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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Migrants? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Migrants!

During fall migration, it’s important to pay attention to the weather. The passage of a solid cold front can bring down migrants from places north, and if you’re at the right place at the right time, you can get loads of warblers flitting through the trees, and flocks of shorebirds abounding on the flats. After this latest cold front, Mark K and I decided to plant ourselves in front of a bunch of trees and wait for the warblers to roll on in… but for some reason, it didn’t happen.

We chose Bynum Bridge, a site in Chatham County where you’re right up on top of the trees with all the birds, which would be great if there were any birds to be found. Sure the trees housed Northern Parulas and American Redstarts, and a couple of Red-eyed Vireos doing their best warbler impressions, but nowhere near the huge fallout we were hoping for. A Scarlet Tanager was nice, and close views of an Osprey made the visit worth it, but we had a mission for migrants, and we hoped the New Hope Mudflats on Jordan Lake held what we were looking for.

Sure it's picturesque, but it'd be better if there were shorebirds.

Mark and I met Nick Flanders down at the flats to try and find some shorebirds, but the rain that accompanied the cold front had disastrous results – the mud disappeared, flooded by the rains, and all that remained were grass flats. Normally this would make ideal habitat for, perhaps, some Buff-breasted Sandpipers, but it’s a little late in the year for those guys. Instead, we found a pair of Greater Yellowlegs cavorting in the tall sedges, and as we passed a small stack of sticks atop a puddle of water, Mark spotted what he thought was a frog.

Does that look like a frog to you?

Only it wasn’t a frog – it was a Marsh Wren, a pretty uncommon migrant as far inland as we are and only the second I’ve seen in the Triangle. Now, this particular Marsh Wren was far friendlier than any other I’ve ever encountered, but as anyone who’s ever seen these secretive little guys knows, that’s not really saying much.

Damn bird loved popping up in the shadows!

So we devised a plan. Mark stood on one side of the stick pile, and I stood with the sun to my back, camera in hand and still as a tree. The little guy flitted through the sticks with deft abandon, usually staying hidden but occasionally popping up to check out his surroundings. On one occasion he stood less than a foot from my shoes, but my reflexes weren’t the best. Finally, he hopped atop his wooden dome just long enough for me to snap this shot of him out in the open – a great experience with a great bird!

Cooperative, yes, but not nearly cooperative enough!

On the way back, we found a small migrant flock with our only decent warblers of the day, a non-breeding male Magnolia Warbler and a nice female-type Blackburnian Warbler. I couldn’t photograph them, as warblers that seem to be out in the open in the binocs often manage to hide behind a stick or leaf once the camera comes out. Not having anything else to do, Mark, Nick, and I decided to check out the nearby Morgan Creek mudflats and found the same situation as the one we just left – all grass and no mud! Ten individual Bald Eagles were a nice consolation prize, as was this Pickerel Frog we chased for a dozen yards before finally catching him.

If you zoom in, you can see my reflection in its eye!

Of course, only after stopping to visit the 751 causeway and returning home did I find out that local birder Ali Iyoob had stumbled upon North Carolina’s first reported Violet-green Swallow not a half mile from my apartment. I blazed a trail down to the random pond the swallow had been found at to discover that the bird hadn’t been seen since five minutes after it was first sighted. Oh well. Such is life.

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