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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Life in the Concrete Jungle

Having recently moved from the suburbs to a much more urban location, I’ve found it difficult to find a good diversity of wildlife in my day-to-day. Most of the time I’m hearing Yellow-rumped Warblers chipping from the myrtle trees, and I’m much more used to Common Grackles being in my neighborhood. But for some reason, I just can’t find the birds like I used to.

However, earlier this week one of my neighbors put up a feeder in a large oak that towers above the communal parking area. Suddenly, the trees became alive with Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees, and nuthatches and woodpeckers started to become commonplace. Even a flock of Cedar Waxwings has taken up residence, feeding on the ornamental Bradford pears. You’d think having waxwings so close all the time would mean I’d get amazing pictures of them foraging, but not so – turns out, waxwings like to hide out towards the middle of trees, probably for protection. Even still, I’ve been able to weave through the branches and pick out one or two bathing in the sun.

One of these days I'll get that perfect shot... but it was not this day.

After taking an afternoon bus downtown, I decided to visit the Rufous Hummingbird that’s been hanging out on UNC’s campus. While its Coker Arboretum hangout seems nice enough, it’s bordered on two sides by large, brick buildings, and on a third by the hustle and bustle of Franklin Street. In this oasis amidst urban life, the tiny Selasphorus has continued to feed off an enormous honeysuckle bush. Hopefully he decides to stick around – every time I visit, he’s further along in his molt. He’ll have a full-on gorget in no time!

Finally I got him to sit out in the sun for me!

I like to walk back to the apartment from downtown; it gives me a chance to check out some of our more common denizens. There’s the Northern Mockingbirds that strut across people’s minute lawns, and the House Sparrows that flock onto any available perch. Turkey Vultures cruise around the city heights, just barely above a pair of enormous construction cranes. As I rounded a corner behind my local supermarket, I noticed a mixed flock of birds feeding on some spilled birdseed along the asphalt’s edge.

These have got to be three of the most common species around here.

I tried to get closer to photograph the male Northern Cardinal, because for as common as those guys are, I can never seem to get a really good picture of one. One step too far, and the sparrows all flushed into some nearby bushes, leaving one large brown blob to continue stuffing his face full of birdseed. At first the form didn’t register, but then I realized it wasn’t a bird at all, but a mammal – a large Hispid Cotton Rat had been just as much a part of this mixed flock as the birds.

Not nearly as nasty as those introduced Norway Rats... he's got a kind of elegance about him.

Normally I see these guys scurrying for cover on the trail’s edge, so it was cool to finally see one out in the open and unafraid. He must not have noticed me with the harsh glare from the sun, because as soon as I stooped down to eye level, he too rushed off into the bushes. That just left the male Northern Cardinal, now perched on a gnarled branch, waiting to return to the cornucopia before him. As I walked home, a Ring-billed Gull loafed overhead, and a Hairy Woodpecker called from a stand of pines. Perhaps it’s not that it’s difficult to find birds in the city. Perhaps I’ve just been looking in the wrong places.

Yeah, pretty much the best part about living in the eastern United States.

Oh, by the way, if Sir David Attenborough and/or the BBC wants to co-opt this post’s title for their next nature series (perhaps about wildlife coping with increasing urbanization), feel free – I think it’d be an awesome idea! Raccoon Dogs living on the edge of cities, Greater Adjutants living on dumps in India, the list goes on!

1 comment:

  1. We have had the beautiful black capped Carolina chickadees for over a year and a half now in our feeding area. Suddenly, they have disappeared this April. What could have possibly have happened to our cute little birds we called little "Bandits" because of their sweet faces? We haven't changed their feed or environment in any way. Sincerely, Dawn Copley-Lindsey