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Sunday, July 24, 2011

The End Is the Beginning Is the End

Get it? Like that Smashing Pumpkins song that was in that Batman movie?

Anyway, oh man, I’m excited. It’s getting to be my most favoritist time of the year! Summer is on his way out and he’s about to usher in autumn, and with autumn comes migration, and with migration comes the birds, and around here the birds are already starting to show up.

The number one spot to find shorebirds, for me anyway, is the Ellerbe Creek Mudflats on Falls Lake. It’s gotten me a whole bunch of life birds, mostly shorebirds like Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpiper, but also really sweet stuff like Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and even a Connecticut Warbler last October! Getting there is fun. You have to walk down a set of railroad tracks only to climb down a precarious flow of loose rocks leading down to an old fisherman’s trail. But man, how it’s totally worth it.

I've seen a train on these tracks just once... luckily I wasn't on that bridge!

The lake itself is a managed reservoir, so during the winter the water level is usually quite high and the fisherman’s trail is impassable, but during times of drought the water drops like a stone, and luckily this corresponds with shorebird migration. You can see why the fishermen use it during these times of low water – all around are gigantic invasive Common Carp that like to sidle their way up to shore and make a huge amount of noise splashing around if you get too close.

He really wants whatever's in that bottle! Maybe he's an alcoholic?

On the way down to the flats, you can see the Great Egrets that are starting to show up. On a good day on the flats I can see over a hundred of these guys at once, not bad for the middle of North Carolina.

Great Egret - Falls Lake, NC; 07/18/2011

And finally we get to the meat and potatoes of the whole thing. James and I scared up a pair of little Least Sandpiper, and he managed to get a decent shot of one before it up and flew off. Unfortunately, the flats haven’t fully formed yet, and the soon-to-be grassy peninsula has a couple of impassable channels across it, so the Leasts couldn’t be chased for a better pic, and the Pectorals stayed too far out as well. 

Least Sandpiper - Falls Lake, NC; 07/18/2011

I went back after this particular trip and found a nice Semipalmated Sandpiper at a decently close range, but as soon as I pulled out the camera for a shot, he too flew off into the wind. Too bad, too, as that would have been lifer for James… but he got two different lifers this weekend, so more on that later. James got a nice video of the ubiquitous Killdeer that're always hanging around the flats. Man he's got long wings!

Click through for HD Video!

If there’s one species I can always look forward to seeing around this area, it’s the Red-headed Woodpeckers. They seem to like the dead trees around the swamps here, and you can hear their wild shouts from all the way down the railroad tracks. We found this particular guy on the way back, and he gave us a decent shot by perching up on a branch.

Red-headed Woodpecker - Falls Lake, NC; 07/18/2011

That was it for today, but I’ll definitely be back in the near future, when the grassy peninsulas are fully formed and stuff like Pectorals, White-rumpeds, and hell maybe even more Buff-breasteds will walk within feet of you. To me, this is the epitome of birding.

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