Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Warblings in Wake!

Emails were flying around over the long weekend about a pair of Warbler Vireos nesting in Raleigh.  I really wanted to see these birds, but was stuck up in New England (looking at different Warbling Vireos, among other birds).  So as soon as I got home and had the chance, I zipped out to Shelley Lake Park to see them for myself.

Why are these birds so special?  Well, just take a look a Cornell's breeding range map for the species...

(map by Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Central North Carolina is just about the only spot in the country that these birds should not be breeding.  Yet here one is nesting in Wake County....

Female Warbling Vireo nesting in Raleigh
And this is a species that is tricky to find anywhere in NC (state bird #313 for me!).

I've heard birders say that song birds don't sing when they're sitting on eggs.

Male Warbling Vireo singing while incubating

Well it wasn't true with this pair at least.  I saw the female fly off the nest and then off to forage and the male take her place and continue singing away while incubating the eggs (a rare male multi-tasker!).  And when he wasn't on the nest he was very busy chasing away grackles.

It will be interesting to see how this pair does so far out of their expect range and in a spot with such a high density of nest predators (i.e. grackles, crows, Blue Jays). The odds-makers on the carolinabirds listeserve don't seem to have much confidence!

Congratulation to Lynn Erla Beagle and her group from Wake Audubon for finding this unusual pair.  And thanks to Mike Turner for posting detailed instructions and GPS coordinates that many folks (including me) used to easily locate the nest. 


  1. Hi Scott,
    So glad you were able to get to Shelley Lake to see the Warbling Vireos! This is the best bird our Wake Audubon Meetup has ever found. I try to lead a birding trip about every week to various parks; I like Shelley Lake and Lake Lynn for weekday morning trips, as the birds are used to people. (These parks tend to be too busy on the weekends.) Our weekend (Sat or Sun) destinations include Historic Yates Mill/Inwood Road, Lake Crabtree County Park, and Blue Jay Point.
    I invite all novice birders (and accomplished ones, too), to join our walks. For more information on our trips, please visit these sites FREQUENTLY (I often don't know my schedule until a few days before): http://www.wakeaudubon.org/ (click on Get Involved, Calendar)
    And you can RSVP or see photos and birding lists at http://www.meetup.com/Wake-Audubon-Meetup/events/calendar/

    -- LOVE your Warbling Vireo photos, Scott! We will try to keep on eye on this nesting pair to see how they fare.
    - Lynn Erla Beegle

  2. Location of the Warbling Vireos (and other cool birds at Shelley Lake): Wake County, Raleigh, approx 1400 West Millbrook Road (just east of the intersection with Lead Mine Road). There are TWO parking lots for Shelley Lake; to see just the vireos, try the smaller, more easterly lot, which is at the base of the earthen dam. Walk counterclockwise to the east end of the dam. The first grove of trees/shrubs at the base of the dam is part of the "WV" territory; the next grove contains their sycamore and nest.
    Coordinates (thanks, Mike Turner!) are 35.857479,-78.659954

  3. Other neat birds at Shelley Lake (remember, it's MUCH TOO BUSY on the weekends - strollers, dogs, bicycles, and runners)
    Park at the main lot (Sertoma Arts Center, 1400 West Millbrook Road) and walk down to the lake (the path leading down is good for thrushes). Mile marker 2 (the start and end of the loop) is at the large bridge. On the bridge, look for killdeer and spotted or solitary sandpiper on the mudflats. Then turn around and walk counter-clockwise around the lake. MAKE SURE you turn LEFT at the crossroads to stay on Shelley Lake Trail for this 2-mile circle. The soccer field area of the lake has plenty of BROWN THRASHERS and BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCHES.
    The WARBLING VIREOS are near the base of the east end of the dam in a sycamore tree. You will also find a pair of nesting ORCHARD ORIOLES at the east end of the dam. (And plenty of nesting grackles; they moved in this year.) At mile marker 1, look for a pine tree in the distance, stained silver with bird guano. There are two GREAT BLUE HERON nests there. You can easily see the nests if you stand at the signpost and crossroads for Shelley-Lake/North-Hills and turn around, looking back toward the lake. Each tree fledged four young, the first recorded nesting of herons at Shelley Lake.
    Turn left to continue on the trail. Turn left again when you cross the small bridge.
    Near mile marker 1 1/4 look for a large dead pine tree in the distance, west of the trail (on your right). The pine tree has many holes in it. One of the holes is a PILEATED WOODPECKER nest. Just a few yards after you pass this tree in the distance, look for a pine tree right next to the trail and covered with vines. That tree had a baby GREAT HORNED OWL in it last week. Between mile marker 1 1/4 and mile marker 1 3/4, look for GREAT HORNED OWLS sleeping in the trees. At mile marker 1 3/4, look for a grove of dead trees between the path and the lakeshore. The closest tree is the nesting tree of a pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS. The trail ends 1/4 mile later at the large bridge.
    Nifty stuff at Shelley Lake! Please send any unusual sightings to Lynn Erla Beegle at Optmystc1(at)gmail.com Thanks, everyone!

  4. OK, I am writing too much, I know, but here are the dates: April 27 Warbling Vireo heard by Wake Audubon Meetup... May 4 Warbling Vireo seen and heard, a PAIR, by Wake Audubon Meetup (Randy Whittington convinced me that they really were Warbling Vireos), placed on ebird but not reported elsewhere; May 23, saw and heard the bird again and realized it was NOT just migrating through, so I posted a request on carolinabirds email to ask for confirmation of the identity. I apologize for taking so long to get the word out! Lynn Erla Beegle

  5. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for all the details! Sorry for not given you and Wake Audubon proper credit for the find (but I'll edit that into my post).

    I remember reading your ebird report back in April, but was too busy to followup on it and wasn't aware of anybody else had tried until the recent listserve posts.

    It shows that self-proclaimed "novices" can find rare birds too. Hopefully there will be more to come!

    Keep us posted on the status of the nest.