Archive for the ‘Trip Reports’ Category

Birding in the Fog, May 22-24, 2022


Ah, cell service? Nope, non-existent at the visitor center when we arrived at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning.  We were unable to reach one member of our group who wasn’t arriving until lunch.  

The weather was beautiful, though, for a walk on the .8 mile Elk Run Trail loop.  We heard our first Cerulean as well as Hooded and Blackburnian Warblers.  We then drove to the picnic area for a peaceful lunch along the creek there.

After lunch we went to the Flat Top and Falling Waters Cascades trailhead.  On our mile long walk we heard a couple more Ceruleans, but we were yet to see one.  Several of us heard a beautiful chorus of three Hooded Warblers with one male clearly seen.  We left and headed back just in time as an afternoon storm was forecast for 4 o’clock.  It came right on time as we were checking into the hotel.

We saw quite a few more common species. Below, an Ovenbird and a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

We had dinner at the lodge restaurant where we were entertained by a trio of fiddlers.  After dinner we walked around Abbot Lake.  It was quite dark so we tried to call a Screech Owl, but no luck.  We were startled by a large brown blob (creature) that ran through our group.   The ID of the blob is still a mystery.  

Rain was forecast for 11:00 AM.  It was cool, but nice birding along Radar Road.  We heard Ceruleans but again couldn’t find one.  It was difficult seeing birds with the fog. 

We saw a beautiful red salamander though (redeft).  Shortly after that we were met by a group of researchers who were all headed out in full rain gear, looking for particular species called the Peaks of Otter salamander that is found only in Bedford and Botetourt counties.

Next, we started down Warbler Road.  We heard and saw several of the same warblers we’d heard on Sunday.  The fog rolled in and unfortunately it started raining shortly after 11:00 AM.  

We decided to eat lunch downstairs in the lodge rather than at the picnic area.  The fog was so thick we could barely see the lake.   After lunch Cynthia tested our birdsong ID skills on the warblers we’d been seeing.  Everyone did very well having heard them many times.  

With so much fog we decided it would not be worthwhile or safe to drive to the overlooks as planned.  Instead, we birded through the meadow, stepping over a little turtle on the path, and into the woods heading toward Johnson’s Farm.

We heard American Redstarts, Hooded and Cerulean Warblers.  Then suddenly we heard the clear, loud churee’-churee’-churee’ notes of a Kentucky Warbler right along our path.  Catherine spotted it and a couple of us got a really good unobstructed view of it sitting out on a branch, but then it flew.  Not giving up we followed it through the small patch of woods to the meadow on the other side.  The bird was in a large tree singing away.  We then spent an hour and 15 minutes searching for a bird that was right overhead, singing loudly and repeatedly, but the fog was dense.  Don said he looked at every leaf on that tree.  We didn’t find it.

We took a break out of the rain at the visitor center and did charade-like imitations of birds to entertain ourselves: hummingbird, bittern, Louisiana and northern waterthrushes, crane, woodpecker and others.  We walked around the lake in the rain with the goal of finding just one more species.  We did find Cedar Waxwings.  They, along with Eastern Phoebes and Barn Swallows (photo on right), didn’t seem to mind the rain at all.

Since it was raining steadily at 7:00 AM, we decided to wait and hope it would let up.  Some of us had breakfast at the lodge restaurant while we waited.  About 8:30 four of us decided to head back toward Johnson Farm in light rain in search of the Kentucky Warbler.  We found it again in the same location.  Becky spotted it and a couple more of us got a good look at it.  We continued on to the farm, but the birds were not very active so we headed home.

In spite of the weather everyone was in good spirits the whole time.  It was a light hearted crew providing me a memorable experience in leading my first Forsyth Audubon trip.

Thanks to Barb Barucki and Cynthia Donaldson for sharing some of the photos used in this story.

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By Jesse Anderson

For any adventure – no matter the weather or bird activity, or unforeseen circumstances – great company often makes for a great story. As we barrel through the calendar year, endlessly filling our backyard feeders, installing native plants…waiting for a time when we can again re-group to enjoy birds together. For now I thought I’d share our story.

