Archive for October, 2012


Josh Buchanan Spots Merlins and More

“Merlin,” Scott DePue shouted on a September morning at Pilot Mountain State Park. Sure enough, a small, dark raptor with pointed wings shot through the gap that separates Pilot Knob from the Little Pinnacle overlook where we conduct our annual hawk watch. Then, as we watched the bird zoom south toward Winston-Salem, a second Merlin followed the same path only a few seconds behind.

The Merlin sightings were particularly thrilling for me. We see very few even at the hawk watch, and three times last year I was looking one way while other observers spotted these birds going another. Seeing two within ten seconds was special.


Ospreys Fly Over Pilot, Too

In Forsyth County, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks stay all year. However, many hawks and other raptors that breed to our north migrate to warmer climes in the fall. Most notable in the eastern United States is the Broad-winged Hawk. Hundreds of thousands of these birds travel to Central and South America, often in large flocks or “kettles” of dozens, even hundreds, of birds. A large kettle is quite spectacular, as the hawks swirl up on a thermal rising off the ground and then glide out on a high current of air – a very efficient means of travel.

Pilot Mountain has been the site of an annual hawk watch for almost 40 years. In 1973, Ramona Snavely was there in early October and observed several Broad-winged Hawks riding the thermals on their way south. Since then, Pilot Mountain has joined many other watch sites from Canada to Mexico. Sites submit collected data to www.hawkcount.org, where they are available for scientific study.

At Pilot, observers can find 13 raptor species. Besides the species already mentioned, we see Bald Eagle, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and both Black and Turkey Vultures. Park visitors often are amazed to hear that we see eagles and, even more so, when they get to see one themselves.


State Ranger Brian Bockhahn Taught Raptor ID Classes

We get much satisfaction from talking with the visitors about what we are doing and seeing at the pinnacle. For this veteran, it is always a joy to see the “wow” look of  someone seeing their first eagle or a broad-winged kettle. Chuck Smith brought his natural history class from High Point University one day, and State Park Service Ranger Brian Bockhahn brought two groups of rangers and other individuals for a raptor identification class.

In 2012, we conducted our hawk watch from September 12-30. During that time, we counted 2592 Broad-winged Hawks. In addition, we observed 30 Osprey, 25 Bald Eagle, 14 Peregrine Falcon, 4 Northern Harrier, plus a few each of the other raptor species. Those two Merlins were the only ones seen. For butterfly enthusiasts, this also is a great place to watch the fall Monarch migration.

The 2592 Broad-winged Hawks was the highest tally since 2006. Sunday September 16 was a dream day for hawk watchers, as 1735 passed by, including over 1000 birds kettle after kettle between 3 and 6 p.m. We wrapped up on September 30 with another 632 broad-winged and six eagles.


Turkey Vultures Roost on Pilot

For many years, Toby Gordon was synonymous with the Pilot Mountain Hawk Watch. Every fall, Toby was there most days often alone patiently waiting for those large kettles of birds to come through. These days, Scott DePue is the name that comes to mind. Blessed with extraordinary vision, Scott has been nicknamed “Hubble” after the space telescope by fellow Piedmont Bird Club member Julien McCarthy. Scott finds “specks” of birds on the horizon that some of us with old eyes never see. More than that, he has excellent raptor ID skills and always is ready to help less experienced birders understand what they are seeing.

Thanks to all of the many observers who made this year’s Pilot Mountain count a success. In addition to Scott, I extend a special thank you to Jean Chamberlain and Carol Cunningham for their many shifts as compilers at Hawk Watch and their extra efforts to make sure we did not miss any of those migrating birds. To learn more, visit the Hawk Watch page at our website, www.forsythaudubon.org.

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Bird lovers, you’ll find much to delight you at the “Feathered” exhibit now open at Sawtooth – from vivid feather masks to realistic carved birds to fanciful sculptures. Amongst gorgeous works of art, in fact right in the center of one, you’ll also find a hidden conservation story.

Artist Duncan Lewis and Lights Out organizer Allison Sloan both have experience with dead woodcocks.

Lights Out organizers Allison Sloan, Carol Gearhart, Nita Colvin and I were excited when exhibit coordinator Sharon Hardin asked our Audubon chapter to collaborate with her on some events at a bird-themed art exhibit. What a perfect opportunity to share our story of bird-window collisions and how to prevent them, during fall migration.

At the opening reception Friday night, we displayed dead-bird photos to tell our story of birds crashing into glass windows downtown, and how turning out the lights on top of tall buildings can help birds migrate safely through our city.

To our surprise, at the exhibit there was another dead-bird photo — one we hadn’t brought with us. It was part of a work of art. Even more surprising, the dead bird, an American Woodcock, met its end by crashing into a window.

