Posts Tagged ‘Forsyth Audubon’

The Pilot Mountain Hawk Watch saw another great year in 2014. We tallied 5909 migrating raptors, including 5756 Broad-winged Hawks. Although these totals were about 300 birds less than we recorded in 2013, it was the fourth highest level since the 1991 beginning of the current hawkcount.org database.

September 22 can be a very good day to be at Pilot Mountain State Park. In 1993, observers counted a record 10,835 Broad-winged Hawks on that date. In 2013, 3600 birds represented the second daily total. The 22nd also was good this year with more than 1300 broad-wings. However, Saturday the 25th was even better.


One of 5756 Broad-winged Hawks

That day dawned bright and sunny. It was busy at Little Pinnacle early in the morning. A scout group was there to learn about hawk migration and work on a merit badge. It also was Mayberry Days, so Phil Dickinson, Scott DePue and Park Ranger Jesse Anderson spent much time sharing the watch with inquisitive visitors. “Do you really see eagles, here?” Yes, we do.


Scouts Work on Birding Merit Badge

So far as the birds were concerned, though, things were pretty slow until mid-afternoon. Then, several large kettles arrived between 3 and 5 p.m. One group of about 250 birds moved directly overhead. However, the largest one nearly got by us. Only the sharp eyes of Howard Coston and Scott noticed a lot of specks way out on the southwest horizon barely within view with binoculars. Training a spotting scope on them, we discovered twin kettles of at least 500 birds each moving over Yadkin County. For the day, we ended up with 2392 broad-wings. This was the third highest daily count since 1991.


Watching Broad-wings Kettle Overhead

It also was a good year for Northern Harriers and Peregrine Falcons. These species migrate only in ones or twos, not in large groups. This year, we saw 11 harriers and 9 of the falcons. Even veteran hawk watchers are thrilled to see these powerful flyers. Numbers of Ospreys and Bald Eagles were down a bit from 2013, but still respectable at about 30 each. We counted only one Merlin, though. Other raptor migrants included Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels.

Raptors aren’t the only migrants to show up at Little Pinnacle in September. Take a leisurely walk up to the overlook from the parking lot on a sunny morning, and you are likely to see several species of warbler, including Pine, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Cape May and Black-and-white. One day, there was a Nashville Warbler, too.

Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also are frequent visitors, and this year a few Cedar Waxwings stayed with us most of the month. We also saw Veery, Wood Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch was a good omen for the local winter birding season.


Immature Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Little Pinnacle

We probably cannot define a trend based only on two years, but certainly 2013 and 2014 suggest that eastern raptor populations are doing well – especially the Broad-winged Hawk. Recent numbers far exceed what was counted through most of the past 20 years. Are there more birds? Or is it just more observers, better local weather or just the luck of location? What will 2015 tell us?

Thanks to all of you who took part this year, including members of Forsyth Audubon and Piedmont Bird Club. It was a great mix of new participants and seasoned veterans. Photos by Phil Dickinson and Lon Murdick.


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Jungle Jeanie has wi-fi, but only in the restaurant/bar area. After dinner, Katherine Thorington and I liked to sit on the outside deck to use our laptops. It sure was nice to do that in January.  An added bonus was watching a Common Pauraque dance under the lights of the adjacent parking area. Yeah, another life bird.


Male Great-tailed Grackle

Friday would be the last day we were together, and once again we were up at the crack of dawn to explore local birding hotspots. Much thanks to Jeanie, John and their staff for accommodating the breakfast timetable of these crazy birders.  Of course, the garrulous Great-tailed Grackles also were early risers and ready to send us off on our daily adventures. What’s that strange sound? It’s a grackle.


Birders’ Differing Views


Hopkins Savannah

There was no rush to meet anyone that morning, so we finally made it a point to stop at the savannah on the Hopkins road. Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers and White-collared Seedeaters popped in and out of the reeds, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched briefly on the wire.  However, the main attractions were the numerous wading birds foraging along the mudflats: Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Wood Storks and then a flash of pink as a Roseate Spoonbill came into view.

Our destination for the day was only a few miles up the highway – Mayflower Bocawina National Park. The park preserves partially excavated Maya ruins dating from 800-900 A.D.  There are about a dozen earth- and tree-covered structures, the largest being the Maintzunun Temple mound with a wall of stones wrapped around the base. We enjoyed a peaceful stroll among the hills, admiring the efforts and skills of the long-ago ancestors of the local populace.