Leading my first winter trip with Forsyth Audubon, there was a natural drive to do things a bit differently – change some things up to make it fun and interesting, considering we have been traveling as an organization to the Outer Banks for a long while now. I was interested in sharing a “seldom-visited” birding hotspot, which I have grown to love, Lake Phelps, AKA Pettigrew State Park. At a whopping 16,600 acres, Lake Phelps is North Carolina’s second largest natural lake. As we arrived at Pettigrew State Park, driving through six or more inches of water and winds howling, we all secretly knew birding was going to be tough. While waiting for everyone to arrive, a couple of Bald Eagles of various ages flew overhead – maybe there was hope. One thing you can’t ever plan for is weather, and boy did this weather stir things up.

Getting by with a little help from our friends - from getting cold feet along the flooded Bodie Island boardwalk. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

Getting by with a little help from our friends – from getting cold feet along the flooded Bodie Island boardwalk. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

Walking out to the boat ramp, we could see turbulent waters ahead. We were able to view a few hunkered down winter songbirds, but it wasn’t easy. With strong winds blowing, Lake Phelps looked more like a rough ocean than a lake – nothing out on the lake except some whitecaps! In an attempt to salvage the stop, we headed toward the “sheltered” south leeward side of the lake, where the waterfowl were hopefully hiding. Less than halfway there, we encountered downed trees blocking the only road to the access. Enough with this, on to the Outer Banks!

A quick stop for lunch at Sugar Shack Seafood Market, just over the Roanoke Sound as you travel into the Outer Banks. Weather wasn’t only turbulent for the birds, it caused an upwelling in the whole schedule – the road down to Cape Hatteras was completely flooded – as lunch quickly turned into spreading word of overturned UPS trucks and floating Jeep 4×4 vehicles. Luckily, our amazing group was able to overcome by scrambling to re-book accommodations and adapt.

The sheltered marsh of Bodie Island did not disappoint. A visit to the observation deck provided our group with even more diversity and great bonding time. The group enjoyed excellent views of a wide variety of waterfowl and a very cooperative tricolored heron.

Tricolored Heron. Photo by Paul Beerman.

Tricolored Heron. Photo by Paul Beerman.

A short trip over to the Old Coastguard Station provided good views of some sheltering American Oystercatchers and Red-breasted Mergansers. Walking out to the point quickly reminded us how hard the wind was blowing, considering we soon began being pelted with sand as we crested the edge of the terminal groin.

American Oystercatchers feeding in the sheltered surf. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

American Oystercatchers feeding in the sheltered surf. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

As we returned, crossing Bonner Bridge, we noticed a few cormorants which had been stranded on top of the bridge, sheltering from the strong winds. Cormorants are the most efficient marine predator in the world, catching more fish per effort than any other animal – where they lack in efficiency is on land – they are clumsy and awkward, often struggling to take flight. In a split-second decision, we decided to stop, with a speed limit of 55 MPH, they were likely to meet an unfortunate fate. Jean Chamberlain [wildlife rehabilitator extraordinaire] and I [mere mortal], got to work catching these two birds to help them see another day. Jean showed her true expertise as she approached, quickly captured, and released the cormorant that was staying still. I went after the other, which decided to run awkwardly along Bonner Bridge, with an awkward human (me) chasing behind. Finally, I caught the second bird and both were released to safety.

Awkward human (Jesse) chasing awkward bird (Double-crested Cormorant). Photo by Barb Borucki.

Awkward human (Jesse) chasing awkward bird (Double-crested Cormorant). Photo by Barb Borucki.

On the way home, a few of us stopped to observe the tail-end of a (continuing) Common Gallinule in a roadside ditch – woohoo!! Take the win where we can get it!

The following day was a trip to Mackay Island NWR. After contacting the range manager prior to our visit, I was particularly excited about this stop. Upon arrival, however, a different story unfolded. Apparently because of federal budget cuts on wildlife refuges, the gates to the range were “closed on the weekend” according to the range manager via phone, something he failed to mention in prior conversation. Even to this day, scouring their website, I find that the range is “Open Sunrise to Sunset.” Our great group of Forsyth Audubon members would adapt and enjoy what portion we could! One of the main targets was the all-elusive King Rail. Many were heard, yet they stayed true to their modus-operandi.

Just before lunch, we received notifications that the King Eider had been relocated off Jeanette’s Pier. We made a quick decision to enjoy our bag lunch on the next ferry and head straight back to Nags Head to do some seawatching.

The Common Eider was much closer and more cooperative. Photo by Paul Beerman.

The Common Eider was much closer and more cooperative. Photo by Paul Beerman.

