Greenville Life in the East - Summer 2022

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Greenville LIFE in the EAST


Nature takes wing ENC a haven for bird lovers INSIDE:


Great Blue Heron at Time for Science in Grifton in March. Marian Swinker

PHOTOGRAPHIC PURSUIT: Publisher Robin L. Quillon Editor Bobby Burns

Hobby allows retired Brody doc to capture the beauty of birds and the natural world.


Contributing writers Ginger Livingston, Melissa Glen, Emily Bronson, Kim Grizzard, Christina Ruotolo Photographers Jerry Lotterhos, Katie Gipple Lubbock, Willow Abbey Mercando, Marian Swinker Regional Advertising Director

Greenville native focuses on home state in new field guide.


Club helps bird-watching interests take flight at River Park North


Artist Beth Clark finds inspiration in her own backyard.

Craig Springer

Advertising representatives Christina Ruotolo, Lewis Smith & Rubie Smith Creative services director Jessica Harris Creative services Lora Jernigan

FLYING HIGH AT SYLVAN HEIGHTS: Tiny Scotland Neck hosts nation’s second largest bird conservatory.


Mike Berg of Wild Birds Unlimited offers guidance, advice

4-6 8-9 10-13 14-18 22-27 28-30

Layout design Jasmine Coward Greenville: Life in the East is a publication of The Daily Reflector and Adams Publishing Group ENC. Contents may not be reproduced without the consent of the publisher.

Greenville LIFE in the EAST


Welcome to the first all-bird issue of Greenville Life in the East, an edition about our area’s love of birds and birdwatching. The idea for this issue germinated with an inquiry from bird guide author Marc Parnell, a Greenville native whose love for nature grew in the fields, woods and wetlands of eastern North Carolina. That got us thinking that a lot of folks around here share Parnell’s avian interests, certainly enough for several stories for the summer issue. So, from there, the work took off. One of my jobs at The Daily Reflector is compiling the Community News column that appears on page A2, where we publish all the wonderful photos that people share with us. Regular readers will know that many depict scenes of the area’s natural beauty, and often come to us from local birdwatchers such as Marian Swinker, Howard Vainright and others who photograph some fine images of our feathered friends. Swinker’s photo graces the cover of this edition, and she was nice enough to allow us to visit with her and have a peek at how she captures her vivid images.

Nature takes wing ENC a haven for bird lovers INSIDE:


Photographer Marian Swinker captured this image of a little downey woodpecker, about the size of a sparrow, back in April. Summer 2022

This issue highlights the activities of backyard birdwatchers and how some have turned their pursuits into careers and enterprises like Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Halifax County, about 45 miles north of Greenville. The park is home to more than 260 species and 2,000 individual birds, making it the second largest bird collection in the United States. Throughout the issue, pages feature photographs of the birds our sources have shared. There is so much material here, honestly, we feel like we are just pecking the surface and can make this an annual edition. Please give us your feedback at and maybe we can do it again next year. Enjoy.

— Bobby Burns Greenville Magazine


Dr. Marian Swinker photographs insects and flowers in her garden with a macro lens at her home in Winterville on Wednesday, June 15.

Swinker holds her camera. "If there's beauty I have to capture it," she said.

Photographic Pursuit Hobby allows retired Brody doc to capture the beauty of birds and the natural world By Ginger Livingston


By Willow Abbey Mercando & Marian Swinker

hether the first daffodil of the season, a cardinal with bedhead or two coyotes crossing a pasture, Marian Swinker has captured images that reveal the delights of eastern North Carolina’s natural world. “If there is beauty out there, I have to capture it,” Swinker said. “I don’t know why. I don’t exhibit, I don’t sell anything. I just do it for me and it’s been fun.” What started as fun for Swinker now delights thousands of people throughout Greenville and Pitt County. She is part of a group of photographers whose work is routinely featured in the community news page of The Daily Reflector. "I know people like them ... because they tell me how much they like them when they come up in conversation or with the


occasional comment via email," said Bobby Burns, executive editor. "We run them with the community calendar and it's a perfect fit — news about community activities and events with photos from community members of beautiful moments in nature in our community." Swinker and her family moved to Pitt County in 1994 when she accepted a post at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine in the area of occupational and environmental medicine. She was in charge of employee health and infection control, radiation safety and biomedical safety. “There were lots of things that were routine such as making sure health care workers had their immunizations and TB (tuberculosis) tests. We would follow up with blood exposures

