Looking Back: Birds

With the closing of the year it’s perhaps time to look back and see what we’ve observed on the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind Loop. Below, in the appropriate segments, I give totals for some of the species seen since January of last year. There were 101 species of bird observed during 2008 at the Museum including such unlikely species as Double-crested Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-heron, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Osprey, Bald Eagle (3), and Northern Harrier. All of those species were fly-overs except the Black-crowned Night-heron which spent a few days in the Wetlands on its way north last spring. Of all the shorebirds, Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper are two species that I would most likely expect to see at the Museum, along with one other, Solitary Sandpiper (it may be the case that a Solitary Sandpiper stopped in at the Wetlands during migration and I was not present that day, maybe next year).



In the case of the three raptors, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Northern Harrier, the habitat, again, is not suited to their feeding requirements. A fly-over by those species is probably all we can hope for, which is a good reason to look up every now and then while out on the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind Loop. With the Museum being located between two large reservoirs (Jordan Lake and Falls Lake) that are used extensively by both Osprey and Bald Eagle it’s not unreasonable for us to expect to see more of each, at least during the spring and fall months. With well over 300 bird species possible in our area (a good number of those are highly unlikely here at the Museum because of the habitat) I’d say that 101 species is a respectable list of birds. I’m very confident that this number will rise as time goes by. If you want to see for yourself what species to expect in our area, a check list of all birds seen in Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties can be downloaded from Carolina Nature. The list was compiled by Will Cook whose other interests in nature you will discover when you click on the link.

For the past few weeks I’ve seen an immature Red-shouldered Hawk perched in various locations around the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind Loop. Possibly, it’s one of the offspring of our resident Red-shouldereds, although it’s difficult to determine that for sure. Unlike the adult red-shouldereds, the immatures have brown-streaked undersides instead of the reddish barring of the adults.


A Hawk Story: One December 27th, as I was pointing out a Great Blue Heron to a Museum guest, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk that had been sitting unseen in a tree, came down in front of us, crashing in the water of the wooded swamp on the west side of the path next to Wetlands Overlook. The hawk sat motionless in the water, up to its belly in water and tree branches. It looked around as if trying to figure out how to get out of the water, how to get out of the mess it was in. Had this hawk actually caught something with its crash landing into the water? As the hawk struggled to gain a steady footing, I caught a quick glimpse of a webbed foot – a frog. After some consideration, the hawk flew up, with much effort, onto a downed pine tree a few yards in front of us. By now, a small crowd of people had gathered to witness the drama unfolding before us, cameras clicking away. The hawk, tightly gripping a frog in its talons, stood on the tree trunk, briefly assessing the situation, eventually taking off through the trees, Bullfrog dangly behind.


The Hooded Mergansers in the Wetlands have been performing courtship displays since their arrival during the second week of November. Over the past two weeks, I’ve witnessed these small, fish-eating ducks mating. With the female floating motionless in the water, her head down on the surface of the water (she looks like a small piece of wood floating in the water), the male swims about her bobbing his head, alternately, from one side to the other. This pre-copulatory behavior continues for as much as ten minutes before actual mating occurs, all the while the female remaining in her “prone” position. This seems strange to me. I don’t know exactly what’s going on. I was surprised to see courtship behavior this early in the season. It’s doubly surprising to see the mergansers actually copulating, the purpose of which is to fertilize the female’s eggs. Is she laying eggs? If so, where? If she’s laying eggs, why now in the middle of winter? More research is needed. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

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