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Friday, September 30, 2011

#20: Killdeer - Sandy Creek Park, NC

I have a love/hate relationship with Killdeer. On one hand, it’s really cool to live in a place where you can find this relatively large Charadrius plover almost anywhere, from mudflats to lawns to asphalt parking lots and the roofs of building. And objectively, they look rather cool – demarcated black and white banding, a nice red eye-ring, and even a nice rufous rump when they fly off. On the other hand, Killdeer are one of the most annoying birds in the world.

See, I really love shorebirding. It’s definitely my favorite season of the year! Heading down to the mudflats to find out what the winds dragged in, scouring flocks and flocks of peeps to find an odd White-rumped or a Baird’s, and then just as you find a potential candidate, one wrong step and – kiDEEEEEE!!! All the birds are up in the air because Killdeer spook more easily than any other bird I’ve ever seen and for some reason shorebirds feel the need to take flight alongside them. And that interesting sandpiper? Nowhere to be found. All because of a stinkin’ Killdeer.

Killdeer - Sandy Creek Park, NC; 06/29/2010

Which begs the question, how did James get such a good picture of this Killdeer at Sandy Creek? Why should it be any different? Normally the birds there will bail just as easily as Killdeer do anywhere else, but over the summer, as the miniscule mudflats continued to spread across the small pond, the Killdeer decided to breed. The reason we were able to get so close to this particular individual came down to a little ball of fluff and down – a baby Killdeer.

Cute kid, but just wait til he grows up. Not so cute anymore, eh?

With the baby there, the adult Killdeer couldn't take the chance of fleeing and leaving the baby alone. The two constantly called back and forth to each other as we neared the pond edge, always staying close together. Never again have we gotten so close to a Killdeer, and unless we happen to find them in the presence of babies, I doubt we ever will.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Species Spotlight #5: Gray Fox

Remember back when I first the Species Spotlights with that friendly Nutria, I mentioned it was only the second best mammal lifer I got that day at Lake Mattamuskeet? Well that’s because this was the first best.

Originally our Christmas Bird Count group was supposed to drive the muddy road out to the lake and scope what we could see from there. However, just as we noticed a nice Cooper’s Hawk and a couple of overwintering Common Gallinules (as they’re now called), a National Wildlife Refuge employee descended upon us like we’d done something wrong. And apparently we had. The idea was that we got permission from Lake Mattamuskeet to count the birds in the afternoon, but it seems the only people actually allowed permission to drive the road were the hunters that were killing (not watching) the birds earlier in the morning. While I realize that yes, waterfowl hunters do provide the bulk of the funding that keep the NWRs afloat in North Carolina, does that really mean that individuals meaning no harm to the wildlife in question should be denied access to them? In any case, we were back at square one.

We drove back along the wildlife road until we reached the entrance, at which point we were graciously granted access to a small trail leading to a photography blind along the lake. Not that it was fruitless or anything – the trail led us to a couple of female Baltimore Orioles, a nice Winter Wren, and close-up looks at a Blue-headed Vireo, a species I see all too infrequently. As we walked along the nearby boardwalk, the snow crunching underfoot made noises that sounded like gunshots – you’d think that’d deter the wildlife around here, but perhaps they’re used to it. In any case, as we left the boardwalk and headed once again towards the lake, we found this guy. And boy was he worth it.

He has no idea that at this moment, he's the coolest animal in the world to me.

A Gray Fox. I spotted him first from the path as he sat in the open wildlife drive, with thick bushes along the canal between us. As he returned to eating some long-dead or recently killed prey, I noticed he seemed bigger than I thought he would. Perhaps he’d found Lake Mattamuskeet to have good eatin’ in the wake of the hunters, or perhaps his winter coat just made him seem fuller. As a kid, animals like this seemed off-limits to me, something I should never see because Gray Foxes don’t really show up in suburban neighborhoods, do they?

That's the great thing about birding, perhaps the part I like most about it. Yes, you get to see amazing birds, but just being in the field around all this nature means you get to experience it in ways not many other people can, find mammals and reptiles and amphibians that ordinarily you wouldn't even notice. Sometimes, it's all about the birds, but other times... well, it's all about Gray Foxes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

#19: Green Heron - Sandy Creek Park, NC

Like I’ve mentioned before, Sandy Creek Park kind of became a standby for James and I, a place we’d visit almost every day because we can drive there in three minutes or so. By the time mid-summer rolled around, the pond nearest the parking lot began to grow mudflats along its edges, which attracted a whole different league of birds. All of a sudden, we started seeing Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and this cooperative Green Heron.

