Conservation // 5 min Read

In the Field: May Eye to the Sky

Written by Aaron Palmieri

May 5, 2021


Activity in the Conservancy’s nest boxes ramped up in April with bluebirds tending to their first set of eggs and chicks. On average, bluebirds lay 2-3 clutches of eggs every year with roughly 4-6 weeks invested in each brood.

Bluebird on her nest.
Bluebird on her nest.
Bluebird chicks.
Bluebird chicks.

We were thrilled to learn the leucistic bluebird from March has begun nesting in a bluebird house! The Conservancy was graciously allowed to include the private nest box in their bluebird surveys, and while we are unsure of the odds of any offspring displaying the same mutation, we are eager to see what happens.

Leucistic bluebird [Photo provided by Jean Andersen]
Leucistic bluebird [Photo provided by Jean Andersen]
Bluebird eggs.
Bluebird eggs.

We also observed tufted titmice and eastern screech-owls sitting on their respective eggs in the Conservancy’s cavity nest boxes. The titmice were quite defensive in the presence of intruders while the screech-owls relied on their camouflage to avoid confrontation.

Tufted titmouse and her eggs.
Tufted titmouse and her eggs.
Screech owls with eggs.
Screech owls with eggs.

Killdeer, a species of plover often sighted in grassy habitats, had chicks on the move in mid-April. Their downy young are mobile shortly after hatching and could be seen scurrying across Old Moreland road by the lagoons. Keep an eye out for them!

Camouflaged killdeer chicks.
Camouflaged killdeer chicks.

Meanwhile, cardinals, hummingbirds, catbirds, and other feathered residents also began nesting in April. Many species use shrubs and small trees as shelter for their open-cup nests, the thick foliage acting as a defense against predators. This makes it important to be vigilant while pruning plants to avoid harming or exposing any nests, eggs, or chicks.

Mid-April saw the return of painted buntings to Beaufort County. At Palmetto Bluff, the bragging rights for first sighting went to the Conservancy’s executive director, Jay Walea. A rainbow-colored male became a regular at the Conservancy classroom’s bird feeders, and it will hopefully stick around for the summer.

Painted bunting at the Conservancy.
Painted bunting at the Conservancy.

The flycatchers returned with sightings of great crested flycatchers, eastern kingbirds, eastern wood-pewees, and Acadian flycatchers. The great crested flycatcher is the only eastern species to nest in tree cavities and should begin building nests in the Conservancy’s cavity nest boxes come May.

In Barge Landing, a blue grosbeak and black-and-white warbler were spotted while the “pit-ti-tuk” calls of summer tanagers could be heard through the woods of River Road Preserve. Yellow-throated and red-eyed vireos began their inquisitive calls of, “Where are you? Here I am! I am here!” in the canopy of River Road Preserve. For anyone who spent time around Longfield Stables, the cattle egrets were seen strutting behind the horses in search of insects. Lastly, yellow-billed cuckoos were heard at night calling and gorging themselves on tent caterpillars, which in turn were feeding on newly formed oak leaves.

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

The aforementioned species will all be likely sightings in May with the peak of migration occurring early in the month. May is a great time to look for the swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites as more individuals arrive from their South American wintering grounds. In the past, Mississippi kites were seen around Wilson Village and the Duck Pond while swallow-tailed kites have already been documented this year around The Farm.

Mississippi kite.
Mississippi kite.

In 2020, a peculiar, solitary bobwhite quail was residing in the wetland by the Conservancy classroom; a year-round species, bobwhites are not normally seen in the developed areas of Palmetto Bluff. Maybe he will find his way back to Moreland? Chimney swifts will also arrive in May, which is a great reminder to make sure your chimney caps are in good shape, and to always check the flue before lighting any fires.

While Baltimore orioles are the more commonly documented species of oriole in Beaufort County, they leave for the summer and are replaced by the slightly more elusive orchard orioles. It has been a long time since orchard orioles were last documented at Palmetto Bluff, but keep your eyes peeled for these black and chestnut-colored beauties. And last, but certainly not least, look out for any warblers, grosbeaks, and buntings passing through or claiming territory at the Bluff. A warbler of particular interest to the Conservancy’s educator is the ovenbird. They have been observed in River Road Preserve, Sandhill Loop, and Headwaters Nature trail and the educator would love to hear of any sightings of this unique warbler species.

Ovenbird
Ovenbird

For those who wish to get involved in bird watching, on Saturday, May 8th the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will be hosting the annual Global Big Day. This event is an all-day effort to document as many birds as possible during peak migration. In 2020, the Conservancy documented a total of 60 species which included nine species of warbler, a wood thrush, and yellow-billed cuckoos. To participate, either submit checklists through the eBird app, or register for one of the Conservancy bird walks scheduled on the big day. The Conservancy is looking forward to the global event and encourages everyone to join in on the fun!

May brings the same excitement as April when it comes to bird diversity. If you see or photograph something you wish to share, you can submit your sightings to Aaron Palmieri at apalmieri@pbconservancy.org and they may appear in next month’s update!

April’s Unique Sightings:

  • Leucistic Bluebird (Barge Landing)
  • Swallow-tailed Kite (Old Moreland Road)
  • Painted Bunting (Conservancy Classroom)
  • Eastern Kingbird (Longfield Stables)
  • Cattle Egret (Longfield Stables)
  • Blue Grosbeak (Barge Landing)
  • Black-and-white Warbler (Barge Landing)
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee (Managed Forest)
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Managed Forest)

April Contributors:

Jean Andersen, Jay Walea, Brian Byrne, Carol Riddick, John Capps, Jeanne & Paul Yhouse, Annie Kosh, Gail Garcia

Click to open a printable version.
Click to open a printable version.

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