I went to Moratoc Park in Williamston last week to see what I could see. It is a nice place for an early walk or a picnic overlooking the Roanoke River, which is the heart of an expansive bottomland forest system spanning multiple counties. My birding companion and I observed American Redstart, Yellow-throated Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Summer Tanager singing as we walked along the gameland trail (a dirt road along the river’s edge west of the little park). We also had Purple Martin, Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blue Grosbeak, Common Yellowthroat, and Great Blue Heron from the wooden deck around the park’s main building. There was a pair of Spotted Sandpipers bobbling along the far sandy bank of the river.
East of the park, the nearby Wildlife Commission boat ramp at the Roanoke River is a good place to see barn swallows and cliff swallows, which are currently nesting under the US17-US13 highway bridge. The barn swallows are recognized by their long forked tails. The cliff swallows are less common and this is a good place to find them each year. Like the barn swallows, cliffs are “red-white-and-blue” (really rust-red, ivory color, and steely blue-black) but they have squared-off, blunt tails. It is a little hard to distinguish the two species as they fly swiftly back and forth, but very impressive to see their aerobatics and the mud nests they build under the bridge.
Closer to our area, one of my favorite local hotspots is Oakdale Cemetery in Washington. It is a safe place to walk and observe many bird species. There are paved driveways or you can walk on grassy lanes. If you have mobility issues, you can bird from your parked car at the edge of a variety of habitats, from open meadowy field, to forest edge, and even a cypress wetland.
At present, the cemetery harbors a Blue Grosbeak at its eastern edge. There are also Eastern Kingbirds which fly around a pair of large sycamore trees in the newer section. These mature sycamore trees are also a favorite of an Orchard Oriole immature male that is singing in the cemetery at present. The oriole is dirty yellow and black (whereas mature males are rich brown and black), and flies from one large tree to another, singing for a few minutes, then going to the next tree to sing.
There is also an Indigo Bunting that sings more or less constantly from trees around the wheat field and treeline just north of the cemetery’s edge. This brilliant turquoise-blue individual is not too hard to spot if you are patient and listen carefully for its location while it sings. Like the Orchard Oriole, it will sing for a while from one tree, then suddenly switch locations and you’ll hear it singing from a different direction.
Still another bird that frequents the unmowed new ground at the northeast notch of the cemetery is the Eastern Meadowlark. These birds nest in rough grassy areas and often sing from a little hillock in the field or from a tree branch over the field’s edge. Year-round, there is also a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes in the cemetery. They perch in a macabre way on old headstones, somewhat fitting for their predatory habits. The birds are completely innocent of any anthropomorphic perceptions, of course.
To find any of these species, get familiar with their songs on the web, then go and listen for them in the locations mentioned above. Walking is permitted in the cemetery, but no dogs, bikes, or litter. Please be respectful of mourners and any funerals in progress. Usually mornings are a good time to visit.