Last Saturday, with the help of local birder Greg Hays, I surveyed a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) route from eastern Mecklenburg County through Cabarrus County, ending just a few yards into Stanly County off Barrier Store Road.
The BBS is a project of the United States Geological Survey. Routes have been chosen at random, span 50 stops one half mile apart, for a total of 25 miles. Surveyors spend three minutes at each stop recording all the birds seen or heard in that time interval. Data is then entered online with hard copies of the data sheets sent in as well.
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I have run this route for several years, always in June. The habitat is typical of the fragmented Piedmont: patches of woods surrounded by cleared land. What was once largely agricultural is giving way to development. Most of the stops are in open country, but a few give opportunities to record birds typical of moist deciduous woodlands and stream-side habitat.
We started at 5:36 a.m. as decreed by the protocol, exactly 30 minutes before sunrise. The dawn chorus on Camp Stewart Road is mostly Northern cardinals, American robins, Carolina wrens and Eastern towhees. By far these were the most commonly encountered species all day, including chipping sparrows, blue grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and Northern mockingbirds.
But there were a few others occasionally to break up the monotony. Grasshopper sparrows are showing well this year. Yellow-breasted chats are always fun to hear, and barn swallows are fun to watch. Summer tanagers were nice to hear a few times.
The birding gets more interesting along Miami Church Road and Barrier Store Road in Cabarrus County. A creek stop yielded a prothonotary warbler, Northern parula warbler, scarlet tanager, red-shouldered hawk and great blue heron. The last two stops were a great ending to an enjoyable morning. Up to three singing male dickcissals and a pair of horned larks were at the Stanly County line. This is open country with sparse ground cover, and when the fields remain fallow these uncommon species take advantage. By the end of the 50th stop, we had found 56 species along the route.
This weekend I will be in the southeastern corner of the state surveying another route beginning in Hallsboro, just west of Lake Waccamaw. For more information on the Breeding Bird Survey, check out www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.