I took a little time last week to check out Colonel Francis Beaty Park off Weddington Road in Matthews. It’s a large multi-use park that includes a large lake, ballfields and walking trails. One popular hike encircles the lake. I didn’t have time for that today, opting instead to check the lake for water birds (always the priority) followed by a bit of walking around the vacant ballfields and paved entrance road.
In addition to the several pairs of resident mallards, two pied-billed grebes and a lone female ring-necked duck were on the lake. A single double-crested cormorant was seen but apparently was not interested in stopping to do a little fishing.
At the ballfields a pair of killdeer occupied the same area that seems to attract them each year. There will be a nest within a few weeks. A small feeding flock of dark-eyed juncos rose off the ground with their characteristic twittering. They will be gone soon. Permanent resident pine warblers, Eastern bluebirds, field sparrows and chipping sparrows also seemed to be making a good living in the short grass.
I then walked a portion of the entrance road with some open deciduous woods on both sides. A small Carolina chickadee flock worked through the bare trees, and three of those energetic sprites flew right down to me at eye level when I made a few scolding noises. A pair of tufted titmice, the chickadee’s larger cousin, joined them. A bulkier bird launched itself from the forest floor and almost flew right in my face in response to the sounds: a hermit thrush. It backed off just a few feet and perched on a low limb, voicing its displeasure at my presence, accompanied by much tail pumping and wing flicking. Hermit thrushes are more visible this time of year foraging in woodland paths and roadsides.
A single golden-crowned kinglet was also tagging along with the chickadees. A large bird moving through the trees right at me caught my attention. I thought it was coming in to investigate the commotion I was causing, but instead it stopped short in a mid-sized tree fork. It was a red-shouldered hawk carrying nesting materials. I watched for a bit as it incorporated the latest twig into a mass of sticks that will serve as this year’s hawk nest.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.