An evening at Bolin Creek

After a day waiting for four bluebirds to fledge (next blog!) and a health-care appointment, I decided to forego some chores and instead to spend some time at a bridge over Bolin Creek, a waterway in the local Carolina North Forest which belongs to the University of North Carolina. My naturalist friend Mary discovered that this spot is a favorite bathing spot for birds in the late afternoon and evening. Since the weather forecasters predicted rain most afternoons this week, I decided to make a quick foray there while I had the chance. I knew that photographing the wildlife could be difficult as the sky was dull, overcast and we were expecting a downpour but I was up for the challenge. And once in a while a bit of brightness emerged from behind the clouds to give me some encouragement.

At first, it seemed very quiet – no bird song or buzzing insects; I thought perhaps everyone was hunkering down in anticipation of a coming rainstorm. But then the sky lightened a bit and a handsome robber fly (Promachus) alighted on a nearby leaf. I think this is a red-footed cannibal fly; these insects look like little old men to me.

 

 

A little while later, there were suddenly three avian visitors. The female Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) was the first to take a bath.

     

 

The blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) didn’t go to the water but flitted overhead.

 

The first of two American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) also hopped from branch to branch but eventually ducked behind some rocks to bathe.

A pair of damselflies hung out on the stream rocks; the blue-tipped dancer’s (Argia tibialis) dark purple made it look almost black in the twilight.

 

 

Then a beautiful female hooded warbler (Setophaga citrina) came by for a bath. Her golden feathers shone in the dark foliage and against the stream rocks.

 

 

 

A pair of gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) came together but only one entered the stream for a thorough drenching of its plumage.

 

 

 

   

The redstarts returned but stayed on the branches as the daylight began leaking away.

A few other birds were in the vicinity but didn’t come near: American crows, Northern cardinals, a common grackle and two yellow-billed cuckoos. My visit ended when the sky really darkened — I started down the path in an effort to reach my car before the rain began. A Southern leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) crossed in front of me and paused in the grass, enabling me to get a quick portrait. And then a nettle of beautiful violet color called out for a photo, too. I made it to the car just as the first raindrops fell. Quite an enjoyable impromptu photography session!

Birds and blooms at Sandy Creek Park – more of the “good ones”

moon I77A9993© Maria de Bruyn res

Birds are a favorite photographic subject of mine, even though catching them in late spring and summer is challenging when the lush foliage offers them many places to hide. Their songs and calls and warbles tell me that they are there, but often I need to wait quite a while until I finally catch a flutter of movement out of the corner of my eye to locate them.

 

white-eyed vireo I77A0007©Maria de Bruyn

One early morning, when the moon was still in the sky, I was fortunate enough to see a lot of fluttering in trees near the park’s parking lot – and I discovered an immature white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus) with a parent who looked as if she or he was really practicing forbearance.

white-eyed vireo I77A0010©Maria de Bruyn      white-eyed vireo I77A0006©Maria de Bruyn

Carolina wren I77A0188©Maria de Bruyn res

Nearby, a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) was singing loudly; these little avians have an outsized voice so that you can hardly miss them even when they are hidden behind leaves.

A handsome male goldfinch (Spinus tristis) was in a field, while a female was visiting the coneflowers (Echinacea), of which there were various species in the cultivated butterfly garden.

 

 

American goldfinch I77A0382©Maria de Bruyn res American goldfinch I77A0177©Maria de Bruyn res

coneflower I77A7325© Maria de Bruyn res      coneflower I77A6365© Maria de Bruyn res   coneflower I77A6250© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A6188© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Other birds were busy finding insect meals, like the male, female and immature Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern bluebird I77A6022© Maria de Bruyn res    Eastern bluebird I77A5558© Maria de Bruyn res

Common grackle I77A6377© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) scored a meal, while the pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) and blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) were busy in the trees searching for caterpillars and insects.

Other birds (and mammals, I think) had been getting crayfish from the ponds but I guess there were so many that they only ate the tastiest parts.

