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By Cynthia Donaldson

Our group of 19 birders enjoyed listening to the birds along the Elk Run Trail. Our training sessions of “birding by ear” had begun!

After an early morning on Sunday, May 19, and a three-hour drive from Winston-Salem, we were ready to hike the Elk Run Trail.  From the trailhead behind the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we hiked the .8 mile loop trail through a pleasant mountain woods.  A Louisiana Waterthrush, foraging along the babbling brook, gave us quick looks as it flew from log to log and then perched on a low branch.   Redstarts, vireos, and Ovenbirds entertained from the forest foliage.  This “concert” was the necessary communication of birds busy defending territories and attracting mates.  Their musical songs, “teacher-teacher-teacher,” “get up – get up – get out of bed,” “drink-your-tea,” “chick-burr,” and many more played in our ears as we enjoyed the not-so-quiet woods.  As typical, birding fully leafed–out trees is difficult.  When one can’t “see” the birds, the sense of hearing becomes the tool for identification.  By the end of the trip, most people on the trip became adept at recognizing Ovenbird, Cerulean Warbler, Eastern Wood-Pewee, American Redstart, Indigo Bunting, and Hooded Warbler.  Some even could identify the nuances between the Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireo!

We had our lunch at the picnic area, binoculars close by just in case. After lunch, we went to the Flat Top parking area between MM 84 – 83 and with the help of Bill, found the Cerulean Warbler immediately.  The Hooded Warbler, singing his “get up – get up – get out of bed,” was not so accommodating, but we all would get a look at one before the trip was over. 

This is an Eastern Phoebe nest located in the visitor center breezeway. Apparently, she constructed this nest this spring. All the moss and leaves seemed to be of the same age – newly gathered! We had never seen a nest this tall before!
We didn’t hurry back to the lodge to get checked in because they were without electrical power.  The generators were servicing most of the lodge and rooms, but the kitchen was not able to prepare their usual dinner menu items. 

After a lovely meet-and-greet time on the beautiful lawn overlooking  Abbot Lake and Sharp Top Mountain, we enjoyed the soup and salad bar.  Then, a few of us walked around Abbott Lake as the beautiful day turned to dusk.

We departed the parking lot around 7:00 AM on Monday morning and drove to Sunset Fields at MM 78.4. We enjoyed the trees and the lookout and then walked up Radar Road.  It is a special day when one gets great looks at three vireos: Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Blue-headed.  Several sightings of Scarlet Tanagers along this road and Warbler Road also thrilled us!

Jean got photos of all three vireos: Yellow-throated and Red-eyed above, Blue-headed below.

Each of us enjoyed birding along Radar Road. It was a lovely morning walk, and we saw and heard many resident species. The chronic malady, “warbler-neck,” spread quickly through the group, but nothing could stop us from searching the topmost branches for those birds!

By the time we walked down Warbler Road, we were pretty comfortable identifying these mountain birds, so as we walked we had a great time testing our skills by identifying the birds by ear!  Then we heard one that we hadn’t heard so far! We followed the buzzy, high-pitched song and were delighted to a Worm-eating Warbler, head tilted back, singing his song!  Some of the birders in our group had lost the ability to hear that pitch, so we were so glad we got to see it.

Worm-eating Warbler by Jean.

After a return to Peaks of Otter Lodge and another picnic lunch, we headed south to Harvey’s Knob at MM 95.3.  Harvey’s Knob is a fall hotspot for migrating raptors and dragonflies.  It wasn’t the right time of the year to see Broad-winged Hawks, but two Common Ravens greeted us and flew down the knob into the trees below.  There were also many male Indigo Buntings here singing their three-part song. 

We enjoyed a walk on the Appalachian Trail!

It was not very birdy along the trail, but we all know that birders default to another natural wonder: plants!   

Pink Lady’s Slippers
Rhododendron in bloom!
We visited several  overlooks on our way back to the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center.
Two Common Raven circled right above us here. We saw a Red-tailed Hawk here as well. Photo by Ga.
Thunder Ridge overlooking Arnold Valley!

After dinner, we tallied up all the birds we saw and heard! The total was 59 species with Orchard Oriole and Cedar Waxwing to be added the next morning!

Eastern Wood-Pewee photo by Jean.

Bright and early on Tuesday morning, we met behind the main lodge for a bird walk on the Johnson Farm Loop Trail (which was not really a loop, as we found out).  The scenery of this hike was gorgeous. We saw many American Redstarts, Scarlet Tanagers, and vireos.