Upon arrival at Jeanette’s Pier, a number of other birders were already observing a pair of King Eider. The views were distant, but distinguishable, and it was enjoyable to compare both King and Common Eider at the same site! In addition to the eider, we enjoyed viewing a number of ducks, Manx Shearwater, and a few Razorbills.

Forsyth Audubon members enjoying the challenge of viewing a flyby Manx Shearwater. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

Forsyth Audubon members enjoying the challenge of viewing a flyby Manx Shearwater. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

After we got our fix of seawatching, we collectively decided to explore Pea Island NWR, a favorite local hotspot. A few stops within the refuge provided just the amazing addition to bird diversity the group was looking for. Made for a great end to day two.

American Avocets. Photo by Paul Beerman.

American Avocets. Photo by Paul Beerman.

Our third day was a long-awaited journey into offshore waters on the Stormy Petrel II, a boat operated by Brian Patteson and Kate Sutherland. Pelagic trips are possibly one of my favorite things to do while at the coast, mainly because it brings you away from human development into a whole new world, one not often seen from shore.

Sunrise from the Stormy Petrel II. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

Sunrise from the Stormy Petrel II. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

Throughout the day, both bird life and marine life did not disappoint. Just as we were heading into Oregon Inlet, I noticed a small dark bird on the water from mid-way down the starboard side and ran to the front yelling ‘alcid!’ As we barreled ahead, the bird dove just under the bow. The tiny bird ended up being our first, and only Dovekie of the trip – and what wonderful views we had.

Dovekie. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

Dovekie. Photo by Jesse Anderson.

The Dovekie hung around the boat for quite a while, seemingly in an attempt to catch its breath and avoid becoming a meal of a nearby Great Black-backed Gull. Additional bird highlights included thousands of Northern Gannet, a number of Razorbill, and a great diversity of gulls of all ages.

A non-feathered highlight and the amazing reason pelagic trips are so much fun – you never know what you’ll encounter! Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus) full breaching from the water was a top highlight for me! Photo by Jesse Anderson.

A non-feathered highlight and the amazing reason pelagic trips are so much fun – you never know what you’ll encounter! Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus) full breaching from the water was a top highlight for me! Photo by Jesse Anderson.

After spending the final morning exploring Alligator River NWR, we all slowly trickled back toward Forsyth County, many with photos to share and stories that would last a lifetime. Looking forward to again enjoying the company of fellow like-minded bird (and nature) enthusiasts. Hope you are all having a great summer!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Great Black-backed Gull. Photo by David Collins.

By Cynthia Donaldson

When I close my eyes, I can still see the owl.  I made sure my mind took a “photo” of its face: two, black squinted eyes on a white, solemn face; a small, sharp black beak punctuating the center; the sleepy gaze at our group.  When the Saturday, January 14, itinerary for the Forsyth Audubon 2017 Winter Trip included a long drive north from our headquarters in Virginia Beach to visit this beautiful refuge on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, we had little hope of seeing a Snowy Owl.  It hadn’t been seen for two weeks.  We stuck to our plan to visit, anyway, in hopes of seeing the visiting Black-headed Gull from across the Atlantic. We actually located two rare gulls:  the Iceland Gull and the Black-headed Gull.  Then, as we checked out a huge flock of Snow Goose napping at Tom’s Cove, a scan of the shore line produced a lone, white bird resting on a mound of sand.  The Snowy Owl!

Snowy Owl at Tom's Cove. Photo by David Collins.

Snowy Owl at Tom’s Cove. Photo by David Collins.


Norther Harrier at Craney Island. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Our wonderful group of birders enjoyed an awesome trip.  On Friday, we visited the Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area in Norfolk, Virginia.  Our caravan of cars was escorted along the western edge of the three chambers of the island by Shannon Reinheimer, an Environmental Scientist employed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  She monitors sea turtles and sturgeon habitat in the Chesapeake Bay waters as the dredging process keeps shipping channels open.  In the western bay, we observed Canvasbacks and many Buffleheads.  Twelve inches of snow had covered the area the weekend before making the perpendicular roads were impassable for cars, so we hiked up the ramps and scanned the ponds.

Watching the birds at Craney Island.

Watching the birds at Craney Island.

We saw hundreds of American Shovelers and other ducks.  We found a small flock of Snow Buntings that were quite camouflaged in the sand and low grass clumps.  For many in our group, it was a life bird.

Harbor Seal by Nathan Gatto.

Harbor Seal by Nathan Gatto.

