Some birds fly thousands of miles to the pine stands and fields around Charlotte. So why not take a short drive to go see them?
The Three Rivers Land Trust held our eighth annual Uwharrie Naturalist Day on May 4, and hosted a birdwatching event on our Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve in Montgomery County. The land trust bought this 104-acre property, which houses some old growth and some restored longleaf pine forest, in 2017. The prior landowner had owned this tract for more than 25 years, and implemented restoration efforts including a rigorous prescribed burning regime.
That has created a utopia for wildlife and plants - and we were rewarded with a huge variety of intriguing birds.
Brian O’Shea, an expert birder and collections manager for ornithology at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, led the event. He catalogued a bird list of 45 species from our morning walk, highlighting the great diversity of species this region supports.
Most of these birds are neotropical migrants who fly thousands of miles from Central and South America to nest in our forests in the spring and summer, because we have longer hours of daylight than their tropical homes in which they can catch prey for their young.
The males are quite territorial, and flew in to investigate when we played their calls. The first bird we heard and called in was an orchard oriole. We saw both the male and the female. The male is orange and black and the female was a pale yellowish-green color.
The next bird we heard was a blue-gray gnatcatcher that came in to the call and let us get a good look at him, followed by an indigo bunting and a prairie warbler. A scarlet tanager came in to our call as well, then we crossed over the railroad track that bisects this preserve and spotted a blue grosbeak atop a longleaf pine.
We didn’t just encounter birds - reptiles are plentiful too. We found a garter snake that posed gracefully for us, flicking his tongue in and out, followed by a boxy turtle.
A white-eyed vireo came in to a call and as we were looking at him a ruby-throated hummingbird stopped briefly on a branch. We called to a black and white warbler a few times, but he wasn’t very interested.
This was our first year holding this event at the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve, and we will likely go back again. We hope you also plan to find and celebrate some of the diverse species the natural lands around our region support.
Crystal Cockman serves as the Land Protection Director at the Three Rivers Land Trust.