The Johnson Farm Trail
Johnson Farm. Right behind this house, a Chickadee was busily tending to her young in an old fence post.

Once we returned to the trailhead, everyone went their own ways. Some got breakfast, but most packed up for the journey back home. It was sad to say goodbyes because we had enjoyed such a great time together!

The view of the Peaks of Otter Lodge from the top of Sharp Top Mountain.

It was hard to leave the Peaks of Otter area on such a beautiful day, so Tim, Brenda, Becky and I continued our birding trip by hiking to the top of Sharp Top Mountain. Even though it was a strenuous hike, the woods were very pleasant. Cerulean, Black-and-white, and Hooded Warblers delayed us several times because we couldn’t pass up a chance to see these gems of the forest. After lunch at the top, we hiked down, again stopping for birds, of course. We got to study a Gray-cheeked Thrush as he foraged right below us on the downward slope. We found Red-eyed Vireo and American Redstart nests. Mrs. Black-and-white Warbler, gathering nesting material, was being quite picky about the pieces she chose and ended up flying away instead of carrying her items to a nest. The last treat was a female Blackburnian Warbler in a low shrub! Another bird gathering nesting material!

Deirdre captured the sunrise on Sharp Top Mountain!

I sincerely want to thank each of the trip members for coming on this trip! It felt like a “family” vacation as we enjoyed the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain birds together! Good job to you for learning the musical melodies of these birds… and hopefully we will remember their songs and calls next spring!

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By Cynthia Donaldson

“If you want to get back in, you must move more aggressively towards the boat!”  If anyone had told us that we would be hearing these words on our winter trip, we would have wondered if we should even be going.  Forsyth Audubon Trips always hold birdy surprises – those we are ready for.  This was a different kind of surprise, but our group adapts to any situation with a smile. The remembrance of these spoken words will always make the winter trip to Georgetown South Carolina one to remember!

The travel day on Thursday was beautiful and warm for January.  Some of the early arrivals got to go to the Mariana complex and Santee Preserve in the afternoon.  We found the Western Kingbird at the complex and saw or heard the Red-cockaded Woodpecker at the preserve.  The afternoon was warm as we walked along the dike, enjoying the chattering of the Marsh Wrens and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, which we learned sound quite similar.

Friday, January 18 – Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center

In 2016, Tom Yawkey stole our hearts.  Our experience this year was quite the same.  Jim Lee welcomed us with a presentation about the preserve. The beauty of this pristine maritime forest managed for wildlife was amazing.  We visited all the different habitats of the preserve, but did not get to see any alligators this year. The alligators have lived in safety there for years! The alligators there don’t like people because they associate people with getting their blood drawn during their checkups! Over the past three decades, research has been conducted on the alligators there, giving scientists a better idea of how alligators reproduce and grow over their lifespan in the wild.

Our group enjoyed seeing the Marsh Wren and other wading birds on this dike at Tom Yawkey. Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.
Leesa Goodson got a great shot of this skulky Marsh Wren.

A quick stop in the later evening at the Georgetown Water Treatment Plant revealed a rare Black-headed Gull from across the Atlantic. This bird had been reported there for several weeks, and thanks to eBird, we were able to find it after sorting though the many other gulls.

We sorted through the Bonaparte’s Gulls, which look quite similar to find this Black-headed Gull. Bonaparte’s Gulls are smaller and lack the red beak. Photo by Paul Beerman.
Birding and a lovely sunset at the water treatment facility. The papermill is visible in the background. Birders visit the best places!

Saturday, January 20 – Bull’s Island

It was a gorgeous day to visit Bull’s Island, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. It was a bit overcast, but the temperature was very mild for a winter day. And the warm temperatures saved the day! Our captain was very excited to be transporting a group of birders, so he was eager help us find some “good” birds.

Peregrine Falcon on island of oyster shells.
Photo by Paul Beerman.
American Oystercatchers seen on the Bull’s Island Ferry ride to the island.
Photo by Leesa Goodson.

