Displaying items by tag: naturalist's corner

Slogging through the watershed

It was dark, 39 degrees and a steady light drizzle when I walked from the house to my truck last Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. By the time I got to town, the rain had stopped, and when I arrived at the treatment plant at Waynesville’s watershed, there were five brave souls huddled in the dark under the eave of the building waiting for me.

The last email I had received from assistant town manager Alison Melnikova said that 14 people had signed up for the short birding excursion before the annual fall watershed hike. I was surprised to see that nearly half had showed up under conditions that would have had many seasoned birders turning off their alarms and rolling back under the covers.

As we were trying to figure out logistics, Alison showed up in a town 15-passenger van. We all piled in the van and drove a mile or so into the watershed. The wind was steady and the rain was intermittent. We decided to keep Alison and the van nearby in case the rain became steady.

As one might expect on a cold, windy, rainy mid-October morning, it was pretty quiet up in the watershed. We had Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice around us at just about every stop we made on our way back down to the dam. We also heard a tom turkey gobble and we saw crows, an unidentified accipiter — either a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk, a yellow-bellied sapsucker and heard blue jays.

At the dam around 8:30 a.m. we found a small flock of palm warblers and some ruby-crowned kinglets. We walked out on the dam. All the reservoir yielded — other than beautiful views of the mountains through wispy tatters of fog — was a pied-billed grebe and a belted kingfisher.

The 9 o’clock hikers were arriving down at the treatment plant and since some of the birders had signed up for both hikes, we decided to walk down and join them. But when we got to the intersection of the main road down to the plant and the spur road across the dam, we ran into a flurry of activity. We found a scattered, jumbled up mixed flock of migrants. There were rose-breasted grosbeaks, Swainson’s thrush, wood thrush, blue-headed vireo, gray catbird, Tennessee warbler, palm warbler, eastern phoebe and more. Before we could sort through everything, the 9 o’clock hikers were headed up the road into the watershed.

We walked down to the plant. I thought we had a respectable morning considering conditions and time birded. We finished the morning with just over 20 species. A couple of the birders peeled off, headed for hot coffee and drier climes. The rest jumped in my truck and we headed back to join the other hikers.

While conditions were damp, hikers’ spirits weren’t dampened and most reveled in the snow we encountered at around 4,000 feet. I didn’t do a head count but estimated that there must have been around 30 hikers, a really good number considering the conditions.

Remember to keep an eye on Waynesville’s Web site for information regarding next spring’s hike.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The leaves, they are a’ changing

It seems like colors popped on the mountains almost overnight last Thursday or Friday. It went from a spot of color here and there to a mix of yellows, reds and oranges splashing down the mountainsides. I think those few nights with temperatures in the low 40s helped. Cold temperatures help trap anthocyanin — the pigment responsible for the red in much of our fall foliage — in the leaves.

And now, just as the color parade is getting underway, comes two of leaf season’s biggest enemies — rain and wind. But, as I have preached in this column before, this October is going to be the best leaf season we’re going to have this year. And don’t be afraid to get out on those drizzly, overcast days.

While we all revel in those bluebird autumn days when we can see multi-colored ridge after multi-colored ridge stretching to the horizon like a rumpled patchwork quilt, clouds and fog can produce their own striking effects.

If you’re a shutterbug hoping to capture some of autumn’s rich color for posterity, you are probably already a fan of cloud cover. Those bluebird days are great for looking at but often they don’t translate well in photos. Bright sunlight tends to wash out highlights created by subtle shifts in hues and/or tones. Plus shadows are hard to escape.

Overcast skies produce a more diffuse, balanced light. They eliminate shadows and reflections and let the true colors speak for themselves. And if you have the talent (I wish I did) and fog is swirling, then you can get really creative.

But you can’t see and/or photograph anything if you don’t get out and look. Here are one of my favorite autumn drives:

Take U.S. 276 from Waynesville, to Bethel and pick up N.C. 215. Drive N.C. 215 through Shining Rock Wilderness and across the Blue Ridge Parkway. After the Parkway, N.C. 215 is a windy, high-elevation drive until it starts to fall down toward Rosman and U.S. 64. From N.C. 215, you get a good view of Roy Taylor Forest to the southwest.

At Rosman, take U.S. 64 West through Sapphire Valley to Cashiers and on to Highlands. You will be immersed in color. Continue on U.S. 64 West from Highlands through the Cullasaja Gorge to Franklin. The gorge provides spectacular scenery.