Saturday morning broke on the cloudy, drippy side. What a sight to see Great Black-backed Gulls sailing along at eye level as we crossed the expanses of the awesome Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  The bay was gray and choppy, but with careful observation, little rafts of ducks could be seen, bobbing along in the waves.  From our vantage point on the man-made islands, we saw Harlequin Ducks, Common Eiders, a lone Common Goldeneye, and all three scoters, as well as many Long-tailed Ducks, a Great Cormorant, and even seals.


Purple Sandpipers along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Purple Sandpipers along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Brandt on Chincoteague Island. Photo by David Collins.

Brandt on Chincoteague Island. Photo by David Collins.

After the two-hour tour, we headed back across the bridge to the north to one of the most visited refuges in the U.S.:  Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.  And it was here that we saw the Snowy Owl.  Some others on the beach did not understand the Snowy Owl’s predicament – being far from home and very possibly stressed and hungry.  When a woman approached the bird, it flew closer to us.  Cameras clicked as the paparazzi in our group took photos of the owl in flight!  We lingered as long as we could, basking in the joy of seeing this rare bird!

Lots of smiles after great look at the Iceland Gull at Chincoteague!

Lots of smiles after great look at the Iceland Gull at Chincoteague!

By Sunday morning at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, we thought we had reached our life bird quota for the trip, but were we in for a surprise!  After our four-hour tour of the beautiful impoundments that provide a great wintering habitat for hundreds of migrating birds, we enjoyed our lunches, warmed up, and then got back to birding. Then word came from our “scouting team” that they had located a King Rail.  We hurried to the locale and stared into a wall of reeds.  A little stream trickled along the edge of the reeds.  Here, we spent a long time searching for the rail that was long gone.  Rob had a quick look at the “rail” but his description did not match.  When all eyes finally found the bird hiding deep in the reeds, we were ecstatic to realize that we were looking at a Least Bittern!

Bundled-up birders enjoyed the 2017 winter trip!

Bundled-up birders enjoyed the 2017 winter trip!

The sightings of the Snowy Owl, Black-headed Gull, Iceland Gull and the Least Bittern – all birds that should not even be in Virginia at this time of year – made this an amazing trip! We each spent a long time etching the memory of these birds into our minds. These recollections will always bring smiles to our faces!

Where will our love of birds lead us next year? Photo by Ferd Crotte.

Where will our love of birds lead us next year? Photo by Ferd Crotte.

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By Cynthia Donaldson

My cell rang at 3:20 PM: Tommie and Fran had relocated the Mourning Warblers on the Crane Creek Estuary Trail!  By the time I got there, the birds were gone!  Our group was scheduled to bird Estuary Trail at 4:30 PM, so with many eyes searching, I hoped that we could relocate the birds.  Just as we began the walk, another call came in that one of the two Mourning Warblers had been relocated.  As the group hurried down the trail to find it, again it disappeared.  We continued along this beautiful trail, scanning the edge of the water near the southern side of the dike.  Mourning Warblers typically skulk along the ground so they are tricky to detect.  Finally, we got word – again  – that the bird had been found.  The group lined up along the dike, trying to catch a glimpse, but it was hard to see him.

Photo by David Shuford.

We followed the movement east and then west along the water’s edge of the dike until everyone got satisfying looks at this little olive and yellow bird wearing his black mourning hood.  This bird was one of the 26 warblers that our group enjoyed on our recent trip to Magee Marsh – a Spring birding paradise – along the southern shore of Lake Erie, Ohio.

Wednesday:  Most of us used Tuesday, May 17, as a travel day, so by Wednesday morning, we were standing at the west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk, ready to take the walk that beckons birders from around the world.

A favorite photo spot is under the west entrance sign to the Magee Marsh boardwalk.

The West entrance is the best starting place.  Within moments, 20 species can be added to the daily tally.  We spent the morning leisurely walking the boardwalk, slowly heading east.  Warbling Vireos sang from the branches above.

A crowd enjoyed watching the Yellow Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler parents working on nest building.  We even enjoyed some time checking out the two Bald Eagle nests in the parking lot area.  They provided the paparazzi with many photo ops!

Photo by Gail Crotte.

Our daily lunch meetings were such fun!  Thanks to my husband, Pete, who set up the canopy and extra chairs so we could gather and gossip about our birds of the morning.   Swainson’s Thrush and Baltimore Orioles were seen right from our camp chairs as we ate our lunches and watched the color changes of Lake Erie.