Pine warbler I77A5605© Maria de Bruyn res   Pine warbler I77A5598© Maria de Bruyn

 

blue-gray gnatcatcher I77A0302©Maria de Bruyn res     crayfish IMG_4926©Maria de Bruyn res

The American robins (Turdus migratorius) were looking for earthworms on the ground, and the song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) alternated between the ground and shrubs in their search for food.

American robin IMG_0550© Maria de Bruyn res     song sparrow I77A6195© Maria de Bruyn

The male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were calling and flying from shrub to shrub, showing off their handsome black plumage with a red highlight.

red-winged blackbird I77A6090© Maria de Bruyn res  red-winged blackbird I77A6126© Maria de Bruyn res

Over at a nearby pond, the Northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) were swooping over the water and then sharing space on a snag; meanwhile, a mother wood duck (Aix sponsa) led her brood along the shoreline.

rough-winged swallow I77A0234© Maria de Bruyn res    wood duck I77A7225© Maria de Bruyn

In a tree beside another pond, the immature great blue herons (Ardea herodias) were still at their nest at the start of June; later in the month, they were no longer hanging out there.

great blue heron IMG_0430© Maria de Bruyn res   great blue heron IMG_0402© Maria de Bruyn res

milkweed I77A0079©Maria de Bruyn res

 

Botanists can have a great time at Sandy Creek, too. The milkweed plants in the butterfly garden attract both butterflies and bees.

Carolina horsenettles (Solanum carolinense) are common but pretty little plants, while the orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) enjoys a good reputation as having stem juice that relieves the pain caused by poison ivy for many people.

Carolina horsenettle I77A5581© Maria de Bruyn res      orange jewelweed I77A0511© Maria de Bruyn res

The fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum) grows profusely on the edges of Sandy Creek ponds and the swamp rose (Rosa palustris) sprouts near them as well.

fairywand I77A7293© Maria de Bruyn res      swamp rose Rosa palustris I77A5621© Maria de Bruyn res

Japanese honeysuckle I77A5711© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), an invasive plant, attracts pollinators but so does the more vibrant and native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens L.).

 

 

 

coral honeysuckle I77A0159© Maria de Bruyn res      coral honeysuckle I77A0127© Maria de Bruyn 2 res

In the fields, you can see lovely brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and coreopsis.

Brown-eyed Susan IMG_0504© Maria de Bruyn res  brown-eyed Susan IMG_0497© Maria de Bruyn res

 

coreopsis flower IMG_0494© Maria de Bruyn res   coreopsis flower IMG_0486© Maria de Bruyn res

Stoke's aster I77A6353© Maria de Bruyn resThe cultivated garden in the park gets plenty of color from the Stoke’s asters (Stokesia laevis) and red bee balm (Monarda didyma), which is a real magnet for hummingbirds. I recently bought a couple for my home garden and was rewarded with seeing the hummers visit them within 2 days.

 

 

red bee balm I77A7307© Maria de Bruyn res    red bee balm I77A6390© Maria de Bruyn res

What makes my walks so interesting is discovering new species. A native grass (Bromus) was lovely; helpful facebook group members gave me suggestions for possible species but we couldn’t narrow it down. The group also helped me identify a plant that I hadn’t seen before, a Germander (Teucrium canadense).

grass Bromus IMG_4811© Maria de Bruyn res   Germander Teucrium canadense I77A0544© Maria de Bruyn res

I managed to find an ID myself for a common flower that seems to grow all over the place – the Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis). It is considered an invasive plant and is on the watch list for North Carolina, but I have to say that I find it quite attractive. Each flower blooms for only one day and to me they look like little faces and make me smile. And so I continue learning as each new walk invariably ends up teaching me something new. Enjoy your day!