Green Heron - Sandy Creek Park, NC; 06/29/2010

Usually when we’d find a Green Heron at Sandy Creek, it'd fly off before we could get too close, bailing for the largest pond with a series of loud croaks. We found this guy as we were ending our loop around the small pond, and luckily, he didn’t seem to mind us. James employed that tried and true method known as the Jackal mode, weaving his way through the reeds until he was face-to-face with the Green Heron in question, and snapped the winning shot. And check out that extend-o-neck! Definitely one of the cooler birds we get around here in the summer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Species Spotlight #4: Northern Cricket Frog

Starting in early spring in the Piedmont, if you go walking through the woods you may find a small puddle or maybe a ditch with some water in it, and suddenly all around you’ll also find a multitude of small frogs fleeing from your footsteps. These are Northern Cricket Frogs, perhaps the most common amphibian in this part of the state.

Trying his best to hide, but it's not gonna work!

Our Northern Cricket Frogs come in two main color morphs – one is the totally brown one seen above, but the other is a more common greenish one, with other frogs spanning a gradient between these two. These are the frogs that you can hear calling all around you in the woods, their constant kik-kik-kik becoming a familiar background noise, and they’ll inhabit any patch of standing water that can be found.

It's tough trying to photograph these guys by flashlight!

I found these guys while on a walk to the heron rookery that’s formed behind the Glennstone subdivision in northern Durham. I was supposed to be looking for American Woodcocks, but because the clear-cut prairie that existed when the subdivision was first built has given way to short, early succession pines, the woodcocks can’t be found much anymore – I’ve only ever recorded a single individual there. 

In any case, the Northern Cricket Frogs made it a fun night. The brown morph one I found near a rocky stream, but the green one was calling with a dozen other individuals from a water filled ditch. I assume they’d bred there the first chance they got, as little cricket frog tadpoles were swimming all around. Apparently the species is declining over the northern part of its range, but don’t tell the frogs down here – they seem to be doing just fine on their own!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#18: American Goldfinch - Durham, NC

Around here, the American Goldfinch is an astonishingly common bird, albeit one that’s rather skittish. I’ve been birding in an area that otherwise seemed to contain no avian life when one wrong step led to a flock of forty or fifty previously unseen canary yellow birds exploding from tall grasses nearby. As such, it’s hard to get a picture of these guys. Maybe it’s because they realize they’re brightly citrine, but perhaps it’s just because they enjoy flying in that trademark erratic flight path they like so much.

In any case, I never thought I’d get a really good picture of an American Goldfinch. Usually I’d walk up the path from my house to see one or two flush from the gardens on the side of the road. Totally hopeless. But then, on exactly one occasion, I had a goldfinch act in an entirely un-goldfinch-like fashion. It was around the same time I managed to photograph the Northern Cardinal from the previous post, so maybe the birds were just feeling rather friendly that day.

American Goldfinch - Durham, NC; 06/16/2010

I heard him first, as I often do. A rolling, tumbling song emanated from the neighbor’s yard, and I went over to investigate. Along the side of the road, in a stately crepe myrtle bush, sat a male American Goldfinch chattering away at no one in particular. He sat about eight feet up, a little taller than I am, so I stood on my tip-toes, the camera in my extended hand, and just barely I was able to snap this shot of the one American Goldfinch that didn’t seem to care I was around. And how sweet it was.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What’s Up Migration? Long Time No See!

So, I don’t know about you, but through the end of last week and over the weekend, migration kind of snuck up on me. Not shorebird migration, mind you, but rather that most coveted of birder seasons, warbler migration. I went out a couple times to see what I can find, but between bad weather and forgetting my camera, I’m going to have to recycle some shots here. Ready? Here goes!

Saturday was the first time I thought to head out specifically for migrant flocks. People throughout the region have been reporting good warbler numbers and more than a couple Empidonax species, so I was a little behind on the ball. The local greenway held a Magnolia Warbler and a vocalizing American Redstart, but not much else. At the nearby Herman G. Wilson Park, I came upon a flock of Parids that responded well to my feeble attempts at pishing, but no warblers were to be found – instead a little Ruby-crowned Kinglet flew in, my first of the season and a little early by most regards. Down near the slow moving Bolin Creek, I could hear a Northern Waterthrush vocalizing its clear familiar chips.

Except that this pic was actually taken at Mason Farm last August.

