rotating banner

Friday, January 6, 2012

Would that be Accidental or Occidental?

The bird had apparently been coming to Marjorie’s house in Pinehurst for a month or so. Being very busy during the holidays, as most of us are, she didn’t have much time to check it out thoroughly, and assuming he was an oriole, she put half an orange out for him on the feeder set-up. Weeks passed, and the orange remained uneaten. Instead, the bird continued visiting her peanut feeder, and after snapping a couple pictures with her point and shoot, she brought over Michael McCloy to check out the bird and confirm her suspicions. Sure enough, they were looking at a bright male Western Tanager, a bird of the Rockies and the Pacific Coast, and a bird off-course by several thousand miles.

Having spent several weeks out in California and coming up empty on the tanager front, I knew this chase was happening. Heck, it’s only an hour and a half away, and James really wanted to see the bird after finding out it was a nice male, and not one of the drab females that usually grace our state. So this morning, we made a bee-line for Pinehurst, and after Marjorie graciously allowed us inside her house, we waited intently while the sunlight danced around her birdless feeders, hoping that if the tanager did show up, it would land at the right moment. Then, a flurry of activity – out of nowhere, Blue Jays drank from the nearby bath, Pine Warblers and Chickadees ate out of the seed feeders; even a Northern Flicker popped up to the feeder closest to the window. And right in the middle of her platform feeder filled with peanuts, a golden bird with a wash of crimson to his head. The Western Tanager positively glowed in the morning sun.

The bird stuck around for a full ten seconds, which is like 9.5 seconds longer than
it had ever stuck around before!

Having allocated several extra hours in case the tanager decided to be timid, James and I decided to visit the nearby Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve. If you recall, we visited last summer to try and find its most famous residents, the colony of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers that call the preserve home. Of course, last summer we also got totally skunked on the birds, and I’d almost totally written off Weymouth Woods as a potential spot to find the endangered woodpeckers. This morning, however, I watched several dozen Brown-headed Nuthatches work their way through the pines they enjoy so much, when all of a sudden from the middle of the flock, I heard an odd whark! near the base of one of the trees. I assumed it was just one of the nuthatches making an uncharacteristic noise, but as I neared a larger bird flew up to a nearby pine, and the pattern of black and white bars across the back meant could only mean one thing – a beautiful Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and not fifty feet from my car!

Even at this distance I can't see the red cockades. I'm convinced they don't exist!

The woodpecker flew down one of the trails, stopping every so often to check out a pine and hammer away at a couple bugs. Suddenly, I heard another whark! come from behind me, and a second Red-cockaded joined the first. Within minutes, whark!s started sounding from every corner of the forest, and the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers started streaming in from previously unseen perches. There must have been something like 10 or 15 birds in all, every one working their way from pine to pine, starting at the bottom and sidling up until they’d rid the tree of insects. At one point, I had five of these so-called “rare” woodpeckers working the same spot on the tree, as if they were butterflies swarming over a salt puddle.

Despite the Red-cockadeds, we ended the day with 6 woodpecker sp. So close!

After following the flock for a good half mile or so, one of the birds finally decided to sit up near the light for us (for some reason, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers seem to prefer the shady side of trees). With that, it seemed like we’d gotten everything these Sandhills could have possibly offered us on this cool January morning. We stopped back by Marjorie’s to see if the tanager had shown up again (it had, just once), and we checked the local golf course rather unsuccessfully for Fox Squirrels. All in all though, I think we nailed this morning. If only birding could be this awesome every day!

No comments:

Post a Comment