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.

IMG_6219 IMG_6220

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


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.


By Ron Morris

The Winston-Salem Christmas Bird Count set a new record for the number of species seen.  The count on Saturday, Dec. 19th yielded 14,482 birds of 91 species.  They were found by 54 birders in 12 teams.  The previous record was 87 species in 2013 and 2014.

The most notable birds were the Buff-bellied Hummingbird that has been visiting feeders near Wake Forest since September, a Nashville Warbler and three Orange-crowned Warblers.  Below is Cara Woods’ photo of the Nashville Warbler found by the Bethabara team.

Nashville Cara

This year’s count was held a couple of weeks earlier than the past few years and that meant that a few species of waterfowl that typically arrive a little later in winter were not found.

Other good finds were three Bald Eagles seen by the Northside team; three Bonaparte’s and one Herring Gull in addition to the expected Ring-billed Gulls at Salem Lake; and the two Peregrine Falcons that have been hanging out downtown.

Of particular interest was the number of Red-headed Woodpeckers.  They were seen by 7 of 12 teams, mostly in ones and twos, but the Tanglewood team found 7, for a total of 15.  This is the second largest number of Red-headed Woodpeckers on the Winston-Salem CBC, after 18 were counted in 1971.  The average number of these birds over the past 30 years is less than 2 per year.  Many of the Red-headed Woodpeckers were immature birds like the one below photographed by Wayne Petel at Tanglewood in October.

10-14 Red-headed Woodpecker Wayne

Count week species were a Merlin seen by Hop Hopkins on Kapp Road in Pfafftown and a Bobwhite observed by the Hammonds in northern Forsyth County.

Guest post by Wendy Hawkins and Don Lendle

On a beautiful Thursday morning, November 12, 2015, Forsyth Audubon volunteers, Habitat for Humanity staff, and Junior ROTC students convened on the Habitat for Humanity campus, poised to install reinforcements along “de fence” line in preparation for “A.M.-bush” planting (that is, 70 native, bird-friendly shrubs and trees). This border surrounds Habitat Forsyth’s campus at 14th and N. Cherry Streets in Winston-Salem – including the new lodging that is currently under construction. This building will house up to 40 volunteers at a time who sign up to help with Habitat construction projects throughout the year.

Calling in the Troops: For Thursday’s massive planting task, the unarmed forces were called in. “Fall in! Ten-hut! Forward march! Hut-2-3-4! Company halt!” There before us at 09:30 hours stood 40 Junior ROTC students ready to receive instruction. The cadets from Mt. Tabor High School were accompanied by their Army Instructor, Master Sergeant Maurice Kearney. Kelly Mitter, Habitat Director of Operations, welcomed the group. Don Lendle, Forsyth Audubon conservation chair, briefed the young battalion on the value of native plants and their importance to birds, as well as techniques for conquering the clay soil, using compost, and loosening root bound plants.

Soon armed with shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, gloves, pick axes, and yardsticks, they were off in orderly fashion, marching rank on rank toward the border to be conquered. Organizing themselves into subdivisions (one group per plant), the JROTC focused attention to excavating holes, measuring, and installing the plants – receptive as they were guided by the FA and Habitat experts.

The Big Picture: Providing additional insight and educational inspiration, Wendy Hawkins, our FA education chair, passed around copies of a fun, informative quiz directly related to the plants being installed that day. The students learned about scientific names, the difference between evergreen and deciduous, as well as how these plants would directly benefit birds (and, in turn, people). “Feel free to share answers!” she encouraged, announcing that there was also a mysterious answer sheet floating around. Fielding various questions about birds and plants, she discovered that many of these young people were excited about sharing their experiences with birds and plants at the break table. These take-home tools would prove useful for the written reports of their experience they would later submit to their superiors.

The Victory: Friendly competition ensued as some raced with wheelbarrows of compost which could hardly be filled fast enough by those shoveling. Additionally, their intelligent conversations encompassed current events from police brutality (or not), to the definition of manslaughter, to the passionate attitude one should have toward their career choice. Who would have thought all these issues could be debated and resolved atop a compost pile! The intelligence and cooperation of these youth were inspiring. Now they have come away from this experience with their minds stretched just a little more by this exercise in conservation. By 14:30 hours, all plants had been installed according to proper specs, watered, and mulched and looked beautiful. Everyone had a good time and good work was done. The students were reorganized on the bus and waved enthusiastically as they drove off into the “wild blue yonder” toward their next mission!