Photo by Don Adamick.

After lunch the first day, a reported Wilson’s Phalarope led us to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Boss Unit on the south side of Route 2.  Here we enjoyed seeing the target bird as well as Trumpeter Swans, a Mute Swan, many Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Northern Shovelers.  We celebrated our find with ice cream sundaes from the Barnside Creamery!

Chestnut-sided Warbler. Photo by Gail Crotte.

Wednesday night must have been good for flying over Lake Erie because Thursday, May 19th, was a bit more quiet.  We were not deterred!  Even when the rest of the boardwalk was “slow,” the “Cypress Trees” remained the place to be!  Most of us had great looks at Blackpoll, Canada, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Yellow, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, Nashville, and Magnolia Warblers and Northern Parula by just standing in this one “hot” spot.

Red-headed Woodpecker. Photo by Gail Crotte.

By Friday, things were hopping again.  We headed back to the Estuary Trail on Friday morning.  We saw 33 species and 14 of those were warblers. One non-warbler that a few lucky birders saw was a gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker.  The weather was pleasant with clear skies – perfect for being outside enjoying the amazing beauty of the creation.  In one little patch of woods, we enjoyed watching two pairs of Bay-breasted Warblers searching the trees for bugs and larvae.  Wilson’s Warbler peeked through the leaves as he busily searched for his lunch.  A lone Ovenbird sang a few times, but was all business as he pecked through the dry leaves on the forest floor.  Prothonotary Warbler zoomed in and out of the thicket – definitely on a nest building mission.  All the while, Tree Swallows sailed and chattered above our heads.  Canada and Chestnut-sided Warblers and American Redstart flitted through the trees before us as they foraged.

Prothonotary Warbler. Photo by Gail Crotte.

After this, we enjoyed the boardwalk for the rest of the day.

One highlight of the day for three lucky members of our group was a look at the illustrious Kirtland’s Warbler!!  There was a (quiet) stampede of birders who tried to get there in time to see it, but a little Yellow Warbler chased it well out of the area before we could get there.

That evening, six of us enjoyed watching the day quietly come to an end as we sat in camp chairs behind the Black Water Swamp Observatory.  While we waited, we had some great looks at the Eastern Kingbird hovering over the field.  As darkness came, the songs of the Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, and Baltimore Orioles came to an end and the Wood Thrush picked up his flute.  Then the American Woodcock flew in – peenting and heading to the sky to begin his whirling and twirling courtship song and dance!  What a show!

A Common Nighthawk was perched in view from the boardwalk for several days and most of the birders in our group were lucky and saw this bird.

Common Nighthawk. Photo by Gail Crotte.

Saturday morning began with a drizzle, so we donned our rain gear and headed to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  Using walkie-talkies as we drove along Wildlife Drive was a help for reporting birds to the other cars.  One stop revealed a Sora foraging along the edge of the marsh.  It was quite shy, but with much perseverance, we got to see it!  Many of us enjoyed adding the Marbled Godwit to our life list.  This large, long-billed shorebird was hanging out with Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpiper, a Caspian Tern, and many Dunlin.  Seeing the Sandhill Crane chick was the highlight for many of us!

Dunlin. Photo by Don Adamick.

That evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at 1812 Island House Restaurant in Port Clinton.  I do not think we have ever had such a raucous count-off, though.  I felt like I was in a shouting contest with the table next to us as I read the list to our group who was struggling to hear me!  Somehow we totaled the trip at 138 species!  Good-bye hugs ended the evening.

On Sunday, it was very quiet… Most of the gang headed home in the morning.  It was also quiet on the boardwalk when Pete and I did one last survey.  We also did one last survey on the Ottawa National Wildlife driving tour. We saw 5 White Pelicans, 2 Short-billed Dowitchers, and 1 Kenn Kauffman.

Overall, it was an awesome trip.  The best part of the trip was spending time with the people in our group!  And it was unanimous: we will be going to Magee again next year!!


