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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Bros Are Back In Town!

Guess who just got back today? That wild-eyed brother that’d been away. Hadn’t changed, hadn’t much to say, but if those bros wanna bird you better let ‘em!

But that’s all beside the point. What’s not beside the point, however, is that James finally got around to having his Fall Break from college, and that means we had to head out birding! I decided on Falls Lake, a decent enough place for warblers and shorebirds when they’re in season, but unfortunately we were a bit on the late side of migration. Still, upon arriving at the Hickory Hills Boat Ramp, a flock of warblers flitted in and out of the willows along the shore of the lake, illuminated by the morning sun. There were handsome breeding-plumaged warblers like this nice Black-throated Blue Warbler

Ever since I saw my first one, this has remained one of my absolute favorite birds!

…And, of course, those hallowed confusing fall warblers, like this yellow in the front, white in the back, pale legged, female-type bird. Eh, ordinarily these are hard birds to parse out, but luckily I’d been studying. I immediately pegged this one as a Blackpoll Warbler, even at fifty feet. Not to brag or anything!

Like a boss!

Next we headed across the lake and took the long march out to the mudflats south of Will Suitt Rd. Yeah, it was late, and so the mudflats were empty, but the journey made it totally worth it! Right away, James spotted a pair of birds in the middle of a little bay, and they turned out to be a Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, which proceeded to line up and provide a sweet comparison shot.

I can't believe I ever thought this species pair made for a tough ID...

Lesser Yellowlegs turned out to be one of the most common birds of the day. Rounding a small peninsula, we found a small group of Killdeer that thankfully bailed without flushing this very confiding Lesser Yellowlegs which kept on feeding as James inched closer. I don’t think it would have flown off even if James ran into the water shouting and arms flailing, but nevertheless, we had to leave it be and continue on our journey.

When it comes to bird photography, there's no such thing as too close.

Our next bird, I feel, is one of the perks of birding in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Making a shortcut through a small grove, James and I came upon a beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker foraging low among the trees. Apparently it was collecting acorns and hoarding them for later, a behavior I’ve only seen in Acorn Woodpeckers out west, but I suppose there’s no reason the Red-headeds can’t do it too!

Merely the third closest I've ever been to one of these guys!

After making it to the flats and striking out on everything except the seemingly enumerable Palm Warblers that now inhabit the low sedges, we set out for that old standby, Ellerbe Creek. Much like Will Suitt, the Ellerbe flats were devoid of any shorebirds, save for a pair of Killdeer that screeched and flushed when a Northern Harrier made a low flyby over the grass. Making our way back, we ran into yet another warbler flock, with more Black-throated Blues, a Black-throated Green or two, and a couple of Northern Parulas.

It’d been a good day, but nothing fantastic – a few replacement shots, but nothing to write home about. So we decided to cross the old railroad bridge just to see what was out there, and upon doing so we ran into our only substantial shorebird flock of the day. Almost ten Stilt Sandpipers and a lone Lesser Yellowlegs foraged along the edge of a small pond. It’s a species that James has seen just once, and one I really can’t get enough of, so it was nice to see them at such a close distance.

Great sandpiper, or the greatest sandpiper?

And that was it. The next few days were cloudy, and James had to go back to school before we could back into the field again.

But that sparrow in the bushes is blasting out my favorite song. The nights are getting colder, it won’t be long… won’t be long ‘til winter comes, and the bros are back in town again!

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