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!

Warbler watching and migration – a shared pleasure for birders!

black-and-white-warbler-i77a3458-maria-de-bruynAutumn migration in North America has been underway for some weeks and our bird populations in North Carolina are changing in composition. Some birds stay year-round – for example, I see robins, blue jays, Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice in all seasons to my great delight. However, other birds who have been here since spring are now getting ready to leave for a southerly jaunt to a place that will be warmer for them in winter – most of the ruby-throated hummingbirds and some gray catbirds have departed already. (I have had a catbird stay year-round but others leave.) Many black and white warblers (Mniotilta varia) will be leaving, too.

american-redstart-i77a4367maria-de-bruyn-resThe Nature Conservancy has noted that the autumn songbird migration is one of the top four migrations in this state. The Audubon Society has even published a guide to this migration and when certain species usually begin their travels. (Left: American redstart male)

 

This seasonal event means that dedicated birders make special efforts to visit places where it’s likely we’ll see warblers. Many of North America’s 50 species don’t eat seed or suet, so you won’t find them visiting your feeders often. I have found, however, that pine warblers (Setophaga pinus) and yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) are pretty social and those who are here for the winter are already joining my “regular” birds at feeding stations. The pine warblers especially like suet (female left, male right below).

pine-warbler-i77a0184-maria-de-bruyn-res        pine-warbler-i77a0409-maria-de-bruyn-8-x-10

The yellow rumps are still looking around a lot for insects; this one snagged a skipper butterfly.

yellow-rumped-warbler-i77a5552-maria-de-bruyn-res

In the autumn, many of these songbirds no longer have their beautiful breeding plumage, which is often so distinctive that you can identify them easily, especially the males. I was lucky enough to see some of those beauties during spring migration as well as in the summer for the ones that spend the warmer months here.

prothonotary-warbler-i77a2854-maria-de-bruyn-res   prothonotary-warbler-i77a9933-maria-de-bruyn-res

Prothonotary warbler male (Protonotaria citrea)

yellow-throated-warbler-img_0418-maria-de-bruyn        prairie-warbler-i77a1622-maria-de-bruyn-res

Yellow-throated (Setophaga dominica) & prairie warblers (Setophaga discolor)

american-redstart-i77a7811-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

The warblers’ non-breeding coloration is frequently duller and drabber than their breeding plumage. Often only experienced birders can tell some species apart on first sight. Added to that is the fact that young birds don’t yet have their adult plumage and the immature males often look just like adult females. So it is a challenging time for identification, especially for me, but an exciting time for discoveries.

 

blackpoll-warbler-i77a1289-maria-de-bruyn-resGetting photos of these lovely birds can be tricky since they move about a lot in search of their insect meals. It is ultimately the pursuit of those culinary delights that leads the warblers to migrate South, since the insect population declines dramatically in areas with cold weather.

Nature photographer Mary had discovered a spot where the warblers could bathe in a relatively protected fashion; she kindly shared the location with some of us and a number of avid birders sat with her for hours waiting for the birds to appear. Some of our more “common” avian friends used the site, too, including a gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) and a brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum).

gray-catbird-i77a4922maria-de-bruyn-res    brown-thrasher-i77a4880maria-de-bruyn-res

northern-waterthrush-i77a5013maria-de-bruyn-res

 

A Northern waterthrush (also a warbler, Parkesia noveboracensis) found the spot enticing.

The trees around the water hosted birds as they looked for insects, like the black-throated blue warblers below (Setophaga caerulescens), seen a few weeks apart.

 

 

black-throated-blue-warbler-i77a8117-maria-de-bruyn-res  black-throated-blue-i77a4426maria-de-bruyn-res

A female American redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) spent time working the shrubs surrounding the creek with some success.

american-redstart-i77a4981maria-de-bruyn-res    american-redstart-i77a4996maria-de-bruyn-res

The male redstarts hopped about the branches and rocks hanging over the creek for a while before venturing below to bathe.

american-redstart-i77a7628-maria-de-bruyn-res american-redstart-i77a4217-maria-de-bruyn-res

american-redstart-i77a4477maria-de-bruyn-res  american-redstart-i77a4480maria-de-bruyn-res

The birds appeared to enjoy their bathing spot immensely, sometimes dipping under water over and over again.

american-redstart-i77a4685-maria-de-bruyn-res  american-redstart-i77a4693-maria-de-bruyn-res

american-redstart-i77a4658-maria-de-bruyn   american-redstart-i77a4629-maria-de-bruyn-res

american-redstart-i77a4710-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

They also didn’t mind sharing the space with each other (or sometimes other species)..

magnolia-warbler-i77a2250-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

 

 

The Magnolia warblers (Setophaga magnolia) did the same, giving me some good looks and making my first in-person sighting of this species (lifer!) quite special.

 

 

magnolia-warbler-i77a5161-maria-de-bruyn-res    magnolia-warbler-i77a5184-maria-de-bruyn-res

chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5210-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

The chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)was a very vigorous bather!

chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5230-maria-de-bruyn-res

chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5207-maria-de-bruyn-res    chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5203-maria-de-bruyn-res

hooded-warbler-i77a4728-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

A male hooded warbler (Setophaga citrina) made a brief appearance one day, followed by some female and male common yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas).

 

common-yellowthroat-i77a4431maria-de-bruyn-2common-yellowthroat-i77a4316maria-de-bruyn-res

Another water body that provided me with some excellent views of warblers was the Haw River. In the small town of Bynum, a bridge crosses the river and gives birders a great vantage point to see birds in the tree canopy close to eye level. There I was able to see two more lifers a couple weeks ago – the first was a bay-breasted warbler (Setophaga castanea).

bay-breasted-warbler-i77a1004-maria-de-bruyn-res    bay-breasted-warbler-i77a1003-maria-de-bruyn-res

blackpoll-warbler-i77a1315-maria-de-bruyn-resThis beauty was followed by another that had me confused. At first, I thought I was seeing a kinglet but this bird was a bit large and then as I got closer looks, I realized it looked like a bay-breasted warbler but had yellow feet. A search on the Internet showed I had seen a blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata), likely a non-breeding male. Experts on an American Birding Association Internet site confirmed the ID for me.

blackpoll-warbler-i77a1320-maria-de-bruyn-res    blackpoll-warbler-i77a1329-maria-de-bruyn-res

black-and-white-warbler-i77a7204-maria-de-bruyn-resMy migration warbler watching culminated with some exciting finds in my own yard. I was surprised by several I hadn’t seen at home before, including common yellowthroats, a black and white warbler looking for insects in my willow oak and a gorgeous Northern parula (Setophaga americana), who even came to my feeders before pursuing a caterpillar in a Rose of Sharon nearby.

northern-parula-i77a7131-maria-de-bruyn-res   northern-parula-i77a7117-maria-de-bruyn-res

northern-parula-i77a7076-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

I’m now hoping to see some birds that breed further North during the summer arrive here for their late fall/winter/early spring sojourn, such as a ruby-crowned kinglet who has spent time with me each winter for the last three years. Next time I’ll share some of my pollinator sightings with you, in the hope you find them as fascinating as me. Have a nice day!