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By Cynthia Donaldson

This may have been the rainiest Forsyth Audubon trip I have ever attended. The rain started as we traveled south on I-95 on Friday, January 15, heading toward Santee National Wildlife Refuge. By the time we all arrived, it was raining in earnest. The inside of the beautiful visitor center was a great place to enjoy our picnic lunches. Many were enjoying the covered deck and scoping the Bonaparte’s Gulls, Forster’s Terns, and Double-crested Cormorants that were flying around Lake Marion. Loons and grebes were floating about, not seeming to be bothered by the steady rain. By 1 o’clock, the rain had stopped and, according to the radar, the front had passed. We hiked the Wright’s Bluff Nature Trail though a quiet pine forest to the edge of the impoundments where the birds find refuge in the winter.

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From the observation tower, we enjoyed Wild Turkeys, Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Meadowlarks, Harrier and Cooper fly-bys, as well as Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, and Pine Warblers chattering behind us in the forest. Another quick rain shower divided the group: most headed back to their cars. The rest stayed for another hour watching the parade of ducks and passerines – just glad to be outside and not at the “office.” The rain continued off and on until evening.

Tony’s Famous Pizza chef served up some yummy pizza to our group; then we headed to the Hampton Inn at the Georgetown Marina to try to get a good night’s sleep before our greatly anticipated day at Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center.

This group is prompt. We pulled out of the hotel parking lot at 8:25 am on the dot on Saturday morning, drove the 10 miles to the end of the road at the Estherville Minim Creek and met Jamie Dozier, Wildlife Biologist and Project Leader for the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center.  Jamie was our wonderful tour guide for the day. He ferried us across the creek in a pontoon boat, depositing us on the other side at a nature lover’s paradise!  Jamie’s assistant was unable to come, so Howard volunteered to drive the other van. Those of us in his van survived to tell…

We were privileged to see, although in a somewhat dormant stage, a newly discovered species of Hedge-nettle named Stachys caroliniana. Here is a link about the plant: New Species of Hedge-Nettle Discovered in South Carolina.

Our lovely stroll through a Live Oak grove was memorable. These massive trees housing moss and ferns have withstood many storms over their one hundred years.

From here we came out into open at the impoundments where we enjoyed seeing 99 American Avocets!


We always kept an eye looking up, because the clear, blue sky was full of surprises: Wood Stork, Black and Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and a flock of White Pelicans delighted us by appearing over our heads.

Wood Stork in flight

The highlight of the morning was an adult Roseate Spoonbill flying overhead. It landed out of sight behind the wooded edge. The photo below is a juvenile that was in the same area. Several members of the group did the dance of joy for this long sought-after life bird. I heard someone say, “We can go home now.” In reality, none of us wanted this gorgeous day to end.


After several hours exploring these impoundments, Jamie shuttled us back to the vans. We picnicked in the warm sun under some Live Oaks. With sandwich in one hand and binos in the other, we watched Harriers skim the marsh and we listened to American coots “cooting.”


After lunch, we visited an impoundment where a huge alligator was napping with one eye on us.


Our next destination took us through a long leaf pine forest. All the eastern woodpeckers can be found at Tom Yawkey. We almost scored a home run for Mr. Yawkey: we saw them all but the Hairy! The Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center hosts many colonies of the protected Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker was a life bird for many.

The rest of the day was spent on yet another impoundment. Here, several saw Mottled Ducks to add to their life lists. A bobcat ran across an open field. He stopped at the edge and looked back at us before disappearing into the edge. A Marsh Wren trilled at us from his cover in the reeds. A small torpedo whizzed over our heads, changed elevation to a few inches above the trail ahead – traveling straight down the center, then veered sharply to the right into the marsh. Like a flash. Merlin.

The afternoon sighting-of-the-day was a little ventriloquist; we could hear him but could not find him…at first. He was so much closer that he sounded. In this photo you can see our group mesmerized by the sight of this little bird. Another life bird for most of us: Sedge Wren.

The only thing that could tear us away was the fact that our dinner reservations were at 6 PM. We tried to end the day with another Red-cockaded Woodpecker, but happily settled for a Red-headed.

Since the tide was in, Jamie drove the swing bridge into place and we walked across the creek back to our cars.



Everything about this day had been perfect. Jamie was a very knowledgeable guide who patiently answered all our questions about this amazing refuge. The weather was warm and sunny. The people in our group were helpful and eager to teach. It was unanimous: we will return to the Tom Yawkey Nature Center! The sooner the better.

The dinner at Eddy Chacon’s was good. This restaurant was right beside the hotel so we walked over. Some of us stopped at the marsh behind the hotel on the way to see the Clapper Rails.