In Franklin, pickup U.S. 441 North to Dillsboro. The drive out of Franklin may start out a little boring, but the Cowee Mountains are sure to spice it up.

At Dillsboro, you will pickup U.S. 23/74 East back to Waynesville. If you drive this road often you may not pay a lot of attention. But coming from Sylva, the Balsam Mountains provide outstanding vistas during peak color.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Just leisure time in good company

So much of our time in this soured economy is spent paying homage to the almighty dollar that leisure time – real leisure time, not ferrying the kids to soccer or mowing the yard – is a nostalgic memory. Well, last Sunday I laced my boots, gathered my field guides and binoculars and met my friend Bob Olthoff at 7:30 a.m. for a morning afield. A pass by the Quick Stop for a hot cup ‘o Joe and we were headed for the Parkway.

We had decided we would drive the Parkway from Waynesville to Cherokee and then scoot over to Kituwah in search of fall migrants. The first couple of stops on the Parkway were slow. Juncos were chipping and trilling and blue-headed vireos were around but not much more. We figured it was probably the chill and brisk southwest winds keeping things so subdued.

An hour later it was still fresh up there; the wind had a bit of a bite. We had seen one small, busy flock of migrants that Bob called “express” birds. We know there were Tennessee warblers and blue-headed vireos in the group, but those were the only species we were able to identify.

But that’s the beauty of the Parkway and leisure time. We weren’t seeing many migrants. Heck, we weren’t seeing many birds at all. But we were seeing mountains for 50 miles on one of those rare, clear mornings. And we saw clouds sleeping in the valleys, with dark peaks poking through. And we saw mountain ashes bent over under the burden of pounds of shiny, candy-apple red berries. Oh, and we saw ladies’ tresses — lots and lots of ladies’ tresses. This delicate, slender white orchid was blooming profusely along the shoulder of the Parkway.

There are at least four species of ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes) in the region. The one we found showing off last Sunday was Spiranthes cernua, nodding ladies’ tresses. The flowering stalk of nodding ladies’ tresses, which rises from a rosette of narrow basal leaves, may reach about a foot in height. Numerous small white flowers spiral around the stalk. The moniker, ladies’ tresses, came from the idea that the flowers spiraling around the stalk resembled hair braids. This characteristic may be more pronounced in Spiranthes lacera, slender ladies’ tresses. Nodding ladies’ tresses blooms from August till frost.

Stiff gentian, Gentianella quinquefolia, was also prominent along the roadsides of the Parkway and the entrance to Waterrock Knob was radiant with goldenrod. I’m pretty sure it is mountain goldenrod, Solidago roanensis.

Now we didn’t give up on birds. We moved on down to Kituwah. The prevailing southwesterly winds had begun to push clouds in and the skies were beginning to get a little overcast. Kituwah was almost as quiet as the Parkway except for numerous eastern phoebes and a flock of palm warblers.

We didn’t tick off a hundred species. We didn’t find anything rare or unusual. But we had hot coffee, good conversation and a leisurely morning in a beautiful setting. How cool is that?

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

The Naturalist's Corner

Dancin' on the dunes

“Look at the butterflies!” I said.

“I know, I’ve been counting them – 27, 28, 29, 30, 32,” said my wife Denise.

“They’re still coming, “ I said.

“41, 43, 44,” she said.

I could see orange butterflies bouncing in the wind. “They must be migrating monarchs,” I said and went off for my binoculars.

I returned and glassed the aerial acrobats. “They’re not monarchs, they’re gulf fritillaries,” I said.

“63, 64, 65,” she said.

We were at Litchfield Inn on Litchfield Beach, S.C. celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary sans the kids and all I could think was, “I wish Izzy was here to see this.”

I went out on the boardwalk that crosses the dunes, from the Inn to the beach. There, quartering on the prevailing Atlantic wind as adept as any sailor, was a seemingly endless progression of gulf fritillaries.

Gulf fritillaries are striking butterflies. It has a wingspan of nearly four inches. The upper sides are bright golden-orange with black markings. When it folds its wings, it shows a brownish under wing with large, elongated, iridescent silver spots.