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Summer 2022

Redbellied woodpecker

Eastern bluebird

Hummingbird relaxing

Bedhead cardinal

or infections,” she said. People who cared for animals used in research had another set of vaccinations that had to be monitored. Her office investigated if there were accidents in research laboratories. “That’s what I like, there was the routine and every once in a while, something different,” Swinker said. The family moved to their current home, 12 acres of pastures and woodlands, outside Winterville 20 years ago. Swinker awakens daily to the sight of deer and wild turkeys, with an occasional fox thrown into the mix. Her husband once saw a bear walking down the road leading to their home. Born in Pennsylvania, Swinker said she always loved the outdoors. Her home was near a wooded area and she loved to walk and explore. “I always loved photography. Back in high school I had a little Brownie camera and took pictures. When I was in college I had a summer job and I was able to buy a good SLR (single lens reflex camera) and took a lot of pictures back then,” she said. “When I went to medical school I didn’t have time and then the camera got old.” About seven years ago, Swinker decided she wanted to take up photography again, photographing plants and the wildlife around her home. When she retired two years later, her photography hobby grew. “There’s all kinds of birds that I never saw when I was going to work because when you go to work you get up, get dressed and rush out the door,” she said. “I’ve seen things that were probably always here that I didn’t pay attention to.” She bought better camera equipment and a tripod that she set up near her breakfast table. She took photographs of birds feasting at a feeder and insects visiting nearby plants. She would explore the landscaping around her pool. It was there she found a bee snoozing in a hibiscus bloom. In a garage she found a spider that built its web every night only to take it down in the morning. She took classes as ASAP Photo and Video, bought more camera lenses and joined the local chapter of Carolina Nature Photography Association, which draws people from across the region. There she picked up helpful hints, inspiration and learned about the technical aspects of photography. She also posts images on a bird sharing website where she gets common sense advice on identifying birds. “You have to do something. I always like to have a focus, a project, something to be interested in. I love nature, I love being outdoors. I just love pretty things,” Swinker said. Swinker saw the work of local photographers featured in The Daily Reflector’s community news section so she submitted a few images. “Some of them are pretty and I thought I would share them because otherwise I would have thousands of pictures on my

Canada geese

Hummingbird vists garenia blossom

computer with no need or purpose,” she said. The feedback was immediate and positive with people urging her to send in more of her work. "The images are just so vivid and bright and make you feel like you are right there, in fact even better than being right there," Burns said. "I have taken a lot of photographs, and I stink. The reason she is so good, I am guessing, is because it really takes patience and practice and hard work. It's not something you can do casually. It's obvious that it's a passion with her — she not someone who just goes out and gets lucky with her iPhone. Swinker said not everybody gets out in nature and sees the things she captures so she enjoy giving people glimpses of the world she sees. “It may sound stupid but it gives me great joy to know that nature is going on,” she said. Capturing the first daffodil blooms is one of her favorite activities. “I know it looks the same every year but it’s a miracle when it happens every year,” she said. Her current focus is hummingbirds. This year is the first time she’s photographed a fully adult male hummingbird with its bright red neck. She knew at least one was around because of the number of babies she saw every year. She photographed a juvenile male, with its partly red throat previously.

Her goal is to now capture the birds in flight away from the feeder. “COVID slowed me down a lot as far as going to meetings and workshops. I would love to get back into going to some of the workshops where you take pictures of things that you might not have and then they do critiques,” she said. “I would like to be able to do more night photography. I would like to capture the Milky Way.” She sees parts of the Milky Way when she looks south, but other light pollution spilling over from Greenville blocks the view. She has no plans to exhibit her photographs or enter them in contests because printing photographs is a skill she is still learning. “At first you are happy you captured (an image) even if it isn’t in perfect focus, but over time you get more particular. You want the right lighting, you want the right degree of sharpness versus softness. There will always be something new to learn,” she said. However, her sister has used one of her photographs for a brochure she produced for a conference and some people have, with her permission, based paintings on her photographs. “To me it is the creation, the capture and enhancing the image. I don’t want to get into competition … there are still some things I want to learn,” she said.

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BIRDS OF NC Greenville native focuses on home state in new field guide By Melissa Glen


inding birds is easy when you know where to look, and one Greenville native is helping locals do just that with a new bird identification guide. Marc Parnell, a naturalist with a passion for birding, published the guide last year. “Birds of North Carolina,” a part of The Birding Pro's Field Guides series, includes a full-page photo for each species of bird. It also includes facts about the species, behavioral back stories and day-in-the-life narrations. “This is actually the first-ever birding guide to ever feature monthly birding forecasts for each species, which is a pretty groundbreaking innovation for the field,” Parnell said. “This feature allows readers to determine in advance the very best times to locate all 144 of the most common birds in North Carolina.” When working on the book, Parnell said he followed a three-fold process that included: observing each species during different months in different habitats, reflecting on his findings, then compiling the data. Parnell said he got the idea for the book after talking with fellow birders in the area who brought his attention to the information lacking in the current field guides. “Most field guides on birding encompass the continent-wide level,” he said. “They target the entirety of North America or eastern North America, but they are not really narrowing things down to the state level.” He wanted to give readers an easier way of identifying birds by only showing them the birds most likely to visit them. For this reason, he made the guide specific to birds in North Carolina. “There’s a really beautiful variety of habitats in North Carolina that people aren’t quite appreciative of and when you add that onto the plethora of birdlife that exists in the Outer Banks and along the coast, it is one of the absolutely best states in the country to view a wide variety of bird life,” Parnell said. “I am a proud North Carolinian, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to serve the state with this book.” For Parnell, this passion for birding started from a very young age after attending many nature camps as a child. He said he owes a lot of his interest in the field to his time in Greenville and its surrounding areas in particular. “I vividly recall visits to the Tar River, which is across the street from my childhood home, as well as to Little Washington as a young child,” he said. “Throughout the years, it was a passion that grew into an obsession for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Parnell said some of the main features of Pitt County that make it perfect for birding are the beautiful fields and cropland that the area offers. “Even just your everyday agricultural field will offer unparalleled opportunities to observe a wide variety of open country species,” he said. According to Parnell, these bird species include the killdeer, red-tailed hawk,