Sunday morning was cold, breezy, and rainy.  Here are a few words that I used to describe the group that went birding that morning: nutty, crazy, diehards, optimists. The rain let up around 1 pm when a few more joined the ranks at Huntington Beach State Park.  By then, it had improved to only cold and breezy. We hiked out the north beach trail to the jetty where we saw Least Sandpipers, Black Scoters, several hundred Dunlin, one Purple Sandpiper, and some very friendly Ruddy Turnstones.

Another interesting sight was a small flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls “pattering.” Their feet were barely touching the water as they hovered right above water along the jetty, plucking at unseen food from the tops of the waves. Ron told us that Storm Petrels feed in this same way. The name “petrel” is a diminutive form of “Peter,” a reference to Saint Peter; it was given to these birds because they sometimes appear to walk on the water.

The sun was lowering in the sky as we headed back to our cars. Most went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Four of us remained to continue searching for at least one of the sparrows that live near the sea. No luck.

Our count dinner at Pasteria 811 was delicious. When we did the count down, we came up with 131 species for the trip!

A few more hours of birding on Monday morning helped us to add a few more birds to the list. Several birders stopped at a hammock shop at Pawley’s Island to see what they could find and spotted a female Painted Bunting. Around 10:30 am, we found (thanks to Frank Lawkins) the reported female Common Goldeneye at Mullet’s Pond at Huntington Beach State Park. Killdeer were also added to the list. A final count of 135 was fantastic!


Even though we probably endured a few inches of rain and fairly low temperatures on two of the days, it was a great trip.  I agree with Heather; our memories of our Winter Trip 2016 will always make us nostalgic.

Photo credits: Gail & Ferd Crotte, Cynthia Donaldson, Gregg Donaldson, Heather Moir

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By Cynthia Donaldson

My walkie-talkie squeaked out: “Mourning Warbler on the left!” Everyone jumped out of their cars and hurried to the edge of trees between the gravel road and the shrubby field. The plain, little olive-backed bird with a mourning hood sang to us for the next 30 minutes. When he sang, we tried to get our binoculars on him; then we saw a flash of yellow as he moved to a different shrub. We followed him up and then down the tree line. Another, even more sulky bird was spotted for a moment before it went deep into the thick underbrush. We guessed that it was the female and that the male was trying to draw us away from the nest.

Most of us got to see the beautiful male Mourning Warbler – a rare “gem” of the east. For some it was like putting a puzzle together in order to “see” the entire bird: first a peek at the gray head, then a look at the black breast patch, then a splash of yellow belly…put it all together and you have a life bird!!

Paddy Knob had produced its rare “target” bird for the 24 birders of Forsyth Audubon!

The bugs that the Mourning Warbler enjoy were annoying, to say the least.  The “hands above the head” trick really worked!  Bugs fly to the highest point…who knew!

The bugs that the Mourning Warblers enjoy were annoying, to say the least. The “hands above the head” trick really worked! Bugs fly to the highest point…who knew! Photo by David Shuford.

The Forsyth Audubon 2015 Spring Trip to Virginia had begun the day before on Friday, May 29, 2015. Most of us had to get up before the birds so that by 6 AM we would be embarking on the 3-hour trip north to Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. A few fortunate others slept in a bit since they had spent the night at the Peaks of Otter Inn… just across the street from our meeting place. They enjoyed a leisurely morning of breakfast and birding around the beautiful Peaks of Otter grounds until the rest of us arrived.

It was a beautiful morning at Peaks of Otter and it would prove to be a great day to be birding in Virginia! Once all arrived, we headed up the parkway to Sunset Fields. A quick survey produced Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, and Hooded Warblers. Many American Redstarts were singing in the area as well. Group one headed down Warbler Road, with the second group starting shortly after. In less than a mile, both groups were enjoying sightings of Cerulean Warblers. Many people were happy to count this beautiful blue “gem” as a life bird. As we continued down in elevation, the habitat changed slowly. Now, the calls of Acadian Flycatchers and Worm-eating Warblers echoed through the oaks and pines. A very fussy Black-and-white Warbler pair warned us that we were too close to their nest on the ground. Mr. B&W, beak full of bugs, walked down a tree to his nest on the ground. We saw where he disappeared but we tried without success to find the nest! It had to be right there, but it was hidden too well by this feathered pair!

Northern Parulas and Louisiana Waterthrushes entertained us during our lunch break near North Creek Campground. We could have spent all day on Warbler Road, but after lunch we drove to our accommodations in Warm Springs, VA.