Sunday was much more fruitful. After reading a report online, I bolted down to the always-bountiful Falls Lake with Scott of Birdaholic – remember, just last week we were down at the very spot watching a rare Parasitic Jaeger, but this time we saw a different wayward bird. Just past the remains of a derelict flat-bottom boat sat a seemingly content American Oystercatcher, a bird that’s common enough on the coast but strangely scarce anywhere inland. The pied shorebird seemed completely out of place during the time of year when you’re trying to examine the minutiae of drab little peeps, but hey, I’m not complaining!

Er, just pretend that instead of Oregon Inlet, this was taken on
a random rocky island in the middle of the lake!

On a tip, Scott and I headed down to the nearby Ellerbe Creek mudflats, where we found another Magnolia Warbler hanging out along the railroad tracks and a drab little Palm Warbler perched on a dead snag. We quickly scanned the mudflats and ascertained that, aside from a mess-ton of Lesser Yellowlegs and the continuing pair of American Avocets, there wasn’t a whole lot of action on the shorebird front. But we weren’t there for the shorebirds – a large flock of Chimney Swifts and swallows flew back and forth over the grassflats, darting and diving with agility and grace, catching insects on the wing. We pegged each swallow as it flew past – Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Barn Swallow. Tree Swallow. Then Scott noticed a raptor being pursued by a crow out among the clouds, my first Northern Harrier of the year. A cool bird, but not my quarry.

But it was pretty much like this one we found at Mason Farm last winter.

The swifts and swallows began to circle closer over the railroad tracks, giving us good looks at every species except, apparently, the one we were looking for. Suddenly, Scott announced he had it, just for a second, but it flew behind a tree and vanished. With a massive push the swallows flew closer than they had ever been before, and as swifts streamed overhead I noticed a small bird flash across my view, totally unmistakable in my binoculars – our target, a Bank Swallow! It’s a life bird for me, a state bird for Scott, and a bird I totally didn't expect to find while out twitching late on a Sunday afternoon. 

And that was the end of our birding day, as we both had to head home. Honestly though, I don't think I could come up with a better way to end my first weekend of full-on fall migration!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Species Spotlight #3: Ground Skink

A couple of months ago, in late April, a bunch of birders made the overnight decision to travel the hour and a half to visit North Carolina’s remarkable first record of Cassin’s Sparrow. And we weren’t disappointed – Ali, Nate, Matt, and I watched the bird skylark from a small bush in the middle of an overgrown field, completely oblivious to the stream of onlookers pointing spotting scopes in its direction.

Scotland County, where the bird was found, is pretty interesting. It’s full of sand and pines, and that means a pretty unique group of animals lives there. Ali, being a herper, kept on turning over logs and fallen bark while we were off looking for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher, hoping for a snake or two. Oh, wait, I didn’t mention that an ABA Code 3 Fork-tailed Flycatcher was seen next to the Cassin’s Sparrow not ten minutes before we’d arrived and never seen again?! I've decided that the Patagonia picnic table effect sucks ass. Anyway, after we gave up our search and had enjoyed our views of the wayward sparrow, we decided to check out the nearby Red-cockaded Woodpecker colony, where Ali upended a bit of bark, and found this little guy.

Definitely a good hiding place, keep it up!

He’s a little Ground Skink, a relatively common little lizard that can be found throughout the state, although you kind of have to be looking for them. I often find them scurrying off into the leaf litter or burrowing themselves right into the soil, but this is the first time one has decided stick around. Apparently, this guy thought a couple pieces of pine straw constituted a hiding spot! Ali, as herpers often do with a touch of wanton disregard for their own safety, picked up the little guy so we could all get a better look.

Apparently Ali's hand makes lizards feel right at home.

You can really see how well these guys are evolved for their particular lifestyle – they’re very elongated, and their legs are extremely small because when you burrow like these guys do, spare limbs just get in the way. And check out those scales – most skinks are unique among the lizards in that their scales overlap in such a way as to create a smooth, laminar surface, and the Ground Skinks really exemplify that. It’s an awesome little lizard, anyway, and one that I rarely get to see close up like this!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Interlude: Dinosaurs and their Feathers

If there's one thing I like more than birds, it's dinosaurs. Big, lumbering, small, graceful, dinosaurs came in all shapes and sizes. The largest is somewhat debatable - Argentinosaurus is the biggest we have good data on (it was somewhere in the range of 100+ feet, and quite massive), but if the bones of Amphicoelias hadn't been lost, we'd be looking at a 200-foot behemoth! The smallest dinosaur, however, we can know for sure. Discovered almost 160 years ago, it's the little 2-inch long Mellisuga helenae - the Bee Hummingbird.

