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Sweet Songs of Spring

March 17, 2008

Spring means a lot of different things here in Chapel Hill. It usually means watching the Heels in the tourny, seeing the crepe myrtles and cherries in everyone’s yard busting out in bloom, and looking forward once again to the day when residents can park on Franklin Street without circling the block five times.

But for the birder it means finally getting that one morning when it seems like everything is singing and, most exciting, the first day of several where every single sunrise means something new. It just feels like that day is right around the corner here in Carolina. The first official day of spring may only be a week off, but now is the time we southern birders begin to whet our appetites for the return of our Gnatcatchers and Vireos and Yellow-throated Warblers. It’s not an entirely altruistic desire though. I’ve been mired in the 160s for some time, I need some new migrants to pad that total.

So it was with the excitement of the potential year birds I decided to try a new spot, a spring spot. An old railbed that runs off Stagecoach Road in Chatham County towards Jordan Lake. I had some history here. It was within the area I had been given for the Chapel Hill Spring Bird Count last year, and I had a great morning picking up a good number of warblers. I knew it’s a little too early for any sort of variety, but early arriving Louisiana Waterthrushes and Yellow-throated Warblers were regular here, I figured it was worth a shot.

It’s a long walk out to the lake from Stagecoach Road, though hardwood forest that had flooded following the recent rains, the same ones that had caused so much damage in Atlanta (can’t complain, we still need the rain badly). But even though I got a little wet early on, the clouds soon parted to reveal a beautiful Carolina Blue sky, and instantly, the birds started singing. Carolina Wrens and Cardinals and Titmice. Goldfinches twittered and Red-headed Woodpeckers chattered and the Red-shouldered Hawks pierced the morning with incessant screams. Not once, though, did I hear the warble of a waterthrush or the descending whistle of a Yellow-throat (or even a Yellowthroat!). And no amount of peering through the marshy shrubs or at the tops of the White Pines respectively would will those birds into view. Maybe next week.

Wood Ducks were plentiful though, tucked back in the still water, and I ran into some sparrows (nothing odd, though) at the end of the trail when I reached the northern tip of Jordan Lake. I spooked a flock of around 50 American Coots who had huddled for the evening on the leeward side of the road bed. The quickly booked on out of there, spooking a flock of Mallards and Ring-necked Ducks further out. Once the willows begin leafing out this area is particularly good for getting great looks at Yellow Warblers and Orioles. But I’m a few weeks early for that.

I walked back out the same way I came in. It was a good morning despite the lack of new birds. So while the calender and the temperature may say spring, but the birds don’t appear to be hip to that yet. I’m ready for them, it’s time to get the show on the road.

Today I’m off to the beach again for a last shot at some winter birds. Stay tuned for that tomorrow…


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