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Bird survey trip offers dramatic sights

The anhinga makes its home in southeastern swamps.
The anhinga makes its home in southeastern swamps.

I volunteered to conduct two North American Breeding Bird Survey routes this year. The Breeding Bird Survey is an ongoing project. It documents the presence, increase, decrease and effects of habitat change of breeding birds in a defined area. The same routes are run every year and consist of 50 stops along a 25-mile route determined by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Volunteers start each route exactly 30 minutes before sunrise and spend three minutes at each stop documenting the birds seen and heard. Surveys in our area must be run anytime from May 15 through June 30.

On June 7 I ran the first of my two routes. I began in Hallsboro and continued west, southwest and then south of Lake Waccamaw in Columbus and Brunswick counties. Promptly at 5:30 a.m., I began at the first stop.

Much of the route is open, agricultural land, and the birds are largely the same as in similar habitats in the Piedmont. Orchard orioles, blue grosbeaks, indigo buntings, red-winged blackbirds, Northern bobwhite and yellow-breasted chats were found along the way. It was when the route took me through several swamp forests and across tannin-stained creeks that the sights dramatically changed and reminded me I was not in the Piedmont.

At the first bridge, spanning a mature swamp, I found three black-crowned night herons and a pair of anhingas watching me watch them. Prothonotary warblers were thick, golden flashes in the shadows while similar numbers of Northern parulas sang from the higher trees.

An hour later at another small forest pond stop, over 20 great egrets, over 10 white ibises, and three wood storks made quite a sight as they gulped down stranded fish in the shrinking water space. Wildlife other than birds was in evidence too. I was serenaded by coyotes at dawn. A beautiful banded water snake safely made it across the pavement. A bobcat bounded across the road, and five species of tree frogs called throughout the morning.

My other route is a Piedmont route, beginning off Camp Stewart Road in Mecklenburg County and ending in Stanly County. I am planning to survey that stretch shortly.

For more information on the North American Breeding Bird Survey, go to www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/about/.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com