Studying Migrating Wood Thrush in North Carolina

Please welcome guest-blogger and member of Forsyth Audubon Kim Brand. This summer, Forsyth Audubon members helped researchers from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center capture, band and tag 22 Wood Thrush to record their migration habits. Read on to learn about the tracking project and the volunteers who participated in the event held in Winston-Salem.

Forsyth Audubon’s Wood Thrush Project is a collaboration with the Smithsonian and the International Alliances Program of the National Audubon Society, with support from Audubon North Carolina.

With small GPS units the size of a small backpack, researches can now track the migration path of the Wood Thrush to better understand where they spend the winter and how they get there. The event was held at the Pilot Mountain State Park IBA and Winston-Salem’s Bethabara Park.

Pilot Mountain Bean Shoals sign by David Shuford.

Pilot Mountain Bean Shoals sign by David Shuford.

The Yadkin River section of Pilot Mountain State Park is a wonderful place to see a Wood Thrush and listen to their beautiful, ethereal song. Because of their incredible presence, the Wood Thrushes’ songs can be heard anywhere in this area. Seventeen birds were trapped at the IBA, however there are plenty of Wood Thrush territories that we didn’t visit.

Forsyth Audubon volunteer Katherine Thorington points out a Wood Thrush nest to Ranger Jesse Anderson.

Forsyth Audubon volunteer Katherine Thorington points out a Wood Thrush nest to Ranger Jesse Anderson.

How to Track and Trap a Wood Thrush

Knowing where the birds are nesting makes it easier to catch them, and also increases the chances of catching a breeder rather than a non-breeding male, also known as a floater. Birds who regularly breed are more likely to return to the same area each year, which is very important to the success of our tracking project. In order to capture the data used to further research these birds, tagged Wood Thrush need to be recaptured once they’ve returned to nesting grounds in North Carolina.

Callie Stanley and Kim Brand at mist net by David Shuford.

Callie Stanley and Kim Brand at mist net by David Shuford.

In order to trap the Wood Thrush, Callie Stanley, a PhD student at the University of Maryland, who is researching the Wood Thrush for her dissertation, and Forsyth Audubon board member Kim Brand set up a mist net for catching the birds. Mist nets are very hard to see, so the birds won’t avoid them in flight. With the help of a song recording to attract the Wood Thrush to the nets, we had good luck catching and tagging them.

Mist net by David Shuford.

Mist net by David Shuford.

As you can see, the mist net is very fine!

GPS for Birds and People

Peter Keller and Jean Chamberlain processing Wood Thrush by David Shuford.

Peter Keller and Jean Chamberlain processing Wood Thrush by David Shuford.

Jean Chamberlain, a federally licensed songbird rehabilitator, helped out every day and was a huge resource in removing birds from nets and helping put the GPS backpacks on them.

GPS tag by David Shuford

GPS tag by David Shuford

This small GPS tag will record 50 locations over the next 12 months and is as accurate as the GPS in your car! Callie programmed the pack to record locations more frequently during migration and less frequently during the rest of the breeding season and winter, when the bird is likely to be more sedentary.

Wood Thrush wearing GPS tag by David Shuford.

Wood Thrush wearing GPS tag by David Shuford.

This Wood Thrush is wearing its GPS backpack, which is attached by elastic cord, like the kind used for making jewelry. This little guy is ready for release!

A Nationwide Effort

Peter Keller works for the Smithsonian and is traveling to three different sites this summer to trap and tag Wood Thrushes. North Carolina was his first stop. From there, he traveled to Bedford Audubon Society in New York, and on to Minnesota to work with Audubon Minnesota staff. Each of these sites will help fill in the picture of migratory connectivity that illustrate the set of connections between breeding sites and wintering sites, letting us know which birds go where. The data recorded will also help identify the paths they take to get there.

Where it goes, no one knows, that is, until we recapture it next year!

Many of North Carolina’s Important Bird Areas provide breeding habitats for the Wood Thrush, a migratory songbird whose population is declining rapidly. For more information about our Important Bird Area program and conservation efforts to support the Wood Thrush, check back on the blog later this week!

