The photo this week is of a snowy egret by John Ennis.
We are in the summer doldrums now. The air is still and muggy. It seems nothing is moving very fast or very far, but things are subtly changing for our local avian wildlife.
Large waders are dispersing into our area from the South and Southeast. Herons, egrets and other waders that do not breed here move into the Piedmont from their nesting colonies in summer. Some years the increase in numbers is obvious; other years not so much. I’m not talking about great blue herons and green herons. Those species are common nesters in our area. Take some time to scan any pond, even within the city, for large, conspicuous waders. The white ones – great egrets, snowy egrets and immature little blue herons – will really stand out.
If you haven’t been able to attract hummingbirds yet this year, you have just a few more weeks to wait. Soon early migrants from the North will be coming into the area to supplement the numbers of our local breeding birds and their fledged chicks. The feeding frenzy will begin before you know it. Freshen up the feeders and watch the activity increase during July, reaching a peak in August. Remember red dye in the sugar water is not at all necessary. Just make sure the feeder has some red parts to it.
Some keen observers have noticed Northern cardinals that seem to be going bald. This is an annual phenomenon that seems to affect cardinals the most but can also affect common grackles, Eastern towhees and perhaps some other species. In extreme cases, the birds can look quite grotesque after losing all their head feathering. They end up looking like miniature turkey vultures. Don’t worry, the birds seem to be none the worse for the condition, which is thought to be the result of molt cycle getting a bit off. Feathers are lost before the replacements are in place. Given the heat and humidity, it seems to me a fortuitous way for them to keep cool.
Southward movement of many neo-tropical migrants begins in earnest in July. Birders tolerant enough to brave the muggy conditions and steamed-up binoculars can find some non-resident warblers and shorebirds by mid-July. You have to look hard, though. Sometimes the return on time spent and sweat produced isn’t worth it. There will be plenty of time in the coming months to take in the fall migration.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.