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brown thrasher, and Carolina wren. Along with fields and cropland, Parnell gave some other suggestions when talking about the best places to find birds in or around Greenville.

RIVER PARK NORTH “River Park North first of all is a wonderful opportunity. It is right along the Tar River, and I think for the Tar River, that waterway offers abundant opportunities,” he said. Birds you may find there: Wood ducks with their young, large black and snake-like anhinga, a wide variety of blackbirds, flycatchers, and warblers, among other songbirds.

WASHINGTON/PAMLICO SOUND “The Pamlico Sound is the largest coastal lagoon in the entirety of the eastern United States and it offers many opportunities to view more coastal wildlife,” Parnell said. Birds you may find there: laughing gulls and even the occasional brown pelican.

Summer 2022

as $50 and all you really need is a pair of binoculars, a good field guide and a car.” Traveling is not even necessarily required for birding. According to Parnell, just by setting up a backyard feeding station and maintaining it regularly, you can attract more than 50 species each year just to your backyard. “That’s something that I hear from a lot of my readers, where they are eating their cereal in the morning, they are watching their feeders, referencing field guides occasionally, and enjoying all the birds that visit,” he said.

Marc Parnell

TOWN COMMON “The park space, in general, is excellent because it acts as a bit of a migratory sponge during the April, as well as August, weeks when birds are most likely to migrate,” Parnell said. “You are very likely to find as many as 40 to 50 birds if you were to visit for a couple of hours.” Parnell suggests anyone who is interested in bird watching as an activity to give it a try. “In such a time of economic uncertainty, bird watching is a really wonderful, low-cost activity that is highly accessible to almost anyone,” he said. “A pair of binoculars can cost as little

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FLOCKING TOGETHER Club helps bird-watching interests take flight at River Park North By Emily Bronson

By Willow Abbey Mercando & Jerry Lotterhos

Glyn Young, David Settle, Howard Vainright, Jerry Lotterhos and Rebecca Tatterson among memebrs of the River Park North Bird Club who gathered at the park in June.

Rachel Roper shows a photo taken of a Kentucky warbler during a bird club picnic at River Park North.


ne of the best spots around to watch birds also is home to a group of people who love to share everything they know about their favorite hobby — and they know a lot. Greenville’s River Park North, 1000 Mumford Road, has been the gathering place of the River Park North Bird Club


Roper looks through binoculars for birds at River Park North.

since 1988. The group of roughly 50 bird-watching members meets regularly to discuss all things related to the art of “birding,” as founding member Howard Vainright calls it. The park itself has been named the best bird-spotting location in Pitt County on the website eBird that club members Greenville Magazine

use regularly. Habitat including ponds, wetlands and the Tar River, combined with fields and forests, makes the 324acre park a perfect location for regular meetings and events the club hosts. “There’s a lot of common birds that are here year-round, but then you have a lot of birds that are migratory that are Summer 2022

coming from as far away as South America to spend our winter down there and then come back here during the summer,” said Vainright, who was the park’s director for years before he retired to watch birds, play golf and enjoy other pursuits full time. Although any time of the year is a good time to bird-watch, Vainright said, spring and fall are probably the best times of year to see the largest variety of bird species due to migration patterns, he said.

BEGINNERS, EXPERTS Most birdwatchers get their start from simply enjoying being outside, Vainright said. Either making it a goal to go out and look for birds or noticing them during a game of golf, he said bird-watching can be a primary activity or something you do while participating in other outdoor engagements. “I think the club gives people a resource to come in and learn about birds,” he said. “Most of the people in our club are not scientists. They just enjoy being outdoors and they enjoy feeding the birds in their backyards and learning a little about them.” While the club meets a good portion of the year, they do pause in the summer season and for winter holidays, Vainright said. After they come back from short breaks, members are always eager to come back and share their bird findings with one another. “One meeting every year, normally our Februar y meeting af ter the holidays, is designated for showand-tell,” Vainright said. “We didn’t have a guest speaker come in for that meeting.” Most other meetings consist of presentations by group members, scientists or guest speakers, Vainright said. “We have some scientists that are in the club, too, that are ECU biology Summer 2022

professors or graduate students. There are people that are very involved in birds in a lot of different areas and we can utilize their knowledge by getting them to come in and give presentations to our club,” Vainright said.