You're looking at one of the most ferocious predators of all time!
Photo from TripAdvisor.

That's right, birds are dinosaurs, albeit highly evolved ones. They're a direct descendant of the dinosaurs in Maniraptoriformes, better known to the layman as the raptors. Most people would consider Archaeopteryx to be the oldest known bird, but in fact it's just another dinosaur, an advanced Deinonychosaurid closely related to the Troodontidae and Dromaeosauridae (Xu et al., 2011). Even the famous Velociraptor has been shown to have quill knobs on its arms, a tell-tale sign of flight feathers (or something akin to that). To recap - Birds are dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx is a dinosaur. But Archaeopteryx is not a bird.

Not visible in this picture - the hyperextensible second toe, better known
as the "raptor claw", which Archaeopteryx is now know to possess.
Photo from Wikipedia.

To have feathers does not necessarily make you a bird. Until the 1990s, Archaeopteryx was the only known dinosaur fossil with preserved feathers (of course, remember everybody thought that fact made it a bird). Since then, feathered dinosaur fossils have been flooding in from China, most showing primitive filamentous feathers, although more than a couple show vaned feathers that could make them capable of flight. However, these fossils are just the impressions of feathers, an imprint of an animal that died in favorable sediment. You can't walk down the street and pick up a dinosaur feather like you can a discarded bird feather. Or, you couldn't. That is, until today.

Say whaaaaat?!
Photo from The Atlantic via Science.

In the journal Science, researchers reported specimens of amber from Alberta that date to around 80-million years ago (you may note that non-avian dinosaurs still had another 15-million years to go on the Earth). Some of the amber showed what are clearly vaned bird feathers, but others show the trademark filamentous feathers of dinosaurs. Just how the feathers became trapped in the amber, I'm not sure, but the fact remains - we as a world community are now in the possession of real, honest-to-God dinosaur feathers. Now if we can just find an eccentric old Scotsman to pony up the cash and clone these bad boys.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#17: Northern Cardinal - Durham, NC

As a birder, there are sometimes birds that you just take for granted. There are always going to be House Finches at my feeders, there are always going to be Carolina Wrens twittering in the woodlands, and there are always going to be Tufted Titmice rasping away from the treetops.

It’s a sad situation, and it means that birds like the Northern Cardinal get passed over, which is really too bad. Yes, I can find one at any time of the year at any birding locale I visit, but sometimes you need to step back a bit and realize that in the middle of suburban North Carolina lives a vibrant red songbird with a cool black mask that honestly wouldn’t seem all that out of place in the tropics. But here in North Carolina, on some days in the middle of winter when the sun cuts through the crisp cloudless sky, there’s a bright red little apple sitting atop a leafless shrub trying to keep warm, and he’s none other than a Northern Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal - Durham, NC; 06/16/2010

This particular guy had been frequenting our side yard all summer because he’d made a nest in one of our bushes, and the baby Cardinals were starting to get hungry. I found him hanging out in a magnolia with a beak full of food, and I managed to get this decent shot of him in the late afternoon sun. Looking back on it now, I think I probably appreciate the Northern Cardinal more than I ever have in the past. I’ll have to make a note of spending some time with them next time I go birding. Or, at least until I find three or four in a row, at which point I’ll probably revert to my past inclinations against my own wishes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

They Call Me The Jaeger-meister!

In birding, you just never know what’s going to happen. You think you’ve seen almost every bird there is to see in your area, and after many years they’ll still surprise you. Such is the case with my Durham county bird list. There are some egregious misses on it, stuff I’d expect to see at one point or another – Forster’s Tern, both Scaups, and Worm-eating Warbler rank chief among them. So today’s sighting from Falls Lake totally blindsided me, and immediately I knew I had to give chase.

On the way to the local boat ramp, I remained in close contact with Scott of Birdaholic. He had his scope already trained on the bird from his vantage point of the Cheek Road bridge, and the bird, apparently, was just lounging around in the middle of the lake. Couldn’t be easier, right? Right? Of course not, as soon as I showed up the bird took flight, and began to fly towards me, with Scott following it the whole way. Only one problem: I couldn’t find it.

It flew somewhere between the lake and the clouds, and for one reason or another I just couldn’t get my binocs on it. So Scott, now having lost the bird in an endless expanse of sky, joined me in looking for it from the boat ramp. After about a half hour, he had it again, floating against the breeze, and I got my first looks. In a flash, it was gone again. And just as suddenly, it reappeared, this time resting on a muddy peninsula next to an early Ring-billed Gull. I managed a digiscope, but it’s really so garbage that I had to include labels - however, that doesn’t change the fact that, snoozing on the far shore next to an unsuspecting gull was a very rare inland Parasitic Jaeger!

