A Flash of Green

The stealthy green heron returns to N.C.’s waterways

By Susan Campbell

The green heron is probably one of the coolest little birds around — but one that I’d bet most folks have never seen. They return from tropical wintering grounds to breed across the state in early spring, migrating under the cover of darkness back to where they first hatched, beginning the cycle anew. Right now flocks are moving northward in order to pair up for the breeding season.  Although they are widely distributed, the green heron’s cryptic coloration and skulking behavior make them tricky to spot.

Standing a mere 18 inches tall and only about the size of a crow, this species is by far the smallest of about a dozen types of waders found in North Carolina. As with all herons, these birds have relatively long legs and a skinny neck, as well as a long, dagger-like bill. Given that green herons typically stand with their necks tucked in, individually they may seem smaller than they are. Their backs are a velvety green (hence the name), their bodies a handsome chestnut and their legs a pale yellow. The feathers on the head, in addition to the wings, are dark gray and often stand erect, giving the appearance of a shaggy crest. As with other herons and egrets, males are identical to females.

During the spring, males seek out thick shrubbery along the edge of a wet spot and begin building a platform of thin sticks as a nest. After attracting a mate, the male looses interest in nest-building, and it is the female that completes the shallow nest. Although the location may very well be along a creek or pond, it may also be man-made, for instance around a smaller depression adjacent to a water hazard on a golf course. Probably more important is whether or not there’s sufficient access to food and woody vegetation to support three to five chicks. Although other wading bird species generally nest in colonies, green heron pairs usually keep to themselves. But they, especially the males, are fiercely territorial when it comes to defending their feeding area. They will vocalize loudly and chase any bird that is perceived as a threat.

Green herons spend most of their time crouched completely still, alongside a wet spot, waiting for prey to appear. They will grab any moving creature that is small enough to swallow. Fish, frogs, crayfish, larger insects and even the odd hummingbird make up their diet. Occasionally, they may spear their food, but most often they grab what they catch with their powerful mandibles. And while green herons are very successful ambush-style predators, they sometimes show a cunning side, using objects such as sticks and insects very deliberately to lure fish to the surface. Surprisingly, they may also occasionally dive after prey. With partial webbing between their toes, they can swim short distances, if need be.

A few green herons lurk in the very southeastern part of our state each winter but most head to Mexico or Central America where food is more plentiful during the colder months. Our birds pass through Florida and head for the Caribbean on their way to marshlands in Central America.  There will be plenty of time in the coming months to spot one of these fascinating water birds. So the next time you’re passing a nearby farm pond or overgrown stream bank, carefully scan the banks and low branches — you may just catch sight of this neat little heron!  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.

Harbinger of Spring

The blue-gray gnatcatcher heralds the seasonal migration in Central N.C.

By Susan Campbell

It won’t be much longer . . . the wheezy calls from blue-gray gnatcatchers will soon be echoing from the treetops, signaling the beginning of spring migration here in central North Carolina. But these tiny gray-and-white birds are not going to find you. You are going to have to find them. As they flit around searching for small insects, they tend not to stay in one spot long enough for a good look. But with patience and a sharp eye, a determined birder will spot the bird’s characteristic dainty bill, white eye ring and long black tail with white edges.

Some of these passing gnatcatchers will stay put and raise a family, or two, here in the coming months. The species is known to breed across most of the Eastern United States at lower elevations. Within the gnatcatcher family this is the only species that is truly migratory, although individuals that we encounter have not likely traveled northward very far. Wintering grounds may be as close as Florida though some gnatcatchers may wing their way back from as far away as Cuba or the Bahamas.

Despite their name, gnats do not form a more significant part of the bird’s diet. Foraging for any invertebrates they can find, a gnatcatcher will sometime capture insects and spiders that are too large to swallow. But this ingenious bird divvies its prey into smaller portions by banging the insects on a branch to dispatch them and then pulling their appendages off until they are small enough to swallow. Its secret weapon to uncover insects? A long tail that it will flick from side to side to disturb the vegetation and cause potential prey to fly into visual range.

