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Old farm site offers quiet birding views

A solitary sandpiper.
A solitary sandpiper.

I took a walk through a large undeveloped piece of property in Matthews midweek. The site is a former farm and features a couple of old cow ponds and wide open space. I had visited it last spring and had found some nice birds, but had not been back since.

The changes in season were marked. The pond side rushes, sedges, and blackberries that teamed with nesting red-winged blackbirds in early May were quiet now, their songs and quarrels replaced by the monotonous droning of cicadas. Not a blackbird remained, all having departed to join mid-summer flocks. Two family groups of song sparrows occupied the space, curiously watching me as I tromped through.

The Eastern meadowlarks that sang to me earlier now were silent. They are likely still around but the singing days are over for the season. The musical trills of field sparrows were gone too, replaced by agitated high-pitched chips as parents voiced alarm notes to their fledged young. A lone indigo bunting sang half-heartedly on occasion, perhaps trying to recapture its excitement from a couple of months ago.

While the ponds were attractive to mallards and wood ducks prior, they now are reduced to a few shallow puddles and lots of mud. A lone great blue heron took advantage of the easy meal in the puddles. It flew off when I approached too closely, croaking frustration at the interruption. Two solitary sandpipers foraged in the mud, unconcerned at my close proximity. I was hoping for more shorebird diversity but it looks like that will have to wait for the shorebird migration peak in about a month.

An old section of barb-wire fence served as a perfect hunting perch for an Eastern phoebe family. The presence of buffy wingbars on two birds identified them as the immature birds. They will gain adult plumage by late fall.

A red-tailed hawk screamed at me and took off from its perch on some high-tension wires. The visibly distended crop on the bird gave testament to the productive hunting the habitat provides.

I noticed some nice thickets of pokeweed with lots of developing fruit, ensuring that the area will be attractive to fall migrants in a couple of months. I plan to check it out then.

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