Not only Durham county bird #201, but my first in the United States!

Content with my views (which were far better than my awful digiscope would have you believe), I headed to the nearby Ellerbe Creek mudflats, a place that really deserves to be visited every day. On my way down there, I met a bird photographer from Wisconsin who had never visited the flats before – boy was he in for a surprise! The birding started out slow – no more than Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpiper, a couple Lesser Yellowlegs, and a mountain of peeps. A flock of the peeps flew in and landed right next to us, giving nice looks at a couple Least Sandpipers and a single Semipalmated Sandpiper.

That's the Semipalmated on the right - he kind of towers over that Least!

On the far peninsula I spied the bird we were after, so I made the executive decision to try the treacherous path to the far flats and hopefully end up next to the birds. Even though the flats were extremely low, deep mud and high sedges made it one heck of a hike. Finally, after getting a leg-full of chiggers (er, excuse me, chegroes), we found our quarry – a nifty pair of American Avocets that had been frequenting the flats for some time now. I know, it’s the same birds from my last post, but honestly who could tire of these awesome shorebirds?

Not I, said the birder.

After watching them sweep their recurved bills back and forth, picking up tiny invertebrates as they fed, we turned our attention to the other bird I’d spied from across the creek channel – a pair of fantastic little Red-necked Phalaropes, no doubt from the same stock that I’d seen from Granville county a month or so ago, but this time I was able to get much closer and get awesome views. One of the phalaropes flew off as we arrived, but the other seemed quite content to run around in a circle like a child’s wind-up toy.

Luckily it showed up in Durham this time! Durham county bird #202!

As if that weren’t enough, there were times when the two sets of feeding birds would cross each other’s path, leading to some very interesting photographic opportunities. With the Red-necked Phalarope in the foreground, the Avocets behind, and hundreds of blazing-white Great Egrets dotting the lake in the distance, it’s hard to believe that we were birding in the middle of North Carolina, scant miles from major urban centers. But I guess that’s birding for you. Even after so many years of the hobby, there are still so many surprises to be had.

Avocet, Avocet... Phalarope! C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!!

I left the photographer to his subjects, and as it was getting late, I had to be getting back. I tried to walk through the sedges to flush one of the previously-reported Virginia Rails, but no luck – I just ended up with more chegroes attempting to burrow themselves under my skin. With the sun at my back, I had time to reflect on finding so many great birds in such a short time, and in Durham of all places. I don’t know what it is that keeps me coming back for more in this hobby, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Don't Always Go Shorebirding... but When I Do, I See Dos Avocets!

So, Tropical Storm Lee made his way through Louisiana and broke up over the southeast, but even still we got a lot of rain around here. A lot of rain, actually, it raised the water level of Falls Lake by a whole four inches, which can mean death to mudflats. Still, Mark K and I decided to head down to the Ellerbe Flats to see what we could find.

The rain did something I never expected. Of course, the mud was gone, but the flats really didn’t decrease in area at all. Instead, they’ve become covered in a field of grasses and sedges, and apparently the birds love it! We saw almost 1000 birds (maybe more, it was hard to count them!) all in the grass and on the grassy shores. A bunch of them frequented a little puddle in the middle of the field, including a bunch of Stilt Sandpipers and a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers. All of a sudden, our best birds of the day flew into scope view – a fantastic pair of American Avocets, truly a special bird this far inland!

Oh, and did I mention the Avocets were Durham County bird #200 for me?!

The shoreline abounded with so many birds I would have assumed I was on the coast if we didn’t travel a scant twenty minutes from home. We found both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs in good numbers, with plenty of peeps of all kinds to go around. In fact, I saw over 60 Semipalmated Sandpipers, which is by far the most I’ve ever seen in one location. I think they even outnumbered the Leasts out there!

They also let us get closer than any other Semipalmated Sandpipers I've ever seen.

Poring through the remaining shorebirds led to many White-rumped Sandpipers, clearly visible by their long primaries and teardrop shape. I counted almost ten definite White-rumpeds out there, including four in one scope view towering over the surrounding Leasts and Semipalms. A good thing too, as the White-rumpeds were lifers for Mark, and a bit of a nemesis at that, apparently. At that point, he announced an interesting pair of birds along the far side of the lake, a pair of nice American Golden-Plovers, both of them in a very cool plumage, and bringing my total up to three for the year.