All photos are by David Shuford, a longtime Forsyth Audubon member and Wood Thrush project volunteer.

A Look Back at Our Chapters

This weekend, Audubon North Carolina’s local chapters from across the state will convene for a day of training, networking and getting inspired by one another. It’s Chapter Day 2014!

In honor of this event, we are taking a look back at each of our chapters through the Chapter of the Month blog series, highlighting the special work they are doing to preserve and protect birds across North Carolina.

High Country Audubon Society

Janet Paulette pulling garlic mustard - Jesse Pope photo.

Janet Paulette pulling garlic mustard – Jesse Pope photo.

With a small population base and a large territory, it could be difficult to find others to share in the joy of birding. So, what better way to get many area birders together than to form a local Audubon Chapter? That was the intent of creating the High Country Audubon Society (HCAS) in 2006. The new chapter has gone on to fill a gap in coverage in the northwest corner of the state taking in AlleghanyAsheAveryWatauga and Wilkes counties.

Take a look back at the High Country Chapter with their Chapter of the Month series here:

Highlands Audubon Society

GWWA by Todd Arcos.

GWWA by Todd Arcos.

If you are looking for a birding excursion in the region known to locals as the “Extreme Western NC”, look no further than the Highlands Audubon chapter! Since 1996, the chapter has built strong relationships in the community including forming partnerships with the local schools and the university, garden clubs, the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, the Highlands Biological Station, the Highlands Plateau Greenway, as well as other environmental organizations in the area. This year, members are taking on new scientific initiatives, which will stretch their resources for birds and wildlife in Western North Carolina even further.

Take a look back at the Highlands Chapter with their Chapter of the Month series here:

T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society

TGPAS DisplayT. Gilbert Pearson’s namesake chapter has upheld its own legacy of conservation serving the Triad. The group was founded in 1971 with a mission to foster appreciation, knowledge and enjoyment of birds and nature and to preserve our natural heritage at the local and global level, and began on the same campus as the first Audubon Society of North Carolina!

Take a look back at the TGPAS Chapter with their Chapter of the Month series here:

Mecklenburg Audubon Society

Painted Bunting taken by Jeff Lemons.

Painted Bunting taken by Jeff Lemons.

Serving a traditionally urban Charlotte region, Mecklenburg Audubon has been fostering a love of birds with residents for over 30 years. The chapter has a rich history of engaging members to participate in bird counts and is an annual front-runner in the CBC.

Take a look back at the Mecklenburg Chapter with their Chapter of the Month series here:

Audubon Society of Forsyth County

Lee Jones, Matt Jeffery, Belize Audubon staff, Forsyth Audubon birders

Lee Jones, Matt Jeffery, Belize Audubon staff, Forsyth Audubon birders

Starting the first Lights Out program in the Southeast, Forsyth Audubon has a rich history of conservation. In 2014, Forsyth was an active partner in Bird-Friendly Communities distributing homes for nuthatches and growing native plants with Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County.

Take a look back at Forsyth Audubon with their Chapter of the Month series here:

Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society

nature reserveOur chapter serving Asheville is a hot spot for breeding Cerulean Warblers along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Members are conducting monitoring projects for this special bird, as well as hosting an annual fundraiser where money is donated to the Columbian Cerulean Warbler Reserve in Giron.

Take a look back at EMAS with their Chapter of the Month series here:

New Hope Audubon Society

Mark Kosiewski, Norm Budnitz, and Robin Moran install our first Barn Owl box at Mason Farm in Chapel Hill, NC.

Mark Kosiewski, Norm Budnitz, and Robin Moran.

Responsible for constructing the Wildlife Viewing Platform at Jordan Lake, New Hope Audubon is working across the Piedmont to promote the enjoyment of birds, conservation efforts, research and advocacy among their community of members. Over time, 340 species of birds have been sighted in the New Hope territory!

Take a look back at the New Hope Chapter with their Chapter of the Month series here:

Wake County Audubon Society

John ConnorsRaleigh’s local Audubon chapter holds monthly meetings in the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, working with conservation partners and the greater community to promote the health of birds. Throughout its history, Wake Audubon has responded to threats to local natural areas by petitioning local government to create nature parks, and by providing guidance in natural area management.

