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Late summer, Mason Farm

August 23, 2010
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Fall is coming.  You may not think so if you live as I do in North Carolina, where heat and humidity still pervade, but the signs are all there.  The Tulip Poplars are slowly turning yellow, birds, even breeding birds, are showing up in areas where they haven been for some time, and the daylight shortens such that when my alarm goes off just after 6:00 am, it’s still dark outside. So by the time I arrive at Mason Farm, the dawn chorus, or the Red-eyed Vireo heavy version of it that’s left by late August, is still going strong.  So close am I to the dawn that a pair of Barred Owls are called avidly in the distant woods.  The birds are still active.  I’ve finally beaten them this summer.

Fall migration has a different feel than the spring, in more ways than just the subdued hues of the returning birds.  Instead of cramming an entire continent’s worth of birds into what feels increasingly like two crazy weeks, the long drawn out return south seems more relaxed and casual.  The birds start moving in late August and keep coming, slow but steady over the next six weeks.  The birds linger for days at a time, so long as food is plentiful, and the birder can enjoy them as they come at his leisure, without the anxiety of missing everything that pervades spring.  And it’s begun all the way down here in North Carolina, slowly, like it always does. The first indications are not boreal returns, but southeastern nesting species showing up in places where they don’t typically occur.  For me at Mason Farm this weekend, it was the Prairie Warbler, the Hooded Warbler, the Black and White, and the Northern Parula.  Not any of them unusual, but all where they shouldn’t be, dispersing widely before trending southward.

Other interesting things at Mason Farm included this stunning Halloween Pennant, the very dragonfly that got me thinking in an Ode way this past week.

Bluebirds did well again, making good use of the many nest boxes at the preserve.  Here’s family of Eastern Bluebirds congregated atop a spindly Sweetgum.

I swear this blog isn’t turning into a bug blog, but I’ve discovered something about them as I think about my trips afield more photographically.  They’re so much easier than birds, in that they often site perched for extended periods of time allowing a rank amateur photog good opportunities.  Odes are as far as I’ll ago, I promise, but this Common Buckeye was just too nice to leave out.

Red-shouldered Hawks successfully raised a brood nearby, and the young birds made their presence known the whole morning.  One finally came into view followed by a half dozen screaming Blue Jays.

Even though I don’t see them often, Ive been a big snake fan since I was a little kid.  In fact, you could probably say I had a passion for snakes long before I had a passion for birds, thanks no doubt to my science teacher father’s annual August treks to find a cool snake for his classroom for the year.  Black Rats were the most common back then, as they are just about anywhere on the continent.  This individual was only three feet long or so, a middle sized snake, and got away after I took a photo but before I could snatch it up.  Once a snake-catcher, always a snake-catcher, but not always a good one.

Finally, one of the things I think I enjoy the most about dragonflies in my novicehood is that it’s relatively easy to identify new species since even flashy ones are completely new to me, something birds haven’t been able to do for a long time.  So it’s a little ironic that the first week I’m out with a specific eye towards dragonflies that I come across the Empidonax complex of Odes, female Libellula skimmers.

The individual below could be a Bar-winged, Great Blue, or even a Slaty Skimmer.  I’m sort of leaning towards Great Blue for a couple reasons.  It has a white face, Bar-winged is fairly unusual this far inland, and I’ve seen Great Blue Skimmers at Mason Farm before.  But it’s hard to tell, mostly because I haven’t quite gotten the hang of looking at the right things with Odes, something that has long since become second nature in birds.  It’s strange how difficult it is when you really have to think about it.  Anyway, any clues to the identity of the bug below would be appreciated! (Update: female Great Blue Skimmer.  Thanks, Jason!)

Birds, bugs, and herps amounted to a great morning out.  Things are starting to look up!

10 Comments
  1. August 23, 2010 10:38 am

    Love these, Nate. I know what you mean about the dragonflies staying in one place long enough for photos. I took shots of three different ones on Saturday myself while out birding. No idea what they are, of course. Can you recommend an ID source?

    Enjoying this post. Thanks much!

  2. Nate permalink*
    August 23, 2010 10:58 am

    @Jann- One of the things I’ve noticed about Dragonflies is the lack of any continent wide ID guide (though apparently one is in the works). There are several regional guides that are more or less what you’re looking for. I’m using Giff Beaton’s Dragons and Damsels of Georgia and the Southeast, which is fabulous, but probably not helpful for you in California.

    I can’t make a personal recommendation, but it looks like you’ve got a couple to choose from: Damsels and Dragons of California and the Princeton Field Guide Dragons and Damsels of the West. Both look pretty great to me, but the second looks pretty comprehensive.

  3. August 23, 2010 11:48 am

    Nice post. I started out just selling birdhouses and bird feeders online as a business. I am truely learning a lot about birds and it is all very interesting. I know it is making me watch the birds now and they are quite resourceful. Thanks to people like you to teach people like me that there is more to life than just sitting at your computor.

  4. August 23, 2010 11:58 am

    Good warbler list. May I ask where you found the Hooded and Prairie? I missed both of those species, but I did nab a Canada Warbler on left side of the main loop.

  5. Nate permalink*
    August 23, 2010 12:01 pm

    @Rose- Thanks!

    @Robert- Same place you found the Canada. That’s what I was looking for. Both the Hoodie and the Prairie were in the willows along the ditch.

  6. August 23, 2010 5:13 pm

    Nice shots! And glad to see you filling the no-bird time with the other critters roaming about.

    On that last image, it’s a female great blue skimmer. I had to look at the FB photo for a better view to be certain. (Great blue females have an all-black femora while slaty blue females have dual-tone femoras.)

    And a snake! Too awesome. You’re so right, too: once a snake catcher, always a snake catcher. It’s hard not to love a snake.

    • August 23, 2010 5:15 pm

      Darn it! I reversed the skimmer colors. Great blue have dual-tone and slaty skimmers have all black. Sorry!

  7. Nate permalink*
    August 23, 2010 7:38 pm

    @Jason- Thanks! That’s definitely the direction I’ve been leaning lately.

    And yeah, every time I come across a snake, I’m drawn back in. I just don’t see to many now that I’m a bit more urban. I may need to make a change there.

  8. August 24, 2010 6:49 pm

    Don’t limit yourself to leps and odes. Come out “birding” with me, and I’ll get you hooked on damsels, tiger beetles, and moths too.

  9. September 4, 2010 10:59 am

    Isn’t it just great to be outdoors and a nature lover? So much to see, so little time. Great post Nate. I really enjoyed the walk!

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