Birding Amongst the Ruins


Two-barred Flasher

Most of the birds in the mound area were neotropical migrants – catbird, redstart, Magnolia and Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  A beautiful pair of Golden-hooded Tanagers flew by the visitor center but, alas, too quickly for a photo. Meanwhile, Pink Cattleheart and Two-barred Flasher butterlies fluttered from flower to flower outside the visitor center.

After we all enjoyed a relaxing lunch on a bridge spanning Silk Grass Creek, Shelley Rutkin and I clicked off several photographs of a puzzling hummingbird. Consulting with Lee Jones when we returned home, we eventually concluded that it was a Scaly-breasted Hummingbird.


Scaly-breasted Hummingbird


Blue-Black Grosbeak

We began the afternoon at Mama Noots Eco Resort in the park, where we could see Antelope Falls spill off a nearby mountainside. A shorter, easier trail leads to Bocawina Falls. Shelley and I opted to join Jeremy Reiskind on his mission to see this waterfall and perhaps new birds.  Before we went very far, we ran into a pair of Blue-black Grosbeaks. Even for a grosbeak, their bills are big. Then, just off the trail, a male Summer Tanager and several Olive-backed Euphonias lunched on bananas, completely oblivious to us observing them for several minutes. Deeper into the jungle, we discovered that Long-tailed Hermit hummingbirds also visit banana trees but for the flowers.


Female Olive-backed Euphonia


Male Summer Tanager

A larger bird glided across the path to a new perch. It was a species we had been hoping all trip to see – a Blue-crowned Motmot with its long racket-tail. Deeper into the jungle, we came across a cluster of birds, including Wedge-tailed and Ruddy Woodcreepers, White-breasted Wood Wrens and a Red-crowned Ant-tanager.  Shelley also found another bird Jeremy and I missed – a Royal Flycatcher This bird shows a spectacular crest at times, but this time it was in its usual folded position.


Bocawina Falls

To Jeremy’s geological delight, we made it to the falls. We had time only for a few serene moments before hustling back to the friends we had deserted.  A flock of about 20 Black-faced Grosbeaks and a couple of White-collared Manakins later, we arrived back at the lodge and I apologized profusely to Kitty Jensen for absentmindedly walking off with the keys to the van. Katherine seemed content with finding several birds we left behind, including Ruddy Ground Doves and Yellow-faced Grassquits. And, she happily showed us her photo of a Wood Thrush, Social Flycatcher and Gray Catbird in the same field of view.


Social Flycatcher

Soon we were back in Hopkins for our final evening. On Saturday morning, we would depart early to get Katherine, Kitty and I to the airport before Shelley and Jeremy continued their Belize birding for a few more days.  We celebrated our week with more fresh fish and young Guaranu drummers at the Frog’s Point Restaurant before turning in early, once again.


Last Supper in Belize

What a wonderful week it was! We took boat rides on rivers. We strolled the beach. We conquered muddy tracks to visit new parks and wildlife sanctuaries. We saw more than 160 bird species, dozens of them new to our life lists.  We met new friends from Belize Audubon who are working energetically to conserve habitat for both resident and migratory birds. Belize is a small country with a population less than that of Forsyth County and few dollars to support the effort. If our cooperative efforts help Belize Audubon and the birds of the Atlantic Flyway in only a small way, the trip was worth it. For Forsyth Audubon, here’s to next time.

Photo credits: Phil Dickinson, Kitty Jensen, Shelley Rutkin

This is the fifth in a series of five posts.
Previous post: Forsyth Audubon in Belize: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Two members of our group, Jeremy Reiskind and Shelley Rutkin, stayed in Belize for another five days.  Read about that part of the trip on Shelley’s blog:
The Belize “Extension” (Part 1 of 2)
The Belize “Extension” (Part 2 of 2)

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We were having a great time in Belize, but our trip was about more than having fun.  It all started when we decided that we wanted to protect the wintering habitat for “our” Wood Thrushes.  But, where do our birds winter?  This spring, we will participate in a project that will tell us.  We suspect that our birds go to Belize, so that’s where we headed.  We wanted this to be a volunteer trip with real accomplishments, so Matt Jeffery of National Audubon’s International Alliances Program created a trip plan that would allow us to help our friends at Belize Audubon.