Take a look back at the Wake Chapter with their Chapter of the Month series here:

Cape Fear Audubon Society

Melanie copy

Students are making personal connections with coastal birds thanks to Cape Fear Audubon’s Project BIRD. The program works to excite students about science through watching and recording bird activities, while maintaining regular correspondence enhances students’ writing skills.

Take a look back at the Cape Fear Chapter with their Chapter of the Month series here:

A Spring Stroll in the Smokies

Please welcome guest-blogger and member of the Great Smoky Mountains Audubon Chapter, Esther Blakely. The GSMAS territory includes eight counties that border the Great Smoky Mountains including Haywood, Clay, Jackson, Macon, Graham, Madison, Cherokee and Swain counties in Western North Carolina.   

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. The park was established in 1934 and encompasses more than 200,000 ha (494,211 acres) of contiguous and relatively undisturbed forest in both states, making it the largest such forest in the eastern United States.” National Audubon Society

Fifty shades of green greeted me on a beautiful day in May in one of the most beautiful parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cataloochee Valley. Because of its remote location, Cataloochee Valley may not be easy to reach, but it is definitely hard to forget. As I began my trek down the Cataloochee Divide trail, birds like Indio Buntings, Chestnut-sided Warblers and Blackburnian Warblers serenaded me with their birdsongs.

indigo Each step along the divide trail, which is elevated at almost 5,000 feet, brought a different species of wildflower including: Speckled Wood Lily, Yellow Mandarin, Jack in the Pulpit, Vasey’s Trillium and Indian Cucumber.


To conclude my walk, I drove into Cataloochee Valley with a stop at the Cataloochee Overlook. I was witness to vast, stunning views of the national park, but a quick glimpse of a Magnolia Warbler was a special treat.

smoky3 The next stop on my journey to Cataloochee Valley was Mull Meadow, where I saw elk, bears, birds and deer! Early that evening, I watched from my car as a herd of 20 elk emerged from the forest.  I also observed two Eastern Phoebes feeding near a small stream and three White-tailed Deer munching on new blackberry bush leaves.


I proceeded farther down the Valley road and had my first bear sighting of the season as a momma black bear and her cub ventured out for an evening stroll too. As the mother was a careful one, she did not allow herself and her cub to get close enough to me for a photo.

As daylight faded, I realized it was time to head over to the mountain.

Although it is a challenge to reach Cataloochee Valley even on a good day, the rewards are great. Common sightings include Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkeys and Barred Owls. Soon, flocks of Cedar Waxwings will arrive and they can be found near the Caldwell House.

I thank you kindly for giving me the opportunity to share this beautiful part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park IBA. Please remember to practice responsible and ethical wildlife viewing practices.

smoky5Esther Blakely has a thing for birds, wildlife and wildflowers. Her enthusiasm on these topics is contagious. Her walks in the woods have guests laughing, crying and pondering. They may return from the treks hungry and thirsty, but they become sated with knowledge and lore of the Great Smoky Mountains. Esther is a master naturalist, elk expert and certified interpretative presenter for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of the year, you can find her leading hikes and eco-tours in Cataloochee Valley. Her business, Cataloochee Valley Tours, holds an authorizing permit from the National Park Service.

Golden-winged Wonders

Cynthia and “Andy,” a second-year male Golden-winged Warbler. Photo by Shelley Rutkin.

Wow! What a great blog post from Shelley Rutkin on her blog “Birding for Life.” Join her and Cynthia Donaldson on a day hike with Golden-winged Warblers near Boone, North Carolina, in May.

The vista from the Audubon NC research site at 4000’ is breathtaking!  The air is clear and clean.  Pale purple hills below roll to the horizon a hundred miles away.  The cool, crisp breeze carries the spring songs of the resident birds as well as the newly arrived migrants.  Shelley and I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful place and observing the intrepid researchers who give their time and talents to a steadily declining jewel of the eastern forest: the Golden-winged Warbler.

