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White-eyed Vireo. Photo by David Disher.

White-eyed Vireo. Photo by David Disher.

Ann & Chester Robertson are beloved members of Forsyth Audubon and many of our members remember the warm welcome we received from Ann and Chester.  On September 8, 2018, Ann wrote about their own introduction into Audubon.

With a nod to Marcel Proust, it is the call of a White-eyed Vireo, not a scent, that has stimulated many memories of our first “birding fall,” which was exactly 20 years ago.

When Chester retired from EMS, we had time to watch birds devour mulberries from the tree just outside our sun porch on the south side of town.  [We’ve since moved mid-town.]  That led to feeders, books, binoculars, and a budding interest in going abroad to search for more species.  We checked out the then-new Bethabara wetlands boardwalk, where we ran into Marilyn and Mike Shuping.  They kindly invited us to join the next 2nd Saturday Birdwalk, which was mid-September at Historic Bethabara.

We well remember the anticipation and nerves as we waited with assembled birders.  The walk began when Doug Deneve & Pam arrived.  One of the highlights of the outing was seeing a White-eyed Vireo (new to us) foraging in low branches above the stream.  We remember Doug saying it was a good find for that time of year.

A week or two later, we attended our first hawk watch at Pilot Mountain.  On the ascent to the Little Pinnacle, Chester was thrilled to spot his first male American Redstart.  We remember that there were hawks kettling that day, but we had no stick to measure by at that time.  I can’t remember if it was a “big day” or average.  I do remember complaining that I wasn’t seeing what everyone else was as I peered at a BLUE SKY through my opera-sized Minolta bins proudly and ignorantly purchased at Sports Authority.  At one point, Doug turned to me and said, “Well, it might have something to do with the quality of your optics.”

It was a while before that comment sank in, but eventually brands such as Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss and Bausch & Lomb made their way into our hands.  And yes, we had better views, and much joy in sharing with our fellow birders, as well as casual strangers who might happen along and wonder what was up.  One of my favorite memories was adjusting our spotting scope so that a handicapped child could look at birds on one of our outings. The child wanted to go to Africa to see birds; we always hoped that he made it.

There are 20 years of great memories of time spent in the field, in meetings, and in social gatherings with the best group of people we could ever hope to know.  We have learned that birds attract a very fine human flock indeed.  We’re grateful to each of you who added to those memories over the years.  We learned so much on outings that we could never absorb from books.  As a small instance, I distinctly remember David Disher pointed out a “Thrush Burp” while we were one on of the middle trails in Miller Park.  I always think of that moment when I heard another Thrush Burp.  It may seem a small thing, but it provides pleasure and connection, and a sense of all being right with the world.

May birders continue to share, may thrushes continue to burp, and raptors continue to thrill us with the spectacle of migration that points to forces well beyond our comprehension or control.

And yes, may White-eyed Vireos continue to thrill us with just a little lingering lilt of summer.

Good birding to all,

Ann & Chester Robertson

As you can imagine, the responses quickly started coming in.  First from Phil Dickinson, a long-time FA member and past President who now lives in Washington State.

Ann, thanks for sharing these wonderful memories of birding with Forsyth Audubon. I am coming up on 20 years after my introduction to FA (98 or 99, I forget which), and I still remember the warm greetings I received from you and Ramona at that first meeting. From then on, I was hooked by the warblers and hawks, as well, and all of the great people. So many great spring and winter trips, too.

I do miss those Broad-winged hawks out here, but love seeing the shorebird migration.

And this from Sally Zwadyk.

Dear Ann, Thank you for sharing memories.  I have great memories of our time with you and Chester.  Indeed birding does bring together a great human flock as well.  Happy Birding Anniversary!

Wendy “Big Bird” Hawkins, FA Education Chair, is a little newer to Forsyth Audubon, but now we can’t imagine life without her enthusiasm and passion for birds.  Here’s what Wendy added to the conversation.

How thrilling to hear these grand memories, highlighting, especially, your introduction to and connection with Forsyth Audubon! Although I am much newer to Forsyth Audubon (4 years) and to serious birding (having “evolved” largely over the past 10 years), I resonate in harmony with your sentiments. I have learned considerable volumes from my connection with the incredible characters which comprise Forsyth Audubon! Yet, I realize I am barely scratching the surface of all there is to know about birds! When I go birding with you all, I feel like a total kid, excited about everything I see — and I’ve been know to act like a kid, too, without restraint. And you guys still don’t think I’m TOO crazy!

