Late June through July is the slowest time of the year on this birder’s calendar. The birds are here for sure, but summertime conditions in the Piedmont call for a reduction in field time. Any activities at all are limited to very early in the day or after dark. Even during those times, I deal with fogged-up binoculars, fogged-up eyeglasses, dripping sweat and, depending on habitat, buzzing deer flies. Sunscreen, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, bandanas and water bottles are on the list of must-have accessories.
Bird activity really slows down earlier in the day, too – by mid-morning on the hotter days. Singing is increasingly sporadic for many species. The chances of anything unusual showing up are reduced because movement across the country slows as territories have been established and chicks are raised.
I usually plan a trip or two to the higher elevations of the mountains in July. Mount Mitchell State Park is very good, as is Shining Rock wilderness. There are many breeding birds there that do not nest in the Piedmont or the lower elevations of the mountains, and they are easy to find on their established territories.
But movement is on the verge of starting back up. Shorebirds start moving south in July, some may even be getting an early start now. Mecklenburg County does not have a whole lot of habitat that attracts large numbers of shorebirds, but there is potential for a nice local rarity, especially as August approaches.
Hummingbird feeder activity is getting ready to ramp up considerably too. Every year I hear from concerned readers with questions about the local ruby-throated hummingbird population. I think hummingbird watchers are remembering the nonstop activity of August, when birds are chasing each other and buzzing around the feeders constantly. I wouldn’t expect that level of activity until late July in our area.
During the spring and early summer, a hummingbird’s diet is mostly protein. Combine that with ruby-throated hummingbirds being extremely territorial. Those two factors equal fewer birds close to your home and fewer feeder visits.
Now that chicks have fledged, territories will be abandoned and attention will turn to fattening up for migration. That’s when the sugar water becomes a much more important diet staple. Adults and young birds will be moving around looking for abundant nectar sources. So keep the feeders fresh in the interim. Water may need to be changed every few days right now.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.