rotating banner

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Here I Am... Birding Like a Hurricane!

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there was this little thing called Hurricane Irene that rolled itself on through North Carolina over the weekend. While in the Triangle Irene seemed little more than a whimper, apparently it did some major damage farther east, including ripping a new inlet right through Hatteras Island. But for us Triangle birders, a hurricane means a chance to find birds that are otherwise rare inland.

I met Mark K and Ali Iyoob really early in the morning, because we had an epic day planned, which meant hitting up the local reservoir, Falls Lake. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had the same idea – we met birders Audrey Whitlock and Nick Flanders before we even got to the meat and potatoes of our birding! The only real storm bird we found that day was a little Least Tern (Durham bird #191!) fluttering its way off the causeway, and that was just the beginning.

Our next stop involved walking down the old abandoned railroad grade off of Will Suitt Rd. The old grade meanders itself through the woods before terminating at a large mudflat just across the lake from the Hickory Hills Boat Ramp. Immediately we found several interesting birds, including Stilt Sandpipers and a Short-billed Dowitcher. Then we saw a large shorebird moving left – a wholly unexpected Willet (192 and counting!) Oh, and you know what the best part of birding with a group is? If you ask real nice, they’ll let you use their pics on your blog!

This one's thanks to Ali - the dude has a ginormous lens!

As odd as the Willet was, I’d seen plenty of them on the Outer Banks recently, so while it was cool to see, it really didn’t pique my interest like this next bird. While scanning the flats next to the bird, we found this nice American Golden-Plover, a bird I don’t often get to see. Plus, it hadn’t quite molted out of its breeding plumage, leaving just a little bit of black belly. Ali and I snuck up on him and he managed this nice shot!

So much more lithe and graceful than its Black-bellied cousin.

As we were watching the birds, a little Black Tern (193!) rolled into our scope views, and began as series of acrobatic swirls as it hunted along the shallow lake, before landing on a rock right in front of us – definitely my best ever views of this bird. And thanks to Mark’s digiscoping rig, he managed this shot of it – a little better than trying to photograph it from a moving boat, eh?

No picture can represent the amount of fun we had watching this acrobatic little guy!

Behind it, a little Piping Plover (194) ran along side its Semipalmated brethren. It’s a very rare bird as far inland as we are, and like most of the birds from the Great Lake region, it was banded – one leg had a red band on it, the other leg had a green one. It’s not quite obvious from this pic, but it sure looked green when viewed it in good light. I’ve emailed a couple of Piping Plover researchers, so perhaps we can figure out where this guy came from!

The fact that there's a green band is actually a matter of some debate - but I recall it so clearly!

Then, Nick announced that he’d found an odd bird. We pored over its leg color and its wingtip length before realizing that we were just too far away to call it, so decided to move closer. Upon doing so, its black legs became clear, a nice buffy hue became evident, and its long jet-black wingtips were absolutely unmistakeable – it was a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper, a lifer for me and Nick, and a county bird for everybody else (including myself – Durham bird #195!). Luckily, Mark managed this long-distance digiscope of this my life bird.

Er, it was a bit more obvious in the field... but a Baird's Sandpiper nonetheless!

With that, we decided to head on to the next mudflat, but not before spying a dumpy-looking gray shorebird that turned out to be a nice Red Knot, a great bird inland and Durham county bird #196 for me. But we soon moved on to the northern Falls Lake railroad grade, or as it's called in the birding community, the Granville flats. Immediately I came upon a duo of herons standing near the tracks, and they were completely unmistakable – juvenile Tricolored Herons! The county lines do wonky things along that old railroad grade, but luckily those two herons were pretty firmly in Durham, meaning they were county birds #197.

What, you don't see it? Zoom in for God's sake!

Other birds on the flat included an odd looking Greater Yellowlegs along with all the usual stuff. Ali and I waded onto a muddy peninsula, and across the lake we noticed an oddly pin-headed bird running along a rocky shoreline. We concluded it to be a Wilson’s Phalarope, but unfortunately a bird in the wrong county (damn you Granville county government!). Still, a nice bird, and we tried to get everyone else on it, but on our hike back to a better vantage point, I got stuck in the mud in a major way. Thankfully, Ali was there to bail me out, otherwise I probably would have ended up a poor skeletanized birder, as Mark so gleefully put it. We couldn't ever refind the Phalarope, but on the nearby rocks Ali and I found a Northern Water Snake feeding on a Bluegill. It spooked when we showed up, and dropped the fish, which was still alive!

How often do you find a living fish on land?!

Ali and I decided to cross a small peninsula of briars and scrub to get a better look at some of the shallow islands that were forming around us. I got stuck by a thorn pretty good trying to avoid a Black Locust tree, and as I was nursing my bleeding hand on the flats, Ali noticed an odd bird fly up onto an old snag. I dragged my scope around to check it out and was totally surprised to find a Peregrine Falcon munching on a deceased shorebird. Holy crap, what a great bird! Not only was it a state bird for me, but it was also Durham county bird #198. Ali managed this digiscope by holding up his iPhone to my meager scope.

I really cannot express how cool it was to find this bird in basically my own backyard!

I spotted a nice Caspian Tern flying across the lake, but it was time to be getting back to the cars. We decided to leave the Falls Lake area and try for a Hudsonian Godwit at Lake Wheeler (failure), grab some lunch (great success!), find a Best Buy (mild success), and end the day at nearby Jordan Lake, where mudflats were beginning to form at New Hope Creek. Not much around, but we did manage to spot a flock of White Ibis foraging at the north end of the flats, far enough north that I was able to count them for Durham!

The Ibises were my last county bird of the day, #199. We started out early in the morning trying for storm birds, and while there were few to be had, we still managed to whip up a whirlwind, leading to a flood of new birds for the county like we were a damn hurricane. Now if only we could get one to drop off pelagic birds like Irene did in the northeast!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the lifer!
    Im sending you a message over whatbird about my trip, if you're interested.