Asiatic dayflower Commelina communis I77A0667© Maria de Bruyn res    Asiatic dayflower I77A0677© Maria de Bruyn res

A morning at Cane Creek Reservoir

The Orange County water authority maintains two recreational areas where it manages water supplies for our area’s drinking and sewage water. One is the Cane Creek Reservoir, where people can boat, fish, bird and relax. When my morning began yesterday with a distressing family situation, for which I would need to wait for news, I decided to visit the reservoir since getting out into nature always helps me handle stress. My foray was rewarding, both in terms of handling the emotional tension and appreciating the marvelous diversity that nature offers for our appreciation.

marbled orbweaver DK7A5291© Maria de Bruyn resMy walk began with a need to wipe spider webs from my face as our arachnid brethren were busy spinning their webs across walking paths. The marbled orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) was in the process of building a web, climbing up and down and leaving new silken strands behind as they emerged from the spinneret.

marbled orbweaver DK7A5288© Maria de Bruyn

The walking path also held evidence of the passing of a young white-tailed fawn (Odocoileus virginianus). A Carolina satyr butterfly (Hermeuptychia sosybius) was moving from grass blade to grass stem as I proceeded up a hill.

white-tailed deer DK7A5276© Maria de Bruyn resCarolina Satyr DK7A5279 © Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A5392© Maria de BruynFirst birds of the day as I left the woods — a pair of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) that were roosting on a wire. When a pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) wanted to join them, he was given to understand that his proximity was not appreciated.

 

pine warbler DK7A5383© Maria de Bruyn res

Next, I caught sight of a Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos polyglottos), very busy grooming near the top of a small tree.

Northern mockingbird DK7A5449© Maria de Bruyn res Northern mockingbird DK7A5443© Maria de Bruyn

Southern magnolia DK7A5439© Maria de Bruyn resA nearby Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) was mostly laden with rose-colored fruit but one large bloom was still vibrant and visited by smaller and larger bees.

A number of birds were singing but I didn’t recognize their calls and I saw some birds flit from one tree to another but then I caught sight of one that was dipping into the grass to pick up insects and then sitting still on a branch for a while. It was a lovely Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), a type of flycatcher with a yellow hue.

Eastern phoebe DK7A5586© Maria de BruynEastern phoebe DK7A5722© Maria de Bruyn

This bird flew around a bit, perching in trees, on ropes and barbed wire, providing some nice views of its lovely self.

Eastern phoebe DK7A5670© Maria de Bruyn resEastern phoebe DK7A5825© Maria de Bruyn res

A blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea), busy as these small birds always seem to be, was gleaning insects from twigs and branches.

blue-gray gnatcatcher DK7A5924© Maria de Bruyn Blue-gray gnatcatcher DK7A5920© Maria de Bruyn blue-gray gnatcatcher 1-de Bruyn, Maria DK7A5944 Supported on the balance beam

Coming up on the shoreline of the reservoir, I first spotted some least sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) foraging at the water’s edge. This is the smallest species of sandpiper and they are also the smallest shorebirds in North America. They looked very pretty in flight.

least sandpiper DK7A6073© Maria de Bruynleast sandpiper DK7A6081© Maria de Bruyn

The sandpipers landed near some killdeer (Charadrius vociferous), who looked very large next to them.

killdeer DK7A6103© Maria de Bruyn res

red-spotted purple DK7A6143© Maria de Bruyn resA red-spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) was mud-puddling on the shore, as was a Sachem skipper butterfly (Atalopedes campestris). A trio of American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) also dropped onto the wet mud for a brief time.

 

sachem skipper DK7A6355© Maria de Bruynsachem skipper DK7A6368© Maria de Bruyn

american goldfinch DK7A6323© Maria de Bruyn res

Several flocks of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) came in to the little lake. One group surprised me by suddenly veering in my direction and flying right in front of me, so close that they more than filled the screen of my zoom lens.

Canada goose DK7A6472© Maria de Bruyn res Canada goose DK7A6195© Maria de Bruyn res

Canada goose DK7A6205© Maria de Bruyn resCanada goose DK7A6207© Maria de Bruyn res

Near the end of my visit, a fellow birder kindly pointed out two green herons (Butorides virescens) to me. (Having binoculars is a definite advantage for this pursuit!). One was rather far away but another within walking distance so I snuck up on it in stages.

green heron DK7A6717© Maria de Bruyngreen heron DK7A6575© Maria de Bruyn

In the left-hand photo, you can imagine the dinosaur ancestor of this stalker.

