Birds, berries, nuts and seeds – enjoyment of nature’s bounty

So this wasn’t my last blog of 2015 after all. An unexpected hospital admission on 30 December brought about quite a delay in my blogging efforts. But I managed to complete this in instalments over the past days and hope you enjoy the final version, which I am happily able to post on my second day at home in 2016!

During late summer, when various plants have or start developing fruit, the birds begin to enjoy nature’s bounty. Here in North Carolina, they will eat the berries of native plants such as American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), winged sumac (Rhus copallinum), American holly (Ilex opaca), possumhaw (deciduous holly, Ilex decidua), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and wild blackberries (Rubus).

American beautyberry IMG_7637© Maria de Bruyn resWinged sumac IMG_5377©Maria de Bruyn res

American holly I77A3150© Maria de Bruyn resDeciduous holly IMG_4428© Maria de Bruyn res

Flowering dogwood DK7A7731© Maria de Bruyn reswild blackberryIMG_2588©Maria de Bruyn res


This year, the juniper berries were a real crowd pleaser. The American robins (Turdus migratorius) went for them first, soon followed by Northern cardinals (cardinalis cardinalis), Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos polyglottos) and Northern flickers (Colaptes auratus).

American robin IMG_6567© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern cardinal IMG_3653© Maria de BruynAmerican robin I77A0801©Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A0913©Maria de Bruyn resNorthern mockingbird 2 IMG_6308© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern flicker IMG_5853© Maria de Bruyn res

The beautiful cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) enjoyed the cedar berries, too.

cedar waxwing I77A4266© Maria de Bruyn res

cedar waxwing I77A4293© Maria de Bruyn res

Birds like thbuckthorn I77A2455© Maria de Bruyn signed rese Northern mockingbird and white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) also enjoy the berries of invasive plants such as privet (Ligustrum), common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica. left), Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) and autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata).

Northern mockingbird I77A2924© Maria de Bruyn res
white-throated sparrow I77A8188© Maria de Bruyn 2 reswhite-throated sparrow I77A4714© Maria de Bruyn signed

Watching our avian friends enjoy snapping up berries from vines can create enjoyment for the birdwatcher, too!

Northern cardinal DK7A8841© Maria de Bruyn signed res

ruby-crowned kinglet I77A5319© Maria de Bruyn reshermit thrush I77A5816© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula)

Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)


In some cases, they may also be seeking insects along with the berries, as this yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) and tiny golden-crowned kinglet (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) may have been doing.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker I77A9133© Maria de Bruyngolden-crowned kinglet I77A1918© Maria de Bruyn

American goldfinch DK7A4411© Maria de Bruyn signed


It’s not only the fruit that draws them away from the bird feeders in the autumn though. Sunflower seeds (Helianthus) are a big hit with the American goldfinches (Spinus tristis), who also seek out different kinds of seed pods.


American goldfinch I77A2510© Maria de Bruyn res American goldfinch IMG_7947© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Pods on trees, like the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia fauriei), and on vines such as the trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) offer attractive meals, too.

goldfinch I77A2097© Maria de Bruyn resNorthern cardinal DK7A1206© Maria de Bruyn signed res

American goldfinch and Northern cardinal both eating crepe myrtle

Trumpet vine DK7A9266© Maria de Bruyn signed restrumpet vine I77A1487© Maria de Bruyn ressycamore IMG_2339©Maria de Bruyn res

Trumpet vine                                         American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

milkweed I77A7144© Maria de Bruyn signed resCarolina wren I77A8006©Maria de Bruyn res

Milkweed (Asclepius) and Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

American goldfinch DK7A1355© Maria de Bruyn SIGNED RESamerican goldfinch DK7A7127© Maria de Bruyn signed res

American goldfinches

Indigo bunting DK7A7525© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Indigo bunting ( Passerina cyanea)

Scarlet tanager IMG_7415© Maria de Bruyn signed

Some trees like maples have samara seed pods, in which a single seed is surrounded by a paper-like tissue that is dispersed by the wind. Ash trees have samaras that grow in clusters. Here a young scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) is dining. Below are an American goldfinch, house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and Northern cardinal, all of them males.


American goldfinch DK7A5026© Maria de Bruyn signedHouse finch IMG_7718© Maria de Bruyn signed


Northern cardinal I77A8006© Maria de Bruyn res


cedar waxwing I77A6594© Maria de Bruyn signed res

Cedar waxwing (left) with samara of the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)


blue jay IMG_7806© Maria de Bruyn signed






Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata, above) like nuts a great deal and can often be seen flying away with a prize.

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_5780© Maria de Bruyn (2)


The red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) and red-headed woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) don’t turn away from nuts either.