The species is sometimes referred to as “Little Mockingbirds,” not so much for their plumage but for their tendency to incorporate elements and snippets of other birds’ songs into their own.  Short songs involve wheezy “spee” notes. But longer songs, meant to better advertise territory in the spring, involve a variety of sounds: chips, whistles and mewing notes that are typically very high-pitched. When they cannot get their point across, males will chase one another, sometime ranging abroad as far as 70 feet or more. If things get particularly fierce, the competitors may even rise up, chest to chest, high in the air, with snapping bills in what looks like an odd game of “chicken.”

Here in the Piedmont and Sandhills, blue-gray gnatcatchers can be found in any forested area where there is a significant understory. This is a species that thrives on woody vegetation and an insect-rich environment. Nests tend to be high up in hardwoods and are constructed with fine grasses and a variety of soft materials. Furthermore, they always include an exterior layer of mosses or lichens that camouflage the small cup-like nests from predators. As with the only slightly smaller ruby-throated hummingbird, nests need to be almost invisible. Adult blue-gray gnatcatchers have no other effective means of defending the next generation than the ingenious use of camouflage. As it is, eggs and young are often located by small mammals, as well as climbing snakes and other birds. But the parents will readily build a new nest, even incorporating old nesting material to speed up the process, several times in a season, if need be.

So if you keep an eye as well as an ear out towards the end of the month, you may spot one of these spirited and industrious little birds. Tiny blue-gray gnatcatchers are certainly one of the most overlooked members of our summer bird fauna. However, I guarantee they will be out and about if you take the time to notice in the weeks ahead.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.

The Gull Next Door

Winter brings ring-billed gulls inland

By Susan Campbell

Gulls? Here in the middle of the state? It may be puzzling but, indeed, you may see a few soaring over the nearby mall or standing around on the local playing fields. Come late November — then through December and reaching their peak sometime in January — the most common species of inland gulls, ring-billed, predictably swells each winter. Highly adaptable, they happily hang out at landfills, parking lots and farm fields. Ring-billed gulls are medium-sized, easy to overlook — unless you are a birdwatcher. Flocks can easily number in the hundreds and, nowadays, are largely unaffected by human activity. Of course, it is the actions of people that have facilitated the species’ winter range expansion over the past century.

Ring-billed gulls are characterized by a white head and chest, gray back and black vertical band around the bill. When perched, their black wingtips, with white spots, extend beyond the squared-off tail. The legs, like the bill, are a bright yellow. Wintering adults will exhibit gray-brown flecking on the head. Immature birds will have varying amounts of brownish streaking as well as pinkish legs and bill. It will take three full years for individuals to acquire adult plumage.

Ring-billed gulls nest far to the north, on small islands across the northern tier of the United States and throughout much of Canada. They use sparsely vegetated habitat and are often found sharing islands with other species of gulls and terns. Ring-billeds are known to return to their natal area to breed, often nesting mere feet from where they nested the year before. They are also likely to return to familiar wintering grounds as well. They have a highly tuned sense of direction, using a built-in compass as well as landmarks (such as rivers and mountain ranges) to successfully navigate in spring and fall.

In the early 1900s, the millinery trade, egg collectors and human encroachment in habitats significantly affected the species’ population numbers. But with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1917, ring-billed gull numbers began to stabilize. No longer was it legal to shoot adults for their feathers or collect their eggs for food. Additionally, introduction of fishes such as the alewife and inundation of new habitat in the western Great Lakes increased breeding productivity in the decades that followed.

Not only has the increase in garbage dumps and farmlands created more foraging habitat for these birds but also new reservoirs. Although ring-billeds prefer insects, worms, fish, small rodents, as well as grains and berries, they are not picky eaters — and therefore highly adaptable. Reproductive success, thanks to an abundance of food, has been even higher in the last thirty years — especially around the Great Lakes and the Eastern United States. As a result, this species has become a nuisance in some areas. Control measures (scarecrows, noisemakers, materials that move in the wind) have been employed but with very little success.

Large flocks of ring-billed gulls are likely to get the attention of birdwatchers come late winter. It is then that other species may get mixed in. It is possible to tease out a herring gull or perhaps a great black-backed gull from the dozens sitting on the pavement or floating on a local lake, if one has good optical equipment — and a lot of patience.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com, or by calling (910) 949-3207.

Splish Splash!