CAMERA READY Beyond River Park North, other locations around Greenville offer great spots for bird-watching, Vainright said. East Carolina University’s North Recreation Center has a different variety of birds due to the center’s pond and sandy shore line, Vainright said. “The habitat and area is great for birding,” Vainright said. “There’s a lot of places in downtown that may not be specifically great, but you have the greenways that are good places to walk and see birds.” Jerr y Lotterhos, the club’s ice president and a bird photographer, said he has been a birdwatcher all his life.

Mallard pair

Barred owl

Prothonotary warbler

Photos by Jerry Lotterhos at River Park North

Greenville Magazine


With the help of other members like Vainright, Lotterhos said his interest and knowledge of birds has broadened significantly. “ When I joined the bird club, that’s when I really got serious about photography and birds,” Lotterhos said He and his wife, Glyn Young, joined the club in the early 2000s and have been active members since. “I love the outdoors,” Lotterhos said. “And when I first started coming out here to this park, I was walking for exercise. I just started noticing the birds more and more and was able to talk to him (Vainright) about what I was seeing.” Lotterhos updates his own online gallery with a stream of photos of all types of birds. He said he doesn’t have a favorite bird to photograph, but some are easier to capture than others. “The birds in the field and most waterfowl are a lot easier to photograph,” Lotterhos said. He said the essential element is to have a camera at the ready at all times.

APP FOR THAT Presentations are a staple on the club’s list of activities, but Lotterhos said he thinks the social nature of the group is what makes it so enjoyable to him and other members. He s aid shar ing ph otog raphs , resources, locations, findings and equipment is truly what makes this club so interesting. “The other part of the club besides the programs, is just the sharing. We talk and share the types of things we’ve seen,” Lotterhos said. “The sharing, for me, is probably more important than the programs.” Young, who is the club’s the secretary, said watching, feeding and taking care of wild birds is “just fun.” Being able to recognize a bird species and take care of those who call her backyard home is what Young finds most enjoyable about the hobby. “We have Canada geese,” Young


said. “They’re really messy and people hate them, but we have babies that we have been feeding. When I go out in the morning, they are out and hollering. They’ll run up to you and you know, it’s just a fun activity.” Young said she uses eBird as well as another online resource produced by Cornell University called Merlin. Merlin is equipped with bird-call recognition and the ability to report findings and locations. Similar to eBird, the app is a great database for club members and all who are interested in birdwatching, Young said. “You can load that on your phone and you can hit the sound button and any bird around you that makes a sound, the app can tell you what type of bird it is,” she said of Merlin.

HERE AND THERE River Park North Bird Club is not just for residents of Pitt County. There are members from Wayne County and Goldsboro and there is interest from residents of Williamston, Washington and Robersonville. For those who are first starting out in bird-watching, Vainright and Young listed some species of native birds to look for in most eastern parts of North Carolina. Cardinals, mourning dove, mockingbirds and bluejays are some of the most common. “Before COVID became an issue, we used to, every year, do a big Pitt County eagle trip where we would get in the van and go to several sites in the county that were known eagle locations where bald eagles had nests or where they hung out,” Vainright said. David Settle, a long-time club member, said as great as Pitt County is for birdwatchers, he enjoys traveling to other parts of eastern North Carolina to see different birds that might not be found in large quantities in Greenville and closely surrounding areas. “I like a lot of areas outside of Pitt County,” Settle said. “I like Mattamuskeet Greenville Magazine

" The birds in the field and most waterfowl are a lot easier to photograph...” in Hyde County and Lake Phelps and Pungo because I like to see a variety of things. The club has sponsored trips down there.” The bird club puts together and sends out a newsletter to members and individuals who are simply interested in the hobby, Settle said. Information about the club’s upcoming events and meetings and local and migratory bird information can be found on the newsletter that is open for subscribers. “In the newsletter that comes out each month, there’s a very high volume of those birds (checklist on eBird),” Settle said. The club is open for new members and is excited to share information to citizens who are just interested in birds. You can birdwatch anywhere outside, Vainright said, it ’s an activit y for ever yone everywhere. “Birding is something that can be done as a primary activity or along with everything else you do,” Vainright said. “I play golf and every time I play, I also keep a count on eBird when I am going around the golf course.” Summer 2022

MORE INFORMATION The River Park North Bird Club generally meets in the Walter L. Stasavich Science and Nature Center at 7:30 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. Programs include guest speakers, local sightings, fieldtrips and organized bird counts. For information, call the park at 252.329.4577 or call Howard Vainright at 413-8292 or email To see more of the 225 species of bird who live and visit River Park, check out Jerry Letterhos' site,

Redbellied woodpecker

Osprey with fish



Photos by Jerry Lotterhos at River Park North 211 East Arlington Blvd. Greenville, NC

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Artist Beth Clark finds inspiration in her own backyard By Emily Bronson


