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It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall…

October 29, 2007

Rain! Sweet Jesus finally. Until Wednesday night North Carolina sat 18 inches below for the year. Water restrictions went into effect across the state. No tropical storm came to respite us after one of the hottest summers on record. Durham had 60 days left. Falls Lake, the main water supplier for most of the triangle, was down to 30% of capacity. Lawns withered, showers shortened, and city governments finally began to talk about water conservation in a real progressive way. It would be practically impossible to believe if I hadn’t seen it myself. But Wednesday the skies opened up and didn’t stop until Saturday morning. We got at least 6 inches of rain, not enough to spell the drought completely, but enough to give us hope that we’d ride it out. The unfortunate side effect is that we’ll likely go back to the same take water for granted attitude that got us into this mess in the first place practically guaranteeing we’ll do this all again in a year’s time, but hopefully some city officials will learn from this experience and do something about the rampant suburban sprawl that exacerbated the situation. We can only hope.

Civic discourse aside, I had hoped that the weather system, in addition to alleviating the guilt that came every time we ran the dishwasher, might bring in some shorebirds. So it was once again to the Jordan Lake mudflats we went. I wanted a good show, my Dad (who also blogs at Conservation Conversations) was in town and it would be nice to give him a taste of what NC birding has been like this fall. The lake was still low, it will probably take a few days for the rain that fell in the watershed to make its way into the reservoir, and the sky was cloudy as we stopped shortly on a bridge to get a look. Grass has grown in the lake bed, giving what was before a muddy mess, the impression of a peaceful savanna. The water looked more ephemeral than the land.

As we walked through the woods to the lake arm, a Gray Fox snuck out of the cornfields managed for dove hunters. I’d seen several Red Foxes, but the Gray was a first. Attempts to photo, though, were unsuccessful as he took one look at us and trotted back into the woods. But it was the shorebirds we searched for, and we would not be denied. A dozen American Golden-Plovers greeted us as the lake came into view along with my first Coot of the season. Further back even more Plovers were joined by Least Sandpipers and a three Wilson’s Snipe. Just then four Bald Eagles took flight from a pine deep in the back of the lakebed. The ensuing confusion put up an enormous flock of shorebirds and ducks. We simply had to trapse on to investigate.

It turned out to be well worth it as the largest flock of the day consisted of mostly Dunlin (a year bird for me) but also several more Golden-Plovers, along with at least one Black-bellied, both Yellowlegs, many many Leasties and a few Semipalmated Sandpipers. It was a varitable shorebird party and we were the guests of honor. Back up on the New Hope arm though, the flats were covered with not only shorebirds as we expected, but nearly every species of dabbling duck. The ducks were even acting as de facto shorebirds, waddling around on the flats like they had no idea how awkward they looked. What looked orginally to be only Mallards turned into Northern Pintails, American Wigeons and Gadwall. Large numbers of Blue-winged Teal were joined with their Green-winged relations. Wrapping it up, Northern Shovelors joined the crowd, tucking on in the slightly deeper waters. It was the best diversity I’d ever had in the area. A truly great morning of the sort I’ve actually almost come to expect out there this season.

Feeling as though we had at least gotten a feel for the shorebirds back on the flats and with family responsibilities calling, we reluctantly trudged back to the car. But not before a confiding group of Semipalmated Plovers allowed me to take what I feel is the best bit of digiscoping I’ve managed, despite the fact that it does look a tad washed out. I just want to thank God, my parents, my agent and especially, this brave little plover for helping me accomplish what, up to this point, has only been a distant dream. Thank you all. the next day we went to the beach, more on that to come…


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