We learned that American Oystercatchers’ beaks are extremely thin so they can pry open oysters. The boat idled as we tried to watch their feeding behavior. Unbeknownst to us, the tide was heading out to sea, quickly, leaving our boat stranded on one of the oyster beds. First, I must say, I cannot think of a nicer group of people with whom to be stranded on a boat! We laughed, ate lunch, and continued birding. Secondly, our captain was terrific. He made sure we were safe and did his best to free us. After several attempts by a passing fishing boat, the larger of the company’s ferries arrived to try to pull us off. This did not work. We had two choices: wait for the tide to come back in or get off the boat to lighten the load. Thirteen of us stepped off the boat into the knee-deep water. It was a bit cold, but it worked! With a little pushing while the larger ferry pulled, we were able to get the boat back into deeper water. After the first attempt to pick up the 13 waders, the captain had to say, “If you want to get back in, you must move more aggressively towards the boat!” And on the next pass, we all clambered onto the boat.

As I earlier said, the day was warm. The captain took us on to the island boat dock where we poured the water out of our boots and dried our feet. Our next several hours on this beautiful island totally made up for any discomfort and delay! Bull’s Island is a destination like no other.

Many alligators were basking in the sun. We enjoyed seeing wintering ducks, a lone scoter, and several species of shorebirds.

Black-bellied Plover.
Photo by Paul Beerman.
Northern Harrier.
Photo by Paul Beerman.

Sunday, January 20 – Huntington Beach State Park

Sunday morning’s hike to the Huntington Beach State Park jetty was warm and pleasant, but the weather changed by the minute as the dark clouds rolled in. By the time we got to the jetty, the waves were crashing and the wind was blowing scopes around.

Beautiful morning for a walk on the beach at Huntington Beach State Park.
We were hoping to see a Snow Bunting at the jetty, but it surprised us by being down the beach. It was in the lee of the sand dune and when it took off after this quick photo by Paul, the wind carried it back toward the jetty, we failed to relocate it.

Several in our group got a quick look at a mink.
Waves and wind at the jetty!
Male Red-breasted Merganser spotted from the jetty.
Red-throated Loon at the jetty.

We enjoyed the afternoon birding other areas of Huntington Beach State Park. We found a mixed flock with Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, and Pine Warblers on the Atalaya Straight Road trail. Our total for just this day was 61 species!

Beautiful Orange-crowned Warbler traveling in the mixed flock. Photo by Leesa Goodson.

Monday, January 21 – Huntington Beach State Park

It was a “hand-warmers” kind of day. Although not an official birding day for the winter trip, several of us braved the bitter cold to bird the Huntington Beach State Park causeway for the last time, trying to eek out a few more hours of sharing the love of birding with our friends…


And remember, if you are ever stranded on an oyster bed, the Forsyth Audubon birders are the ones to be stuck with!! Thanks for a great time with a great group of birders.

By Wendy Hawkins

a parallel to the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (Clement Clarke Moore)

‘Twas the night before birding, when an e-mail I spied;
David Disher saw ducks, “What time?” I replied.
Bundled up next morn — Salem Lake I did dare,
In hopes that all those ducks still would be there!
My gear was all nestled, snug in my backpack,
While visions of ducks in my head shouted “quack!”

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

I stacked on the layers and donned a down jacket;
My haul down the stairs made a bit of a racket.
Taking off in my car, heading east I did dash;
Although I was careful, not going too fast.
The park in the distance at the end of the lane,
The clouds looming over — glad there was no rain.
A Red-Tailed Hawk was the first bird to show,
But no time to stop yet, there were ducks down below.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a handful of birders adorned with their gear!
Out of my car with equipment I flew,
To join in the party and spot what was new!
There on the lake there were birds — quite a LOT!
There was no question, we’d hit “duck jackpot!”
Mergansers, both Hooded and Common, were there; Canvasbacks, Long-Taileds, and gulls to compare.
The Canada Geese made a grandiose show,
Flocking and splashing, for what? — We don’t know.

Duck jackpot

Duck jackpot

Hop Hopkins and others, scopes panning around,
Were happy to share from the dock, safe and sound.
“Where’s the Long-Tailed Duck? The Common Merganser?” I wished.
“Can you find them? I’d like to expand my life list!”
“Look here in my scope,” these bird friends would say, Lowering an eyepiece — not a moment’s delay.
“Wow! A Long-Tailed Duck! I’ve never seen one before!
“Can’t believe it!” I hollered, “Life bird 2 – 0 – 4!”
Next a Common Merganser, looking alive,
My eyes big a saucers — life bird 2 – 0 – 5!
Scope, binoculars, and camera in hand,
I aimed, and I spotted — boy was THAT grand!
In the cold our eyes watered, but we were quite merry,
Our cheeks were like roses, our noses like berries.
Our lips were all frozen; our teeth, how they chattered!
But we could see DUCKS, and nothing else mattered.