Washington woman who has a passion for painting doesn’t have to go far for inspiration. Beth Clark is a professional musician who currently serves as director of music and organist at First Christian Church in Washington, but she has enjoyed drawing and painting since childhood. It was only natural that when she began to pursue art more seriously that it merged with another lifelong interest — birds. Most of her subjects are native to eastern North Carolina, or at least regular visitors. She said all she has to do to find them is step out her back door. “First place is your backyard,” Clark said during an interview in June. “I think you can see such a variety of birds in your backyard … Get a bluebird house, those are one of my favorite birds. We have several bluebird houses in our yard.” Now working on commission and painting just because she enjoys it, Clark said her one-time hobbies have become a part-time job. Her work is sold in galleries and shows across the region. “For some reason, I have always loved watching birds,” Clark said. “I think that was where my first interest in painting them began because some


Painted By Beth Clark of my first paintings years and years ago were watercolor paintings or coloredpencil drawings.” Clark said obviously the birds she paints don’t sit still for very long. Because of this, she photographs them at home and around town. The birds captured on her camera become subjects for her paintings and the photographs serve as her reference images, Clark said. “I was so excited when I got my first digital camera because it made capturing photos of birds so easy,” Clark said. “I’ve been painting for a long time, only seriously for about 12 years now, by seriously, I mean trying to paint every week instead of every once and a while.” In fact, she’s prolific. She sells her work online and at galleries including River Walk Gallery and Arts of the Pamlico in Washington and Belle Arts Gallery in Belhaven, she said. “And I have a lots of little bird paintings at MATTIE Arts Center in Swan Quarter.” As for what eastern North Carolina has to offer birdwatchers and even artists like herself, Clark said the first place every person should start is in their backyards. Native birds and those who are just stopping to visit during their long flights of migration, Clark said, can be found anywhere right outside in eastern parts of the state. Beyond her backyard but still in the Greenville Magazine

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stretches of Beaufort County is the Pamlico Sound, where all types of birds can be found. “Living in Washington, there’s a beautiful waterfront here where you can walk along the boardwalk and see herons and egrets, occasionally a duck or a goose,” Clark said. “Not too far from here is Lake Mattamuskeet where you can go and see lots of wildlife.” Clark currently is a “working-artist” at River Walk Gallery, 139 W. Main St. “River Walk is a co-op here in Washington, and you rent a space and you also are a part of a group that works together at the art gallery,” Clark said. “I have just started getting my feet wet, and so far it’s been a great experience.” She is also a member of Greenville Brushstrokes, a working group that hosts exhibits in Pitt County. Despite a tough time during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brushstrokes is starting to regroup, Clark said. As a friend of the River Park North Bird Club in Greenville, Clark said club founder Howard Vainright reached out to her a few months ago to see if she would be interested in giving a presentation to the club about her bird sightings and her creative process. During her presentation, Clark shared some of her artwork, the photographs she takes for reference images and some Continued on page 18

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Artist Beth Clark shows off one of her paintings at aTavola! Market Café in Greenville.

Continued from page 15 online resources she uses for free bird images “Howard called me last year back in November to do a talk, because he had seen my artwork on Facebook,” Clark said. “He wanted me to do a talk just sharing where I got my inspiration from and I talked about where the places I go to take pictures. A large part of her creative process is drawing, Clark said. Even before she started to paint portraits of birds professionally, she said she has always loved to draw and sketch the birds she sees. “I love to draw, I keep a sketchbook and I save everything,” Clark said. “It’s almost like a journal and I love that part of it (the creative process).” The first step of sketching the birds and their silhouettes, the final touches of adding highlights and shadows and every step in between is what Clark said she enjoys about her hobby and now part-time job.


“I love the final piece of it when you put on the final highlights because that’s really when the painting comes to life. That last part of the painting process is my favorite because that’s when I get to make it look more alive.” Clark said each of her paintings is special to her in its own unique way, but perhaps it should come as no surprise the subject of a current favorite is a scene is a cardinal she happened to see close to home. “People love cardinals,” Clark said. “And I do have a cardinal painting that I finished recently from a photo that I took in my backyard. We live on a farm and we rent out the land and the farmers plant something different periodically. “Last year we had corn, and the corn cast such a beautiful yellow-green backdrop for the photo. I found that, recently, that’s the one that I have enjoyed painting the most,” she said. Inspiration comes, she said, trying to recreate that scene from her own backyard. Greenville Magazine



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Summer 2022

Birds by Bob

Bob Williams, a Washington resident, photographer and regular contributor to The Daily Reflector, has captured images of birds throughout the Pamlico at locales including the Washington waterfront, Goose Creek State Park, Pungo Wildlife Refuge and Chocowinity Bay. Here are some samples.






Summer 2022

1. A crane walking along the banks of a fish pond looking for a meal east of Chocowinty. 2. A bald eagle feeding near Chocowinity. He kept running other birds away from his meal. 3. A momma duck with six new babies enjoying a swim along the Washington Park creek. 4. A cardinal seemed to be posing for this photo near Williams’ home in Washington. 5. A mallard enjoys the waterfront in Washington.

