Braeburn Farm is for the birds!

I don’t often get the chance to visit a farm (other than organized farm tours, which are a bit pricey and then might be crowded). Last year, I was invited to one during an annual llama shearing, which was educational. This year, however, I’ve had the chance to visit Braeburn Farm four times so far because the owner and manager have decided to make it a nature reserve as well as a cattle farm. Nick, the land manager, is a birder who is more than willing to share his knowledge with the visitors.

pond I77A6227© Maria de Bruyn res

My first visit to this farmland/nature reserve was in the early spring to see Wilson’s snipes at one of the five ponds. By late June, these birds had moved on but the ponds were now harboring mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) and killdeer (Charadrius vociferous).

mallard duck I77A7320© Maria de Bruyn res     red-winged blackbird I77A6920© Maria de Bruyn res

belted kingfisher I77A6936© Maria de Bruyn (2)   killdeer I77A6934© Maria de Bruyn res

My quest to see green herons at one pond was unsuccessful, but my 20-minute walk there was accompanied by the non-stop screaming of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), who called both from tree tops and the air as she circled overhead.

red-tailed hawk I77A6030© Maria de Bruyn res   red-tailed hawk I77A6044© Maria de Bruyn res

A non-native bird who might greet you as you come down the road near the farm manager’s home is a helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris), the sole survivor of a neighbor’s flock. This bird now comes to visit the domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) at Braeburn, perhaps seeking some companionship in addition to the easily available chicken feed.

helmeted guineafowl I77A5648© Maria de Bruyn res    chicken I77A6958© Maria de Bruyn (2)

chicken I77A6949© Maria de Bruyn resThe farm chickens are in a large pen while other chickens run free, including one with a wild hairdo.

A trio of wild turkeys left the woods and entered a field during one of my visits but they were at a considerable distance; still, I could say I had seen them that day! The Eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) have often been visible at a distance in the fields, but on my last visit I saw one a bit closer on a fence post, giving me the chance to enjoy its beautiful plumage.

 

Eastern meadowlark I77A8597© Maria de Bruyn    Eastern meadowlark I77A5898© Maria de Bruyn

Eastern kingbird I77A5683© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Eastern kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus) can be seen in many of the fields and on wires. They take advantage of the ponds to snag dragonfly meals and the dry grasses provide materials for nests.

 

Eastern kingbird I77A7653© Maria de Bruyn        Eastern kingbird I77A7099© Maria de Bruyn res

They also pose very prettily on the shrubbery!

Eastern kingbird I77A7007© Maria de Bruyn   Eastern kingbird I77A6380© Maria de Bruyn res

grasshopper sparrow I77A7118© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) are numerous, which was lovely for me as this species was a lifer for me. If you approach on foot, they fly off, but Nick said they are so used to his motorized cart, they stay put as he chugs on by!

 

grasshopper sparrow I77A6976© Maria de Bruyn res      grasshopper sparrow I77A5738© Maria de Bruyn res

Savannah sparrow I77A8690© Maria de Bruyn res

 

In the spring, when we had gone to see the snipes, we were lucky to see savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) running about in the grass (I had at first thought we were seeing field mice scurrying about).

 

 

 

orchard oriole I77A7271© Maria de Bruyn resIn June, a pair of orchard orioles (Icterus scpurius) had built a nest in a tree bordering one pond and I was excited to see two babies just days before they fledged. The father was feeding them and brought one baby a large cricket, which seemed to be too large for it swallow easily. Dad tried to help by pushing it down but when I left, the insect was still sticking out of baby’s mouth and its sibling was still hungry, too.

orchard oriole I77A7475© Maria de Bruyn res

orchard oriole I77A7510© Maria de Bruyn    orchard oriole I77A7500© Maria de Bruyn

barn swallow I77A7161© Maria de Bruyn resThe barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) adopted an abandoned barn as their hotel of choice. When I visited in June, the young had just been fledging; they and their parents were circling the barn and resting on fences nearby, showing off their beautiful colors.

