johnston Road in south Charlotte. Follow the paved trail under Johnston Road. Go just a couple of hundred feet to a short boardwalk extension to the right. you should see two prothonotary warbler nest boxes in the mud and water. Listen for the loud song and with patience you should be able to see this bold beauty.

Prothonotary Warbler by Ron Clark

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Welcome Trespasser

I first saw her a month or so ago as I stepped out of my house into the attached garage. In the subsequent days I would see her regularly, snooping through boxes, bags, bookcases, and storage shelves. Every time she would scoop away and escape through a small opening in the bottom of the garage door sweeper; a flitting tiny brown form.

This has become a yearly spring encounter for me, the local pair of Carolina wrens checking out the garage for suitable nest site. Sometimes they stay outside and try to use the tubular paper box below the mailbox, if they can beat the Eastern bluebirds and Carolina chickadees to it. Not so this year, no one is in the box as of now. Nor is anyone in the patio grill or potted plants either.

So last week I began a search for the large globular nest with a side entrance hole I was sure was somewhere hidden in the garage. Christmas wreath; no. artificial Christmas tree; no. Christmas garland; no. inside the Christmas manger, nope. Top of the mop head; again nope. Tool pouch; nah too tight. Garden bucket; no. Garden shelf, yes! I mean no, just a deflated basketball. AmVets bag # 1, not this year. AmVets bag #2, ditto. AmVets bag #3, BINGO!

Yes, there she was peering out at me from a depression in the clothes filled with moss and dead leaves. She blinked only once but never abandoned her diligent incubation. Later I would count five tiny cream-colored eggs with brown speckles when she was gone on a feeding break. It’s a safe place. My garage has provided for successful nestings for many years. It’s predator-free; (my old cat quit caring years ago) and the wren doesn’t mind the noisy opening and closing of the doors at all.

If all goes well there will be five gaping mouths to feed in about a week or so, and in a couple of weeks after that a family of Carolina wrens milling around the yard quietly talking back and forth in a murmured chatter.

Carolina wrens are notorious for usurping human space and possessions for raising their families. I gladly give them up every year.

Carolina Wren and Nest by Taylor Piephoff

Carolina Wren and Nest by Taylor Piephoff