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Great Scott!

February 5, 2008

A few weeks ago I read on some of my favorite blogs about a Scott’s Oriole that had oddly turned up in a park in the middle of Manhattan. These bloggers were all excited, and rightly so, for New York’s first record of this species, which normally is found in the southwestern US. I thought to myself how lucky they were. Wouldn’t it be nice if I, in the midst of my NC Big Year, could turn up a Scott’s Oriole of my own?

Like an answer to my prayer, merely days after I sat, green with envy, at my computer looking at photos of the New York bird, a probable Scott’s Oriole was reported in western Carolina. The report was followed up as definite, and birders across the state began making plans to travel to little Conover, north of Charlotte, to see the first record of this species in the state. Needless to say, for a prospective Big Year, this bird was crucial.

The bird was reported on a Tuesday, a rough start for me as I begin my work week on Wednesday. Not only that but on my first day off, Sunday, I was already spoken for helping my in-laws move into their new home south of town. You can imagine how I felt, feverishly checking the listserve updates between furniture assembly, hoping against hope that the bird would stick around. The short story is that it did, the bird proved to be resilient, and ever better than that, it was regular. Every day I’d look forward to the posts by Dwayne Martin from Catawba County Parks letting everyone know it was still there. So yesterday morning, finally free of any obligation, I headed out to Conover to get the bird for myself.

I arrived at the house, in a rather ordinary looking development that backed up against an oak-poplar forest. I wish I could tell you a story, but the bird was quickly found in the very top of the tallest poplar as it picked at the new blooms for seeds and nectar. Done and done, but I stuck around in the hopes that it would appear at the feeder as it had in the past. While waiting for the bird to make a formal appearance I chatted with another guy from the triangle who had made the trip. Dwayne Martin showed up and assured us that the bird would soon check out the feeders, and like clockwork, there it was, North Carolina’s first Scott’s Oriole.

The bird stayed long enough for me to take one terrible, but identifiable shot (check better ones here). Scott’s Oriole was not a lifer for me, having had it in Arizona several years ago, but I had gotten so many new birds on that trip that my memory of that specific species was completely shot. It was nice to get a new one. This individual is really nice. It looks to be a first year male by plumage. I though it interesting how the bird looked like a Baltimore Oriole shot in a yellow filter, with a greenish yellow cast instead of the Baltimore’s bright orange. A great bird and thanks to Becky Duggan for allowing so many birders in her house to have the opportunity to see it.

Since I was out west anyway I decided to make a quick shot across Charlotte to check the feeder where a Calliope Hummingbird had been reported. While it wasn’t North Carolina’s first, it would be my first and likely the only opportunity to get this other western bird that I’ll have this year. I pulled in to Phyllis Funderburk’s driveway and sat down on her back porch. She wasn’t there but she had kindly allowed me to wait and watch her feeders for the hummer. If the oriole was easy, the Calliope Hummingbird was even easier. The bird shot past and seemed to give me the once over before returning to the feeder where I noted the tiny bill, short tail and long wing extension. Another first year male by plumage and another western vagrant ticked off my year list. Some day huh?

I headed home only three birds richer for the year (I also ticked Purple Finch at the Duggan’s feeders), but what a group they were. Special thanks should go to Dwayne Martin in Catawba County for keeping tabs on both these great birds and obviously to Becky Duggan and Phyllis Funderburk for the kindness they’ve done the birding community by allowing access to these fantastic rarities. Back to the grind next week, they can’t all be this easy I guess.

  1. noflickster permalink
    February 5, 2008 12:28 pm

    Congrats on two successful “ticks” of western wanderers in the same day! I wish the NY Scott’s would adhere to the “western” rule, like the NC bird: it should appear in the western part of the state, not Manhattan. I guess he didn’t get the memo.

    Great shot of the Calliope!

  2. Patrick Belardo permalink
    February 5, 2008 2:00 pm

    Sweet! I just heard about the NC bird yesterday. Being only an hour away from NY by train, I am ashamed to say that I haven’t seen it yet there. I’m going to NY next Thurs., so maybe it’ll stick around.

  3. Carolyn H permalink
    February 5, 2008 2:35 pm

    What’s with these Scott’s orioles all of a sudden? I saw one in Pennsylvania last winter–lots of birders came to visit that one and it stayed until spring, through all the winter weather and cold temperatures.

    Carolyn H.

  4. Corey permalink
    February 5, 2008 6:56 pm

    Congrats! Those are two big birds to get in any eastern state big year…and I bet that the Purple Finches are a heck of a lot easier up here in New York!

  5. February 6, 2008 4:15 pm

    Thanks guys, they were both great birds.

    Corey –
    Purple Finches are weird. They’re really common in the western part of the state because of the altitude, I think they even nest in the Appalachians. By comparison, Chapel Hill is about 300 ft lower in elevation than Conover. Enough to make a significant difference apparently.

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