The gulf fritillary ranges from South America northward through Central America, the West Indies, Mexico and into the southern U.S. as a permanent resident. I spoke with Chris Marsh, executive director of Spring Island Trust at Spring Island, S.C. and he said, “The cut off line for gulf fritillaries as permanent residents on the east coast appears to be around Charleston [S.C.]” And Carlos Chacon, manager of natural history at the Coastal Discovery Museum on Hilton Head Island, S.C. said, “I have gulf fritillaries in every stage from eggs to adult butterflies right now.”

In spring and summer, the gulf fritillary follows its host plant, passionflower, northward. It has been recorded as far north as Manitoba along the east coast and as far north as San Francisco on the west coast. But as summer wanes, these bugs mass and begin to travel southward. However, unlike their famous migrating cousins the monarch butterfly, the physiology and life cycle of the gulf fritillary doesn’t change. While the monarch that hatches in September or October and begins the thousand(s) mile journey back to Mexico doesn’t sexually mature till the next spring, the gulf fritillary’s life cycle remains basically constant and in warmer climes it will reproduce year round.

The dune dance seems to progress down the coast. We observed the parade at Litchfield Beach on September 19; a web page (Sea Pines blog) from Hilton Head noted that October was a great month for, “...a seemingly endless procession of migrating Gulf Fritillaries...”

And if you get out this fall to look for migrating monarchs keep an eye out for gulf fritillaries. I have often seen them associated with monarchs in the fall.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Naturalist's Corner

Act swiftly

No, I don’t mean fly around in a circle above a chimney or smokestack before disappearing into it. I mean clear your calendar and grab the kids and head to Asheville’s Grove Arcade this Friday (Sept. 25 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.) for their annual “Swift Night Out” and watch as chimney swifts swarm the skies above the arcade before disappearing into the chimneys to roost.

Renowned ornithologist and field guide author Roger Tory Peterson described the chimney swift as “a cigar with wings.” It’s an apt description for this long-winged, five-inch, dark grayish-brown flying machine. If not nesting, the chimney swift spends its entire day on the wing. It chases down aerial insects, laps water, bathes and even gathers nesting materials on the wing.

The chimney swift’s short legs and tiny feet with strong hooked claws are no good for perching or standing but added to its short, stiff tail, they are perfect for clinging to vertical surfaces. Before Europeans made landfall on eastern North America those vertical surfaces included hollow trees and caves.

But with our ancestor’s penchant for clearing and building, homes, factories and businesses with chimneys and smokestacks galore began to dot the landscape and the swifts quickly began to utilize them. The chimney swift’s population and distribution mirrored the urbanization of the eastern United States. They now nest from Florida to Canada and as far west as the foothills of the Rockies.

 

Man giveth and man taketh away

In recent years the chimney swift population across the eastern U.S. has been in decline. Scientists are not certain of the reason or reasons for this decline but many attribute it to the loss of appropriate roosting sites. The continued clearing of forests takes away hollow trees. Today’s homes with central air and heat either have no chimneys or those chimneys are covered to keep the “pests” out. And, be it good or bad, those industrial smokestacks and chimneys are also disappearing. Since chimney swifts are solitary nesters, the loss of roosts means the loss of nests. For more information regarding the plight of chimney swifts today check out www.chimneyswifts.org.

While chimney swifts are not communal nesters, nesting pairs will tolerate non-breeding swifts in the same roost. And as fall approaches these roosts grow and grow as swifts mass for their annual trek to their wintering grounds in South America.

Swifts are diurnal migrants and large flocks wing their way south every autumn with an eye out for good roosting sites. The Grove Arcade has traditionally attracted thousands of these weary travelers on their way to Peru.

Asheville’s “A Swift Night Out” is sponsored by Asheville PARC (People Advocating Real Conservancy) and the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society. For more information contact Jennifer Saylor at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 828.231.7205.

The Naturalist's Corner

Surprises under fog

I decided to take advantage of a few free hours last Friday morning to get a firsthand look at fall migration. My strategy was to drive up to Soco Gap and then follow the Blue Ridge Parkway back to the Waynesville exit and home. It was a little overcast at my home when I left. When I got to Soco Gap at the Parkway it was socked in — visibility a couple of hundred feet at best.

I decided to press on because you never know when you might round a bend on the Parkway to see blue skies, plus I happen to be one of those weirdoes that like fog. My first stop was Thunder Struck Ridge Overlook.

It was damp and gray and quiet — not a chirp to be heard. The goldenrod and asters were ringed with faint foggy halos and the bright red-orange mandarin berries glowed like candles from the edge of the woods.