Greenville Magazine


Flying high at Sylvan Heights Flowers bloom outside the visitors’ center, where tourists can visit the gift shop or view an introductory video about Sylvan Heights.

Tiny Scotland Neck hosts nation’s second largest bird conservatory

By Kim Grizzard Sylvan Heights Bird Park founder and executive director Mike Lubbock moved from his native England to North Carolina, where he established a breeding center for waterfowl in the 1980s."I always wanted to get around the world, and waterfowl’s gotten me around the world," he said. "It’s been very interesting."

Flamingos wait to be fed inside the Landing Zone. Why do they stand on one leg? “A lot of waterfowl do it, not just flamingos,” Sylvan Heights Executive Director Mike Lubbock said. “It’s a way of relaxing, actually.”


By Katie Gipple Lubbock

dwards' pheasant, Baer’s pochard and the whitewinged duck are rare birds native to eastern Asia, but one of the best places to see all three is eastern North Carolina. They are among more than a dozen endangered species that make their home at Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck. Located 45 miles north of Greenville, this town has more birds than people. There are some 1,800 residents, compared with more than 2,000 feathered friends at the avian conservation center that has become this Halifax County community’s claim to fame. Some 60,000 visitors a year flock to the site that opened for the birds in 2006 as Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park. “Some people that came here thought that ‘waterfowl’ was ‘waterfall,’ so they brought their swimming trunks and things,” Executive Director Mike Lubbock said, laughing. “So what I did was change the name to bird park. They couldn’t mess that one up. It also gave us an excuse to go into a lot of other species, too.” The addition quite literally altered the complexion of the park, adding the showy shades of pink of the Chilean flamingo, the brilliant blue of the hyacinth macaaw and the ostentatious orange of the toco toucan. “In the summer I always felt kind of sorry for the public because all they could see were rather drab-looking birds,” Lubbock said, speaking of the molting after breeding season that causes male ducks to lose their gaudy plumage. “Now when people come here, there are always birds in color. There’s always something going on.” Even before the change, Sylvan Heights had plenty to tweet about, boasting 160 species of waterfowl, the world’s largest collection. But now showcasing everything from shore birds to parrots and emus to hummingbirds, the park is a rare bird indeed.

W i t h 26 0 sp e c ies represented, Sylvan Heights has about 100 more species of birds than the National Aviary, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and about twice the number as Salt Lake Cit y’s Tracy Aviary, the nation’s oldest aviary. The park, combined with the neighboring Avian Breeding Center, form the second largest bird collection in the United States. “There are very few other large aviaries in the country,” said Katie Gipple Lubbock, media and communications co o r di n a t o r f o r Sy lv a n Heights. “There are also a few private avian conservation centers around the country that are not open to the public. However, there are no other places in the United States that I'm aware of

where visitors can see and experience so may species of birds in the same upclose, immersive, and natural way that we offer at Sylvan Heights.” Sponsored by the North Carolina Zoological Society, the park features a design that is quite different from the Asheboro zoo’s aviary, which closed in April after 40 years of serving as a habitat for birds and tropical plants. Most of Sylvan Heights’ exhibits are outdoors, where many enclosures provide birds with access to ponds and trees. “When I built the place, I wanted to build ver y differently from any other bird park, any one I’d ever come across,” said Mike Lubbock, a world-renowned avian expert and wildlife conservationist.

“Most of the bird parks in England had open pens, so the birds had to be feathercut so they couldn’t fly. You miss an awful lot with the birds not flying, and the birds miss a lot, too.” At Sylvan Heights, nets erected over enclosures — some as large as 250 feet long by 150 feet wide — keep birds from leaving the park. They also keep other birds from enter ing , an important measure which this winter helped shield the park’s population from highly pathogenic avian influenza, spread by migratory birds. While Sylvan Heights closed in February and later disinfected visitors’ shoes and strollers as means of protecting its flock, there were no cases. “We’re not worried about

birds bringing it here. We’re worried maybe about people bringing it,” Lubbock said, adding that the flu is not a concern in summer months. “Europe’s had it now for several years.” Lubbock, 78, has been safeguarding birds for more than six decades, beginning in his native England at the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust). It was there that he met his wife, Ali, who now serves as assistant director of Sylvan Heights. “She’s the brains behind it,” Lubbock quipped. “I’m just the bird brain.” The couple moved from England to North Carolina in 1981, setting up a breeding center for waterfowl in the mountain town of Sylva, for


Feed a flamingo, be a perch for a parakeet, or watch a duckling hatch at one of the nation’s largest avian conservation centers...right here in Eastern North Carolina!