We surrounded artist Duncan Lewis to ask how he got the dead woodcock. “I didn’t think anyone would know what it was,” he said. He was even more surprised when Allison told him she found dozens of dead or injured woodcocks when she monitored New York City buildings for window casualties before moving to Winston-Salem six years ago.

Duncan explained that the idea for this piece began when he found a Cooper’s Hawk skeleton and feathers in a field near his home in Rural Hall, north of Winston-Salem. He decided to scan the feathers using equipment at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was studying art. On a rainy day, he drove to Greensboro and got out of his car with the hawk remains tucked into his trench coat.

Interns Lindsay Potter and Shamaz Denerson bird-proofed this window and will help you create window decals for your home at the Nov. 10 workshop.

As Duncan approached the UNCG art building, a bird flew by and crashed into the window right in front of him.

A member of what he described as “a reputable birding family,” with a birder mom and ornithologist sister, Duncan knew immediately that the bird was an American Woodcock. He didn’t know, though, that woodcocks are super-colliders when it comes to glass. They migrate at night, only 50 to 100 feet above the ground. Their eyes are large and placed weirdly high on their heads. In New York City, the woodcock is the ninth most common victim of building collisions.

Duncan tucked the woodcock into his trenchcoat along with the hawk feathers. And he created a compelling piece of art using their likenesses in a photographic collage.

Dead-bird photos and the story of how and why they died are part of the exhibit – and so is a solution you can implement at home. Sawtooth interns Lindsay Potter and Shamaz Denerson, both Salem College students, will lead workshop participants through the creation of bird-art window decals on Nov. 10 from 1-3 p.m. It’s designed as a parent-child workshop, but everyone is welcome. The workshop is free. Sign up by contacting Sawtooth School at 723-7395.

The Feathered exhibit runs through Nov. 16. It’s in the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, 251 N. Spruce Street in downtown Winston-Salem. For more information, go to www.sawtooth.org or www.forsythaudubon.org.

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Fall is a tough time of year for young owls.  Their parents have recently stopped feeding and caring for them, but they have not had sufficient time or experience to hone their survival skills.  So, mistakes happen – like crashing through windows.  Karen Keller, Town Clerk for the Town of Bethania, arrived at her office this morning and opened the door leading into the Alpha Chapel as usual.  Imagine Karen’s surprise when she saw shattered glass on the floor and a Barred Owl on the piano.

Barred Owl in the Alpha Chapel

Barred Owl in the Alpha Chapel

Karen called me and asked what to do.  I called Jean Chamberlain, our local owl and hawk rehabilitation expert with Wildlife Rehab, Inc.  Thirty minutes later, Jean, Karen, Mark Farnsworth (manager of the Bethania Visitor Center), and I walked into the chapel.  The owl was still on the piano, but it quickly flew around a little and then crashed into a corner and fell to the floor where Jean was able to pick it up.

Jean holds the Barred Owl

Jean holds the Barred Owl

Jean showed us the barring on the owl’s wing which indicated that it is a first year bird, probably about six months old.  Although there was no evidence of bleeding and we had just seen the owl fly, Jean carefully examined it for injuries.

Jean examines the Barred Owl for injuries

Jean examines the Barred Owl for injuries

Something in the tendon that runs along the top of the wing felt not quite right, so Jean decided to take the owl home with her for observation.  I was elated to receive a phone call a few hours later saying that the owl was flying just fine.  Jean also said that feeling its keel revealed a healthy amount of muscle, so the bird had been successfully feeding itself.  There was a little swelling in its wing, but she expected that it would heal naturally.  Jean planned to release the owl at 6:45 PM this evening.

We arrived in the Bethania Visitor Center parking lot at the agreed upon time and Jean took the owl out of its carrier.

Jean holds the Barred Owl before release

Jean holds the Barred Owl before release

We admired the owl again and then Jean swept her arm upwards and let go.  The owl quickly flew to the nearest tree, sat for a minute, and then flew out of our sight.  This beautiful young owl was now back home in the wonderful woods of Black Walnut Bottoms.

Female Barred Owls are larger than males.  This bird was intermediate in weight, so we do not know its gender.

The photo below shows the view from outside the chapel.  Note the lower right window pane where the owl crashed through.

The Barred Owl crashed through this window into the chapel

The Barred Owl crashed through this window into the chapel

In addition to facilitating owl rescues, Forsyth Audubon works with the Town of Bethania to replace non-native invasive plants with native species.  Our other activities include bird and butterfly walks in Walnut Bottoms.  See the Bethania page on our website for more information.

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