Nothing like your birding trip getting started before you even get out of the yard. The list of what you will see can sometime begin before you put your car into drive. First on my list was the female American Redstart that landed on a pine bough before I even backed out of the driveway. Her brilliant yellow against the black tail was quite the contrast…The weather on this September early afternoon was warm, and a beautiful Carolina blue sky was to be the canopy! This would be the beginning of a colorful event for my eyes!
When you arrive at your destination, it’s a good idea to survey your surroundings visually before you get out of your vehicle for various reasons.
- First off, for safety. Have you parked in a safe location? (Particularly if you’re birding alone. Let someone know where you are, when you plan to leave just in case you get hurt or need help.) Are you out of the way of traffic?
- Make sure you have your keys to your vehicle with you and your phone.
- Back to birding: I always survey the area in the sky and distance on the land when I arrive at my destination. Sometimes I have found that just from the parking lot at a park or trailhead, a plethora of bird activity is going on nearby. As I don my binoc harness, get my tiny backpack on, and camera ready, most times my birding starts right from there!
A Chase Ensued
Today was no different. From the parking lot, there was quite a commotion in the sky. The squawking was clearly audible. A Red-Tailed Hawk that stays there must have gotten too close to two small birds’ home and they took off in hot pursuit after it. Amazing how small they were in comparison to the hawk, but they wouldn’t stand down to the hawk one bit!
After walking away from the parking lot, I stopped and just looked. My eyes were moving from place to place at the pink flowers along the tiny stream running near the walkway. (Scanning the area for color may yield butterflies, hummingbirds, or other pollinators.) My first stop was at the trailhead beginning to check out some flowers.
Salt-Marsh Fleabane (Pluchea odorata)
“Odorata” is right…If you like flowers that smell great, this is NOT the plant for you…However, pollinators simply adore this! Salt-marsh Fleabane is a flat round mound of very tiny flowers. Sitting atop the stems are an atomic starburst of pinkish violet threads coming out of the end of the blossom. The smell is somewhat pungent, reminding you of a cat if you get my drift…WHEW! The field guides call the smell, “a faint camphor” smell. You can only smell it though if you put your nose down close to it. Remember, I warned you! Also if you wipe your hand over it you the smell on you. No matter how it smells to humans, you will always find SOME type of pollinator checking it out. It is so worth checking out!
- It grows in the coastal plains and swamps of NC. Consult your local field guide for occurrence in your area.
- Blooms in the fall which is nice for a pink/lavender color in the wild.
- Grows 1-3 feet tall. I have seen it growing along creeks in the fall landscape.
- The leaves can be toothed, scalloped, or smooth.
- Leaves a delicate seed head.
Wild Ageratum (Eupatorium Coelestinum)
Another clustered disk shaped mound of flowers that blooms at the same time of year as the fleabane, and was present on this trip, was our native Wild Ageratum.
- The flowers can be blue, violet or white and starburst like.
- Loved by the many pollinators
- Grows 1 – 3 feet tall, moist soil, sun to partial shade
- You can find a cultivated variety of this in some garden centers.
Almost Missed the Blue Grosbeak!
Camouflage pays an important part of preserving a species. It works great not just for fledglings, but the females in many species. Female Blue Grosbeaks tend to be a golden brown tannish color and they blend in with the wood of trees or bushes they land in beautifully. Had she not have flitted to another branch and I noticed the movement, I would have most probably missed seeing her.
“Touch Me Not” Says the Spotted Jewelweed!
This fiery orange flower is an eye-catcher. It’s known by many common names such as Spotted Jewelweed, Spotted Touch-Me-Not, Jewelweed, Orange Jewelweed. The serious name for it is Impatiens capensis. No matter the name, when finding one, do take the time to check it out.
- It has a succulent-like stem filled with a gel like juice in which the National Institute of Health did a test of its medicinal properties of helping aid in the poison ivy relief of contact dermatitis.
- The touch-me-not is named so because upon touching the seed pod, it disperses tons of tiny seeds everywhere… like an explosion of seeds, if you will.
- Grows in the semi-shady moist wetlands and swamp areas in North Carolina. Check your field guide for occurrence in your area.
- Hummingbirds will gladly visit the moist environment where this orange trumpet-shaped flower is in bloom!
Weeds by Another Name is Flower
Another swamp flower there was the Swamp Smartweed (Polygonum coccineum). Smartweed is in the Buckwheat family, and it was growing in the wetland part of the trail along alongside other plants. This plant grows with a segmented stem to a height of 2 – 3 feet tall. Some varieties are pink or even white. I pulled up some and put it in a hanging basket at home for some “draping out of the planter” fall interest. (Keep it moist should you try this.)
Meet Me Down at the Puddle!
Continuing on the walk at the trail, the sunlight lit up an en masse light lime green yellow color. I’ve heard of animals meeting down at a local stream, but the sight of these butterflies “puddling” made me curious. Apparently, mostly males do this as they are after salt, minerals, and amino acids when they do this for reproduction later.
Making a List for Your Birding Notes
Even though I painted a watercolor painting, which in fact is my list of the many things I observed on this particular birding trip, writing a manual list could have contained the following:
- Weather, cloud coverage, temperature
- Take a visual phone photo of the plants to refer to write a detailed description of it. Did they have a smell? Were they in flower, or in bud? Was their a seed pod? What did the it look like?
- What were any insects you encountered doing?
- Were birds in the sky? What was their behavior?
- Any water present? What could you observe in the water? Fish? Insects? Any plants growing under the water? In the water? Alongside the water?
- Any reptiles present? What were they doing? Were they basking on something in the sun?
- Did you see any mammals? Were they alone? With others of the same species? What were they doing?
There are many ways to make a list for your birding adventure. I chose to do a painting from photos I took as I encountered each plant, etc. to help me recall and have a visual image of them. The old-fashioned writing down of a list is great, but don’t be afraid to try something different on your next birding adventure to remember what YOU saw or heard!