It was hard to break the spell of that all-consuming quiet. But I summoned all my will power and phished out loud. An immature male rose-breasted grosbeak and a gray catbird immediately popped up to the top of the brushy cleared overlook about 30 feet apart. Movement and chirping to my right announced that I had also stirred a couple of dark-eyed juncos. I also caught a fleeting glimpse of one warbler. I’m not 100 percent certain but the habitat, habits and brief look all said immature chestnut-sided to me.

I got back in the truck and pushed onward in the fog. I stopped again at Cranberry Ridge Overlook. Again, all was quiet. I phished. A pair of scolding red-breasted nuthatches appeared at the tips of a Fraser Fir. I watched the nuthatches for a while as I listened to the slow deliberate chick–a-dee-dee-dee of black-capped chickadees. Movement at the top of a Fraser Fir caught my eye and my binoculars revealed a Cape May warbler.

The fog was so thick I decided to drive a bit to see if I could shake it. I crossed U.S. 74, headed towards Asheville on the Parkway. I don’t know if it was geography or time, but the fog now would come and go. I decided to head for Licklog Gap Overlook. Licklog is a good fall migrant flyway but often the birds don’t stop and you’re left trying to glass the feathery phantoms as they fly by.

Friday was one of those days. Birds were passing through but it was hard to get any kind of definitive ID, except for the hummers. In the 25 to 30 minutes I spent at Licklog I saw at least a dozen hummingbirds buzz through. I saw 20 or so passerines fly overhead. I feel pretty sure that two were Baltimore orioles, because of the bright yellow-orange color.

But the best find of the day wasn’t in the skies. I heard the loud raspy chip notes of common yellowthroats and went to investigate. I phished and a yellowthroat popped up. There was another bird close-by in the tangle. When I first glassed the bird, I thought orange-crowned warbler because of the drab olive back, but it was too yellow below. I finally got good looks, and it turned out to be an immature mourning warbler — a rare spring and fall migrant in Western North Carolina.

Even in the fog, we sometimes see the unexpected.

The Naturalist's Corner

Taking a swim through the air

On long narrow graceful wings, the common nighthawk seems lighter than air as it dips, glides, banks and dives to scoop flying insects out of the sky. As common as dusk itself, this aerobatic ballet was performed all summer long across the ball fields, hay fields, cotton fields, marshes and farm ponds of my youth.

Etched as it is in my psyche, this vision is largely a memory. But for the next couple of weeks I will spend the occasionally evening out and about scouring the horizon for an encore performance.

Autumn migration is the most reliable time to see common nighthawks across Western North Carolina and recent posts on the Carolina Bird Club’s listserv from Galax, Va., through Raleigh to Long Shoals Road south of Asheville attest to the fact that migration is upon us.

With a wingspan of two feet, these crepuscular fliers look to be all wings and head as the slim nine-inch body tapers away to air. Common nighthawks belong to the family Caprimulgidae, which loosely translated from the Greek means “goat-sucker.” Fable has it that shepherds and farmers from the days of Aristotle feared these large-mouthed birds often found in the fields at dawn were suckling from the goats and sheep at night. The family is also known collectively as “nightjars” because of the loud nighttime and predawn calls of some species like the European nightjar, whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow. Where I grew up they were known as bullbats, probably because of their bat-like insect-chasing aerobatics and the loud booming noise the male makes with its wings during courtship displays.

Because of the widespread distribution of this species — it nests across North America including some areas of Mexico and winters from Central to South America — and the fact that it is abundant in some areas, it is listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature.)

But by the time I left Louisiana in the mid-1980s the numbers of common nighthawk appeared to be dwindling, especially in northeast Louisiana. And it seems the same is true across its range.

There have been efforts to get citizens involved in surveying, a la “hawk watches,” as common nighthawks do migrate in loose flocks and can often be seen at twilight. I have run across some local watches like Haverford College in Pennsylvania and one in Charlottesville, Va., sponsored by the Monticello Bird Club, but I know of none in the region.

But official or not, getting out on these autumn evenings at dusk, especially in open, rural areas is a treat in itself. So if you need an excuse — go on a nighthawk watch. Just don’t be surprised, should you encounter some, to find yourself back again next autumn to watch this life-affirming ballet and marvel at how our North Carolina mosquitoes help fuel that Canadian-breeding air-dancer to its winter home in Brazil.