The Volunteers: Janice Lewis and Susan Andrews created the landscape design and Janice supervised the plant installation. Audubon members Jesse Anderson, Mary Franklin Blackburn, Jean Chamberlain, Nita Colvin, Carol Gearhart, Wendy Hawkins, Sheilah Lombardo, Sharon Olson, and Anne Stupka wielded shovels and provided encouragement and instructions on planting day. In addition, Don Lendle, as project manager, coordinated the landscaping project with HfH.  Bill and Betty Gray Davis and Kim Brand contributed to the design and plant selection. Jane McCleary at Piedmont Carolina Nursery provided invaluable assistance in procuring plants.

The FA alliance with Habitat for Humanity: The conversation between Forsyth Audubon and Habitat for Humanity began in December 2012. Kim Brand, then Forsyth Audubon Vice President, immediately saw that it was a perfect match to merge bird habitat with human habitat. The Little Greens Garden Club made a $500 grant to Habitat for Humanity for the first bird-friendly yard, and Kim led FA’s involvement in that project. In 2013, Kim received a $10,000 Toyota TogetherGreen fellowship grant to continue the project with six more bird-friendly yards for first-time homeowners who were offered the option of a native landscape design to attract birds and butterflies.

Today, Kim works full-time for Audubon NC where she is the Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator for the statewide effort. Forsyth Audubon continues to provide financial support and volunteers for our collaboration with Habitat for Humanity. Efforts are currently concentrated on the Boston-Thurmond area of Winston-Salem just north of downtown, focal neighborhood for Habitat’s revitalization initiative. This project will continue in the spring, developing the Habitat campus into a wildlife oasis and helping to revitalize one of our own urban neighborhoods for birds and people.

Photo Credits: Jean Chamberlain and Don Lendle

This article is copyright Winston-Salem Journal and appeared in the 8/7/15 Bird’s-Eye View column by Phil Dickinson.  It is reproduced here with permission of the Journal.

Wood Thrush declining; groups try GPS tracking

By Phil Dickinson
Special Correspondent

On a sunny spring morning, an ethereal, flute-like song echoes from somewhere deep in the woods. I pause to listen. Sure enough, every few seconds an “ee-oh-lay” bursts forth. Every bird-lover I know revels in the tune of the Wood Thrush, even though the singer may remain hidden among the leaves.

Wood Thrush ready for release. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Wood Thrush ready for release. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

How long will we hear this song? Due largely to loss of woodland habitat, numbers of this speckle-breasted cousin of the robin have declined by roughly 55 percent in the past 50 years. Future climate changes could imperil this species even further.

Fragmentation of our forests has occurred both where the bird breeds in the eastern United States and where it winters in Central America. Conservation efforts on behalf of the Wood Thrush must take a hemispheric approach, including stops along its migratory flyway.

The problem is that we know very little about the specifics of the thrush’s seasonal movements. Forsyth Audubon teamed up with National Audubon Society’s International Alliances Program and the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center to see if we could discover where some local birds traveled. The idea was to catch birds and attach GPS locator tags to them to monitor their movements.

In Spring 2014, Audubon volunteers scouted local woodlands for Wood Thrushes. Bethabara and Pilot Mountain State Park’s Yadkin River section seemed to have the largest populations and became the focus of our tagging efforts.

Peter Keller, a Smithsonian field biologist, arrived in May to begin trapping. Numerous volunteers were awake and out the door before dawn to assist in carrying equipment, setting up nets and recording data.

Peter Keller and Jean Chamberlain examine a Wood Thrush and record data. Photo by David Shuford.

Peter Keller and Jean Chamberlain examine a Wood Thrush and record data. Photo by David Shuford.

Females and young males were banded, but only adult males received backpacks carrying the GPS tags. They were big enough to carry them without hindrance and thought most likely to return to the same nesting areas.