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck

We pointed and spotted and snapped what we could,
A flashy male merganser shows off his hood.
“Take a look at their faces, see the difference in bills,”
Great ID advice! – as we shrugged off the chills.
Some ducks in clumps – now others drift left,
Where’s the Herring Gull? Bald Eagle? Hmm, was there a theft?
Blinking our eyes and turning our heads,
We “oooed” and we “awed” – there was nothing to dread.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

I’d have to leave soon – meet a friend for some “perk”,
With enough time to chat before heading to work.
I could hardly wait to report what I’d seen,
What a breathtaking, impactful trip it had been!
My short time was up; just 30 minutes allotted,
But I had seen lifers! What birds we had spotted!
I bid birders farewell, as the cold air did bite –
“Happy birding to all, and to all a good flight!”

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

To hear Wendy read her poem, click this link hear my audio recording.

Photo credits:  Long-tailed Duck by Shelley Rutkin, all others by Wendy Hawkins

By James Williams

Twas the night before Christmas
in a hawk watchers dream,
the Broadies are kettling
and Merlin are seen.

The Kestrels and Sharpies,
are harassing Osprey.
With Red-tail and Cooper
enjoined in the fray.

The Peregrine soar fast,
while the Harrier pass slow.
We count them together
howsoever they go.

So enjoy this dream…
Merry Christmas to all!
It’s only eight months…
Can’t wait ’til next Fall!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my Hawk Watch Friends!

White-eyed Vireo. Photo by David Disher.

White-eyed Vireo. Photo by David Disher.

Ann & Chester Robertson are beloved members of Forsyth Audubon and many of our members remember the warm welcome we received from Ann and Chester.  On September 8, 2018, Ann wrote about their own introduction into Audubon.

With a nod to Marcel Proust, it is the call of a White-eyed Vireo, not a scent, that has stimulated many memories of our first “birding fall,” which was exactly 20 years ago.

When Chester retired from EMS, we had time to watch birds devour mulberries from the tree just outside our sun porch on the south side of town.  [We’ve since moved mid-town.]  That led to feeders, books, binoculars, and a budding interest in going abroad to search for more species.  We checked out the then-new Bethabara wetlands boardwalk, where we ran into Marilyn and Mike Shuping.  They kindly invited us to join the next 2nd Saturday Birdwalk, which was mid-September at Historic Bethabara.

We well remember the anticipation and nerves as we waited with assembled birders.  The walk began when Doug Deneve & Pam arrived.  One of the highlights of the outing was seeing a White-eyed Vireo (new to us) foraging in low branches above the stream.  We remember Doug saying it was a good find for that time of year.

A week or two later, we attended our first hawk watch at Pilot Mountain.  On the ascent to the Little Pinnacle, Chester was thrilled to spot his first male American Redstart.  We remember that there were hawks kettling that day, but we had no stick to measure by at that time.  I can’t remember if it was a “big day” or average.  I do remember complaining that I wasn’t seeing what everyone else was as I peered at a BLUE SKY through my opera-sized Minolta bins proudly and ignorantly purchased at Sports Authority.  At one point, Doug turned to me and said, “Well, it might have something to do with the quality of your optics.”

It was a while before that comment sank in, but eventually brands such as Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss and Bausch & Lomb made their way into our hands.  And yes, we had better views, and much joy in sharing with our fellow birders, as well as casual strangers who might happen along and wonder what was up.  One of my favorite memories was adjusting our spotting scope so that a handicapped child could look at birds on one of our outings. The child wanted to go to Africa to see birds; we always hoped that he made it.

There are 20 years of great memories of time spent in the field, in meetings, and in social gatherings with the best group of people we could ever hope to know.  We have learned that birds attract a very fine human flock indeed.  We’re grateful to each of you who added to those memories over the years.  We learned so much on outings that we could never absorb from books.  As a small instance, I distinctly remember David Disher pointed out a “Thrush Burp” while we were one on of the middle trails in Miller Park.  I always think of that moment when I heard another Thrush Burp.  It may seem a small thing, but it provides pleasure and connection, and a sense of all being right with the world.

May birders continue to share, may thrushes continue to burp, and raptors continue to thrill us with the spectacle of migration that points to forces well beyond our comprehension or control.