Belize Aububon Society office in Belize City

Belize Aububon Society office in Belize City

The major item on our agenda was eBird training.  Last fall I entered Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary point count data for the last three years into eBird.  Now the goal is for Belize Audubon to enter their own data going forward.  eBird is new to all of the Belize Audubon staff, but our considerable  experience using eBird made this a good task for us.  Katherine Thorington prepared a PowerPoint presentation that would work with or without Internet access.

eBird training in Belize City

eBird training in Belize City

Katherine helps Dareece set up her account

Katherine helps Dareece set up her account

Katherine delivered the eBird training three times – at the Belize Audubon office in Belize City, at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, and at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.  In Belize City and at Cockscomb we had an Internet connection, but it was intermittent (and mostly unavailable) at St. Herman’s Blue Hole.  With Katherine’s warm and friendly style, the training was a big hit.  In Belize City, we had wardens from Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and a high school student who joined the Crooked Tree Junior Birding Club several years ago.  At all three sessions, our eBird students asked many excellent questions. They were excited about creating their own eBird accounts and getting starting entering data.

Another task assigned to us was to help with a bird survey of Burdon Canal, near Belize City. It didn’t sound like work to us – a boat ride in wonderful weather looking at gorgeous birds! But, Matt insisted that it would be helpful.

Lee Jones, Matt Jeffery, Belize Audubon staff, Forsyth Audubon birders

Lee Jones, Matt Jeffery, Belize Audubon staff, Forsyth Audubon birders

The canal and its lagoons are part of the Burdon Canal Nature Reserve.  The canal was created in the 1920’s to help farmers get crops to market without enduring risks of the open sea.  In 1992, Burdon Canal was designated as a nature reserve.

Haulover Creek on the way to the Burdon Canal

Haulover Creek on the way to the Burdon Canal

The wetlands help prevent flooding in the city from rains and provide protection from storm surges.  The beautiful red mangrove swamps and wildlife are also important for their proximity to Belize City which makes the nature reserve easily accessible.  There are some bird records, but Belize Audubon wants to improve the list to better promote the site.  It was especially helpful that Birds of Belize author Lee Jones was able to join us for the trip.  We entered all of our bird sightings into eBird.

Scarlet Macaws are breathtakingly beautiful and highly sought after by birders and tourists alike.  They are not common in Belize, but one area where they reliably are found is the small village of Red Bank, not far from Cockscomb, between January and March, when they come to feed on the sweet, ripe fruits of the ‘annato’ and ‘pole wood’ trees, which cover the hillsides.

Scarlet Macaws

Scarlet Macaws at Red Bank

Only a few years ago, it was believed that the macaws were hunted for food, but now the ‘Scarlet Macaw Group’ has been formed and it is looking for ways to protect these gorgeous birds and benefit from their survival. Belize Audubon is working with the villagers to help make Red Bank an ecotourism destination.

Climbing the Scarlet Macaw trail

Climbing the Scarlet Macaw trail

We were fortunate and saw six macaws from the road, but the traditional route is to climb a steep mountain trail – a muddy trail without switchbacks, steps or toeholds of any kind.  I was only able to “climb” the trail because our local guides held my hand and nearly pulled me up the mountainside.  We did not need to offer advice on trail improvement; watching our ascent was enough for our friends to see that a better trail would bring more visitors.  We offered advice on signage, though, and other tourist amenities.  Red Bank has tremendous potential for becoming a great birding “hot spot.”  We can’t wait to see it again in a few years.

At Cockscomb Basin - Nicasio, Kitty, Dareece, Katherine, Rebecca, Shelley, Phil

At Cockscomb Basin – Nicasio, Kitty, Dareece, Katherine, Rebecca, Shelley, Phil

Our last “work” was to have a preview of the birding trail that Cockscomb is creating near their Visitor Center and to offer advice.  They already have built trails and installed a bench and birdbath.  We offered generous amounts of both compliments and advice.  This will be another fun place to visit in a few years to see the improvements.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

We saw and heard Wood Thrushes nearly everywhere we traveled, typically four or five birds during each outing.  We hope that some of them come to Forsyth County for the breeding season this spring.  Sadly, it was time to say “goodbye” to our new friends at Belize Audubon all too soon.  Meeting so many of these enthusiastic, talented, and dedicated people was the highlight of our trip.  We hope that some of them can visit us here in North Carolina, too.

Photo credits:  Phil Dickinson, Jeremy Reiskind, Katherine Thorington

This is the second in a series of five posts.
Previous post: Forsyth Audubon in Belize: River Birds and Baboons
Next post:  Forsyth Audubon in Belize:  St. Herman’s Blue Hole


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Josh Buchanan Spots Merlins and More

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

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


Ospreys Fly Over Pilot, Too

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

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

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


State Ranger Brian Bockhahn Taught Raptor ID Classes

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

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

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


Turkey Vultures Roost on Pilot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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