Late summer, Mason Farm
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!