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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who're You Callin' a Red-neck?

I have a curse, and a blessing. Luckily for me, however, the blessing outweighs the curse in every situation, but it’s really really annoying! You see, I seem to have the uncanny ability to sink in mud. I suppose it has been lessening of late, but last winter I found myself waist-deep in mud – not ten minutes later, I had my lifer Yellow Rail. This summer, after finding myself merely thigh-deep in mud, I viewed my lifer Red-necked Phalarope. Today, I found myself just ankle-deep. But the curse continues, and so does its blessing.

Mark and I decided to try for a Red-necked Grebe that’s been hanging around a small lake in Greensboro. It’s a bird I’ve chased more than three times before, yet never seem to have located – most recently, I missed the bird by less than five minutes. So when Mark brought it up, I was totally game! Unfortunately, as we neared the marina where the bird had been seen, we found a very discouraging locked gate, because it totally makes sense that Tuesday is the only day of the week the marina should be closed. Plus, a fence ran around the nearby dam and basically everywhere you could view the lake with good light, which could have put a damper on the entire morning. But we were birders, and we found ways to persevere. Dirt trails run around the whole of Lake Brandt, but I found they didn’t run nearly close enough to view the lake – so it was time to trailblaze!

And that’s where I made my mistake. The woods around Lake Brandt were oddly damp, and Mark and I found ourselves looking at a shallow puddle filled with dying leaves, but just on the other side lay a perfectly dry stretch of land leading right to the lake. Just one giant step and I could make it… one step and… NOPE! Ankle deep in mud! But the step after that was totally dry, and I made my way up a steep hill to the lake. I started scanning the vast expanse before me, but Mark, having found a drier way around, shouted “That’s it!,” having apparently seen the bird with his naked eye. Incredulously, I asked “Where?!” to which Mark replied “Well there’s a bird out there, anyway.” Yeah right, Mark. So I turned my scope to check out a bird lounging near one of the buoys, and… well you tell me!

What, you don't see it? Trust me, I was there!

If you looked at it just right, you could see the remnants of the bright rufous neck that gives the Red-necked Grebe its name. Yet with its long bill and rather elongated body, even in this non-breeding plumage the bird seemed strikingly unique, totally unlike any other waterbird we get in North Carolina. Getting this life bird felt good, but for some reason, the views I got of this incredible bird, over 500 yards away on the other side of the lake, weren’t satisfactory. That’s when we hatched a plan to move down the shore a ways and park ourselves at the point of a little peninsula – it didn’t seem like much, but the move halved our distance to the bird, and through the scope I finally got those views I’ll remember for the rest of my life – a large grebe, neck tucked in to one side, one foot outstretched while it treaded water with the other, slowly circling around. No picture can express the experience I had watching that bird do what it does best.

The harsh light makes it look almost like a loon. Just, not as awesome!

And that was that. Mark and I had to get to work, and living over an hour away from the lake meant leaving time to return. Sure the bird could have been closer, and the light could have been better, but can you really blame fate when a bird that breeds in western Canada finds its way to a random lake in the southeastern United States? (The answer is no, you cannot.)

That should have been the end to a successful day, but upon my return home I noticed a White-tailed Deer feeding just three feet outside my apartment window. The shade made photographic this congenial mammal impossible, so I stepped outside only to noticed two more deer standing in perfect light feeding across the parking lot.

I had trouble fitting it in the frame... and this was taken from across the street!

For some reason the image stabilizer on the camera started having trouble, but even still I managed this sweet shot of a deer that much improved upon our old one, and a nice behavior shot of an animal that seemed totally obvious to me. That is, until I took a step closer, which apparently was one step to far. One Red-necked Grebe down, one White-tailed Deer well-photographed, and suddenly, work didn’t seem so bad. At least, for today.

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