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Friday, November 23, 2012

A Special Broccasion

Thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt somewhat arbitrarily assigning Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November, James was able to come home during his break. We decided to celebrate the occasion by trying to find James his lifer Iceland Gull on Falls Lake. Though I’d seen it a couple days earlier, we were unable to relocate this bird amongst the large flock of gulls and cormorants. Instead, we made do with a trio of immature Bald Eagles that graciously circled overhead.

There was also a fourth-year individual that was starting to grow in its white head and tail.
That’s when James noticed something white high up in the clouds. I assumed it was a gull, but after getting it in my scope, I was surprised to see an American White Pelican riding the very thermals the eagles were enjoying. It’s another bird I’d seen recently at the location, but because the bird hadn’t been reported in days, I thought it’d left. We watched as a small Cessna from the nearby airfield appeared to come dangerously close to the large bird, though I’m sure it was an optical illusion. Still not something you see everyday around here!

Honestly, from this distance, the pelican looked as big as the Cessna!

Because he had a couple days left in town, we decided to hit up our old standby of Mason Farm, where we can always expect good birding. We weren’t disappointed – as soon as I stepped out of the car, I heard the perky chirps of a flock of Pine Siskins. This is supposed to be a great winter for irruptive finches, and though we haven’t heard hide or feather of grosbeaks and crossbills, seeing the siskins again is good enough for me.

I never get tired of hearing their rip-cord calls. Look forward to it every winter!

But the finch party didn’t stop there – we spotted a couple of Purple Finches along the old canal. While one of them was clearly a female, the other had flecks and hues of raspberry coloring in its plumage, like it had just bathed in a puddle of red wine. Either it’s a young male just starting to attain his adult feathers, or it’s an extremely mature female individual. The former is probably more likely, but either way we only got a good shot of the undeniably female bird.

I honestly don't get to see a whole lot of Purple Finches - this is by far my best view ever.

Along the fields, we noticed large flocks of Field Sparrows moving through the hedges. Normally a pretty skittish species, several of the birds popped into an open view, even responding to some tapes, something I’m not used to with this species in winter. We got such good looks that I was able to appreciate the subtle plumage of these tiny birds, complete with their bubblegum pink bills and their wide white eye-rings. These have got to be the one of the most adorable birds in the state!

Except for maybe Winter Wrens - they might take the cake in the cuteness category.

Not to be outdone, a nearby Northern Mockingbird stopped skulking in one of the bushes and perched out in the open. James froze because he was quite close to the bird, easily within five feet. He tried to take a picture, but against all odds, the mockingbird moved even closer to him. The bird ended up within the camera’s minimum focal distance, so James actually had to step back to take the shot you see below. But oh what a shot!

You can see every damn feather on this bad boy, from it's slightly-worn primaries to the bristles 'round it's bill!

Now when we showed up to Mason Farm, it was cold. Not like real cold, but certainly North Carolina cold – somewhere in the high forties or so. James and I both had our sweatshirts on, and I even opted to wear gloves. Even the birds seemed to be feeling it, some of them puffing up their feathers to retain heat. So herping was the last thing on my mind, but even so, James and I decided to flip our “Magic Snake Log” (actually a 6x6 wooden beam) to try our luck. And sure enough…

This is the third species of snake we've found under "Magic Snake Log" - it's living up to its reputation!

This small Eastern Garter Snake lay underneath, curled up against the winter weather. When I picked him up, he was quite cold, a tribute to their ectothermic habits. While I held and posed him, the exquisite snake started to warm up, even taking a strike at me. This is the garter snake I know, a cantankerous musking snake that doesn’t like to be held. But when the temperatures are this low, snakes don’t really have much of a choice. So I’ll choose to enjoy calm garter snakes and confiding birds for as long as I can – however long that may last.

1 comment:

  1. These photos, and the previous ones, constitute almost everything I know about Idaho and I’d like to go and live there. The other thing I know is potatoes. To see more info please visit