I had noticed that folks on the general bird walks, and frog walks too, had expressed surprise that indigo buntings were breeders along the greenway. Many said they had never seen one and very much wanted to.
Indigo buntings are indeed very common in appropriate habitat throughout Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. Except for a brief period during the spring migration those birds generally do not occur in residential areas. The preferred habitat for nesting territories is open, sunny areas with scattered shrubs and mid-sized trees from which they can sing their musical songs. Casual birders don’t tend to frequent open rural areas during our piedmont summer so the perception may be that the indigos are not a common bird.
Fortunately, the greenway runs through a couple of openings that are the perfect size for an indigo bunting territory, and birds are there every year. The first spot we came to produced a plain brown female indigo bunting. OK, mission accomplished; but everyone wants to see the brilliant males. The next stop produced two singing males, one of which came right in to some enticing calls. But birds coming in to investigate a threat are smart, they position themselves so they are backlit. Mission accomplished, but they look black! So back to the first site, where finally a brilliant male bird perched at eye level just a few dozen feet away. Mission fully accomplished.
We saw other stuff too. A white-eyed vireo foraged around us for a while; blue-gray gnatcatchers were life birds for some in the group; and a handsome male red-winged blackbird perched on some cattails. We finished with 23 species, including five indigo buntings.