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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Scouting for Scoters

For the past few days, a Surf Scoter has been reported on and off from the Hickory Hills Boat Ramp on Falls Lake. This part of the lake falling in Durham, I needed the bird for my county list, and headed out yesterday morning to chase it. Unfortunately, after about an hour of scanning the lake, I packed up and left. No way was this scoter still around, I thought. The lake seemed totally devoid of birds! Later that same day, however, the bird was refound.

So today I tried again, this time opting to check the lake later in the afternoon, when the light was better. But after another hour, still no luck. A local fisherman looked intrigued by my scope setup, so I showed him a flock of cormorants roosting a half mile away near the interstate. He was pretty impressed. My first Pine Siskin of the winter flew over and I told him how I identified the bird by its flight call. That started a conversation about all the birds you could find on the lake, and I pointed out crows, egrets, and herons. I was starting to explain ways you could identify birds by flight when I saw an odd dark bird rocket into a nearby cove. It wasn’t elongate like a cormorant, but more like a football with wings. I swung my scope over and sure enough – Surf Scoter!

I showed the fisherman, and although he was still impressed by the optical range of my scope, he was less impressed by the dingy first-year bird in front of him. A birder’s bird I guess. I raced down the clay hillside and made my way towards the cove, but got stopped a hundred feet away when the route became impassable. Still, I was close enough to snap a couple pics of the bird foraging along lake’s edge. It’s not as pretty as the clown-faced males I can find along the coast, but it’s good enough for Durham county bird #214!

On my way back I stopped by the artificial wetland were I’d gotten my 213th county bird earlier this week. Sure enough the American Bittern was sitting just in front of the bird blind, neck outstretched as a form of camouflage. Clearly the bittern thought it was doing a good job, because it barely flinched as I sat there photographing it!

Eventually the bittern got bored, or hungry, or some combination of the two, and started making its way around the wetland, doing this odd kind of shuffle with its feet, presumably to scare up a meal. I watched it spear at crayfish and frogs, as a school of tiny minnows tried to flee from its gigantic feet. I’ve never seen a bittern this active, it’s a heck of an experience. But don’t take my word for it: check out the video!

So it’s been a good week. Two awesome county birds, some early winter visitors, and absolutely beautiful weather. If this is how the vagrant season is shaping up and it’s only October, it’s gonna be one hell of a winter! 


  1. I saw an American Bittern at of all places, Pullen Park, in the middle of the day! Ya just never know.

  2. Isn't that where Bill Clinton was hanging out today? Not sure if I'd be more interested in a former president or a bittern. Pretty sure it's the bittern, lol.