And yes, may White-eyed Vireos continue to thrill us with just a little lingering lilt of summer.

Good birding to all,

Ann & Chester Robertson

As you can imagine, the responses quickly started coming in.  First from Phil Dickinson, a long-time FA member and past President who now lives in Washington State.

Ann, thanks for sharing these wonderful memories of birding with Forsyth Audubon. I am coming up on 20 years after my introduction to FA (98 or 99, I forget which), and I still remember the warm greetings I received from you and Ramona at that first meeting. From then on, I was hooked by the warblers and hawks, as well, and all of the great people. So many great spring and winter trips, too.

I do miss those Broad-winged hawks out here, but love seeing the shorebird migration.

And this from Sally Zwadyk.

Dear Ann, Thank you for sharing memories.  I have great memories of our time with you and Chester.  Indeed birding does bring together a great human flock as well.  Happy Birding Anniversary!

Wendy “Big Bird” Hawkins, FA Education Chair, is a little newer to Forsyth Audubon, but now we can’t imagine life without her enthusiasm and passion for birds.  Here’s what Wendy added to the conversation.

How thrilling to hear these grand memories, highlighting, especially, your introduction to and connection with Forsyth Audubon! Although I am much newer to Forsyth Audubon (4 years) and to serious birding (having “evolved” largely over the past 10 years), I resonate in harmony with your sentiments. I have learned considerable volumes from my connection with the incredible characters which comprise Forsyth Audubon! Yet, I realize I am barely scratching the surface of all there is to know about birds! When I go birding with you all, I feel like a total kid, excited about everything I see — and I’ve been know to act like a kid, too, without restraint. And you guys still don’t think I’m TOO crazy!

This fall will make 4 years since I met Kim Brand, as we were watching the same chimney at UNC School of the Arts (in our neighborhood at the time) while a few thousand Chimney Swifts assembled to roost for the night. I thought she might be a security guard approaching me to inquire about my presence in that spot, so I tried to look intently with great purpose, as if I KNEW what I was doing. How relieved I was when she joyfully asked, “Were you watching the Chimney Swifts, too?” “Yes!” I replied, “You were watching them, too?” Then she invited me to Bethabara (lower trails) — a place I had never been, but had been meaning to visit — to go birding with her early the next morning. Next thing you know I was also hooked on “Dead Bird Patrol” after she educated me on the Lights Out program and guided me in the rescue and release of a Wood Thrush on my first round with her.

Thank you to all of my Forsyth Audubon friends for your enthusiastic comradeship!

Rob Rogers, our favorite Forsyth Tech birding instructor and Forsyth Audubon past President jumped in next.

My first walk with Forsyth Audubon…….I had always been a backyard birder – had my Grandma’s old Golden Field Guide.  At some point in my late teens I bought a Peterson’s and would bird when we went to the Parkway or sometimes around the house.  One day, my wife cut out a blurb from the Journal about an Audubon walk.  I couldn’t convince myself to go.  I thought that I would be a hindrance to a group of semi pros – so I didn’t go.  From time to time, I would find the blurbs cut out and laying on the nightstand and Mits would always say – “you should go – it could be fun”.  Finally, I worked up the nerve.  Walk at Washington Park.  I thought – no way I would see anything much in the middle of Winston – so how much of a hindrance could I be.  So…..I went – and I timed it to be just at the starting time to minimize the time that people would have to work out that I was just a rookie.  When I got there, the walk had already started.  The group was leaving the parking area.  I started to just leave – but I thought – “what the heck – I’m here – just go catch up”.  I get out of the car and walk towards the group.  To my surprise, a tall man and a not so tall lady turned and walked towards me.  The lady had the nicest, most genuine, welcoming smile on her face.  The man had an intent – but welcoming look on his face.  The lady said “well hello!  My name is Ann and this is my husband, Chester.  We are so glad that you came out today”.  All of my angst immediately gone, we had a great opening conversation.  I confess I don’t recall much of what was said – but my welcome to Forsyth Audubon stays with me like it was yesterday.   We saw Great Horned Owls on the nest in the big White Pine – I got my first look through a scope.  Jim Martin was there and had several “aside moments” with me identifying birds by ear.  I was like…woooahhh.  Further down – close to what is now the dog park, we saw a pair of Red Tails – Talons locked and tumbling downwards.  A bit earlier in the walk someone had been discussing the question of when people clasp their hands is the right thumb or the left on top.  I took the opportunity to make a joke – “I wonder which Hawk’s Talon is on top – the right or the left?”  Some of the group laughed – a lady older than me looked at me with a serious look on her face.  For a moment, I thought I might have pushed it too far.  Birding, after all, is a serious business.  Then the woman’s face broke into a huge grin.  She said “you are going to fit in here – just fine”.  Ramona Snavely

And the rest….as they say….is history.

