Important Bird Areas

Early Spring Mornings

North Carolina has 96 Important Bird Areas across the state that support wildlife in very special ways while offering a recreational playground for birds and people alike. In this special blog series, each of Audubon North Carolina’s 10 chapters will take a walk through their IBAs to give readers a glimpse of what can be enjoyed in our own backyards.

Please welcome guest-blogger and member of the Mecklenburg Audubon Society, Jim Guyton.

“More than 200 species of birds have been documented at this 900+ acre county-owned wildlife refuge lying along the banks of the Catawba River. Other state and local agencies protect adjoining lands, preserving a total of more than 2,000 acres of wildlife habitat along both sides of the river.” NC Birding Trail

Recently, I paid a visit to the Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge in the Mountain Island Lake IBA, spending a few mornings birding for migrants and enjoying the environment.

On the first spring morning, driving slowly to the parking area at the observation deck, I was immediately greeted with a surprise.

I came across four other birders who had their eyes to the sky listening to a song, but the tune we heard was a bit off from a Northern Parula. We had high hopes for a Cerulean Warbler sighting! Hope prevailed and we had quick glimpses of the Cerulean.

This was the first record sighting of a Cerulean in the Refuge in five years. What a great way to start the day!

Two of the birders were at the Refuge to check on some Prothonotary Warbler boxes, initially placed in 2009 using IBA conservation funds. The first four years had warbler counts of 27 clutches with 59 fledglings. Ron Clark and Tom Sanders have now begun their fifth year of monitoring the boxes, and eleven were replaced for the 2014 season.

Prothonotary Warbler Eggs by Ron Clark

After the excitement of the Cerulean Warbler sighting, I continued on to the see what activity I could find at the observation deck. Eastern Bluebirds were busy working on a cavity nest in a dead tree just out from the deck. The deck is a great roost that often provides spectacular bird viewing and photo opportunities, and it is also used for the Mecklenburg Audubon Society’s annual Big Sit.

Common Yellowthroat by Jim Guyton

Along with the bluebirds, I was also able to watch Common Yellowthroats, Palm Warblers, a Belted Kingfisher, Chipping and Field Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers– plenty of entertainment. Then a grey Northern Harrier cruised by looking over the prairie area for his breakfast.

Observation Deck by Jim Guyton

I returned for a second spring visit later where I spent most of the morning at the observation deck with my cup of hot tea, binoculars and camera, what a great morning of birding!

I was able to see the returning Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles and Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow Warbler, Bobolink, Wood Duck, Eastern Kingbirds and Blue Grosbeaks. Overhead, a Bald Eagle, Osprey and Red-tailed Hawk were spotted.

Landscape Architect
Member at Large Mecklenburg Audubon Society

What a great way to start the weekend! I highly recommend you all visit this vibrant IBA anytime of the year. You will be in for real a treat.

Bobolink by Jim Guyton

The Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge is located on Neck Road in northern Mecklenburg County and was designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society in 1999. Also deemed Protected Natural Area, public access to the 850-acre refuge is limited to a mile-long stretch of gravel road and the wildlife observation deck on site.

Even with limited access, the gravel road travels through several diverse habitats including hardwood forest and open fields while the observation deck overlooks a grassland restoration area complete with two ponds.

Entry Allee by Jim Guyton

Jim Guyton

Landscape Architect

Member at Large Mecklenburg Audubon Society

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