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Winter birds are beginning to arrive around Lake Katherine

The open short-grass fields attract palm warblers.
The open short-grass fields attract palm warblers.

I had the pleasure of joining the Anne Springs Close Greenway Birding Club on one of their regular outings last Saturday. They are an enthusiastic group of fine birders. We met at the Dairy Barn parking lot and spent about two and a half hours walking the grounds, checking out the fields, brushy areas, woods, sky and Lake Katherine. It is quite a birdy place, and it turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable morning with great company at a very productive site.

Before the walk even got started, many species were tallied from the parking lot. Numerous Eastern bluebirds and house finches perched on the fences and wires. A trio of chipping sparrows dropped in for a short visit before departing. We would encounter them again later.

A grove of trees near the barn produced an immature red-headed woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-breasted nuthatch, many mourning doves, and a very vocal American crow. Eastern phoebes were everywhere; one was always within earshot the entire morning.

A brushy thicket at a wood’s edge produced a pair of brown thrashers, a gray catbird and Northern mockingbird; the trifecta for area mimic thrushes. Ruby-crowned kinglets, white-throated sparrows and song sparrows; all recent arrivals, were present too. A very loud and agitated red-shouldered hawk finally showed itself briefly in a fly-by.

The open short-grass fields attracted palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers; the entire group got leisurely looks at both species foraging together on the ground. A flock of birds approached that resembled European starlings in profile. When they landed in a line of trees at an edge it became evident they were cedar waxwings instead.

At the shore of Lake Katherine, a male belted kingfisher gave his coarse rattle before diving into the water to successfully secure a fish for lunch. How did I know it was a male? Males lack the rusty belt that is only worn by the females.

By then the temperature had warmed enough so soaring birds could get aloft. A group of turkey vultures appeared first, followed by a huge flock of black vultures. We discussed identification tips to distinguish between the two while watching both soar overhead.

We ended the morning with 38 species seen or heard. The list made it clear that our winter birds are arriving in numbers now while most neotropical migrants have pretty much moved through.

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