Read more…

A Spring Audubon Outing on the Ranger Falls Trail

North Carolina has 96 Important Bird Areas across the state that support wildlife in very special ways while offering a recreational playground for birds and people alike. In this special blog series, each of Audubon North Carolina’s 10 chapters will take a walk through their IBAs to give readers a glimpse of what can be enjoyed in our own backyards.

Please welcome guest-bloggers from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society.

The Highlands Plateau has long been known as a unique place for birds.  The southern terminus of the higher elevation parts of the Appalachians, the Highlands Plateau hosts a wide variety of high elevation and northern species that reach their southern limit of distribution here.  In the cool hemlock and white pine stands of the plateau, birds normally found up in the spruce fir forest find their homes here.  Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Red Crossbill all call the Plateau home.  Mixed with them are a variety of wood warblers like Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, and Canada Warblers.  Veery, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak help round out the list of 90 or so breeding species on the Highlands Plateau.

Blue-headed Vireo. Credit William McReynolds.

Blue-headed Vireo. Credit William McReynolds.

It was a cool, but sunny, spring morning, as 11 of our members of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society joined Dr. Rob Bierregaard and eight of his eager college students for a walk along the Ranger Falls Trail.

It was mid-May, and many exciting birding events were taking place. For example, the neotropical migrants were back on territory, and many of those bird species that overwintered on the Highlands Plateau were already feeding their young. It was no accident that Dr. Bierregarrd chose May 12- 24, 2014 for an intensive course on the “Biology and Conservation of Birds”, because birding in the Southern Appalachians does not get much better than this!

Dr. Rob Bierregaard listening for a vireo.  Photo by William McReynolds.

Dr. Rob Bierregaard listening for a vireo. Photo by William McReynolds.

The course was held at the Highlands Biological Station in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Formerly a faculty member of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Dr. Beirregarrd is a renowned ornithologist, teacher, and lecturer. On the day of the walk, however, he was lugging along a large parabolic dish and audio recording device for archiving bird vocalizations at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Trillium. Photo by William McReynolds.

Trillium. Photo by William McReynolds.

The Ranger Falls Trail, located in the Highlands Plateau Important Bird Area that encompasses the towns of Highlands and Cashiers, is recognized as a North Carolina Birding Trail The trail delivered on its promise of amazing birding, as we could hear and see Hooded Warblers, Black and White Warblers, Robins and, predictably, Chesnut-sided Warblers before even leaving the parking lot of the ranger station. The excitement continued as the hike began, as one of the students suddenly stopped the group to point out the drumming of a Ruffed Grouse. The flora was also a sight to see, as Catesby’s Trilliums, Violets, Pink Lady Slippers and wild strawberries bloomed along the edge of the trail.

There were also a few pleasant surprises along the way. In the cavity nest at the top of an old oak snag, Russ Regnery, the Chapter President, spotted a pair of Red-Breasted Nuthatches that were busy shuttling food to their brood. All of us watched the tender scene and listened to the sounds of local White-breasted Nuthatches that followed.

We also learned about the nuances of bird vocalizations throughout the hike. For example, as the birders listened to the call of an Eastern Towhee, Dr. Bierregaard explained that the first part of its call, known as the “Drink your tea” call, is an attention getting noise that identifies it as a Towhee. The remaining part of the call, the “tea-a-a-a-a,” is more complicated and perhaps identifies the specific bird. This pattern is apparently true of many bird songs and vocalizations.

Pink Lady's Slipper. Photo by William McReynolds.

Pink Lady’s Slipper. Photo by William McReynolds.

When birds were not being discussed, the naturalists of the group shared information about lichens, the American Chestnut and the Fraser Magnolia that were encountered along the trail. As we descended further down the Ranger Falls path, the Canada Warbler’s complex call could be heard in the rhododendrons. By the end of the trip, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowed Kinglets, Black-throated Blue Warblers and Black and White Warblers were among the thirty-five species identified. All in all, it was a great outing on a beautiful birding trail in the mountains. The only thing we had left to do was to leave Cliffside Lake, deep in the Callasaja Gorge, and hike our way back to the oranger station parking lot to where we left our vehicles!

A Brown Thrasher. Photo by William McReynolds.

A Brown Thrasher. Photo by William McReynolds.