Home & Garden

A colorful morning at Cowan’s Ford

Yellow-breasted chat
Yellow-breasted chat

I spent the morning last Monday at Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge at the end of Neck Road in Huntersville. There is a viewing stand that overlooks two ponds surrounded by wide open fields. There is some edge habitat, and isolated trees supply needed perches for singing males of many, many species. It really is one of the best places in the county to observe some of the more colorful species that inhabit open habitat.

The birds were especially active in the slightly overcast cool weather. Orchard orioles, summer tanagers, indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks and yellow-breasted chats flew back and forth, chasing each other off the most desirable perches. Once a perch was secured, the temporary victor would sit long enough for me to put him in my spotting scope before he got usurped himself.

At one point a brilliant male indigo bunting was chased off by an equally brilliant blue grosbeak, which in turn was replaced by a handsome orchard oriole who gave way to an all-red male summer tanager. The buntings and chats put on the best show, with one chat actually sitting on a wire for several minutes instead of staying hidden in a thicket as is their custom.

Around the ponds red-winged blackbirds called to one another, Eastern kingbirds flitted from treetop to treetop, while common yellowthroats and field sparrows sang from lower vegetation. A sedge wren, a very uncommon migrant but somewhat regular at Cowan’s Ford, sang from a blackberry thicket, preferring to keep out of sight.

In the deeper woods behind the platform a wood thrush sang its flute-like song. A brown thrasher, Northern waterthrush, pine warbler, gray catbird and Northern cardinal all joined in.

On the way out along the entrance I stopped at a power line cut where I could survey a broad expanse of sky. From that one location I was able to count seven species of raptor: a bald eagle chick on a nest; an osprey attending a nest; red-tailed, red-shouldered, and Cooper’s hawks; and both turkey and black vultures.

I highly recommend taking a drive out to this site in the morning or later in the afternoon. Even if you are only a casual birder I think you will be impressed with how much you can see.

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