Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Birding at the Blomquist Bird Viewing Shelter: a Nine Species Morning

House sparrow
I rose before the sun, making it to the Doris Duke Center as light spread over the trees and through the Gardens. My friend Emily and I had braved the chilly morning for one fateful reason: we were going looking for birds.

Not just any birds. Though I am fascinated by the waterfowl in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, we were in search of the forest species. Though most of the migratory birds have passed through on their way south, many other species have made North Carolina their permanent home for the winter. Heading into the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, we wove purposefully through the paths until coming upon our destination, the Bird Viewing Shelter. The shelter is beautifully designed to look like a birdhouse, and it offers a direct view of the strategically placed bird feeders.

Bird viewing shelter. Photo by Orla Swift
Right away we saw a flurry of activity. Tufted titmice buzzed as they defended their place on the feeders from chattering Carolina chickadees while bright red northern cardinals foraged for seeds on the forest floor beneath the feeders. Unfortunately, we chose a trail that led us right past the feeders and we spooked the birds. But we settled into the viewing shelter and waited quietly for them to return. 

Well, we should have waited quietly. Something about the space, the quiet of the woods, the early morning, the fact that we hadn't seen each other in over a week, made it nearly impossible to stay quiet. The temptation to chat was too strong! At least the gray squirrels didn't seem to mind.

gray squirrel
As we caught up about school and work and Duke, we watched Carolina wrens bob their tails up and down as they raced under bushes and to the feeders. A brown thrasher was throwing leaves in the air as it searched for grubs in the damp detritus, and eventually the titmice, cardinals and chickadees did return. Unfortunately for Emily, she had to leave for an early class, but after she left I saw a downy woodpecker and white-breasted nuthatch swinging on the feeders. White-breasted nuthatches are one of my favorite birds. They may be a common species, but their deep blue backs almost look like capes as they race up and down tree trunks looking for food.

northern cardinal
As the sun continued to rise, a look at my watch told me I would soon have to head out, too. Before I left, however, one last species revealed itself to me: a white-throated sparrow. Most sparrows are too difficult for me to identify, as they look and sound exceedingly similar. The white-throated sparrow, however, has two large, bright yellow eyebrows that set it apart from any other bird I've ever seen. 

white-breasted nuthatch
With the white-throated sparrow, my morning list stood at eight species: carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, brown thrasher, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch and white-throated sparrow.  

white-throated sparrow
After leaving the Blomquist Garden, I  saw my ninth species of the morning. Unlike his smaller, flightier compatriots, the great blue heron stood stalk-still surveying his kingdom from his perch atop the stone structure in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum pond. As he posed perfectly, I couldn't help but name him my favorite (and most cooperative) bird of the morning.

great blue heron
Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

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