A week of Nature’s surprises

Great blue heron and cormorant at Airlie Gardens

We had an unusual series of unexpected run-ins with the wonders of nature, both out on our daily roaming and in our backyard. The banner at the top of this post shows the pageant of turtles out sunning themselves at Airlie Gardens during our visit this week. The annual highlight is the azaleas in bloom. That was a few weeks ago, and it didn’t matter at all, there are so many lovely vistas within the garden. We will go back for another visit to walk on more of the trails.

I’ve seen a lot of bluebird boxes, but rarely have I found one with an active nest. Now there’s one in our yard! Since we arrived, the egg(s) have hatched, and we see both parent birds flying back and forth across the yard delivering food. The other day, I even caught a glimpse of the little mouth that appears to be about 50% of the baby bird at this point.

The next day we found a baby bluebird was out of the box!

Pileated woodpecker we saw in Montana, just like the one we saw this week in our backyard in Wilmington, NC

We sit in our backyard in the late afternoon sipping tea, or iced tea, and play a few hands of gin rummy. A lot of birds circle around, and I’ve gotten in the habit of having my binoculars at hand. One evening, I spotted a bird on top of the electrical tower that passes behind us, a peregrine falcon!

Later, Jonathan pointed out a woodpecker on a dead tree. I was able to get my sights on it and Wow! it was a pileated woodpecker. These are big, red-headed birds, uncommon though widespread. The last one we saw was in Montana, and I didn’t think I’d ever see another. It will date me, but below is a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, where you can see an animated view of these birds. (After the first ten seconds, you’re on your own. I don’t know how to cut out a clip….)

Look at that tail! (Internet photo)

We went looking for a beach access point near the Ft. Fisher and Bald Head Island ferries. We didn’t find any place open to the public, though we got to see some interesting neighborhoods south of the ferry landing. As we were heading back to the main road, Jonathan stopped, saying, “that’s not a squirrel!” I looked over and saw an animal on the tree that had a mottled head, pale chest, and a long, long furry tail. With the binoculars, we followed it into the trees, then looked back at the tree where it had been. There was a squirrel where it had been, reinforcing the fact we’d seen something else. When we got home and had a chance to look at images, we found that we’d seen a long-tailed weasel, a rarely seen animal. There was even a request to report the location of our sighting to a state wildlife monitor.

Often, the impressive sights we see pass so quickly that they can’t be recorded, like the day we saw dolphins just offshore at Fort Fisher, three gray arches as they each dove in and out of the waves. Or when we see an osprey crash into the water and come out holding a fish in its talons. At this time of year, all the nests are occupied.

Mississippi kite on its nest (backyardbirdcam.com)

Other times, we can see an intriguing sight but cannot get a photo. At Greenville Lake, a park not far from us in Wilmington, Jonathan spotted a bird on a nest high in a pine tree. We could see it clearly with binoculars, but it was so far from us that without a very long (and bulky and heavy) camera lens, a photo was impossible. The head of the bird was white, with a dark spot near the eye and we were able to identify it as a Mississippi kite sitting on its nest. A great thing to see and remember.

It’s been quite a week of nature observation. Who knows what next week will bring?


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

2 thoughts on “A week of Nature’s surprises

  1. How incredible to see those bluebirds feeding their chicks! Rare sight indeed. Thanks for sharing your nature adventures. Happy Mother’s Day. 😘


  2. Such fun! You see to be in the catbird’s seat for nature watching…love your posts!


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