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Posts Tagged ‘Rose-breasted Grosbeak’

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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