In July, a few stragglers remained in nests. Some that had taken the great leap were hanging around outside, even clutching the barn wall.

barn swallow I77A7062© Maria de Bruyn res        barn swallow IMG_4527© Maria de Bruyn

barn swallow I77A7145© Maria de Bruyn res

barn swallow I77A7139© Maria de Bruyn res

Others were enjoying the view on a wire line, together with some purple martins.

barn swallow I77A6990© Maria de Bruyn res

The fence posts and other farm structures offer resting places for various birds, like the Eastern wood peewee (Contopus virens), chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) and Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

Eastern wood-peewee I77A6694© Maria de Bruyn res    Eastern wood peewee I77A6675© Maria de Bruyn res

chipping sparrow I77A6665© Maria de Bruyn res   house finch I77A6529© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A5859© Maria de Bruyn res  Eastern bluebird I77A5847© Maria de Bruyn res

turkey vulture I77A7105© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) take advantage of the cattle’s well-water stations to get a drink, but then may retire to a tree branch for a bit of sunning. Nick likes them better than the black vultures, who had killed a newborn calf when its mother wasn’t taking care of it.

 

 

turkey vulture I77A7107© Maria de Bruyn res    turkey vulture IMG_4469© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern mockingbird I77A7669© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Other birds, like the Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) and great-crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus) enjoy the view from the vantage of high branches in trees.

 

great-crested flycatcher I77A7199© Maria de Bruyn res     great-crested flycatcher I77A7193© Maria de Bruyn res

While the 500-acre farm is mostly advertised in relation to its beef and opportunities to hold events such as receptions there, the farm management is now increasingly promoting it as a place for wildlife observation as well. The biodiversity in birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and plants is wonderful and my next blog will focus on examples of the non-avian wildlife to be seen there. If you’d like to visit the farm, do contact them!

Winter mornings at Jordan Lake

Mist on the lake I77A5266© Maria de BruynSpending two cold early mornings at Jordan Lake the past couple weeks reinforced my conviction that getting out into nature is a restorative and calming activity. And it doesn’t need to be warm. Although a doctor pronounced me healed after my recent hospitalization and home treatment, it turns out that I’m not completely healthy after all. Starting a new treatment was a bit stressful, but seeing the birds at the lake was a joy.

snag I77A6203© Maria de Bruyn res

Mind you, I’d love to see other wildlife there, but the mammals, reptiles and amphibians have been hiding out or keeping away from areas frequented by people. The fact that it is still hunting season probably makes some of them somewhat shy, too. I did manage to see a fly on one morning though.

fly I77A2979© Maria de Bruyn

The animals do leave behind signs of their presence, however. Tracks in the sand is one give-away that they passed by.

animal tracks I77A2998© Maria de Bruyn res

The beavers (Castor canadensis) leave behind distinctively gnawed tree stumps – and here you can also see one tree that they haven’t quite finished felling yet.

beaver tree I77A2933© Maria de Bruyn res beaver tree I77A2950© Maria de Bruyn res

The shoreline vegetation was decorated with gull feathers in various areas of the lake.

bird feather I77A2711© Maria de Bruyn res bird feather I77A2697© Maria de Bruyn res

heron track I77A2924© Maria de Bruyn res

 

A sandy track of what I assumed was a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) didn’t produce a bird at that site, but I saw these beauties in flight at two other sites.

 

great blue heron I77A3926© Maria de Bruyn res

great blue heron I77A2558© Maria de Bruyn res

At one area, I spotted a bird that seemed unfamiliar just as it was turning to take off. Friendly birders online identified it as an American pipit (Anthus rubescens), the first time I had seen this species (known as a “lifer” among the birding crowd). The next week I saw a killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) in the same spot but got a better shot.

American pipit I77A2526© Maria de Bruynkilldeer I77A5908© Maria de Bruyn

The killdeer didn’t hang around too long either, but I was able to get a couple of nice flight photos this time.

killdeer I77A5933© Maria de Bruyn res killdeer I77A5931© Maria de Bruyn res

American crow I77A2810© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) were foraging in the shoreline woods, while the song sparrow was looking for food among the woody detritus left at lakeside.