Thank you Ann & Chester

Let’s end with Hop Hopkins, another beloved FA member and past President, taking us back FORTY years!

Let me take you back 40 years instead. I came to Winston-Salem in 1977 to start my Pathology residency training at Baptist. I had always loved nature and decided to join the Audubon Society to get the magazine. A little later in the year I also received a newsletter for the Forsyth County AS. I had been birdwatching most of my life and I had never met another birder! The meeting sounded interesting so in 1978 I attended my first meeting. Like Rob I was shy and tried to sneak in but everyone was just too friendly. It was a small group who enjoyed birding together. I was able to go on one of their local bird walks to Salem Lake and was amazed that ducks were this far inland. I had much to learn.

I thought I knew my birds. Then Ramona assigned me to Pat Culbertson for Spring Bird Count. Since I always birdied on my own I thought it might be fun to learn other places to birdwatch in the county. I was surprised to learn that she planned to start at midnight to get owls and nighthawks. A front came in while we were birding so we rested a few hours at her house. At first light we headed out the door and she called out Swainson’s Thrush and Ovenbird. They would have been lifers for me but there was not enough light to see them. The day went just like that. Pat would hear 3 or 4 life birds but we had to move on as there was a fallout. The storm had brought in large numbers of migrants and she wanted all of them! I wound up being the recorder and I could barely keep up. I did get to see a few lifers, but until then I had no idea you could identify so many birds with sound only. I also had no idea where we were birding as we hit numerous places around the county. I think everyone at count dinner had a best day ever and the tally was massive. I had much to learn.

I am still learning but I must say that my FCAS teachers have been outstanding. They taught me bird sounds and where to go locally. I even went on a few field trips to the NC coast to see birds. I had been isolated but was able to learn a great deal from FCAS. I am thankful that I attended that first meeting and hope to get back attending more of them.

Royce, you can take us back more…

I hope you have enjoyed these stories.  These shared experiences make Forsyth Audubon who we are.  Please feel free to share your story in the comments.

By Cynthia Donaldson

White Ibis

White Ibis

Our group of 15 birders met at Lawson Creek Park in New Bern, NC, on Friday, April 27.  Right after a picnic and group meeting, we headed south on 70 to Catfish Lake Road.  This road led us into the heart of the beautiful Croatan National Forest where we saw our first of several small “groups” of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

However, the star of the first stop was this Red-headed Woodpecker who posed on the top of a dead snag for all to enjoy.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

We enjoyed hearing a Prairie Warbler at this stop and we were thrilled to see and hear many more throughout the trip.  We also enjoyed seeing a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher pair tending to their nest.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Next we headed to Pringle Road in the southern part of this forest.  We spent the rest of the afternoon driving and stopping in our search for Bachman’s Sparrow.  We learned that the proper pronunciation of the name is “back” man’s sparrow.  Audubon named this bird after a friend and fellow naturalist.

Bachman's Sparrow

Bachman’s Sparrow

We heard many of them singing on the northward trip up Pringle Road, but did not actually see one until the end of the day on our return south where we got great looks at several.  Their beautiful evening song won’t be forgotten!

The deep yellow of the Prothonotary Warbler is hard to capture, but Paul Beerman got a great photo of this beauty!

The deep yellow of the Prothonotary Warbler is hard to capture, but Paul Beerman got a great photo of this beauty!

On Saturday, we got up very early!  Breakfast was ready for us by 4:30 AM.  We left the hotel around 5:00 AM and made it to the Cedar Island Causeway in time to enjoy sunrise over the marshland.  We pulled to the side of the road at multiple spots and heard Clapper Rails, Sora, and multiple Seaside Sparrows welcoming the new day.  Several Green Herons were seen over the marsh.

After this, we went to the Cedar Island Ferry Terminal boat ramp and enjoyed a study of sandpipers.  A one-legged Black-bellied Plover was spotted.  Sometimes shorebirds tuck one leg up for a rest, but this bird truly only had one leg which he strategically placed directly under his belly.  A fortunate few also got looks at a Swallow-tailed Kite and Gull-billed Tern.  Brown Pelicans soared overhead in large groups.

