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Three Rivers Land Trust held our 8th annual Uwharrie Naturalist Day on May 4, 2019. We hosted a birdwatching event on our Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve. This is a property that The Land Trust bought in 2017 and is 104-acres and houses some old growth and some restored longleaf pine forest. The prior landowner had owned this tract for 25+ years and implement restoration efforts including a rigorous prescribed burning regime, which has created a utopia for wildlife and plants.

We met at the property at 7:00am and were led by Brian O’Shea, Collections Manager for Ornithology at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Brian has a B.A. in Biology from Reed College and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Louisiana State University. Brian has led a hike for us this weekend for several years in a row, and is an expert birder. He catalogued a bird list of 45 species from our morning walk, pointing out many of them to us as we hiked. We stopped and played a playback of their calls to try to lure them in close enough to see and photograph.

Most of these birds are neotropical migrants who fly thousands of miles from Central and South America and nest in our forests in the spring and summer, because we have longer hours of daylight than their tropical homes in which they can catch prey for their young. The males are quite territorial and will fly in to investigate when we play their call.

The first bird we heard and called in was an Orchard Oriole. We saw both the male and the female. The male is orange and black and the female was a pale yellowish-green color. We then spotted several field sparrows. The next bird we heard was a blue-gray gnatcatcher that came in to the call and let us get a good look at him. An indigo bunting called next but he didn’t come in close enough for me to get a picture of him. We then heard a prairie warbler and he was very attracted by his call and I got an excellent picture of him on a longleaf pine tree with the needles in the background. A scarlet tanager came in to our call next but the lighting wasn’t great for a picture.

We crossed over the railroad track that bisects this preserve and spotted a blue grosbeak atop a longleaf pine. We then found a garter snake that posed gracefully for us, flicking his tongue in and out. We then encountered a box turtle nearby and were able to get some pictures of him as well.  A white-eyed vireo came in to a call and as we were looking at him a ruby-throated hummingbird stopped briefly on a branch. I was not quick enough to get a picture of him but one of our other attendees got a great shot.

We continued on to the powerline and there we found a rare plant known to be on this property in bloom, blue flag iris (Iris prismatica). Also in bloom in the powerline were Barbara’s buttons, also a showy flower this time of year. We made our loop back to the start of the property and saw a few more birds along the way, but nothing that came in very close. We called to a black and white warbler a few times but he wasn’t very interested.

It was slightly overcast and pretty humid, but still a great morning to venture outside, and we were rewarded with a huge variety of intriguing birds we spotted. This was our first year doing the event at the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve, and we had a great time there and will likely go back again, so if you missed it this year, make plans to join us next year around this same time.