 

song sparrow I77A5877© Maria de Bruyn res song sparrow I77A5866© Maria de Bruyn res

In another place, the crows were very loudly making their presence known – it turned out that a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was perched nearby and they were making sure everyone knew the hawk was there.

red-tailed hawk I77A3850© Maria de Bruyn resAmerican crow I77A3878© Maria de Bruyn res

In the trees near the lake, various birds could be seen: the ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) was very busy as usual, flying from a sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) to other trees in rapid succession.

ruby-crowned kinglet I77A5662© Maria de Bruyn ruby-crowned kinglet I77A6049© Maria de Bruyn

At one site, there were many dark-eyed juncos foraging on the ground and taking pauses in the trees and shrubs around. Juncos are actually a type of sparrow and a group of sparrows is known by several names: a crew, a flutter, a meinie, a quarrel and an ubiquity.

dark-eyed junco I77A2838© Maria de Bruyn dark-eyed junco I77A2379© Maria de Bruyn

The downy woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) and red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) were in evidence at various lake sites.

downy woodpecker I77A2504© Maria de Bruyn resRed-bellied woodpecker I77A5384© Maria de Bruyn res

Overhead, the double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) flew by; they would land and share space with the ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis).

 

double-crested cormorant I77A2731© Maria de Bruyn resring-billed gull I77A3558© Maria de Bruyn res

ring-billed gull I77A2389© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The ring-billed gulls were numerous and occasionally one swooped down to fish not too far from shore.

ring-billed gull I77A5489© Maria de Bruyn resring-billed gull I77A5497© Maria de Bruyn res

While I was watching, the horned grebes (Odiceps auritus) were more successful in getting meals as they dove into the cold water.

Horned grebe I77A3662© Maria de Bruynhorned grebe I77A3094© Maria de Bruyn

belted kingfisher I77A4014© Maria de BruynA couple times I was very surprised by a bird that suddenly seemed to emerge out of nowhere to fly over my head or just in front of me. That was the case with a beautiful male wood duck (Aix sponsa) and a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon).

 

wood duck I77A3719© Maria de Bruyn res wood duck I77A3718© Maria de Bruyn res

bald eagle I77A3030© Maria de BruynAn adult bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) soared by just as I was approaching an observation platform in one area; the distance and height were considerable but I managed a shot. A Bonaparte’s gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) flew by a little lower, while a Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) sat still for a portrait.

 

Bonaparte's gull I77A3962© Maria de Bruyn

 

Carolina chickadee I77A5806© Maria de Bruyn res

My last avian companions during my latest lake walk were a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and a lovely hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus).

white-throated sparrow I77A6115© Maria de Bruynhermit thrush I77A6165© Maria de Bruyn

I returned home on both occasions a satisfied birder!

 

“Regal” members of the bird world

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_2027©Maria de BruynWe usually don’t know who gave a bird species its common name and sometimes may scratch our heads wondering how and why someone ended up choosing a particular name. But birders faithfully learn to identify birds with those names, even when they may seem illogical. For example, many people would have chosen to call red-bellied woodpeckers red-headed woodpeckers since the reddish belly feathers are much less obvious than the red on the back of their heads.

Sometimes we can guess at why a bird got a certain name, however. The species with some form of “king” in their names were apparently felt to have something regal in their bearing or behavior. These birds don’t look similar though.

Some are quite small, like the ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula). This tiny bird, which weighs only 5-10 g (0.2-0.4 oz), is a bit dull in color except for the ruby crown that the males occasionally display. They are very active and very cute and having them leave the forest and woody areas to visit your bird feeders is a real treat.

Ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_9834©Maria de Bruyn res - Copy ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_2762 MdB (2)
The golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) is even smaller, weighing on average 4-7.8 g (0.14-0.28 oz). The males and females both have crowns, although the males can have an orange patch in the middle of their crowns.

Golden-crowned kinglet IMG_7486© Maria de BruynGolden-crowned kinglet IMG_5785II
The tropical kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) is larger and has a crown stripe that is less obvious than the kinglet crowns.

Tropical kingbird IMG_8081X mdbTropical kingbird IMG_8113Z mdb

The belted kingfisher is larger still (Megaceryle alcyon) weighing 113-178 g (4-6.3 oz). The females are more brightly colored than the males, showing a reddish band across their breasts (both male and female juveniles have the reddish bands but adult males lose theirs).

Belted kingfisher IMG_5329©Maria de BruynresBelted kingfisher  IMG_9360f© Maria de Bruyn

Some birds don’t have regal names in English but do so in other languages. For example, in Dutch and German, wrens are called kinglets; in North Carolina, we talk about Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus).