At one point, the bird stretched and stared at the sky, moving its head from side to side obviously watching something – it turned out to be a juvenile red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

red-tailed hawk DK7A6633© Maria de Bruyn red-tailed hawk DK7A6631© Maria de Bruyn

My sneaking ever closer to the heron was rewarded when I saw the short bird catch and eat a rather large frog for its brunch. It was sad for the frog, but that is the cycle of life.

green heron DK7A6826© Maria de Bruyn resgreen heron DK7A6850© Maria de Bruyn res

And when I returned home a short while later, I learned that the family emergency had been handled for the time being. Like the fauna, our own cycles of life are also unpredictable.

New bird generations emerge in my yard!

This spring and summer, I’ve had the pleasure of watching various species of birds in my yard care for new offspring until they have fledged (left the nest). My most recent observations came today as I watched three hatchlings jump bravely into their wide new world. This blog will introduce you to some of my new neighbors; two blogs to follow will go back in time to spring and early summer to describe some nesting I witnessed in local parks and reserves.

gray catbird IMG_3888© Maria de BruynA dense privet tree next to my carport offered a pair of gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) space to construct a well-hidden nest. I discovered it was there because the parents suddenly began yelling at me loudly whenever I left the carport to walk into the yard and then a bird bander who was visiting managed to locate the nest, which was about 8 feet up so I couldn’t see the eggs in it.

I kept an eye on the shrub and saw the parents were flying in with insects and emerging empty-beaked, so I knew the eggs had hatched. One day, I ventured close and peered through the privet branches and saw a couple little heads sticking up above the nest.

gray catbird IMG_3933© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird IMG_3903© Maria de Bruyn res

A short time later, the baby birds hopped out of the nest and they stayed in the large shrub for several days as their parents continued bringing them a variety of insects.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, the parents were good providers, sometimes bringing more than one type of insect home in their beaks.

gray catbird DK7A2939© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird DK7A2937© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird IMG_3881© Maria de Bruyn resA pair of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) laid five eggs in a nest box in my front yard and I was able to record when all the eggs had been laid. Information provided online about time to hatching (12 to 14 days) alerted me as to when I might see newborns.  Only four of the five eggs hatched; the fifth one was broken. I also checked how long it takes for hatchlings to develop until they leave the nest – that can take 16-21 days but usually 17-18 days.

Eastern bluebird DK7A3842© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The bluebird parents were diligent about bringing food, mostly caterpillars and insects but supplemented by wild raspberries and dried meal worms that I had made available. It turned out this brood wasn’t too interested in the meal worms; I found a layer of them in the nest when the babies fledged.

 

Eastern bluebird DK7A3411© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8706© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Eastern bluebird DK7A3210© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8685© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A3137© Maria de Bruyn RESClose to fledging, the parents began showing protective behavior – chasing squirrels out of the large tree in front of the nest box, flying at other birds that came too close, keeping an eye on me as I sat near the box. Mama and papa removed fecal sacs frequently, flying off with them to a considerable distance from the nest. Only once did I see a parent actually swallow the fecal sac.

 

Eastern bluebird DK7A3081© Maria de Bruyn resMama investigated something odd at the edge of the box one day, flying down to look closely at the gap between the box wall and door. When I looked, I didn’t see anything. She also would occasionally hover in front of the nest box opening, as if she was demonstrating to the babies what they had to do.

Eastern bluebird DK7A3149© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird DK7A3174© Maria de Bruyn res

I was lucky enough to see all four babies leave the nest. Two of them were definitely stronger than the other two, who couldn’t fly as well and who didn’t seem to have feathers that were so well developed. When I moved close to take photos, the cautious parents dive-bombed me and the young eventually moved across the street. I never saw the young ones at my feeders.

