Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Birders love surprises and 2015 was full of them. Adding to last year’s fun was our Forsyth County 2015 Photo Big Year. Surprises included birds rare to Forsyth County, birds rarely photographed, and birds rarely photographed so beautifully.

The rare birds started on New Year’s Day with this Cackling Goose photographed by Susan Disher at Cornerstone Living Center ponds, on Reynolds Park Road near Salem Lake Road.

01-01 Cackling Goose SPDisher

Another rare goose quickly followed, a Ross’s Goose at Lake Hills in Pfafftown on January 5. Here is my photo of that bird.

Ross's Goose

Wayne Petel was one of the lucky few who had wintering Baltimore Orioles at his feeders.  His photo of this gorgeous male is one of my favorite photos of the year, taken on January 12.

01-12 Baltimore Oriole Wayne

Rare waterfowl continued with a Surf Scoter found and photographed at Swann Water Treatment Plant in Lewisville by Mike Conway on January 24.  This is only the fourth county record.  The Swann Plant hosted another rare bird the following month, a Red-throated Loon found and photographed by Nathan Gatto on February 18.  The loon was also the fourth county record.

Phil Dickinson’s photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk in his Winston-Salem front yard on February 7 was another favored photo.  Phil watched the hawk catch a chipmunk and then fly to a close-by tree to enjoy its meal. We called this photo “What’s for breakfast?”

02-07 Red-shouldered Hawk Phil

An Eastern Screech Owl photographed by Matt Cuda on February 23 in northern Forsyth County was a surprise of another kind.  Screech Owls are resident breeding birds here, but I never expected that we would get a photo of one.

02-23 Screech Owl Matt

On March 25, we were surprised with a photo of an American Woodcock, another common bird, but one extremely difficult to photograph. This bird was apparently the victim of a window crash and was photographed by Lesa Dowell on the roof of a downtown Winston-Salem office building.  Fortunately, the bird seemed to recover and was able to fly away.

03-25 Woodcock Lesa

While rarities are fun, the Photo Big Year helped us get many wonderful photos of our common birds.  Leesa Goodson shot this photo of a White-eyed Vireo at Tanglewood on April 5.

04-06 WE Vireo Leesa

It wouldn’t be spring without warblers and we got photos of most of them.  Here is Nathan Gatto’s lovely Prairie Warbler, photographed at Reynolda on April 25.

04-25 Prairie Nathan

Another favorite was Heather Moir’s Pileated Woodpecker, also photographed at Reynolda, on April 30.

04-30 Pileated Heather

On July 13, Jean Aldrich found an Anhinga flying over Bethabara Parkway near the former Johanne’s Restaurant ponds. This was the first report of Anhinga in the county.  No photo was taken, so the bird was added to our official Forsyth County bird list in a provisional status.

The next big surprise of the year occurred on August 14 when Cynthia Donaldson found the first Western Kingbird ever reported in Forsyth County.  The normal range for this bird is Western North America, just as its name suggests.  They do wander a bit in the fall, showing up mostly along the coast, but there are very few records for inland North Carolina.  Here is Cynthia’s photo taken on Kapp Road in Pfafftown.

Kingbird - edited

The kingbird was followed by another unusual sighting just a few days later on August 20, a Baird’s Sandpiper found by David Disher at Archie Elledge.  There are only a handful of county reports and this was the first since 2007.

Exactly one week later, on August 27, Hop Hopkins found a Cerulean Warbler at Bethabara Historic Park.  This bird was unusual in that it stayed for several days allowing quite a few birders to see it.  Hop got the beautiful photo below.

08-27 Cerulean Hop

On September 22, Kim Brand received a phone call from a friend, Mindy Conner, with a report of an unusual hummingbird in her Winston-Salem backyard.  Later that day, the bird was identified as a Buff-bellied Hummingbird. This was what birders call a mega-rarity. It was not only a county record, but only the second time the bird has been seen in the state!  Mindy welcomed birders to her yard and this jewel has been seen by hundreds of birders. Here is Hop Hopkins’ photo.

09-22 Buff-bellied Hop

Fall waterfowl migration brings us back to Lake Hills, this time for a Greater White-fronted Goose, on November 6.  This is only the fourth time this species has been reported in Forsyth County.  David Disher’s photo is below.

12-07 Greater White-fronted Goose Disher

During the Forsyth Audubon Second Saturday bird walk on November 14 at Muddy Creek Greenway, we added another county record bird, Golden Eagle.  The bird was initially identified as an immature Bald Eagle.  But, new Audubon members Tony and Cara Woods were on the walk and Cara got a photo with enough detail to change the identification to Golden Eagle.  Amazingly, this was the fourth county record for 2015.

Another surprise for the year were two Northern Bobwhites that visited David and Susan Disher’s Winston-Salem yard.  Bobwhite are becoming increasingly difficult to find in Forsyth County with only a few scattered reports.  The Dishers’ visitors stayed for a couple of days.  Here is Susan’s photo.