About 50 birds were banded. Of these, 22 received backpacks – 17 at Pilot Mountain and 5 at Bethabara. The tags would record movements during the next 12 months, logging 50 GPS points during migration and the winter season. The data would be precise – within a few meters. We would know exactly where the birds stopped.

One problem – the tags record data but do not transmit. These birds are too small to carry signal transmitters used to track hawks. We would have to recapture tagged birds to retrieve the data! We needed them to return to the same area this past spring.

Wood Thrush fitted with GPS backpack. Photo by David Shuford.

Wood Thrush fitted with GPS backpack. Photo by David Shuford.

This May, we returned to Pilot Mountain and Bethabara with another Smithsonian biologist, Tim Guida. How many GPS tags could we recover? Much can happen to a bird in a year and, even if it returns to the same location, we might not catch it. Smithsonian hoped for about 20 percent.

Similar trapping efforts in Indiana, Minnesota and Delaware achieved recovery rates of 20-30 percent. However, we recovered only two GPS tags (9 percent) and netted only four other birds banded in 2014. A tagging effort in New York also had a low result (13 percent). Interestingly, we captured 44 unbanded birds.

Habitat changes due to a prescribed burn at Pilot Mountain may have affected our recovery rate by causing tagged birds to move elsewhere. Bethabara’s relatively small size could have a similar impact. There probably is no single reason.

Results from one tag thrilled local Audubon members. This Pilot Mountain thrush wintered in Belize, where five local members had traveled to work in partnership with Belize Audubon (Bird’s-Eye View, February 7, 2014). The other GPS tag was damaged, and attempts to recover that data continue. It could be valuable to know if that bird also has ties to Belize.

Calandra Stanley works for the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. She reports that Indiana results showed a high degree of migratory connectivity. Birds captured there all wintered in southern Mexico. On the other hand, Minnesota and Delaware birds spread to different countries.

Nevertheless, the Belize connection provides inspiration for the two Audubon chapters to continue collaborating in some fashion to protect our birds. Over the next few months, the chapters and the International Alliances Program can figure out what form that cooperation might take.


To hear the Wood Thrush’s song, see Wood Thrush at All About Birds.

Audubon magazine tells the entire story in wonderful detail in the September-October 2015 issue.  Wood Thrushes Connect Bird Lovers Across Borders

Ron Morris’ column published in the Journal on April 17, 2104 is also about the Wood Thrush.  Wood thrush one of the most gifted singers

Kim Brand’s post on the NC Audubon blog on July 28, 2014 shares more information about Forsyth Audubon’s efforts to help the Wood Thrush.  Studying Migrating Wood Thrush in North Carolina

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.

By Cynthia Donaldson

As the sun dipped over the shimmering ponds to the west, we put on more layers and took our places along Milltail Road, waiting for the main attraction. Tundra Swans honked overhead. Gadwalls and Pintails chanted their evening chorus. The Northern Harriers danced in the empty field before us – gliding silently above the grasses, banking to the left then right. Savannah sparrows popped up for a quick look – teasing us with their high-pitched “peet.” The 26 birders standing on Milltail Road were in one long line, talking in hushed voices. With scopes at the ready, each scanned the fields in the growing darkness. Then a cry went up as ghost-like shapes flapped across the field like pale moths.

Then, it was dark. The 2015 Forsyth Audubon Trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina had begun!

Tundra Swans at Alligator River NWR.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

Tundra Swans at Alligator River NWR. Photo by Gail Crotte.

Friday, January 16, 2015 The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was the first stop on our fabulous weekend! By 4 o’clock in the afternoon, most of the 28 members of our group had arrived. The afternoon was spent scanning the fields to the east of the road and enjoying the Northern Harriers’ show.

Northern Harrier.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

Northern Harrier. Photo by Gail Crotte.

