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Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge is a perfect spot for leisurely birding

Listen for the prairie warbler’s buzzy song in overgrown fields.
Listen for the prairie warbler’s buzzy song in overgrown fields.

I had the pleasure of joining 15 residents of The Pines retirement facility from Davidson for some birding at Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge last Saturday. The preserve is located at the end of Neck Road in Huntersville and includes a public viewing gazebo that looks out over two ponds and extensive open fields.

I picked this area because the birds are so easy to see and the diversity is so great. As soon as I exited my vehicle in the parking area, the action started. A handsome blue grosbeak perched atop a mid-sized pine, giving leisurely views. Up to four male indigo buntings positively glowed brilliant blue in the sun. The perch the blue grosbeak occupied a moment earlier was now taken by a singing scarlet tanager. A busy male orchard oriole kept flying back and forth from the viewing stand to the ponds, setting up his territorial boundaries.

A scan of the ponds from the viewing stand revealed tree swallows gliding over the surface and wood ducks trying in vain to hide in the vegetation. Several male red-winged blackbirds occupied their little cattail empires at the pond’s edge. Somewhere far off a marsh wren sang, but never showed itself.

In the fields a pair of common yellowthroats foraged at ground level. Two belligerent male house wrens were sorting out their differences while field sparrows calmly went about their business. From the woods behind the viewing stand, an ovenbird gave its loud rhythmic song. A lone white-throated sparrow sang a few times with no response. In late April that sparrow’s song has a lonely emotion to it; he needs to get moving north soon.

Stopping along the entrance road is not allowed, but if you are up for a pleasant hike along the road you will pass through overgrown fields where prairie warblers and yellow-breasted chats abound. Listen for the prairie’s buzzy song and the chat’s odd mix of random noise that passes for a song. The wooded areas hold Eastern wood-pewees, summer tanagers and red-eyed vireos.

If you make it to the large high-tension power line cut, scan the supports on both sides of the road. Active osprey and bald eagle nests can be seen from this spot. After just a couple of hours, more than 55 species were recorded by the group. For leisurely birding punctuated by killer looks at some great species, this spot really cannot be beat.

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