As we walked down the beach, we added Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Red-breasted Merganser, and Ruddy Turnstone.

Dunlin and Least Sandpiper - side by side for a good comparison.

Dunlin and Least Sandpiper – side by side for a good comparison.

The bird of the day was the Common Eider that had been seen of late around the ferry terminal.  Again, another life bird for many of the participants.

After eating lunch, we drove to Fort Macon State Park.  Our favorite bird here was the Painted Bunting at the fort’s feeders.

Painted Bunting at Fort Macon.

Painted Bunting at Fort Macon.

One of our target birds was Wilson’s Plover – a life bird for many on the trip!

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

After a delicious dinner at Amos Mosquito’s, we had the traditional countdown of all birds we saw on the trip.  The total at that point was 102 species with several more to be added the next day!  A scoop of ice cream was the finishing touch to a wonderful day.

Again, morning came early!  By 6:30 AM, we were at our meeting place in the parking lot of North River Wetland Preserve just a bit east of Otway.  John Fussell and several of his friends escorted us into this beautiful preserve.  For a small fee, visitors may enter on foot or bicycle.  We were privileged to accompany John and tour the wetland reconstruction project by car!

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers were foraging in a newly constructed “swamp” in which 30 volunteers had planted thousands of stalks of “swamp” grass.  Yellow-breasted Chats and Blue Grosbeaks live at the North River Wetland Preserve.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

More life birds were added to many lists when we heard and saw the King Rail. Eighteen more birds were added according to John Hammond’s official list. His total was now 115 species for the trip!!

A great time was had by each of these wonderful, intrepid birders!

A great time was had by each of these wonderful, intrepid birders!

Special thanks to the photographers for the use of their photos in this post.

By Cynthia Donaldson

Friday, September 22, was an unusually warm and muggy fall day, but we adjusted our layers and started out on the famous warbler trail in the heart of Jackson Park in Hendersonville, NC.  American Redstarts were the bird of the afternoon.  Although we saw several males, we mostly saw females and juvenile males in their yellowish plumage.  The black-dipped tail helped us identify the Magnolia Warbler in its fall attire.  Swainson’s Thrushes and American Robins fed on the Virginia Creeper berries throughout the park.

Susan Andrews was our resident botanist, educating us on the native and invasive plants along the trail.

Our curious, enthusiastic group of nature lovers enjoyed the wildflowers, moths, butterflies,  praying mantis, and especially the cute baby possum that we found.

We checked into the Cedar Wood Inn in the late afternoon and then simply crossed the street to the Flat Rock Wood Room restaurant for a yummy dinner!

Saturday, September 23:

After a continental breakfast at our motel, we headed back to Jackson Park.

First, we walked the loop around the ponds.  A beautiful Canada Warbler hopped up from the flowers thrilling us with great looks!  Then we walked the warbler trail again – even though an earlier group reported that they had not seen much…  Once again, the Virginia Creeper vine was hosting Swainson’s Thrushes and American Robins as well as the thrill of the day: two Philadelphia Vireos!  The vireos were life birds for many of the observers.

By the time we went to the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary, the temperatures were even warmer, but even an afternoon shower could not dissuade us!  A flock of Cedar Waxwings provided an opportunity to study the striped juveniles.  Two shorebirds could be seen on the exposed shore of the very low Beaver Lake: Semipalmated Plover and Spotted Sandpiper.

A Hooded Warbler played hide-and-seek with us until we each got a great look!  We walked the boardwalk and then headed to the cars as a large storm approached.  We skirted the edge and mostly saw the effects of the wind as thousands of fall leaves danced in the air!

Our dinner locale was Stony Knob Café.  After a fabulous meal in this eclectically decorated restaurant, we headed to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Sunday, September 24:

After entering the private community of Wolf Laurel Golf & Country Club, we drove up Big Bald Road to the parking area.  We carried our chairs, lunches, and gear to our “camp-out” spot in the gap between the two balds, a few feet away from the Appalachian Trail.

Then we hiked a short way on this famous trail to Little Bald to visit the Big Bald Banding Station, a project of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research.