Eastern bluebird DK7A4306© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A4281© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A4489© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird DK7A4386© Maria de Bruyn res

These past few weeks, some bluebirds raised a second brood in my backyard. This nest had some history. First, three eggs were laid, with a pair of bluebirds visiting the nest occasionally. Unfortunately, one day I saw a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) swoop in and it looked like the raptor had caught one of the bluebirds. In any event, the eggs were abandoned. After a few weeks, I had just decided to clean out the nest with eggs when I suddenly saw another pair of bluebirds building a new nest on top of the old one. They, Eastern bluebird DK7A7145© Maria de Bruyn restoo, laid three eggs.

Using the guidance given to me by the Smithsonian Institute’s Backyard Nestwatch Project, I checked the box every three days until the eggs hatched and then every two days to check on the nestlings’ well-being.

I was surprised that the mother was not sitting on the eggs much of the time, but the local Audubon chapter president told me that when the weather is very hot, the parent will not brood because it could become too warm inside the box.

The parents were quite diligent in bringing food to the hungry babies. They occasionally visited my mealworm and suet feeders but mostly just to feed themselves. They appeared to be feeding their babies an exclusive diet of caterpillars and insects and a little bit of suet – no mealworms though.

Eastern bluebird DK7A7038© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8265© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A8265© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern bluebird DK7A8041© Maria de Bruyn res

They were busy removing fecal sacs as well and I discovered that the baby birds actually present the sac to the parent by sticking up their behinds so the parent can pull out the sac. That made for a couple unusual photos!

Eastern bluebird DK7A8089© Maria de BruynEastern bluebird DK7A8106© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Eastern bluebird DK7A8351© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A8316© Maria de Bruyn resI had calculated that today or tomorrow would likely be fledging day so after a doctor’s appointment and grocery shopping, I settled into a canopy chair to observe the box. The parents were very busy bringing food but also taking time to sit in the crepe myrtle tree across from the box to call to their little ones. The nestlings were now sticking their heads out of the box so I figured that fledging was imminent.

As I watched the parents and nestlings for an hour, I also looked around at the other bird activity in the yard. Suddenly, I saw an immature red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) take interest in the nestlings and it swooped over to the box. I feared for the little ones but one of the parents descended on the larger bird to drive it away from their temporary home.

red-bellied woodpecker DK7A8468© Maria de Bruyn resred-bellied woodpecker DK7A8472© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A8532© Maria de BruynAfter a while, I thought bird No. 1 was going to jump but at the last minute s/he crawled back inside. I was occasionally turning my head to observe other birds at feeders and just as I turned my head again, action erupted.

Eastern bluebird DK7A8660© Maria de Bruyn resI was warned because the bluebird parents swooped down from the crepe myrtle tree to fly straight at my head under the canopy of my chair – they were not taking any chances! It turned out that bird No. 1 had flown by me and landed on the side of my screened-in porch, which was where I had been looking.

Eastern bluebird DK7A8714© Maria de BruynEastern bluebird DK7A8715© Maria de Bruyn res

The parents continued to fly at me, perhaps 6 or 7 times coming very close to my face, so I went on the porch so that they could calm down. Then they began chasing other birds as their young one had flown from the porch to a tree. While they were occupied, I went back to the chair and was able to see babies 2 and 3 jump from the nest box.

Eastern bluebird DK7A8864© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A8865© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A9056© Maria de Bruyn resEastern bluebird DK7A9058© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird DK7A9059© Maria de Bruyn res

It was a partly cloudy, partly sunny morning for the fledging today and then a few hours after the bluebird young flew, the rain began. There has only been a little thunder and no lightning so perhaps this will just be a nice steady rain that we can use and not severe weather. I do feel a little sorry for the new members of our local bluebird society, however, as they have to face getting sodden on their first day outdoors. The parents are visiting the mealworm feeder now; I hope I get to see the babies at my feeders the coming days. In any event, they made my morning very enjoyable indeed and I have a third nesting report to add to Backyard Nestwatch!

 

P.S. I have higher-resolution photos for sale as prints or photo cards; let me know if you ever want a particular one!