Winter waterbirds have arrived

By Susan Campbell

The arrival of cold weather in the Sandhills means that our local ponds and lakes will become the winter home to more than two dozen different species of ducks, geese and swans. Over the years, as development has added water features both large and small to the landscape, the diversity of our aquatic visitors has increased significantly. Although we are all familiar with our local mallards and Canada geese, nowadays from November through March, observant bird watchers can expect to see ring-necked duck, buffleheads, loons, cormorants, pied-billed grebes and American coots, to name a handful.

Certainly, the most abundant and widespread species is the ring-necked duck, flocks of which can be seen diving in shallow ponds and coves for aquatic invertebrate prey, dining on everything from leeches to dragonflies, midges to mosquitoes, water bugs to beetles. They obviously get their name from the indistinct rusty ring at the base of their necks.  Also look for iridescent blue heads, black sides and gray backs on males. The females, as with all of the true duck species, are nondescript: light brown all over but, like the males, have a distinctive grayish blue bill with a white band around it.

Perhaps the most noticeable of our wintering waterfowl would be the buffleheads. They form small groups that dive in deeper water, feeding on vegetation and invertebrates. The males have a bright white hood and body with iridescent dark green back, face and neck. They also sport bright orange legs and feet that they will flash during confrontations. The females of this species are characteristically drab, mainly brown with the only contrast being a small white cheek patch. Interestingly, the bufflehead is the one species of migratory duck that actually mates for life. This is generally a trait found only in the largest of waterfowl: swans and geese.

There are several types of aquatic birds, similar to ducks, that can be identified if you’re lucky enough to spot them; you’ll likely need a pair of binoculars. Common loons can occasionally be seen diving for fish on larger lakes in winter, and even more so during spring and fall migration. Their size and shape are distinctive (as is their yodeling song; unfortunately, they tend not to sing while they are here). It is important to be aware that we have another visitor that can be confused with loons: the double-crested cormorant, which is actually not a duck at all. This glossy dark swimmer, along with its cousin the anhinga, is more closely related to seabirds (e.g., boobies and gannets), and is a very proficient diver with a sharply serrated bill adapted for catching fish. It is not uncommon to see cormorants in their “drying” pose, when their wings are almost fully extended. (It’s the slight droop that makes them look sort of comical.) Since their feathers are not as waterproof as those of diving ducks, they only enter water to feed and bathe. Most of their time is spent sitting on a dock or some sort of perch trying to dry off.

Two other species of waterbirds can be found regularly at this time of year: pied-billed grebes and American coots. Pied-billed grebes are the smallest of the swimmers we see in winter, with light brown plumage, short thick bills and bright white bottoms. Surprisingly, they are very active swimmers. They can chase down small fish in just about any depth of water. American coots — black, stocky birds with white bills — are scavengers, feeding mainly in aquatic vegetation. They can make short dives but are too buoyant to remain submerged for more than a few seconds. Given their long legs and well-developed toes, they are also adept at foraging on foot. You might see them feeding on grasses along the edge of larger bodies of water or even on the edge of golf course water hazards.

In the coming weeks, if you find yourself in Lakeview, near the dam at Thagard Lake in Whispering Pines, or at a good vantage point along Lake Pinehurst, scan the surface for rafts of floating waterbirds. Of course, you will most likely need your binoculars in order to better make out the shapes and color patterns. But if you can get a good look, take the time to enjoy some of these wonderful, web-footed winter visitors from the far North. PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Merry, White-Breasted and Bright

For the white-breasted nuthatch, there’s no nut too tough to crack

By Susan Campbell

What is that little bird scrambling, upside down along that branch — or hanging wrong-side-up from the suet feeder?  A nuthatch of course! Take a closer look. If it is a mixture of gray, black and white, it is likely a white-breasted nuthatch. This handsome bird’s bright white breast contrasts with a gray back and wings — capped off with a black nape, neck and crown. Males and females, young and older birds — they all look identical.

White-breasteds, with their distintive “yank, yank, yank” calls, can be commonly found throughout most of the United States. The name “nuthatch” is derived from “nut hack,” which describes the way they often feed. Watch how these birds wedge potential food items into crevices in the tree bark and use their powerful bills to work their way into the fleshy, oily tidbits. These energetic little birds may also cache seeds (feeder seeds in particular) during colder weather by jamming dozens into the furrows of the bark of nearby trees.