Mark Hopey, the director of the MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) project on the bald, welcomed us and spent the next few hours telling us about his passion for birds as he banded, weighed, and measured dozens of birds.  Under the guidance of the volunteers, we checked the nets and transported the birds back to the banding table.  Barb was given the job of weighing and releasing Swainson’s Thrushes.

 

The Forsyth birders gathered around the banding table observing Mark and the other dedicated volunteers record valuable data that is used to monitor bird populations.

The Forsyth birders gathered around the banding table observing Mark and the other dedicated volunteers record valuable data that is used to monitor bird populations.

Forsyth birders have a tender spot in our hearts for the Wood Thrush and on this day we got to observe one at close range - in the expert hands of Mark Hopey.

Forsyth birders have a tender spot in our hearts for the Wood Thrush and on this day we got to observe one at close range – in the expert hands of Mark Hopey.

This Bay-breasted Warbler is a difficult bird to identify in the fall because of its similarity to Blackpoll and Pine Warblers. This bird has been banded and is ready for its flight to South America.

This Bay-breasted Warbler is a difficult bird to identify in the fall because of its similarity to Blackpoll and Pine Warblers. This bird has been banded and is ready for its flight to South America.

It was hard to pull ourselves away because each time the volunteers returned from the nets with their little bags, it felt like Christmas!  The bags kept the little birds safe as they awaited their turn for the banding and recording process.  I think the group favorite was the little yellow and black Hooded Warbler.   Clare’s favorite was the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!  The Gray-cheeked Thrush that was banded was a “life” bird for many, though since he was not “free”, we only put him on our “happy memory” list! Thanks to Mark Hopey, we each had a wonderful experience!

 

David got to hold and release a Dark-eyed Junco!

David got to hold and release a Dark-eyed Junco!

Around 11:30 AM, we hiked back down the bald to our camp at the gap for lunch.  Once again, the day was warm.  We had structured the day to be relaxing.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch; Shirley napped in the warm sun; Chuck enjoyed counting the migrating hawks from his comfy chair.  Heather, Gail, and Nancy spotted a small flock of warblers which included a Tennessee (below) and a Nashville – the only one of the trip!

Many in the group hiked to Big Bald to participate in a migrating hawk survey.  Rob used his scope to check out the raptors that passed overhead.  We saw Broad-winged, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered Hawks, and an American Kestrel.  The hawk watching group counted for 2-1/2 hours up on that sunny bald!

After the hike down the bald, we pretty much called it a day.  A few remained, hoping that Mark would be able to capture a raptor.  We gave up around 4 PM.  Later we learned that he had caught two Sharpies around 4:15, about the time we were on our way back to the hotel.

The Stack House Restaurant graciously opened its doors for us on Sunday evening for a dinner of burgers and deep fried delights like sweet potato fries, onion rings, and even dill pickles.  The traditional count-off of the checklist tallied 76 bird species.  After adding the Monday birds, our trip total was 83 species seen!

Monday, September 25:

Most of us drove to Ridge Junction in the dark arriving around sunrise.  The birds were everywhere – flying above our heads in their mad course south.  Even Red Crossbills – our target bird for the day –  flew around but never landed within sight!  The warblers, vireos, and grosbeaks were all on the move, flying on the cold wind to their destinations.  We were entertained by dozens of Red-breasted Nuthatches, squeaking along the Spruce tree branches!  An unexpected look at a Golden-winged Warbler was our treat of the morning.

We went to the top of Mt. Mitchell, hoping to see the crossbills, but saw none.  After a parking lot picnic, we said our goodbyes.

A few stragglers – acting on a tip – hiked down the Bald Knob Ridge Trail to a supposed hot spot for Red Crossbills.  We got a good look at a few dozen of these crossed-billed birds eating pine cone seeds.

Our only disappointment was that everyone did not get to see them!  Next time!!

Thanks to each of these trip participants!  I had the best time ever enjoying the beauty of western North Carolina with these awesome people!  Barb and Rick Borucki, Heather Moir, Don and Clare Adamick, Nancy Russo, Chuck and Cindy Thompson, Harry and Janet Rolison, Ga Baliga, Elnora Gore, David Shuford, Rob Rogers, Susan and Mark Andrews, Ferd and Gail Crotte, Judi Durr, Bob Dalton, Shirley Ferguson, Tim and Brenda Kilpatrick, and Pete Donaldson!

Special thanks to Mark Andrews, Gail Crotte, Heather Moir, and David Shuford for allowing use of their photos in this post!