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Welcoming the yellow-throated warbler and other spring birding delights

The photo this week is of a yellow-throated warbler by Jeff Lemons
The photo this week is of a yellow-throated warbler by Jeff Lemons

Last Saturday was forecast to have temperatures approaching 80 degrees, so I figured there could have been a northward movement of migrants the previous couple of nights. As it turned out, Mother Nature did not pull and April Fool’s joke on me.

I parked near Pike’s Nursery on Johnston Road in the Ballantyne area of south Charlotte and accessed Lower McAlpine Greenway behind the nursery. A short boardwalk crosses the main creek and some associated sloughs.

The muddy sloughs can sometimes attract shorebirds and that day a greater yellowlegs was present. That species is an annual but infrequent spring and fall migrant through our area. I also counted up to 11 Wilson’s snipe foraging on one of the mudflats. A male common yellowthroat in fine plumage sang from the creek side brush.

Blue-gray gnatcatchers are everywhere now. I know you have heard them; their wheezy complaining calls never left my ears the whole time I hiked. I even watched a couple of pairs building nests.

As the greenway approached Johnston Road I heard the unmistakable loud tweet, tweet, tweet of a prothonotary warbler. Just arrived within the last couple of days, the brilliant male was already hard at work stuffing one of the special warbler nest boxes along the greenway. Hopefully a female will be satisfied with his efforts.

As I crossed under Johnston Road I heard and then saw a lone barn swallow checking out potential nest sites under the overpass. East of Johnston Road the trail becomes Four-mile Creek Greenway. Here I was able to pick out the song of a yellow-throated warbler cascading down from a stand of tall loblolly pines. Yellow-throated warblers are one of my favorites. A short time later I discovered an active red-shouldered hawk nest directly over the greenway trail.

At the cattail marsh multiple swamp sparrows were giving their musical trills. A couple of male red-winged blackbirds were setting up nesting territories among the cattails and blackberry thickets. In a couple of weeks an indigo bunting will be there too.

New species are arriving daily right now, and will continue to do so until early May. Some will stay to nest here while some will move on to breeding grounds further north. It’s an exciting time in the birder’s year.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com