The Naturalist's Corner

What’s good for the goose

In his latest letter to the editor in Smoky Mountain News (8/19/09) the Canary Coalition’s executive director, Avram Friedman admonishes us to “stick to factual information” and calls Tonya Bottomley’s range of 40 to 70 acres per turbine, “grossly inaccurate”

Ms. Bottomley’s range is correct even according to American Wind Energy Association’s own figures. “Wind projects occupy anywhere from 28 to 83 acres per megawatt, depending on local terrain, but only 2 to 5 percent of the project area is needed for turbine foundations, roads or other infrastructure.” – AWEA.

But Avram is right – this is grossly inaccurate. AWEA knows this is inaccurate and one would assume that the director of the Canary Coalition knows this. The reason this is grossly inaccurate is because the “megawatt” AWEA is referring to above is the “rated capacity” – that Oz-like figure that emanates from behind the curtain – that means in the perfect windy world, where the wind blows constantly at around 25 m.p.h. or so a 1.5 megawatt turbine would actually produce 1.5 megawatts of electricity. Pull the curtain and there stands the Wiz with his hand on the 28 percent throttle.

The Energy Information Administration notes that the average “capacity factor” (actual amount of electricity turbines supply to the grid per year) for wind is around 28 percent. Which means that wind projects occupy anywhere from 28 to 83 acres per .28 megawatt.

Now there is a caveat. AWEA also states that, “A wind plant located on a ridgeline in hilly terrain will require much less space, as little as two acres per megawatt.” Of course they mean per .28 megawatt and they must be talking about just the footprint of the turbine because I can’t find any actual installation where only 2 acres of land were disturbed per turbine and they’re not including any property-line offsets.

The trade off comes because turbines on ridgelines are strung out singly in a linear progression a la Buffalo Mountain. So instead of a plot or 500-acre parcel of land for 18 turbines you get a 2-mile strip. Avram seems to imply that Buffalo Mountain is a typical site location one would encounter along the ridges of Western North Carolina. I don’t think so, as Buffalo Mountain was already basically cleared – the site of an old strip mine.

And Avram states as fact: “This 29 megawatt project provides enough energy to power 3780 homes according to TVA.” At least he attributes the statement to TVA. But he knows better. TVA knows better too and even admits, “The new turbines are expected to have a capacity factor of 28 percent because the towers are 49 feet taller. The low capacity factor is related to the availability of the wind resource in the Southeast.” (http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/newsletter/vol5_1/gpsnews_vol5-1.pdf.)

Remember 29 megawatts is the rated capacity. TVA admits they will only produce 28 percent of this rated capacity. So if you wanted to put it on a per home basis (which you really can’t do) you would be looking at 1,058.4 homes. Not the 3,780 stated as factual information.

And to put this in perspective let’s look at an actual forested ridgeline wind farm. Mountaineer wind farm in West Virginia consists of 44 turbines stretched along a 50-foot wide newly constructed service road that runs for 4 to 5 miles. Approximately 5 acres of forest were cleared per turbine.

In one of Avram’s previous, letters to the editor, he noted that the ridgelines of Western North Carolina could produce 1,000 megawatts (rated capacity) of power. Any idea how much area TVA estimates would be required to produce 1,000 megawatts (rated capacity) or 280 megawatts (capacity factor) of actual electricity?

“For instance, one 1000 megawatt nuclear unit requires 1,000 acres. It would take 12,160 acres of wind turbines, or 23,760 acres of solar panels to generate the equivalent amount of energy as the single 1000 megawatt nuclear unit.”

I salute Avram’s desire to stick to factual information regarding wind power. A good place to start would be replacing rated capacity with capacity factor and let’s talk about the actual electricity produced.

More in the wind than megawatts

The chorus of katydids clamoring in the night air announces the impending fall. And with the arrival of fall comes the departure of millions of Neotropical migrants. Clearly 90 percent of the birds that nested in North America this past summer are either enroute or preparing for that annual trek back south. Several spots across the region provide great opportunities to witness this spectacle.

Raptor migration holds great fascination for many birders. Likely because it occurs during daylight hours and often involves thousands of birds. While there is no place in the region that compares to the 452,000 raptors counted at Corpus Christi, Texas, or even the 25,000 recorded at Cape May, N.J., Caesar’s Head State Park on the Blue Ridge Escarpment in South Carolina compares favorably with better known watches like Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. Over 14,000 raptors were counted at Caesar’s Head last year, with 12,044 being broad-winged hawks. While the birds are there year after year it requires either perseverance or plain ole luck or both to see great numbers.

