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‘Birdy’ greenways offer a chance to spy lots of species

The photo this week is of a rusty blackbird by John Ennis.
The photo this week is of a rusty blackbird by John Ennis. John Ennis

Last Monday I walked the entire length of the Lower McAlpine and McMullen Creek Greenways. These connected greenways pass beside and over wet floodplain bottomland forest. It was a cold morning with little warmup during the day. I love birding in those conditions; the birds are usually active and responsive to squeaky noises designed to bring them close in.

Sparrows; field, swamp, song, dark-eyed juncos, and white-throated were ever-present in the patchy weedy areas along the trails. A few other species were mixed in like brown thrashers, winter wrens, American goldfinches, ruby-crowned kinglets, and a single orange-crowned warbler. That species is very uncommon in the winter but apparently there are more of them around this year, probably due to the warm temperatures that have prevailed for most of the season.

There was plenty of mud exposed in the woodlands along the creeks and many American robins, brown-headed cowbirds, and common grackles foraged the muck. I was especially glad to find a couple of sizeable flocks of rusty blackbirds, a severely declining species. Large numbers of mallards were hanging out in the pools left by recent floods. I tried to find some wood ducks or other dabbling duck species but could not.

In the shrubs and treetops feeding flocks consisting of Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, yellow-rumped warblers, downy woodpeckers, Eastern bluebirds, and red-bellied woodpeckers were always within earshot. A pileated woodpecker called several times but I never got a look. These greenways are good for blue-headed vireos in the winter but I could not come up with one that day despite playing recordings of their songs and calls.

A red-shouldered hawk flew in very close looking for whatever was giving a distressed squeaking call. It was me of course and after the hawk identified me it retired back into the woods. By mid-morning some soaring birds appeared; both black and turkey vultures, and a lone sharp-shinned hawk.

I finished with about 45 species for the hike, a solid number and a good representation of expected species in a lowland habitat. I recommend any of those greenways for a leisurely birding stroll. It is always birdy and the birds are generally cooperative.

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