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Archive for December, 2018

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

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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!

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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.

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