Nuthatches just like their cousins the titmice and chickadees, are cavity dwellers. They love nest boxes and use them not only during the nesting season but for roosting. Family groups of up to six individuals remain together both day and night until early spring. And as a result, they can be quite noisy as they call repeatedly to keep track of one another as they move across the landscape. Furthermore, during the nonbreeding season, they will flock up with titmice and chickadees. There is certainly safety in numbers for all of these small birds. And the more eyes there are, the more likely they’ll find food.

These little birds not only eat a variety of seeds but caterpillars during the warmer months.  They can readily be attracted to the all-around favorite black-oil sunflower seed at feeding stations.  But they also love suet: high protein food that was once made with the fat that surrounds the kidneys of cows after it’s rendered. The irresistible “no melt” suet I offer is a homemade mix of lard and peanut butter studded with grains. Nuthatches cannot get enough of it – any day of the year!

During the winter months, there are actually three species of nuthatches you might expect in our region of the state. The smaller brown-headed nuthatches are also year-round residents of pine forests here, but the more northerly red-breasteds may appear as well. Red-breasted nuthatches only move in our direction in years of poor northerly cone production. This is looking to be one of those years! I have already heard one in Southern Pines and several folks have reported them at their feeders in central North Carolina in recent weeks. These little birds, which are intermediate in size between white-breasteds and brown-headeds, have a white eye line and rosey chests. Red-breasted nuthatches love black-oil sunflower seeds as well as suet. They can be quite feisty and frequently dominate any feeders they take a liking to. Until one or two red-breasteds make an appearance, enjoy the antics of our local nuthatches scrambling around, often upside down, on the oaks and pines!

No Melt Suet Recipe:

1 cup lard or bacon grease

1 cup peanut butter

Melt together and add:

1 cup flour

2 cups uncooked oatmeal or other grain

2–4 cups yellow cornmeal depending on desired consistency — less for pouring into a mold to slice for suet cages in cold weather or more crumbling onto a platform feeder. PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

TV Dinner

Turkey vultures are the ultimate scavengers

By Susan Campbell

There! By the edge of the road: It’s a big, dark bird. It looks sort of like it a wild turkey. But is it? Its head and face are red. It has a pale, hooked bill and a feathery neck. But the tail is the tip-off — it’s short. Definitely not the right look for a turkey — but perfect for a turkey vulture! (Feel free to call it a buzzard — or a “TV” by those in the know.)

The confusion is understandable since wild turkeys have made quite a comeback in Piedmont North Carolina. In fact, turkey vultures and turkeys can occasionally be seen sitting near one another in farm fields where they both can find food or just take advantage of the warmth of the dark ground on cool mornings.

However, turkey vultures are far more likely to be seen soaring overhead or perhaps perched high in a dead tree or cell tower. These birds have an unmistakable appearance in the air, forming a deep V-shape as they soar through the air, sometimes for literally hours on end. They’re easy to spot with their very large wingspans. At the very end of their wings look for their distinctive finger-like primary feathers. The tail serves as a rudder, allowing the bird to navigate effortlessly as it is lifted and transported by thermals and other currents high above the ground.

It is from this lofty vantage that turkey vultures travel in search of their next meal. Although their vision is poor, their sense of smell is keen. They can detect the aroma of a dead animal a mile or more away. They soar in circles, moving across the landscape with wings outstretched, sniffing all the while until a familiar odor catches their attention.

Turkey vultures are most likely to feed on dead mammals but they will not hesitate to eat the remains of a variety of foods including other birds, reptiles and even fish. They prefer freshly dead foods but may have to wait to get through the thick hide of larger animals if there is no wound or soft tissue allowing access. Toothed scavengers such as coyotes may literally need to provide that opportunity. Once vultures can get to flesh, they are quick to devour their food. Without plumage on their heads, there are no feathers to become soiled as they reach into larger carcasses for the morsels deep inside.

Our summering turkey vultures perform elaborate courtship flights in early spring.  One will lead the other through a series of twists, turns and flaps as they pair up. As unattractive as vultures seem to us, they are good parents. Nests are well-hidden in hollow stumps or piles of debris, in old hawk or heron nests or even abandoned buildings. They seek out cooler spots that are well away from human activity in order to protect their blind, naked and defenseless young.