They were unanimously the group favorite. A Bald Eagle also thrilled the group by flying overhead, giving each of us a great look. A Golden Eagle had been seen in recent days at Alligator River, and Rob Rogers, with his “eagle” eyes, located the bird circling toward the east. Many got good looks at it through scopes. To our backs, the ponds were full of Pintails, Gadwalls, Tundra Swans and Redheads. Snipe were feeding in the grassy dikes lining the ponds. Nathan Gatto led our caravan along the refuge roads. An Orange-crowned warbler made a brief appearance. A beautiful American Kestrel perched on a piece of equipment long enough for everyone to see it though the scope. For some, he was a life bird! Another stop provided great looks at a Pileated Woodpecker working a dead tree. The announcement, “That is the strangest bird I have ever seen!” caused a bit of excitement as we hurried to see what Bill Gifford had found. A covey of quail were darting in and out of the scrubby field edge. As they grew more bold, the dozen or so Northern Bobwhites came out into the field!

Then, just as the sun set, the ghostly shapes – the Short-eared Owls – flew from the woods over the fields! The long awaited birds disappeared into the dark. Some birders got great looks at their pale faces and yellow eyes as the birds quickly headed across the fields to their nightly haunts. Some birders did not.

Our bodies had time to thaw as we drove to our kick-off dinner at Stripers Bar and Grille in Manteo. Susan Andrews kindly gave us a Charley Harper calendar to give out at the dinner. Heather Moir was the recipient of this prize: she had seen three life birds at Alligator River and… it was her birthday!

Then it was off to the Comfort Inn South in Nags Head.  After check-in, Scopolamine patches were put on and everyone went to bed.

Saturday, January 17:  Rise-and-shine came well before the sun did!! The 18 pelagic trip members drove down the dark highway to Hatteras. Brian Patteson, Kate Sutherland, and Jeff Lemons met us at 6 AM at the Stormy Petrel II. After instructions and a quick tour of the boat, we were underway. Because of sand deposits during recent hurricanes, all boats, including the Ocracoke Ferry, now have to go out into the Sound several miles to find the deeper channel and then pass through the inlet. Brian expertly navigated us through the shallow waters out into the ocean!

For the next 10 hours, we skirted the coast, enjoying the beauty of the Outer Banks. The Hatteras Lighthouse was on the starboard side for most of the day. The sky was blue overhead and the sun was warm, despite the very chilly wind.

Heading out to sea aboard the Stormy Petrel II.  Photo by Cynthia Dickinson.

Heading out to sea aboard the Stormy Petrel II. Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.

The entire day, we had an entourage of gulls and gannets! Kate threw out the chum all day long as we made our way through the waves. It was so much fun to study the differences between Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls in all their various plumages from juvenile to adult. And then, when the Herring/Glaucous hybrid showed up on the return trip, we had opportunity to study the details of this bird as well. Watching Northern Gannets at eye-level was everyone’s favorite! Even Brown Pelicans followed us for most of the day. Other birds seen on this trip were Razorbill, Dovekie, Bonaparte’s Gull, and one Little Gull! Twice, the group had looks at Hammerhead Shark. Several sea turtles leisurely floated by as well.

Northern Gannet.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

Northern Gannet. Photo by Gail Crotte.

The forecasted 2-5 foot seas were closer to 3-12, especially when we crossed the Diamond Shoals. I might be exaggerating a bit, but many of the passengers would agree with my assessment, I’m sure! Riding in the front of the boat was like riding on the first car of a rollercoaster! And then the pelagic birding challenge: locating birds that appear and then disappear in the swells, all the while holding onto the railing with one hand and steadying binoculars with the other!

Click here to see the beautiful photo of a Razorbill by Jeff Lemons.

What a celebration on deck when the Great Skua made an appearance – twice!   I think everyone got great looks at it. Not mentioning any names, but from the bathroom on the back of the Stormy Petrel, the intercom announcement, “Great Skua!!!!” and ensuing commotion sounds an awfully lot like, “Man overboard!!”

Photo of the Skua by Jeff Lemons can be viewed here.

White Pelican.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

White Pelican. Photo by Gail Crotte.

At our farthest point out into the ocean, near the Diamond Shoal’s Light, we threw out a bottle with a note into the sea. Heather Moir’s fourth grade had written a note and prepared the bottle for a journey to unknown lands. So at 3:15 PM, over the rail it went! Captain Patterson gave us the exact GPS location for Heather’s class. (A different bottle from another class at Summit School floated all the way to Portugal.) Hopefully, Heather’s class will hear back from someone in a far off country, as well!