500 Sylvan Heights Park Way, Scotland Neck, NC 252-826-3186 • Spring 2022

Greenville Magazine


which Sylvan Heights was named. “We were in the heights there, 4,000 feet up,” Lubbock said of of the breeding center’s location until 1989. “Here we’re sort of 100 feet at the most.” Despite its the lower elevation, the nonprofit has risen to new heights since its move to northeastern North Carolina. Scotland Neck, previously best known as a town with parking spaces in the middle of the street, now routinely draws tourists from across the state and parts of Virginia to see Sylvan Heights’ collection of birds from six continents. Like the North Carolina Zoo, the park is arranged geographically, with species like the North American ruddy duck, black-necked stilt, hooded merganser, emperor goose and trumpeter swan grouped in one area, while South American birds like the roseate spoonbill, red shoveler, scarlet ibis, yellow-naped Amazon and white-faced whistling duck in another. There are areas for African species such as the Abyssinian ground hornbill, blacksmith plover, Egyptian goose, Hottentot teal and red-billed pintail; Eurasian species including the scaly-sided merganser, mute swan, greylag goose and European avocet; and Australian native birds such as the black swan, masked lapwing, Victoria crowned pigeon and New Zealand shelduck. A popular, interactive exhibit known as The Landing Zone features flamingos and other exotic birds, along with hundreds of parakeets happy to perch on a seed stick or nibble at a visitor’s shoe laces. The park also features a handicappedaccessible tree house that overlooks acres of undeveloped wetlands. The 18-acre park , which owns an additional 10 acres of adjoining grassland, is home to 17 endangered species, including the whooping crane, the largest crane species native to the United States. Whooping cranes had a population of just 16 birds in the 1940s, although conservation efforts have brought their numbers back up to around 600 birds.


"There are very few other large aviaries in the country. There are also a few private avian conservation centers around the country that are not open to the public. However, there are no other places in the United States that I'm aware of where visitors can see and experience so may species of birds in the same up-close, immersive, and natural way that we offer at Sylvan Heights.” Katie Gipple Lubbock, media and communications coordinator for Sylvan Heights Bird Park “We’re about the only private facility that’s allowed (to have) them. They’re very, very rare,” Lubbock said, as he pointed out an egg within the enclosure. Much of the conservation work for which Sylvan Heights is known takes place in the adjacent breeding center, which is not open to the public. There, five staff members, along with numerous interns and husbandry students from locations such as New York’s Bronx Zoo, work to preserve species. In 2020, the Sylvan Heights Avian Breeding Center became the first facility in North America to successfully breed the green pygmy goose, which is native to Australia and New Guinea.The center also achieved the first North American breeding for flying steamer duck, a large, territorial, and sometimes aggressive duck native to the southern tip of South America. Lubbock, who has received more than a dozen world-first breeding awards, has a knack for matching “love birds.” On a recent tour of the park, he watched with considerable interest to see if an African hornbill reintroduced to an exhibit would accept a new female. Greenville Magazine

“He lost his female two years ago,” Lubbock said. “We’ve been watching him very carefully. He and she have been giving each other (food) through the fence. I’ve got a feeling they’ll nest pretty quickly.” That has been the case for the Nicobar pigeons the park acquired from California’s Pandemonium Aviaries, which shares Sylvan Heights’ commitment to preserving rare and endangered species. The park spent nearly $30,000 hiring a jet to transport more than 300 birds from California to North Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the new Birds of Paradise exhibit that includes birds native to New Guinea and the South Pacific has been completed, efforts are underway to complete a 6,400-square foot propagation center to maintain sustainable breeding populations. “Every year we have had a project,” said Lubbock, pointing out Toad Hall, a pavilion with space for as many as 400 guests, completed just prior to the pandemic. The next project will be to create an enclosure for two young southern cassowaries that are expected to be as large as 6 feet tall when fully grown. The third-tallest and second-heaviest living bird, considered by some to be the world’s most dangerous, is native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and Australia. While cassowaries are popular in zoos, including the Greensboro Science Center, Sylvan Heights is home to several species, such as the pink-eared duck, which are seldom seen in other aviaries or bird collections. “Although they may not be rare in the wild, it is almost impossible to see these birds without traveling to their native countries,” Katie Gipple Lubbock said, adding the park is home to the only green pygmy geese on exhibit to the public in the United States. From the beginning, some warned the Lubbocks that tourists would never drive all the way out to Scotland Neck to see rare birds. Summer 2022

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Greenville Magazine


Sylvan Heights is grouped by continents, with the South American aviary housing birds such as the scarlet ibis.

“They said that to start with,” Mike Lubbock recalled, laughing. “I said, ‘Well, they’re going to have to because I’m not going to move.’” But over the last 16 years, the idea has taken off in ways that he might never have expected. “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we first started the park,” he said. “(In early June) there were some British people, Germans. There are a lot of internationals. You get more and more people that come out here. They like it.”

WANT TO GO? Sylvan Heights Bird Park, 500 Sylvan Heights Park Way, Scotland Neck, is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays from April through October. The park closes at 4 p.m. daily from November through March and is closed on Mondays except for Easter Monday, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for ages 62 and older, $9 for ages 12 and younger and free for ages 2 and younger. Guided tours and golf cart tours are available by reservation for an additional fee. Food is available for sale inside the park, or visitors may bring a picnic. Sylvan Heights is wheelchair and stroller accessible, with a limited number of wheelchairs available for use free of charge. Call 252-826-3186 or visit

The Victoria crowned pigeon, native to northern sections of New Guinea, is among some 260 species of birds at Sylvan Heights..