This fall will make 4 years since I met Kim Brand, as we were watching the same chimney at UNC School of the Arts (in our neighborhood at the time) while a few thousand Chimney Swifts assembled to roost for the night. I thought she might be a security guard approaching me to inquire about my presence in that spot, so I tried to look intently with great purpose, as if I KNEW what I was doing. How relieved I was when she joyfully asked, “Were you watching the Chimney Swifts, too?” “Yes!” I replied, “You were watching them, too?” Then she invited me to Bethabara (lower trails) — a place I had never been, but had been meaning to visit — to go birding with her early the next morning. Next thing you know I was also hooked on “Dead Bird Patrol” after she educated me on the Lights Out program and guided me in the rescue and release of a Wood Thrush on my first round with her.

Thank you to all of my Forsyth Audubon friends for your enthusiastic comradeship!

Rob Rogers, our favorite Forsyth Tech birding instructor and Forsyth Audubon past President jumped in next.

My first walk with Forsyth Audubon…….I had always been a backyard birder – had my Grandma’s old Golden Field Guide.  At some point in my late teens I bought a Peterson’s and would bird when we went to the Parkway or sometimes around the house.  One day, my wife cut out a blurb from the Journal about an Audubon walk.  I couldn’t convince myself to go.  I thought that I would be a hindrance to a group of semi pros – so I didn’t go.  From time to time, I would find the blurbs cut out and laying on the nightstand and Mits would always say – “you should go – it could be fun”.  Finally, I worked up the nerve.  Walk at Washington Park.  I thought – no way I would see anything much in the middle of Winston – so how much of a hindrance could I be.  So…..I went – and I timed it to be just at the starting time to minimize the time that people would have to work out that I was just a rookie.  When I got there, the walk had already started.  The group was leaving the parking area.  I started to just leave – but I thought – “what the heck – I’m here – just go catch up”.  I get out of the car and walk towards the group.  To my surprise, a tall man and a not so tall lady turned and walked towards me.  The lady had the nicest, most genuine, welcoming smile on her face.  The man had an intent – but welcoming look on his face.  The lady said “well hello!  My name is Ann and this is my husband, Chester.  We are so glad that you came out today”.  All of my angst immediately gone, we had a great opening conversation.  I confess I don’t recall much of what was said – but my welcome to Forsyth Audubon stays with me like it was yesterday.   We saw Great Horned Owls on the nest in the big White Pine – I got my first look through a scope.  Jim Martin was there and had several “aside moments” with me identifying birds by ear.  I was like…woooahhh.  Further down – close to what is now the dog park, we saw a pair of Red Tails – Talons locked and tumbling downwards.  A bit earlier in the walk someone had been discussing the question of when people clasp their hands is the right thumb or the left on top.  I took the opportunity to make a joke – “I wonder which Hawk’s Talon is on top – the right or the left?”  Some of the group laughed – a lady older than me looked at me with a serious look on her face.  For a moment, I thought I might have pushed it too far.  Birding, after all, is a serious business.  Then the woman’s face broke into a huge grin.  She said “you are going to fit in here – just fine”.  Ramona Snavely

And the rest….as they say….is history.

Thank you Ann & Chester

Let’s end with Hop Hopkins, another beloved FA member and past President, taking us back FORTY years!

Let me take you back 40 years instead. I came to Winston-Salem in 1977 to start my Pathology residency training at Baptist. I had always loved nature and decided to join the Audubon Society to get the magazine. A little later in the year I also received a newsletter for the Forsyth County AS. I had been birdwatching most of my life and I had never met another birder! The meeting sounded interesting so in 1978 I attended my first meeting. Like Rob I was shy and tried to sneak in but everyone was just too friendly. It was a small group who enjoyed birding together. I was able to go on one of their local bird walks to Salem Lake and was amazed that ducks were this far inland. I had much to learn.

I thought I knew my birds. Then Ramona assigned me to Pat Culbertson for Spring Bird Count. Since I always birdied on my own I thought it might be fun to learn other places to birdwatch in the county. I was surprised to learn that she planned to start at midnight to get owls and nighthawks. A front came in while we were birding so we rested a few hours at her house. At first light we headed out the door and she called out Swainson’s Thrush and Ovenbird. They would have been lifers for me but there was not enough light to see them. The day went just like that. Pat would hear 3 or 4 life birds but we had to move on as there was a fallout. The storm had brought in large numbers of migrants and she wanted all of them! I wound up being the recorder and I could barely keep up. I did get to see a few lifers, but until then I had no idea you could identify so many birds with sound only. I also had no idea where we were birding as we hit numerous places around the county. I think everyone at count dinner had a best day ever and the tally was massive. I had much to learn.

I am still learning but I must say that my FCAS teachers have been outstanding. They taught me bird sounds and where to go locally. I even went on a few field trips to the NC coast to see birds. I had been isolated but was able to learn a great deal from FCAS. I am thankful that I attended that first meeting and hope to get back attending more of them.

Royce, you can take us back more…

I hope you have enjoyed these stories.  These shared experiences make Forsyth Audubon who we are.  Please feel free to share your story in the comments.