Carolina wren IMG_7891©Maria de BruynresCarolina wren IMG_8909© Maria de Bruyn

And then we have the large raptor (weighing in at 0.9–2.1 kg (2.0–4.6 lb) whose regal background is expressed in its scientific name, Pandion haliaetus. Pandion was the name of the Greek king of Athens who was grandfather to Theseus, who was transformed into an eagle. Haliaetus comes from the Greek word for sea eagle. We call this regal eagle by the simpler name osprey.

osprey IMG_0230©Maria de Bruyn resosprey IMG_9909©Maria de Bruyn

So these kingly birds are all quite different, ranging from the tiny kinglets to the robust osprey. What they do have in common is their loveliness, displayed in diverse size, color and plumage, and our appreciation for their beauty.

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_8787©Maria de Bruyn signed

Belted kingfishers and me

Belted kingfisher IMG_9360f© Maria de Bruyn

Since my “career” as a birder is still rather short, especially in comparison to some birders I know, I still quite regularly see “lifers”. These are first-time spottings of birds in the wild when you can identify them reliably. While I enjoy seeing the more common birds in my area time and again, it is the lifers that often evoke a happy grin when I get a good photo. More often than not, though, my first photos of a lifer are a bit blurry, partial as the bird is hidden in foliage or otherwise imperfect. It is only with repeated sightings that the photos seem to improve – though that also isn’t always the case.

An example of this is my “relationship” with the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon).  Although worldwide there are more than 90 species of kingfishers, the United States and Canada only have three and it is the belted variety that is most often seen. “Belted” refers to the band of bluish-gray color across the white underparts of the bird’s body; both males and females have this. Females also have a reddish color band, making them even more attractive than the males, which is not so usual among our avian friends.

The first time I saw a belted kingfisher was in October 2012; it was Belted kingfisher IMG_9690Dacross Jordan Lake, about a 30-minute drive from my home, in a tree. Only when it flew by once at high speed was I able to get a half-way decent shot of what I think was a female.

My next sightings were in a mangrove swamp in Mexico in December 2013. One day, I saw a female fly by over the mangrove trees in the distance.

Belted kingfisher IMG_9364F© Maria de BruynTwo days later, at the same place, I saw male. What was exciting about that spotting was that the bird began fishing right in front of me. He would circle the swamp, hover a couple seconds and then fold his wings to drop like a bullet into the water, completely submerging. The action was fast and my photos were blurred again, but I was able to document that he had caught a meal.

Belted kingfisher IMG_1853© Maria de BruynBelted kingfisher IMG_1855© Maria de BruynBelted kingfisher IMG_1860© Maria de Bruyn

Belted kingfisher IMG_1864© Maria de BruynBelted kingfisher IMG_5279©Maria de BruynresMy fourth sighting was in the late afternoon this past week, January 2014. As I was walking in a forested area near a creek, I saw a flash of a blue head and white on the wings and at first thought that a blue jay had streaked by me. But then the odd, kind of loud warbling call caught my attention – it was definitely not a jay. The bird perched on a tree limb about 100 feet or more ahead of me and I suspected that it might be a kingfisher but doubted it, too, as I thought they needed to be around more open bodies of water. This is not the case – they just need to be around water that doesn’t freeze over so they always have access to their fishy diets, as well as amphibians, small crustaceans, insects, small mammals and reptiles. They nest in burrows dug horizontally into the banks of waterways and both parents cooperate in feeding and raising the young.

Belted kingfisher IMG_5442©Maria de BruynresBelted kingfisher IMG_5388©Maria de Bruynres

I began taking photos from far away as I neared the kingfisher; when I would get within about 30 feet, he would take off again. This scenario repeated itself over and over again as I tried to get some shots of the bird not hidden by branches, twigs and dried foliage. I finally did get some photos, again not of the best quality as it was getting towards dusk and the bird was still pretty far away.

Belted kingfisher IMG_5420©Maria de BruynresBoth sexes have a dark head with crested feathers and quite large bills; this juvenile – male, I believe – showed his crest over and over as he called and bobbed up and down on his various perches. I think it is the crest that helped give him a – what struck me as – crabby look. He was very impressive though.

Belted kingfisher IMG_5442©Maria de Bruynres

When I next see a belted kingfisher, it won’t be a “lifer” sighting but my goal now is to get a good close-up shot; time will tell if I succeed!

Next blog: deer and their efforts to get food