Last Saturday I met an enthusiastic and sharp-eyed group of birders at Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge just north of Wadesboro in Anson County. The refuge manages for wintering waterfowl, but at all seasons the varied habitats provide for excellent and diverse birding.
We concentrated on the Wildlife Drive, a drivable three-mile loop that runs through open field, open marsh, wooded swamp, hardwood lowlands and upland mixed pine forest.
Just a hundred yards or so from the refuge headquarters a yellow-breasted chat and an indigo bunting gave the group fantastic looks. Less cooperative was a yellow-billed cuckoo, black-and-white warbler and summer tanager, but many in the group got some sort of look at them. A singing Kentucky warbler never did show itself, disappointing since that is one of my favorite warblers.
Scanning the open marsh produced many families of wood ducks, Eastern kingbirds perched on dead sprigs and many red-winged blackbirds. The trees surrounding the marsh held pileated woodpeckers, red-headed woodpeckers, yellow-throated vireos and an immature male orchard oriole. A brilliant male prothonotary warbler put on a spectacular show at close range.
At Sullivan’s Pond, a spotted sandpiper bobbed along the shore, while purple martins, barn swallows and cliff swallows dipped and soared overhead. A cooperative male blue grosbeak sat in the parking lot for everyone to enjoy at length.
Along the dike common yellowthroats, white-eyed vireos and blue-gray gnatcatchers were all evident, but the highlight was a stunning show by a male Northern parula that sat and sang continuously in a dead shrub mere yards from the whole group, while deep in the woods a wood thrush sang its ethereal song.
Winding up in the pinewoods, ovenbirds, red-eyed vireos, Eastern wood-pewees, Acadian flycatchers, American goldfinches and pine warblers flitted high in the canopy. A summer tanager gave an alarm call at close range, and we soon found out why: a female was trying to get to her nest just a few feet away. We watched while she eventually settled down to incubate the contents of the neat cup in a sweet gum sapling.
We finished with 54 species seen or heard in only 2 1/2 hours of leisurely birding. It was well worth the hour and 15 minute drive.
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.