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Nesting great blue herons have returned to McAlpine Creek

So yes, nesting great blue herons have come back to McAlpine Creek. If you want to enjoy them go soon, when the leaves come out the nests will be hidden from view.
So yes, nesting great blue herons have come back to McAlpine Creek. If you want to enjoy them go soon, when the leaves come out the nests will be hidden from view. Lee Weber

Last Saturday I parked by vehicle at the parking area on Old Bell Road and Sardis Road and walked south along McAlpine Creek to Providence Road. It’s an easy walk and usually proves to be very birdy. I wasn’t disappointed that day.

A sewer line project along that stretch of the creek changed the landscape a bit to make it more accessible to walkers, bikers, and joggers. It also caused enough disruption to cause a fairly large great blue heron nesting colony to abandon the area.

I was curious to see if any of the birds had tried to reclaim the area as a nesting spot since the project’s completion. About two thirds of the way down to Providence I spied a heron perched in a tree over the path. As I approached further, I saw three large stick nests with three sitting birds on them in a large cottonwood. So yes, nesting great blue herons have come back to McAlpine Creek. If you want to enjoy them go soon, when the leaves come out the nests will be hidden from view.

But my birding wasn’t over. A high flying bird turned into a Cooper’s hawk. The wing flaps on this bird were not what I would typically expect from a Cooper’s, they were more and floppy and deliberate instead of the usual fast stiff-winged flaps. The bird was giving a courtship display, not unusual for this time of year.

A short while later a smaller but similar hawk flew through the woods, a sharp-shinned hawk, smaller cousin of the Cooper’s. To cap off the hawkfest, a bonded pair of red-shouldered hawks posed together right by the path.

Along the whole stretch mixed flocks of white-throated, field, and song sparrows flew from the weedy patches along the creek. Ruby-crowned kinglets, brown thrashers, Eastern towhees, yellow-rumped warblers, tufted titmice, and Carolina chickadees were sprinkled in with the sparrows.

A harsh rattle revealed a belted kingfisher, another potential nester along the creek, as it flew low over the water. American goldfinches and house finches sang their complex warbles from the tops of trees.

I recommend this hike for even casual birders. I tallied 36 species in an hour. The trail is flat and the birds are often very close to the path in the weeds and streamside brush.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.

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