“No one is free; even the birds are chained to the sky,” penned singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.
It’s hard to argue with an artistic genius who has received the Nobel Prize in Literature, but perhaps Dylan has never visited J. Bayard Clark Park in Fayetteville, where birds sing and flitter freely.
More than 100 resident and migrating bird species enjoy freedom in this park, which is part of the North Carolina Birding Trail that links educational and historical attractions with communities and businesses across the state.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler
Several avian residents are warblers, including the black-throated blue warbler aptly named for the male’s color scheme. His midnight-blue back and head combine with a black face and throat; together they contrast sharply with his white belly. A female looks so different that she once was considered a separate species. She has blue tints on the wings and tail; otherwise, she is grayish olive overall. Both sexes have a small white square, sometimes called a handkerchief, on the wings.
After these warblers return from wintering in the Caribbean, they can be found in hardwood and mixed hardwood-evergreen forests where they dine on insects in the understory and lower canopy of the trees. Like other warblers, they flutter from branch to branch in search of spiders, flies and caterpillars, often on the underside of vegetation, such as leaves and twigs. The males, aggressive defenders of their territories, sing to defend their boundaries, and occasionally females join in a song that consists of up to seven notes, described as “buzzy,” that rise in pitch at the end.
The Louisiana waterthrush is another bird that migrates to Clark Park after wintering in the Caribbean and other points south. Although its name implies that it is a thrush – with its long legs and long body it looks like one – it is also a warbler. In fact, it is the second largest wood warbler.
Unlike many warblers, the male waterthrush does not sing on its wintering grounds. When it arrives at its breeding territory, the male begins to sing immediately. Its song is a sweet, loud series of up to five slightly descending whistled notes that are followed by short, rapid phrases. In addition to its song, it’s also recognized by how it constantly bobbles its tail as it walks, particularly along small streams where it feeds on aquatic and flying insects and sometimes gobbles up tadpoles and small fish. It also likes to dine on insects and earthworms.
Although this bird has Louisiana in its name, its breeding area ranges as far north as New England and west as Kansas. Its habitats are streams and other wet areas, where it nests in dense vegetation along the water’s edge in a small cavity or under a fallen log. This bird, less distinguishing in appearance than the black-throated blue warbler, has a brown back with white undersides streaked with black. A white “eyebrow” stripe gives some stylish charm.
Another long-distant migrant that calls Clark Park home is the blue grosbeak. After it nests in our area, it flies across the Caribbean to reach its winter grounds. A stocky songbird, it has a large triangular bill that seems to cover most of its face. In fact, the bill inspires its name: “gros” means “large” in French, and when combined with “beak” aptly describes this bird.
The male is deep blue overall, while the female and young are cinnamon. Both have sporty wing bars, brown for females and chestnut for males. Mating pairs breed in a mix of grass, flowering plants and shrubs with a few trees. Grosbeaks forage generally on the ground and in low vegetation where they find insects such as grasshoppers and crickets to eat, but the diet also includes seeds, grains and wild fruits. In July, they can be one of the few singing birds in shrubby or old-field habitats.
In the summer, the males sing frequently from high, exposed perches, and they also sing to defend their nesting territories, which can extend up to twenty acres for each breeding pair. Their songs are rich and warble continuously for two or three seconds.
A bird appreciation walking group, open to adults and mature children, meets at 8:15 on the second Tuesday morning of each month in the park. As they walk park trails, they collect information about bird locations and behavior, listen for songs and look for species. Some participants assist park rangers with bird surveys. Participation is free; advance registration (call 910-433-1579) is recommended.
Three unpaved trails, mostly level but not suitable for wheelchairs, wind through the park and along the Cape Fear River and afford ample opportunity to appreciate the freedom that birds enjoy on the park’s 76 acres. The short (0.3-mile) Laurel Trail traverses mature pines and young hardwoods. The Bear Trail (0.6-mile) passes through pine forest, old agricultural fields and an uplands habitat. The Wetlands Trail (0.6 mile) features hardwood bottomlands and native cane grass. Incidentally, the trail head for the 147-mile paved Cape Fear River Trail that continues all the way to the mouth of the river in Southport is in Clark Park.
Named for a congressman who was an avid outdoorsman, the park on Sherman Drive about three miles north of downtown Fayetteville is a wonderful regional treasure. Maps and trail guides are available at the park’s nature center, which also has exhibits on local wildlife and information on birds. This month the center is open every day until 5 p.m., and the park grounds can be accessed daily during daylight hours.
Other songbirds prominent in the park include several already described in this series such as the yellow-billed cuckoo, brown-headed nuthatch, hooded warbler, summer tanager and indigo bunting. Although the birds of Clark Park are not “Like a Rolling Stone,” they do have freedom like they’re “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Perhaps Dylan should visit soon.
OutreachNC has embarked on a yearlong series that highlights regional sites of the N.C. Birding Trail. Enjoy the series as contributor Ray Linville explores beautiful landscapes and birds of our home state. He can be reached at email@example.com.