Maria de Bruyn is a nature photographer who enjoys observing all types of animals and plants and sharing her findings with others. She has donated her photos to non-profits such as the Friends of Sandy Creek Park, the Outdoor Explorer Book Club and New Hope Audubon Society and has had exhibitions of her work in various venues. She writes a blog (https://mybeautifulworldblog.com/), serves as a virtual “ranger” for Project Noah (http://www.projectnoah.org/organisms), and is a co-vice president of the Chapel Hill Bird Club (http://chbc.carolinanature.com/). You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to Nature Notes! I hope that you will enjoy reading this column. Today I’d like to tell you about some of our temporary avian neighbors. You may have noticed that some birds stay here year-round, like American robins, Eastern bluebirds and Northern cardinals. But you only see other birds at certain times of the year because they are migrants, like this lovely black and white warbler. These tiny birds arrive in early spring, raise their families here and then depart in the autumn for countries south, going so far as Ecuador and Peru.
Other neotropical migratory birds, including songbirds, shorebirds and hawks, breed in Canada and the United States and then migrate to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America to spend their winters in a warmer climate. They need to go where flying insects, caterpillars, fruit and nectar remain available since these food sources diminish during our colder months.
Some birds here during North Carolina’s winter migrate from the far North. For example, tens of thousands of tundra swans and snow geese travel to Pungo Lake and Lake Mattamuskeet in November-February, arriving here from Canada’s Arctic Coastal Plains. When they settle and rise from the lakes, they resemble a swirling white cloud.
Birds that migrate shorter distances learn routes and destinations from older birds, while those that fly 3,000-10,000 miles away have genetic programming to help them on their way. Even the latter birds, however, also learn from experience and often return to certain areas that they especially like. Some that breed further north pause in our state for a rest before continuing their journey, giving birders the chance to see birds they usually wouldn’t spot here.
Another example of a migrant that breeds here is the prothonotary warbler. These birds spend the spring and summer around water — rivers, creeks and swamps. One beautiful male found a home at Mason Farm Biological Reserve in Chapel Hill in the same spot for several years running and you could almost count on finding him there. You can also see the prothonotaries along the Haw River and Jordan Lake. These warblers travel to Mexico and as far as Colombia in the autumn and winter — some fly 5000 miles during migration!
Many birders especially like to see warblers during spring and fall migrations as they can be very colorful. When a listserv reports a species that only passes through the state but will not stay, bird enthusiasts will travel to the site to get a glimpse. This year, for instance, they spent hours at Jordan Lake to observe bay-breasted and blackpoll warblers. It can be challenging to identify some species though. They change their plumage at different times of the year and look different depending on their sex or age. Bay-breasted and blackpoll warblers may look very similar.
One warbler species that stays here throughout the year is the pine warbler. As their name indicates, they prefer to stay around pine trees and mainly eat insects. However, they also eat fruit and seeds and a couple in my yard are very fond of suet. The darker yellow adult males are easy to spot. Females and younger males may be very pale.
If you have bird feeders nearby, keep an eye out for the local birds, including some of the migrants who over-winter here, like dark-eyed juncos, white-throated sparrows and hermit thrushes. If you can put out a nectar feeder, perhaps a migratory hummingbird will stop by, like a buff-bellied hummer that visited in Winston-Salem! You can learn more about the different species at the All About Birds website: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/.