From there, we headed straight back to the dock arriving around 5:00 PM. With the wind at our backs, the choppiness subsided. We could not have spent a more beautiful day at sea! Many thanks to Brian, Kate, Jeff and Nathan for a great trip!

After a day of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Dramamine, the pizza dinner at Gidget’s Pizza in Avon, NC really hit the spot!

On the way back to the hotel that night, several of us stopped at Bodie Lighthouse to see if we could find some owls or rails. It was a very quiet night lit by a bazillion twinkling stars and Jupiter. A few shooting starts zipped by overhead, too. Although we did not find any birds, the memory of the starry night will stay with us for a long time.

"Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow.  Photo by Heather Moir.

“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow. Photo by Heather Moir.

The landlubber group also had a great day. Jeff Lewis met them at 7 AM at the hotel and they visited some of his favorite hotspots. He took them to a private residence in Kill Devil Hills to see the two Redpolls that had been visiting a feeder there. From what I heard, the birding at Bodie Lighthouse and Pea Island was amazing! The landlubbers had great looks at White Pelicans, American Avocets, and dabbling ducks of all kinds! Many noted that their favorite part of the day was watching the birds covertly from a duck blind. After a fun day of birding, they enjoyed dinner at Blue Moon Café before calling it a night.

Sunday, January 18:  The word for Sunday was “windy!” The ocean was a churning pot of white caps. The sand blasted horizontally at Group B as we trekked out to Hatteras Point searching, to no avail, for the Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspur. Nathan and Sarah remained optimistic as we checked out every dune and dip, but we could not find those birds. We had several great looks at an American Bittern and a Black Skimmer as a consolation prize.

Group A, led by Ron Morris went back to Bodie and Pea Island for an enjoyable morning of birding.

Birders enjoying the waterfowl on Bodie Pond.  Photo by Heather Moir.

Birders enjoying the waterfowl on Bodie Pond. Photo by Heather Moir.

Green-winged Teal.  Photo by Heather Moir.

Green-winged Teal. Photo by Heather Moir.

Both groups enjoyed some great birds until the rain hit! It poured for about 3 hours. Group B birded from the Pea Island Visitor Center and ate lunch in our cars. Group A took a nap! Feeling quite refreshed, they met us at Bodie Island Lighthouse for a few hours of birding before dinner.

The sight of the day for both groups was the thousands of Redheads packed into the Bodie Pond!!

Redheads on Bodie Pond.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Redheads on Bodie Pond. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Kelly’s Restaurant was a perfect venue to celebrate the last night of our trip! Beautiful paintings of ducks and other water fowl lined the walls. Mr. Kelly himself, wearing his snazzy tennis shoes, thanked us for coming to his restaurant. Our meal was delicious! We all splurged and had one of their homemade desserts, too!

One last, late-evening visit to Bodie in hopes of an owl was, again, futile. The stars and a thin crescent moon were out at first. Then clouds blew in. Oh, what a perfect setting for a spooky (true) story by Nathan… “One late night, while birding in the middle of nowhere, I heard steps in the woods…When I looked up, I saw…..”

Seawatching from Jeanette’s Pier.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Seawatching from Jeanette’s Pier. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Monday, January 19:  After breakfast on the last day, we met at Jeanette’s Pier. A place of happy memories for Nathan and Sarah! They were married there last April! We saw the usual pier birds like Horned Grebe, Scoters, Loons and then… the Parasitic Jaeger skimmed the horizon! The trip had come to a close with one last, very cool life bird!!

A die-hard remnant decided to try for the buntings and longspur one last time! Surely we would find the birds on this beautiful, sunny day? The hour drive and the hour hike out to Hatteras was full of anticipation. I must report that this story has a sad ending: we could not find them!!!! The birds were sitting behind a dune laughing at us, no doubt.

But as you all know, that is why we bird again… the hope… the fun… and the maybe-I-will-see-it-tomorrow…

“Thank you” to everyone who participated in this wonderful trip!! You are a great “flock” of birders!

Beautiful ending to a wonderful trip.  Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.

Beautiful ending to a wonderful trip. Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.