The creek at Hidden Valley

The creek at Hidden Valley

At Hidden Valley, Don Lendle spotted a third year Bald Eagle soaring in the sky above. The eagle was not alone: A broad-winged Hawk and two Ospreys were harassing him! Each time the Broad-winged attacked, the eagle did a complete barrel-roll with talons glinting right at the attacker! Then the Ospreys joined the attacks. The eagle simply rolled on his back, seeming to float – feet up – holding for a second before completing the roll. We were thrilled by the show. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

Our destination on the morning of Day 2 was Paddy Knob. In our high hopes of seeing the Mourning Warbler, we listened to his song on our iPhones so that we would be ready. It was a one-hour drive to the north-west, up Route 220 with a left on 84, then onto WV 55. The forest road that leads to Paddy Knob follows the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

The view along WV 55.

The view along WV 55

The lush woods along WV 55 were filled with the chorus of Least Flycatchers, Veeries, Black-throated Green Warblers, and Black-capped Chickadees! Then the Mourning Warbler’s solo “Chirry, chirry, chirry, chorry, chorry” joined in the music of the forest just as we reached Paddy Knob!!

After enjoying some time with the Mourning Warbler, our group split up and explored the 3.5 mile road back down to Route 84, before heading to Monterey for lunch. High in the leafy branches along WV 55, we had a final, special sighting: a male and female Blackburnian Warbler!

It is not often that these Southern birders get to enjoy a sighting of a Black-capped Chickadee!

It is not often that Southern birders get to enjoy a Black-capped Chickadee!

In the afternoon, we stopped at the cemetery in Blue Grass where we added Bobolink to our list. This quiet hill provided a high spot from which we saw soaring vultures, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, and of course the Bobolinks.

Birders.  Photo by David Shuford.

Birding at the Blue Grass Cemetery. Photo by David Shuford.

For our last stop of the day, we explored the road along Margaret O’Bryan’s property where Rob Rogers helped us spot a Golden-winged Warbler. Around that same time, Mr. and Mrs. O’Bryan drove up the road!! They graciously invited us to bird on their gorgeous property! We could hear Golden-winged Warblers singing in the distance as we walked along their mowed paths…keeping a look-out for slithering reptiles (of which we had been warned).

The view from the O’Bryans as we headed back to our cars! Photo by David Shuford.

The view from the O’Bryans as we headed back to our cars! Photo by David Shuford.

As the sun lowered in the sky, we unanimously decided to call it a day. A final bird, a Red-headed Woodpecker, made a brief appearance, putting an exclamation mark at the end of this great day in the Virginia Highlands!

Birding at Hidden Valley

Birding at Hidden Valley

Many of us started the day on Sunday with one more birding trip to Hidden Valley!! Others enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Warm Springs Inn before heading back to Winston-Salem. The most interesting find that morning, thanks to David Shuford’s sharp ears, was a probable Blue-winged x Golden-winged Warbler hybrid! It was singing the Blue-winged Warbler song; then it switched to a form of the Golden-winged Warbler song. Rob Rogers, the only one to get his binoculars on it, was pretty sure he saw dark on the throat which would make it a Lawrence’s Warbler – much less common than the Brewster’s hybrid between the two species. It was the “one that got away;” the one that draws us back into the field tomorrow… to bird again.

Two more warblers would make it to the list before we pulled out of the parking lot at noon: a Yellow-throated Warbler and a Yellow-breasted Chat. The final count for the trip was 97 species! Amazing!

I want to close this report with a huge thank you to each of these people who joined in on this trip sharing their expertise, help, and encouragement: Rob Rogers, Phil Dickinson, Bill Gifford, Nancy Russo, Lucia Zinzow, Bill and Betty Gray Davis, Allen and Jeanine Elster, Tommie Castleman, Fran Shelton, Bob and Katie Dalton, Warren Jones, David Shuford, John and Trish Shoemaker, Bill Jackson, Carol and Ouida Cunningham, Don Lendle, Anne Stupka, and Kathy Donaldson.

Birding image is everything!: Binoculars with comfy back strap; waterproof watch; walkie-talkie; and color- coordinated shirt and iphone cover!  Photo of Rob Rogers by David Shuford.

Birding image is everything!: Binoculars with comfy back strap; waterproof watch; walkie-talkie; and color-coordinated shirt and iphone cover! Photo of Rob Rogers by David Shuford.

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