Vulture populations are increasing across North Carolina — probably due to human activity. Roadways create feeding opportunities year-round. Landfills also present easy feeding opportunities as well, believe it or not. During the winter months turkey vultures from the north migrate south, often concentrating in one area. Their large roosts can be problematic. A hundred or more large birds pouring into a stand of mature pines or loitering on a water tower does not go unnoticed.

But most people take turkey vultures for granted or don’t even notice them. In reality, they are unparalleled scavengers — especially given the increase in roadways and the inevitable roadkill that has resulted. PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Old Sam Peabody

The song of the white-throated sparrow heralds winter

By Susan Campbell

Here in central North Carolina, the winged harbinger of winter is the white-throated sparrow. After summering in the forests of the far north, this bold little bird breeds across Canada and in northern New England at higher elevations. Then it heads south for the winter, probably stopping off in your backyard. A medium-sized sparrow, it is anything but drab, with brown notes on its upper body and white below. Look for bold markings on the head. Pale stripes on the crown and a white throat patch are set off by gray feathers on the face. And to top it all off, white-throateds sport a yellow spot at the base of their stout bill.

Interestingly there are two color forms of this species: those with heads that are white-striped and those that are tan-striped. Both forms persist. While white-striped individuals are more aggressive during the breeding season, either type will breed with the other. Following courtship, females handle the nest-making, usually in a depression on the ground under a low-growing tree or shrub. However, should it, not surprisingly, fall victim to predators, the second nest may be placed on low branches.

If you have not spotted one of these birds, you almost certainly have heard their distinctive loud “seet” call emanating from thick vegetation. Their song, which can be heard even during cold weather, is a recognizable, liquid “oh sweet Canada.” (Others hear “old Sam Peabody.”) Since they tend to flock together, you are likely to encounter small groups along forest edges, farm fields, parks and suburban areas

These squatty sparrows actually have a broad diet. Although they primarily feed on a range of seeds during the winter months, their preference shifts during the year. In spring, they are more likely to seek out buds and flowers of fresh vegetation. Luckily, white-throateds love feeding stations, often in association with dark-eyed juncos, another bird of the high country.

White-throated sparrows do not walk or run but hop when on the ground. As they forage, they will forcefully scratch backward in leaf litter using both feet and pouncing on tasty bits that they uncover. And if you happen to look out of your window and see leaves taking flight, it is probably white-throated sparrows forcefully flicking aside dead leaves using their bills. In the winter months, pecking orders form within flocks with the more aggressive males dominating.

If you want to attract white-throated sparrows this winter, it is easy and inexpensive. Since they tend to stay low, scattering a seed mix in a cleared spot near shrubs or other thick vegetation is all it may take. White-throats will hop up onto a stump or low platform feeder as well. Easier yet, simply leave a portion of your yard unmowed until Spring and these predictable visitors may well turn up to take advantage of the resulting seeds that remain as the growing season winds down.  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.


‘Tis the season for “Buffies,” “Uppies” and killdeer

By Susan Campbell

As the long days of summer wane here in the Piedmont and Sandhills of North Carolina, we have scores of birds preparing for that long southbound journey we refer to as fall migration. Thousands of birds pass by, both day and night, headed for wintering grounds that are deep in the Southern Hemisphere. Some seem very unlikely candidates: medium-bodied shorebirds, dropping down in flocks to replenish their reserves. They may stay a few hours or a few days, depending on the weather and the abundance of food available to them. At first glance, you might think these long-legged birds are lost — far from the coast where sandpipers are commonplace. But once you take a good look, you will realize these are birds of grassland habitat, not sand flats.

Referred to broadly as “grasspipers” by birders, these species forage on a wide variety of invertebrates found in grassy expanses. They breed in open northern terrain, all the way up into the Arctic in some cases. And they are moving through in order to make their way to grassland habitat in southern South America. Although some may be seen along our coastline, they are more likely to be found in flocks or loose groups at airports, sod farms, athletic fields and perhaps even tilled croplands.

Come late August and early September, armed with binoculars, and, better yet, a powerful spotting telescope, you can find these cryptically colored birds without having to travel too far from home. They are indeed easy to miss unless you know where to look at the right time. Flocks often include a mix of species, so be ready to scrutinize each and every bird, lest you overlook one of the rarer individuals. When it comes to shorebirds as a group, many of the dozens of species are tricky to identify, so I suggest you arrange to join a more accomplished birder for starters.