You know what's awesome? Getting these guys in the same scope view
as a flock of Wild Turkeys. Yeah, that totally happened.

Of course, all the grass around meant that Mark and I were looking for a very specific shorebird. Sure the nine Ruddy Turnstones running around in a tight group were nice, but if you go to coastal North Carolina, you can find one at any time of the year. No, we were looking for a bird that’s considered a nice find wherever you go, the kind of bird that makes even the most seasoned veterans salivate. While looking at a nice White-rumped Sandpiper, Mark yelled out “Woah – Buff-breasted Sandpiper! Right in front of us!”

You know, every Buffy I've ever seen has been at these very flats,

Not just one, although that would have been enough, but actually a pair of them! Truly one of the coolest shorebirds out there, and with the extensive grass, I expect several more of them in the near future.  Having gotten several great birds for the state, Mark and I turned home, but not before seeing a Broad-winged Hawk fly over the old railroad tracks, and hearing a couple of Caspian Terns screaming their way across the local boat ramp. The sun started to set and it was getting late, so we turned in for the day, but what a day! I can’t wait to get back there as soon as possible!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Public Service Announcement: The Dangers of Shorebirding

It’s early September, which means it’s that time of year when any birder worth his salt will be checking the local mudflats each weekend to find those coveted birds: the Scolopacids, the Charadriids, the Sternids, and if you’re lucky maybe a Recurvirostrid or two. There’s the poring over of esoterica to differentiate one Calidris from the next, the hope that a rare coastal bird will somehow find its way inland. I’m talking, of course, about shorebirds (duh), and there’s a certain amount of personal safety you need to exhibit while you’re searching for them.

Shorebirds, as they have evolved over these millennia, enjoy probing through mud. That’s just their prerogative. So, naturally, a birder must venture into the very mud his quarry calls home. For the birds, it’s easy – the largest North American sandpiper (the Long-billed Curlew, if you’re wondering) weighs little over a pound, hollow bones and all. The average birder weighs a hundred or two times more than that, so while the mud might well support a little Least Sandpiper, it will not support a grown man.

This is the problem I ran into last week while I was birding the Granville county side of the Falls Lakes mudflats (which may or may not still be there tomorrow, thanks Lee). After having gotten distant looks at a Wilson’s Phalarope, Ali Iyoob and I headed back to our birding party. One wrong step later, and I was a foot and a half into the mud with both boots planted firmly beneath the surface and the suction of that highly viscous semi-liquid keeping me there indefinitely.

That ground seemed like it was going to be so stable!

That’s why I highly recommend the buddy system whilst shorebirding. Had I been there by myself, who knows if I would have ever gotten out. Maybe they’d be dredging the lake a week later only to find a couple of vulture-cleaned bones sticking out of the lake. I mean, yeah, I probably would have escaped, but I’d’ve gotten really muddy in the process (awful, I know), so it’s lucky Ali was there to help fish me out, and it's lucky Mark was there to photograph our hilarious attempts to wrench me from my silty prison.

Just let this be a lesson to all you birders out there: walk the ‘flats with a birding buddy, or prepare to get a little muddy! And hey, it even rhymes!

Friday, September 2, 2011

#16: Ovenbird - Mason Farm, NC

In the Triangle area, if you walk through the woods at any point during the summer, you’re liable to hear a little bird with a big voice. It could be deep in the forest, yet its call will carry through the trees: teecherteecherteecherteecherTEECHER! If it happens to be right next to you, as is occasionally the case, its song will literally drown out every other sound in the vicinity. I’m talking, of course, about the Ovenbird.

There are two places I’ve been able to find multiple Ovenbirds every time I’m down there. The first is Stagecoach Road, an old railroad grade through the woods around Jordan Lake – during migration, I’ve found over twenty-five in one day, I was literally tripping over them along the path! The other locale is Mason Farm, where we found this little guy on a sweltering June day (to be fair, in June they're all sweltering).

Ovenbird - Mason Farm, NC; 06/14/2010

Actually, I’d heard two or three singing in this one spot where the trail first hits a woodland. A little playback, and all of a sudden five Ovenbirds converged on our location, more than I’ve ever seen at one time. Like Ovenbirds do, they never ventured out of the shadow of the forest, but it’s still one of the best looks I’ve had of these fun little ground-dwelling warblers. Except for that time I had one feeding literally at my feet while I was hiding under a tree from a rainstorm, but that’s a story from another time.