Snowy egret

Visitors get an up-close look at birds such as the red-billed firefinch and the hooded parakeet at the Wings of the Tropics aviary, located inside Sylvan Heights Bird Park.

The park added Toad Hall pavilion in 2020 to provide a space for outdoor events, including weddings.

Visitors take pictures at Sylvan Heights Bird Park. The park welcomes photography for personal use.

Summer 2022

Greenville Magazine


Alison Robbins works stocking hooks at Wild Birds Unlimited.

A variety of bird seed is available at the store.

For example, bluebirds like mealworms and bark butter, he said. Mealworms provide protein and nutrients to adult bluebirds and the bark butter has extra fat to keep the birds going all year long. Cardinals prefer black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts in addition to mealworms, he said. Each bird has a unique food it gravitates to, so if you are not sure what to buy, ask the knowledgeable staff and they will answer your backyard bird care questions. Berg can help anyone create a habitat in their backyard or garden that will attract birds year-round. Here are some of the things that make for a healthy habitat:

A good food source. Bird feeders are a great way to attract birds to your yard, but only certain species will eat the food offered in bird feeders. Many more species will eat what occurs naturally in a bird-friendly backyard habitats. Food that does not have Summer 2022

fillers or byproducts is important.

A fresh water source . Use a standing bird bath or provide water in basins throughout your garden or yard to make sure birds have plenty of areas for water. A safe place to live. Birds need shelter all year long in order to protect them from weather extremes. Evergreens do not lose their leaves, stay green all year long and provide excellent shelter and shade for birds. Pines, spruce, cedar and holly are among evergreen shrubs and trees that songbirds love. Tall deciduous shade trees, such as maples, oaks, cottonwoods and sycamores provide shade for birds especially during the hot summer months. Birdhouses also provide shelter for nests. There are many shapes and sizes to choose from. Make sure to select the one that best fits your needs.

Greenville Magazine


Seen is a display of nesting boxes at Wild Birds Unlimited.

Wild Birds Unlimited store owner Mike Berg pets the shop's cat.

A place to nest. From late winter through spring and summer, birds need a source for nesting material and a place to build a nest, lay eggs, and raise their young. The challenge for many birds is they have fewer places to do this. Make sure to add plants that range in size from smaller shrubs to larger full-grown trees. Native plants not only add beauty to your landscaping, but provide both shelter, safety, and nesting areas for birds. Picking trees and bushes with seeds, flowers, and berries also provide food for hungry birds. By planting native plants and bushes native to soils and climates in eastern, North Carolina, they provide the best overall food sources for birds . Safer windows. Many birds die every year when they fly into windows because reflections in the glass appears to them to be habitat they can fly through. Add screens to your windows or add window film or strings spaced about 2 inches apart to help break up the reflections.

Indoor cats. Outdoor cats kills about millions of birds in the U.S. and Canada every year and many of those birds are very 30

young or still in the nest. You can keep cats healthy by keeping them indoors as they live almost twice as long as outdoor cats.

Avoid herbicides and pesticides . Did you know that common weed killer is toxic to wildlife? Pesticides also reduce the number of insects that birds can find to feed on. Purchase organic food grown without herbicides and pesticides and reduce use of the chemicals in your own home to nurture a more holistic environment for the birds.

Watch birds and share what you see: The easiest way to protect birds, is to be a bird watcher. Monitoring birds is necessary in order to help protect them and help scientists see where bird decline is and help populations recover and thrive. Berg said by creating a safe and inviting habitat around your home will continue to bring bird watchers and lovers great joy as the seasons change. You will be able to enjoy the beauty and bird song all year long. For more information on Wild Birds Unlimited, call 252-493-0340. Visit

Greenville Magazine

Summer 2022

Thinking of taking Xzq tour? a a school Here are key areas you should see: Media Center Cafeteria Classrooms Gym Encore classes Creative Learning Areas Unique Technology Labs Here are some suggested questions: Do you feel welcome at the school? How is learning individualized for students? What measures are in place to keep students safe? How does the school communicate with families? How can families become involved with the school? Visit our website for a full list of suggested questions.

Visit any of the 37 schools in the Pitt County School System through a unique collaboration between Pitt County Schools, Parents for Public Schools of Pitt County, the United Way of Pitt County, and the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber Contact Parents for Public Schools to Commerce. schedule of your personal school tour. or (252) 758-1604; 201

Tours are provided to prospective families, business leaders or other residents interested Our Community Partners: in seeing firsthand the activities and initiatives happening in our local schools. Contact Parents for Public Schools to schedule your personal school tour. or (252) 758-1604; 201 Summer 2022

Greenville Magazine