When I checked my email Friday morning (9/9), I had a message from Chris Kelly, mountain wildlife diversity biologist with North Carolina Natural Resources Commission. Kelly helps coordinate an annual nightjar (birds of the family Caprimulgidae like Chuck-will’s-widow and whip-poor-will) survey across the mountains of North Carolina for the national Nightjar Survey Network. The email was an update for those who volunteer for the nightjar survey but it started out with a note that, “It is Common Nighthawk migration time!”
The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCWO) is a small – cardinal-sized – woodpecker native to eastern pine forests. It once ranged from New Jersey southward to Florida and westward to eastern Texas and portions of Oklahoma and Missouri. The RCWO is dependant upon old growth pine forests, especially longleaf pine.
Cloud cover keeps the summer morning cool as Mark Hopey makes the rounds below Cowee Mound. By 8:30 a.m., he and his two wildlife technicians have already been working at the Franklin-area site for nearly three hours, making hay while the sun doesn’t shine — or at least doesn’t shine with the heat it will gather soon.
Hopey glances down a small trail leading to a net — higher than his head, wide as a volleyball net and strung with fine black netting — before walking on past. No birds there, but he’ll inspect it closer on the way back, just to make sure.
You’re hiking streamside through a rhododendron tangle when you hear a short, musical trill – it kind of mimics the riffles in the stream. I know, you’re in a hurry – got a lot of hiking to do. But if you have a minute to track this little chorister down you won’t be disappointed. What you’re hearing is a Canada warbler.
I spend six weeks every spring doing bird surveys for the Forest Service across Western North Carolina. My travels take me from Hiwassee Dam, to Lake Chatuge, to Black Balsam, to Hot Springs, to the Pinks Beds, to Roan Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Roaring Creek and Boone Fork plus other locations.
This past weekend marked the occasion of the 32nd annual Great Smokies Birding Expedition. Fred Alsop, the ornithologist at East Tennessee State University, Rick Pyeritz, the now-retired physician at UNCA, and I initiated the event in the fall of 1984. Since 1985, it has been held the first or second weekend in May.
I just finished four wonderful days of birding in the Smokies, helping out with the 66th Annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. Well 3.8 wonderful days and 0.2 days getting drenched last Friday before we gave up. Man those pilgrims are tough!
I was having my morning coffee on the small floating dock in the narrow, clear Weeki Wachee River about three miles upstream of the Gulf of Mexico and watching for manatees. The girls and I had discovered that early morning was a good time to catch these unique creatures headed in or out of the river. The loud, incessant calling of a red-shouldered hawk from the woods across the river suddenly shattered the morning quiet.
Due to contractual obligations with the Forest Service I have been in the woods a little earlier than usual this year. I’m not complaining, it’s been wonderful watching spring arrive. I began hitting the woods in February and everything, except the conifers and other evergreens, was brown and/or gray. There was a little bird life — chickadees, titmice, juncos, woodpeckers and other winter residents — but not a lot, a few chips and call notes but only an occasional chickadee song.
Waterfowl have been scarce across Western North Carolina this fall and winter. Traditional haunts like Lake Julian in Asheville, Lake James near Marion and our own waterfowl magnet Lake Junaluska have been mostly vacant this season. Even coot numbers are really low this year.