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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Vanellus Icing on the Cake

You know that feeling you get when you turn on the radio and hear “Bum bum bum bada bumbum!” and you’re like “Heck yeah, Under Pressure is my jams!” But then instead of hearing Queen and David Bowie it ends up being “Ice Ice Baby”? Multiply that exact feeling of disappointment by several magnitudes, and you’ll know what it’s like to miss a mega rarity.

Although I saw it on the first day it showed up, James had never seen a Northern Lapwing. This particularly reliable individual had been hanging out next to a pond in rural Person County, and as soon as James came home for Spring Break, we headed out to see it. We arrived to see a half dozen birders milling around their scopes, and it soon became clear the bird hadn’t been seen since that morning, when a bold photographer ventured to close and flushed it from its favorite field. It was a tough loss.

So instead we turned our minds to herping. Even though it’s been quite frigid outside, the herping season kicked off with a bang. Salamanders prefer to do their breeding in the moist and cold weather of late February and early March, as the summer months prove a little sweltering for them. James and I visited a couple sites in Duke Forest and after turning a couple logs, we found our lifer Spotted Salamanders.

It’s a species I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time, and these large salamanders have the typical Ambystoma temperament. They are extremely docile and slow-moving, probably a side effect of having to breed in 40-degree temperatures. However, our next quarry couldn’t have been different. In a different part of the forest, we found a ton of Red-backed Salamanders, including one log that had seven individuals under it!

They’re the complete opposite of Spotted Salamanders. Small, lithe, and quick moving, the Red-backed Salamanders were extremely difficult to photograph, and would often scurry off the log before we could photograph them. There are two color morphs of these guys – one dull and gray (the “lead-backed” kind), and one much more vibrant (the nominate “red-backed”). Of course, we wanted to photograph the more colorful type, which we soon achieved with a little luck.

But James was still left without his lifer Northern Lapwing. After a report that the bird had returned to its field the day after we missed it, James planned another trip without me (who knew work could be so lame). Again, James found himself in the same situation we faced the first time: he was at the field; the bird was not. After several birders came and went, the bird magically appeared in a far corner of the field, and he was able to snap this long-distance photo.

Vanellus vanellus - the lapwing so nice they named it twice.

Normally, just seeing a European mega-rarity is treat enough. It’s especially relieving for James, because he went to Europe and still missed this great shorebird. But to photograph what constitutes the third record of Northern Lapwing for North Carolina, the first one that’s even been chaseable? That my friends, is the Vanellus icing on the cake. 


  1. Very punny. Glad you got those red-backs too. I still need to find them for NC.


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