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Birds are out even when it’s hot

Despite stultifying hot and humid weather, during the last two weeks of August, birders around the county observed over 90 species.  Adept piedmont birder Bill Hooker, who found the Peregrine Falcon at the Estuarium in early August as mentioned in my previous column, found a Mississippi Kite soaring over Bath Elementary School.  He also sighted Forster’s Terns and Royal Terns at Bonner Point in Bath, as well as a Common Tern at the Aurora boating access.

Scores of bluebirds may be easily seen right now at Washington’s Oakdale Cemetery, around the north end on Market Street.  Young bluebirds are hunting in groups with their parents.  They find the headstones excellent perches from which to swoop down on insects in the grass.  The young ones are mottled, with some gray-blue patches, and the adults are bright blue or brown-and-blue.  Listen for their call, “tru-ly” or “cheer-ly.”

Among songbirds, early southbound migrants spotted during the last week of August included American Redstart and Red-Eyed Vireo, as well as a Black-and-White Warbler seen by a resident in Pamlico Plantation.

Speaking of Peregrine Falcons, in addition to being the world’s fastest creatures, their eyesight is extremely keen, an adaptation to hunting prey from great heights.  Their black facial markings are thought to help prevent glare that would impair their vision, much as football players wear black paint under their eyes for this purpose.

Peregrine Falcons are a worldwide species, and live in a great variety of habitats from desert to near-arctic locations.  Interestingly, the size and darkness of the falcons’ face markings varies by the location they inhabit.

This provides an opportunity to test the solar glare hypothesis.  Researchers assessed photographs of falcons from in different locations around the world to determine if there is a statistically significant link between the degree of dark facial markings and the differing solar radiation levels of regions where falcons lived.  There are other hypotheses that have been proposed to explain the variation in facial markings, including the relative wetness or coolness of the local climate.  To learn more about the conclusions of the study, you can visit ebird.org/news.

The summer nesting season of shorebirds has concluded, and immature as well as adult birds are congregating on the beaches for their great push southward.  Last week at Bogue Banks (Pine Knoll Shores and Fort Macon State Park) I saw several Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, Sanderlings, Whimbrels, a Semipalmated Plover, and a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.  If you make a trip to enjoy a late visit to the beach, be a good steward and allow shorebirds to forage and rest without disturbance from pets or humans.