Red-headed woodpecker I77A7844© Maria de Bruyn signed       red-headed woodpecker I77A5149© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern cardinal I77A2153© Maria de Bruyn res

It may feel a bit sad when activity dies down at the feeders for a time, but if you can manage to have nut-, seed- and fruit-bearing vegetation around your home, you can still enjoy watching your avian friends forage – and the natural surroundings can make for lovelier photos, too!

Yearning and burning for biological diversity

Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1575© Maria de Bruyn resOn 18 March, a controlled burn again took place on 18 March at the Mason Farm Biological Reserve as part of the management strategy to promote the biological diversity of native plants at this nature refuge. During a controlled understory burn, the undergrowth of a defined area is set afire in a simulation of the wildfires that have historically been a part of meadow and forest ecology.

Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1047© Maria de Bruyn resThe area to be burned is prepared by clearing a broad border of flammable materials such as leaves and twigs. If there are trees or plants that should remain but that could catch fire, for example because there are vines going up their trunks, the area around them can be raked clear or sprayed with water, creating a firebreak.


Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1107© Maria de Bruyn resA controlled burn requires permission from safety authorities and is monitored by a team of people, some of whom will ignite the fire and others who will patrol the perimeters and help ensure that the fire is quenched before leaving for the day. Duties are assigned during pre-burn briefings and team members have copies of maps showing which sections of the designated burn area are their responsibility. They carry out a radio check before the burn begins to ensure they can be in communication when needed.

Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1076© Maria de Bruyn resBurn 18 March 2015 IMG_1078© Maria de Bruyn res

Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1157© Maria de Bruyn resdrip torch IMG_1156© Maria de Bruyn resAt Mason Farm, the fires were ignited in lines through the use of a drip torch, which allows the person wielding it to direct a stream of flaming fuel to the area to be burned.



Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1407© Maria de Bruyn res Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1393© Maria de Bruyn res

Perimeter and interior monitors use implements such as shovels, rakes, “fire flappers” (long-handled instruments with flexible ends to swat down flames and embers) and portable water sprayers to contain the burn within its boundaries.

Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1117© Maria de Bruyn resBurn 18 March 2015 DK7A1460© Maria de Bruyn res

The burn at Mason Farm was ignited first in a small patch so that the team could observe the speed with which the fire spread and burned the ground vegetation.

Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1421© Maria de Bruyn res Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1080© Maria de Bruyn res

Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1090© Maria de Bruyn resBurn 18 March 2015 IMG_1119© Maria de Bruyn resThey also paid careful attention to the wind direction, which could transport embers and bits of burned debris away from the burn site.

Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1427© Maria de Bruyn res Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1446© Maria de Bruyn res

Controlled burns are important in eradicating invasive plants (e.g., Microstegium vimineum, commonly known as Japanese stiltgrass) and enabling native plants to thrive. Some plants are fire-resistant and suffer little damage during a burn. A variety of grasses, flowers and trees need fire for their seeds to germinate, while other plants may need less dense areas as prime growth habitat. Some of the minerals contained in slowly decaying plant matter become soluble and more available in ash, contributing to quicker rejuvenation of the soil.

Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1120© Maria de Bruyn resBurn 18 March 2015 DK7A1520© Maria de Bruyn res

Some areas of the work area burned quickly and turned into smoldering ash that occasionally flared up with a rise or turn of the wind. During this burn, some patches did not catch fire; others at first appeared immune to the fire only to burst into flame after some time.

Burn 18 March 2015 IMG_1154© Maria de Bruyn resThe flames could be quite beautiful and even mesmerizing as they flickered and flashed.

Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1627© Maria de Bruyn res Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1577© Maria de Bruyn res

At times the wind turned and brought smoke in our direction, obscuring the view but then the wind shifted again and we could see the crackling, shifting fire on logs and stumps.

Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1496© Maria de Bruyn res Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1498© Maria de Bruyn res

Burn 18 March 2015 DK7A1573© Maria de Bruyn resA concern for wildlife lovers is the possible demise of animals during a burn. Birds may lose nests but if the burn takes place outside the breeding season, the majority of birds can fly to safety. Many mammals can flee to other areas, while some reptiles and amphibians can burrow into the ground and survive. Occasionally, some animals may perish such as slow-moving turtles and arthropods (e.g., spiders) and insects. That is certainly a sad and regrettable outcome but team members sometimes can help rescue fleeing wildlife. During this burn, the marbled salamander larvae (Ambystoma opacum) continued to swim about placidly in a vernal pool in the woods across from the fire.

Marbled salamander DK7A1338© Maria de Bruyn resOverall, promoting a healthy environment for native plants not only helps restore the natural environment but is also important for wildlife species that depend on the fire-dependent plants for sustenance and habitat. Watching a burn can be an interesting and educational experience. People who want to participate in controlled burns can volunteer for this with the managers of preserved natural areas.