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Birds of the Autumnal Equinox

September 25, 2009
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This post is part of the Birdstack Birds of the Equinox project.

So I haven’t written much about birding before work since I got my new job at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.  Most of that has to with the fact that my time is fairly limited.  I’ve seen some pretty good birds on the acreage behind the museum, but because I want to hit all the good spots before I have to be in my office I don’t often have time to spend trying to take what would almost certainly be terrible photos.  But as the equinox occurred on a weekday this year, birding before work is really my only opportunity to get out, and with fall migration in full swing in North Carolina, it’s not a bad place to spend half an hour.

On a typical swing through the museum I first head out to the wetlands, an old quarry reclaimed by the museum with boardwalks and willows and interpretive signs.  It’s a great place to find birds, and nearly every single morning I head out I’m greeted at the wetlands by a trio of species I’ve come to calling the “Three Amigos”, a Great Blue Heron, a Belted Kingfisher, and usually at least one but occasionally as many as four Green Herons.

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Those aren’t the only birds in the area though, I’ve flushed a Barred Owl from the willows and a small family of Mallards, who likely nested in somewhere unknown along the edge, feeds among the old tree stumps that dot the pond’s surface.  Neither of those made an appearance on the 22nd, but I did find Gray Catbirds mewing from the willow thickets and an Eastern Pheobe from an exposed sycamore branch. Good enough.

After the pond I follow the path around back to the Catch the Wind exhibit, basically a series out outdoor activities that illustrate wind and how it effects things like boats and seeds.  This can also be a hot spot for birds and the day before the equinox I turned up Worm-eating and Blue-winged Warbler in the mulberry tree that shades the path.  But the next day, the actual equinox, there was little more than a House Wren, a Common Yellowthroat, and several American Redstarts.

If I have time, and lately I’ve been making time, I’ll turn down the brand-new Dinosaur Trail exhibit, which has been a warbler magnet in the last couple weeks.  Hooded, Tennesee and Blackburnian Warblers, Wood Thrushes, Summer Tanagers.  It tends to be the last place I go and always seems to wreck my schedule, putting me in my office a couple minutes late on days when the birds are swarming.  I don’t know whether its the trees or the fact that it tends to get the first rays of the sun or what but I’ve found some great birds here.  Well, maybe I do have an idea.  Maybe the birds are visiting some of their distant relatives.

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These models are Troodons, a small therapod dinosaur from the late Cretaceous, and one of the species that paleontologists are fairly certain had feathers.  The models the museum placed on the trail are intended to stimulate discussion about evolution and the origin of birds and the exhibit designers were adamant about making the Dinosaur Trail reflect the cutting edge of dinosaur research.  So we have dinos with feathers on our trail, and the birds are clearly fans because the Trail is one of the best spots to bird at the museum.

At this point I usually make my way back and start my work day.  But it’s never a bad way to ease into another day at the office.

You can see my equinox list at Birdstack, here.

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4 Comments
  1. September 25, 2009 6:39 pm

    Nice! I’ve never added a theropod to my life list. I did find a dromaeosaur tooth once though. I think birding would be different with large carnivorous dinosaurs lurking in the wetlands.

  2. Nate permalink*
    September 26, 2009 11:49 am

    @Kirk- Surely, the Troodons are relatively harmless, but there is a life-sized model of an Albertosaurus there as well, that would not be such a fun thing to run into.

  3. September 28, 2009 4:53 am

    @Kirk: I suppose birding unarmed along the southern shores of Hudson Bay during the high tide of the Polar Bear season comes close to it.

    @Nate: this would entirely depend on the behaviour traits of Albertosaurus. I’ve read that one can usually stare down attacking lions. It would be interesting to know if an attacking dinosaur can be fended off in the same way.
    Volunteers?

  4. September 28, 2009 4:36 pm

    There was just some video of a man staring down a lion in the show, “Attack! In Pursuit Of Africa’s Maneaters.” It has been showing on PBS stations recently so you might be able to catch it.

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