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By Ron Morris, Bird Count Compiler

The Spring Bird Count is one of the Forsyth Audubon’s two biggest birding events of the year. The Christmas Bird Count gets more notoriety because it’s a part of National Audubon Society’s 114 year tradition. But the spring count is arguably the more exciting because it is timed to coincide with the return of many migrating birds and so far more bird species are seen then instead of the dead of winter.

We enjoyed a very successful Spring Bird Count on May 3rd despite fielding just 48 participants compared to last year’s 57 – the highest number in the state’s 22 counts.

Bobolinks were found in a new location this year. Many Forsyth birders enjoyed seeing them at the easily accessible Research Parkway.  Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Bobolinks were found in a new location this year. Many Forsyth birders enjoyed seeing them at the easily accessible Research Parkway.  Photo by Nathan Gatto.

This year, we tallied 5502 individuals of 134 species, just off last year’s 5877 individuals of 136 species.  It was a lovely day with temperatures of 52 to 75 degrees, partly cloudy skies and light winds.  Thirteen teams cover different parts of the county and each count territory has its own unique characteristics, thus its own opportunities for exciting birds.  Here are some of the highlights of the day. (Records are for 1992 – 2014)

Salem Lake is the best habitat for aquatic birds and its team found several waterfowl not seen elsewhere on this day. A Pied-billed Grebe, Ruddy Duck and two Ring-billed Ducks were among a few typical winter residents that have usually headed north by this date.

Cynthia Donaldson’s team covers the northern part of the county, including the landfill. Not the kind of place most people would expect to attract birds, its expanse of grassland often hosts some interesting birds. This year, they included a Northern Harrier and 8 Grasshopper Sparrows.  They were excited to find a male Wilson’s Warbler in the wooded edge of the landfill when scouting the day before the count.  The bird cooperated by showing up again on count day.

Wilson's Warbler at Hanes Mill Road landfill.  Photo by David Disher.

Wilson’s Warbler at Hanes Mill Road landfill. Photo by David Disher.

Reynolda Gardens had the most notable sighting of the count – an Olive-sided Flycatcher. This birds is fairly regular at Lake Katharine during both spring and fall migration, but this was the first ever on our spring survey.

Olive-sided Flycatcher at Reynolda Gardens.  Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Olive-sided Flycatcher at Reynolda Gardens. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

A Bald Eagle in its fourth-year was seen at Tanglewood Park. The estimated age of the bird is based on plumage. This one had a completely white head, but its underparts were mottled, not the solid brown of an adult, and its tail was not pure white. This was only the second eagle for a spring count, following last year’s first sighting.

Two Rusty Blackbirds seen by the Bethabara team were the first on a spring survey since 2008.

Barred Owl numbers have grown slowly but steadily in recent years. We have averaged 2-3 per count for 20 years, but found 10 of them this year, with one or more on 6 of the 13 areas surveyed.

Several species were found in significantly higher than average numbers. The following numbers represent this year vs the 20 year average:

Double-crested Cormorants 58 vs 11
Turkey Vultures 115 vs 36
Black Vultures 52 vs 6
Red-eyed Vireos 105 vs 67
White-eyed Vireos 21 vs 7
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers 105 vs 41
American Robins 669 vs 444
Gray Catbirds 94 vs 57
Ovenbirds 23 vs 9

White-eyed Vireo observed on count day. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

White-eyed Vireo observed on count day. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Much lower than average numbers of Chimney Swifts and Cedar Waxwings were found this year. Swifts numbered 58 whereas they average 196.  Just 89 waxings were counted in contrast to the yearly average of 228.

Warblers were well represented with 28 species, including Blue-winged, Kentucky and Wilson’s.

Eleven count week species included a pair of Dickcissels that stayed around for over a week.

Dickcissel at Research Parkway.  Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Dickcissel at Research Parkway. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Many thanks to all the participants:

Mary Franklin Blackburn, Kim Brand, Becky Clark, Nita Colvin, Mike Conway, Phil Crisp, Carol Cunningham, Larry Davis, Linda Davis, Phil Dickinson, David Disher, Susan Disher, Cynthia Donaldson, Kerry Eckhardt, Susan Fulton, Nathan Gatto, Carol Gearhart, Bill Gifford, Elnora Gore, John Haire, Sven Halling, Bill Hammond, Elaine Hammond, John Hammond, Susan Hammond, Marbry Hopkins, Royce Hough, Norma-May Isakow, Bill Jackson, Camille Jones, Jim Martin, Craig McCleary, Laura McGowen, Theresa McGowen, Tom McKay, Ron Morris, Ann Newsome, Meline Price, Jeremy Reiskind, Rob Rogers, Shelley Rutkin, Gene Schepker, Miles Silman, Ann Stupka, Bill Sugg, Chuck Thompson, Cindy Thompson, Maulik Trivedi, Gray Tuttle.

 

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