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Speedway Birding

September 27, 2010
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I’ve been preparing to give a talk on eBird to a local bird club this week, and thinking about ways I can get the local community of birders interested in using the program in a way they haven’t really internalized before.  Doing this required that I think a little about what a long-time triangle area birder would see when they first look at the eBird map.  What they’d see is a map of putative hotspots that’s largely absent of some popular places to bird, at least going by the bible of triangle birders, the Triangle Birder’s Guide.  So over the last few days, I’ve been adding lots of hotspots to the map in my capacity of eBird reviewer, and I have to say that the North Carolina map in this area is looking pretty good.

A side effect of all this is that I’ve been made privy to some of the secret little spots that are not as well-birded as the ones I’ve always been aware of.  One that caught my eye was the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, a nice little historic site with well-maintained trails running along the Eno River and a history that’s quintessentially Carolinian.

The Occoneechee Speedway was one of the first two NASCAR tracks from the inaugural 1949 season.  It was a one mile dirt oval, tucked against a bend in the Eno River, and back in the day men with names like Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts tore around the track in souped up moonshine runners, occasionally ending up in the Eno when they took Turn 2 too fast.  Once the cars got too fast for the track to safely hold, and in response to resistance from the local religious community, it was shut down in 1968 where it fell into disrepair until a local advocacy group fixed it up and got it added to the National Register of Historic Places, one of two racetracks so designated.   Now a network of volunteers manages the old grandstands and the track itself, as well as the network of trails that run around the property.  It was, without a doubt, worth checking out.

Still I was hesitant at spending what was shaping up weatherwise to be a pretty good morning for birds at an unknown entity.  I had Noah with me too, so the birding that took place was only as a result of his good graces.  I realized I shouldn’t have worried the minute I walked into a feeding flock of warblers including several Black-throated Blues, a White-eyed Vireo and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Not much farther along a found a Worm-eating and a Cape May Warbler.  This was shaping out to be a great day and I hadn’t even made it to the end of the entrance road yet.

The track oval itself was wide enough for a single car, but it wasn’t hard to imagine the stock cars roaring down the back stretch.  The banks on the turns were still there, though now they were covered in 40 year growth of Pines, Sycamores and Sweet Gum.  These days the trail is pretty much the province of dog-walkers and recreational joggers.  And birders too.  And junior birders.

We ended up with 9 species of warblers, including Black-throated Green and Chestnut-sided, all three migratory thrushes (not including Bicknell’s which I’m pretty sure was just made up by a guy looking to get 800 on his ABA life list), Scarlet Tanager and loads of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks calling from the treetops but staying frustratingly out of sight.  It was a great morning at a place I’ll be definitely be checking out again.  And that’s saying something given my history with birding and NASCAR.

Now that I think about it, it’s pretty weird that birding and NASCAR intersect more than once anyway.

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9 Comments
  1. September 27, 2010 9:50 am

    Interesting. Back when I lived in FL and shot at Daytona Speedway I would sometimes report to the local listserve on the species I saw at the track – including the Bald Eagles that nested a couple of miles away. They usually foraged for fish in the very large retention pond they call a lake, but one day even saw one chase down and catch a Ring-billed Gull. Waders, coots, ducks, Osprey, gulls, cormorants, the occasional kingfisher, and several different passerine species could be found on any given day around the track, too.

  2. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    September 27, 2010 10:25 am

    Sounds like a cool place to bird! If I were to visit, is this the kind of place that allows dove/deer hunting that I should be aware of? If so, then I may just have to visit on a Sunday.

  3. Nate permalink*
    September 27, 2010 1:49 pm

    @Kevin- I linked to the post where I wrote about the Lapland Longspurs hanging around Lowe’s Motor Speedway last winter. Amazing. This past fall there were Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the same place. Who knew?

    @Robert- It’s owned by the Classic Homes Preservation Trust, so I doubt there would be hunting there without express permission and posted signs. There were several walkers around so it’s probably safe.

  4. September 28, 2010 10:55 am

    I’m eager to see how social software (like eBird) moves into and through birdwatching communities. As you imply, birdwatchers can their own guide to hotspots, cultivate those hotspots, and constantly reshape the map of birdwatching destinations. Cool stuff! Much less static than guide books.

  5. September 28, 2010 12:15 pm

    Nate, I’ll be in NC for a day or two in the next week. Once I know for sure, I’ll e-mail you and see if we can connect for a couple hours of birding. Having four young kids myself, I’m happy to have Noah along if it makes life better for your better-half.

  6. Nate permalink*
    September 28, 2010 1:07 pm

    @Spencer- I couldn’t agree more. One of the things I expressed in my talk was that I encouraged local experts to list their local hotspots as public sites so that more people can know about them and bird them more often. Not only can eBird be a way to document individual birding history, but it can be a way to discover the birding culture of a given reason.

    @Robert- Sure! Drop me a line!

  7. September 29, 2010 11:38 am

    Best potential place to look for a roadrunner?

  8. Nate permalink*
    September 29, 2010 3:19 pm

    @Laurent- Ha! No doubt.

  9. May 6, 2011 6:57 am

    Congratulations, great website.

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