Birders know what to look for and what to expect as seasons come and go. I noticed a couple of timely items while scanning local birding reports and, along with my own observations from the past week, they indicate loud and clear that we are in the mid-July cycle of activity.
Some pertain to bird movement, which is starting to pick up now as nesting is complete for many species. The others have to do with late nesting species that are just getting cranked up, with one being rather uncommon to rare as a breeder in Mecklenburg County.
A spotted sandpiper was reported from Cowan’s Ford Refuge. Spotted sandpipers are very common migrants through our area in spring and fall and may even nest in our mountains. But they do not breed here, so its appearance is evidence that fall migration is under way for shorebirds. More shorebird species will follow, and if the area stays dry enough to expose sandbars and mudflats along the river and area ponds, something really nice may show up.
I also have been hearing the pleasant twittering of purple martins in the early mornings and evenings at my home in Matthews. Purple martin is another species that leaves the breeding sites by mid-July. The martins gather to form huge communal roosts at several sites in both Carolinas. I’m sure the birds I was hearing were birds on the move.
I was also intrigued by the report of a nest of cedar waxwings at McAlpine Park in east Charlotte. Cedar waxwings are present in flocks of up to many dozens of individuals in winter and spring and are regular nesters in the higher elevations of our mountains. Nesting in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties is extremely sporadic, however. I occasionally encounter pairs of birds in the summer, which is strong evidence of nesting, and I have seen juvenile birds a few times but not often enough to consider nesting other than rare. Waxwings are late to breed too, often waiting until late June to even start nest building.
Another very late nester in our area is the American goldfinch. They may just be beginning now. They wait until thistle and other asters produce seed in mid-summer, so they can utilize the plants as food for their chicks. American goldfinches are unique in that they almost exclusively feed their chicks seed in lieu of insects and other arthropods.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.