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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!


  1. Congrats on the lifer! I hope some eastern warblers show up in my neck of the woods in the next few months.

  2. @Jeremy - thanks! I'd ask for some western warblers in return, but it seems like you get eastern warblers a lot more than we get western ones. Looking for Wilson's Warbler this year - they migrate in the mountains just west of here, but are unfortunately uncommon in my neck of the woods.