Last week I visited Stephen’s Road Nature Preserve in Huntersville, off Beatties Ford Road. I accessed the preserve from the Cashion Road trailhead; access is also gained from Stephen’s Road.
This preserve has become one of my favorite hikes in the county. Often the only sounds are those of the birds singing. It offers some great deciduous woods with some extremely large trees. Bird species are typical of deep, shady woods.
On this day, I was immediately serenaded by a wood thrush for the first few hundred yards. If you have read this column for a few years, you know the wood thrush song is top branch and one of my favorites. Though singing is starting to slack off for most species, there were times when some interesting species revealed themselves by trying to recapture the vocal fervor of spring.
Both tanagers, scarlet and summer, are present here. The scarlet tanagers gave their somewhat odd chip-bang calls, while the summers gave their equally interesting pi-tuck or ticky ticky tuck. It wasn’t too much longer before the best bird of the day piped up with a nasal repetitive three-eight, a yellow-throated vireo. This vireo is the most colorful of the clan in North Carolina. They are similar in plumage to a pine warbler, only the yellow is brighter and cleaner. Yellow-throated vireos are not rare birds in North Carolina, but they are really tough to find in breeding season in Mecklenburg County. This bird was soon joined in song by a red-eyed vireo; a pleasing sound of dueling vireos.
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Deciduous forest-loving flycatchers made sure they were heard too. The small, retiring Acadian flycatcher gave an explosive peet-suh from the shadows of the canopy. Great-crested flycatchers are more conspicuous with their loud breep from the treetops.
Still, humid days in midsummer get the yellow-billed cuckoos going. A couple of birds showed off the species’ wide variation of songs and calls with fast and slow versions of kow, kow, kow, kowp, kowp kowp.
Other nice birds noted along the trail included a common yellowthroat and indigo bunting in a sunny wetland, a white-breasted nuthatch foraging the loose bark of dead trees, and family groups of both Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice.
Stephen’s Road Nature Preserve offers quiet peaceful walks any time of the day. I highly recommend you check it out even if birding isn’t your main aim.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.