Probably 90 percent of the broad-winged hawks are going to pass over Caesar’s Head from mid-September through early October. But 5,000 of them might sail through on one day leaving slim pickings for the other 20 days or so. For instance, last year 9,943 of the 12,044 broad-wings were recorded on two days; 3,683 on the 20th and 6,260 on the 21st.

Passerines migrate under the cover of darkness because it is safer. As day approaches, these songbirds “fall out” and seek rest and fuel for the next leg of their journey. These fallouts might occur almost anywhere depending on wind direction and weather conditions. But some areas are reliable year after year for viewing these passersby.

One that always sticks out in my mind is Ridge Junction Overlook at mile marker 355 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, next to the entrance of Mt. Mitchell State Park. What’s unique about this spot is that birders can sit and watch as waves of migrants come through the pass.

The trails around Jackson Park in Hendersonville are also quite productive during fall migration. Rarities like Connecticut and mourning warblers are often found during migration at Jackson Park along with bay-breasted warblers, Wilson’s warblers, Philadelphia vireos, and Swainson’s and gray-cheeked thrushes.

Even shorebirds can be found in the region. Super Sod a, sod farm along Hooper Lane in Henderson County, can produce some shorebird fallouts in the autumn with the right combination of wind and rain. Property owners at Super Sod have been very accepting of birders as long as you stick to the roadsides and do not walk or drive in the fields.

A not so weather dependent spot for shorebirds is just up I-40 in Cocke County Tennessee. Rankin Bottoms Wildlife Management Area can be accessed from U.S. 25 just north of Newport, Tenn. When TVA starts lowering the water level on Douglas Lake, it leaves large mudflats along the confluence of the Nolichucky and French Broad Rivers at Rankin Bottoms. This area has become a notable stop over for fall shorebirds including many species of sandpipers as well as greater and lesser yellowlegs, dowitchers, ruddy turnstones and others.

They’re back

Actually they’ve been back for a while and now their bags are packed and they’re ready to go. But first, it’s time to eat.

In early summer, every year, there is a buzz on most birding listservs regarding the dearth of hummingbirds. Usually by mid July or so there is a collective sigh of relief as hummingbirds mysteriously show up at feeders once again.

Each spring hummingbirds generally arrive in Western North Carolina around early to mid April. Mine have a habit of showing up on tax day (April 15.) When hummers first arrive people notice a lot of activity. What they are seeing is a lot of tired and hungry migrants jockeying for a sip of nectar. Many of these migrants will move on northward but a pair or so will likely stay in the neighborhood and set up housekeeping.

At first these residents will be quite noticeable around the feeder. They will be nectaring regularly plus there will be courtship displays and if there are birds competing for territory, there will be territorial displays and disputes.

Once the birds have paired and nesting season begins in earnest they will be less visible around the feeder. They will spend their time building a nest, laying eggs and then incubating those eggs. This is also the time when native wildflowers start to bloom so other food sources are also available. During this time I still get an occasional glimpse of my hummers — usually early in the morning and/or late in the evening as they sip in for a quick bite and leave. It’s not uncommon to have to empty old, unused food, from the feeder during the hummer doldrums.

Then around mid to late July the feeding station experiences a reawakening amid a cacophony of squeaks, twitters and the whirring of wings. Every time you turn around the feeder is empty, as adults and fledglings appear to partake of the buffet.

And your feeders are likely to stay busy from now through the end of September as ruby-throated hummingbirds begin their long trek back to Mexico and Central America. September is probably the peak migration month for ruby-throated humming birds in this region. I recently read that for every hummingbird you see at your feeder during peak migration, there are 10 you don’t see. So if you see five hummers at your feeder during the course of one day, as many as 50 may have passed through your yard.

One way to tell if you’re getting migrants through your yard is to watch for new males. Male ruby-throateds migrate first. If you notice nothing but females for a day or two and then a male shows up, it’s most likely a male from farther north. By the end of migration, however, usually all that’s left are females and/or juvenile males.

You can learn more about hummingbirds by attending a “Hummingbird Workshop” on Saturday, September 5, at Wild Birds Unlimited in Asheville. Simon Thompson owner of Venture Birding Tours and a partner at Wild Birds Unlimited will lead the workshop. For details and directions call 828.687.9433. Cost is $10 per person.

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The Naturalist's Corner

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