11-25 Bobwhite Susan

Four Forsyth county records made 2015 an outstanding birding year.  So many folks seeing those birds made it even more special.  We are lucky to have a generous community of birders who love to share.  That group spirit was exemplified by participation in our Photo Big Year.  We published images of 193 species by 28 photographers.  Thanks to everyone’s quick-thinking, skill and talent we were able to beautifully document our Forsyth County birds of 2015.  Six people had over a dozen photos each that we used – Hop Hopkins, David Disher, Nathan Gatto, Leesa Goodson, Phil Dickinson, and Wayne Petel.  Every person who contributed made a difference, but these six folks deserve special recognition and thanks.

We were able to publish photos of all the “expected” species except Wilson’s Snipe, Chuck-will’s-widow, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Swainson’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.  We missed photographing seven “likely” species – Broad-winged Hawk, Virginia Rail, Black Tern, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Canada Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and Bobolink.  Remember, those chances represented our expectations of the birds being seen in any year, not the ease with which they could be photographed.  We published photos of 18 “possible” species, those are are not guaranteed to even be seen in any particular year.  Three of the four county record birds were photographed, allowing these birds to be added to our official county bird list as “accepted.”

See the Photo Big Year page for links to the species pages displaying all the images and photographers’ names, dates, and locations.



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The little Barred Owl was only two weeks old. He was still covered in down and just beginning to get pin feathers. The owlet shared a nest with his siblings in a cavity about 30 feet high in a big old tree at Tanglewood County Park. The nest was very nice with a solid floor and lots of room. But there was a little low spot in the front wall which allowed the owlet to fall out of the nest.

The Barred Owlet was found on the ground.  Photo by Hop Hopkins.

The Barred Owlet was found on the ground. Photo by Hop Hopkins.

Fortunately, a birder spied the owl on the ground near the trail. Hop Hopkins and David and Susan Disher were walking along the trail and ran into the first birder who showed them the owl. Hop contacted Phil Dickinson who knew just what to do – call Jean Chamberlain. Jean is a licensed raptor rehabilitator who has performed many owl rescues. Hop scooped up the owl and put it into a REI shopping bag with a small blanket. He took it to Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital in Clemmons where Jean picked it up.

In the REI bag for transport to Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital.  Photo by Hop Hopkins.

In the REI bag for transport to Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital. Photo by Hop Hopkins.

Jean took the owlet home and carefully examined it. It weighed 325 grams (11.5 ounces) and was healthy and uninjured, so Jean began forming a plan to re-nest the owl the next day. She contacted Lorena Greene, whose husband, Aaron, works at Tanglewood. Aaron and his friend, John Ledbetter, also a Tanglewood employee, were happy to help. They agreed to meet Jean with a ladder and help put the owl back in the nest. Jean allowed Phil Dickinson and me to go along and observe. On Wednesday afternoon, April 23, Aaron and Lorena, John, Jean, Phil, and I met at Skilpot Lake. But our rescue party was not yet quite complete.

The young owl calmly waiting in the parking lot.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

The young owl calmly waiting in the parking lot. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Todd and Beth Cassidy had just rescued a Great Horned Owl and needed to deliver it to Jean, so they also met her at Skilpot Lake. It was their 26th anniversary and Beth said that they always like to have an adventure to celebrate. So, Todd and Beth joined our Barred Owl party and we all went back to the nest area. The men quickly set up the twenty-foot ladder and leaned it against the nest tree. As we’d suspected, it was not nearly long enough. Aaron called another friend for help and we soon had a 40-foot ladder. This one was just right.

Jean climbing up to the nest.  Photo by Shelley Rutkin.

Jean climbing up to the nest. Photo by Shelley Rutkin.

Jean quickly ascended the ladder and inspected the nest. She came down and reported that it was really nice and that it contained two owlets. Had the nest been in need of repair, she was prepared to reinforce the bottom.   She got her camera and the owl and went back up. Jean placed the little owl in the nest and came down the ladder again. Success! Jean had re-nested the owlet.

Jean placing the owlet back into the nest.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Jean placing the owlet back into the nest. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

One of the men joked that the owlet would tell his siblings all about his big adventure. He suggested that the owlet could say, “Don’t worry about falling out. Someone will put you back in the nest.”

Our little owl back in the nest with his siblings.  Photo by Jean Chamberlain.

Our little owl back in the nest with his siblings. Photo by Jean Chamberlain.

Jean is our local owl and hawk expert with Wildlife Rehab, Inc.  She and several other people in this story are Forsyth Audubon members. I have referred to the owlet as “he”, but there is no way to determine the gender of a young owl.

Please be especially careful to avoid disturbance of the owls during the next few months. The babies will soon be “branchers” out of the nest. They will be unable to fly and are safer from predators in the branches of the tree than on the ground. The parents will continue to feed the young owls for several months.


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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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Forsyth Audubon has a brand new blog.  We’ll use this space to write about all kinds of things – bird friendly backyards, hawk watch, Lights Out, trip reports, and more.  Do you have ideas for what you’d like to see here?  Or, would you like to write a guest post?  Email any of the authors listed on the “Contact Us” page.  We hope you enjoy reading our blog.

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