County List Crazy
One of my favorite aspects of eBird, and one of the features that makes it so much more useful as a personal database, is the ability to keep county lists. I’ve always considered these smallest of sovereign domains to be merely a side show to the bigger and obviously more interesting state and country lists. How wrong I was! County lists are a blast, and while I hadn’t been actively searching out birds for most of them, preferring to passively accumulate species and note with a small bit of satisfaction when I ended up adding to one or the other, I had been paying close attention to my totals as they compare to other eBirders through the Top 100, especially as I slowly closed in on the top spot for three of the counties in my region. I was either second or third for Orange (my home county), Durham (where I work), and Chatham (where Jordan Lake is).
I don’t know if other local eBirders have been playing as close attention to the game as I have however. When I gave a talk on eBird to the local Chapel Hill Bird Club, I talked afterwards with the woman who has been leading me by 5 to 10 species in Orange County for some time, and said, “Nice to finally meet my arch-nemesis!” and which point she looked at me like I’d accused her dog of using my lawn as a port-a-potty. So maybe I’m alone in taking this county list thing seriously, even if I haven’t been kicking up birds in these counties like I should be able to if I make a real effort.
In any case, with the successful twitch of the Connecticut Warbler, where I also found a handful of other good birds for the county, I finally found myself sitting in the first spot for Durham County. This was unexpected and sort of cool, until two days later when I got knocked back off that pedestal by one Robert Meehan (who also comments around these parts as BirdtrainerRobert). Rather than accept my demotion with the good graces you might expect from any reasonable individual, I decided to put myself on top for good, so this past weekend I went out for the first time to specifically find some birds in a specific county. This is the dawning of a new era for The Drinking Bird. One no doubt defined by repetition, naval-gazing, and mind-numbing minutia. Get ready!
What I was lacking more than any on my Durham County list was waterfowl, so the order of the day was to visit the arms of Falls Lake that stick out into Durham County to see if I could turn up any early ducks or interesting gulls. The first place to hit was the old Ellerbe Creek rail grade, the exact same place where the long-staying Connecticut Warbler had been until recently, seen. The warbler had apparently vamoosed, a few nights prior the winning combination of a clear night with strong southward winds and full moon was too much to resist, but in a small-scale reproduction of the Patagonia Picnic Table effect, several other locally good birds had been seen at this same area. There were several on my radar, but one that surprised me as a reminder that even if the Connecticut Warbler was no longer waiting to be flushed, other birds were. This juvi Black-crowed Night Heron for one. A sharp start.
I walked out onto the peninsula that jutted out into Falls Lake where I was able to find the bird I most wanted, a Ruddy Turnstone fairly easily. Less expected but also good for the county were Greater Yellowlegs, and a first year Herring Gull loafing with a flock of Ring-bills.
With four new county birds already in the bag, I was feeling pretty good. But I wanted to find some ducks to put a nice bow on the morning so I headed out to a couple additional access points, campgrounds and boat ramps around the lake and managed as Falls Lake State Park. The first couple stops I didn’t have much more than a Bald Eagle, some Cormorants and a handful of Killdeer on the old swimming beaches, but towards that end, at Rollingview, I had better luck.
A small group of dark smudges in the heat haze turned into a half-dozen Ring-necked Ducks with a couple Ruddy Ducks mixed in, providing me with the completely unexpected “Ruddy slam” (Ruddy Quail-Dove notwithstanding). A total of 6 new species for Durham County, which puts me pretty free and clear on top of the eBird top 100 for Durham County, but still about 60 species behind the actual Durham County top lister. But let’s not worry about that just yet…