The most common and numerous species without a doubt is the killdeer, identified by dark upper parts contrasted with white underparts, but it’s the double neck ring that gives it away. A spunky bird whose name comes from its call, the killdeer nests (if you can call a rudimentary scrape in the gravel a nest) on disturbed ground such as unpaved roadways and parking lots throughout North Carolina. Flocks of hundreds are not uncommon. But frequently other species are mixed in as well. In the Sandhills, the sod farm in Candor hosts large numbers of killdeer around Labor Day. Check them all and you will likely be rewarded with something different mixed in!

The plover family, to which the killdeer belongs, consists of squat, short-necked and billed birds of several species. The semipalmated plover is a close cousin. This slightly smaller species sports only a single neck ring and, curiously, individuals have slightly webbed (or palmate) feet. They can actually swim short distances when in wetter habitat and are thus more versatile foragers.

However, the most curious are the obligate grassland shorebirds that include the well-camouflaged buff-breasted sandpiper and the upland sandpiper. Both nest in the drier prairies of Canada and spend the winter months mainly in the pampas of Argentina. “Buffies” are a buff-brown all over and have delicate-looking heads and short, thin bills and a distinctive ring around the eye. “Uppies” are brownish and have small heads as well, but they have both longer bills and longer legs, along with larger eyes. These two species are thought to be declining — most likely due to habitat loss on both continents.

If you miss the chance to get out in search of inland shorebirds this fall, do not fret! They will move through again come spring, although in smaller numbers. Winter will take its toll but those who do make it back our way will be in vibrant plumage as they wing their way northward to create yet a new generation of grasspipers north of the border. PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com or by phone at (910) 695-0651.

Dawn Patrol

Look for the common nighthawk at sunup or sundown

By Susan Campbell

Common nighthawks can be found all across the Sandhills and throughout Piedmont North Carolina, but they are neither “common” nor are they “hawks.”

For one thing, nighthawks feed exclusively on insects, which they dine on mostly during the night. Nor do they grab their prey using their talons as true hawks do. Instead they use their oversized mouths to snap up beetles and other insects in mid-air.

Nighthawks take to the skies mainly at dawn and dusk when insects are most active. Given their aerodynamic prowess, though, nighthawks are very successful predators at any hour. Due to their terrific night vision, they’re able to hunt quite effectively in total darkness. It is not, however, unusual to see them feeding during daylight hours, especially when they have young to feed. Look for them in early summer, when cicadas, grasshoppers, larger wasps and other bugs are especially abundant. Their characteristic low “peee-nt” call and erratic moth-like flight is unmistakable.

Common nighthawks spend much of their day perched on pine branches. Invisibility is the goal, and it is easily attained with their mottled black, gray and white feathering. Their nests also are well camouflaged. On the forest floor, females simply scrape out a spot to lay their speckled egg, which blend in well with the mineral soil and miscellaneous debris typical of native arid terrain. Females perform a feeble “broken wing” display when disturbed. This is the only defense they have to draw potential predators away from the eggs or young.

A great place to encounter a nighthawk is at an airport or any other large open area. There, you’ll likely hear the unmistakable “booming” of males during the early morning. The unique noise is not a vocalization but comes from air passing over the wing feathers of breeding males as they dive through the air.

Unlike some other species, the urbanization of the Triad and Sandhills has not taken a big toll on nighthawks. For instance, the abundant insects drawn to floodlights at the Piedmont’s many athletic fields and other outdoor venues provide nighthawks with excellent habitat to support their families. And nighthawks are one of only a handful of bird species that seem perfectly at home nesting on flat rooftops. It is not unusual to see or hear nighthawks at summer baseball games or early fall football games throughout the region.

Found in so many open areas in the Eastern United States in summer, common nighthawks begin to move south in early fall — often in large flocks. They migrate long distances to winter destinations in Central America and northern South America. But all across Piedmont North Carolina during August and September, you can spot them just before dark in the evening or early in the morning. So you have lots of time left to spot a nighthawk this season — keep an eye out! PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com or by phone at (910) 695-0651.