They say that if March comes in like a lamb then it’ll go out like a lion, right? As spring is not really a big weather season down here in the south, I guess the weather we’ve had over the last few days, gray skies, rain all day, temperature in the 40s, is about as lionesque as we can expect given the perfect beautiful way March came in. But if I didn’t let snow stop me back in January, a little rain won’t this time. I did sit around a bit in the morning until it looked like it was going to clear up for awhile. When it did, I decided to truck out north of Durham, to a nice little spot I don’t get to as often as I should, Eno River State Park.
I always try to go birding near a place with water in the spring, be it a pond or a river like the Eno. I really like those nice places that have plant growth right down to the bank as you can typically get a good look at the strata of the forest, especially the tops of the trees. I prefer this to looking straight up and killing my neck. Of course, there are times when you just can’t get around it, the birds are directly above you and well, you’ve got to look. But often, this cross-section approach works pretty well, for me at least. Anywho…the birds. I had a few in mind, and even though the light was low and the drizzle was constant, I quickly came across the first of my targets.
I was following the trail that runs along the riverbank. To my left, the Eno River. To my right, a steep hillside covered in mosses and ferns and willows. I stopped for a second to check out the flock of Chickamice and Gnatcatchers that had discovered me when I heard a loud smack off to my left. Perched on a low branch was a Louisiana Waterthush. Target acquired, a great bird, and soon joined by a second. Pishing was somewhat successful, the birds came close enough for me to take the terrible photo below, but preferred to spend most of their time preening together and avidly checking out a particularly dark area under a mossy overhang. Will they build a nest there? Who knows, but it looks good. The male bird then ripped off an incredible rendition of that great sweepy swirly song. Birds that send so much time near running water really need to amplify, and those bird was no exception. It’s amazing how much volume can be produced from such a smallish bird.
I turned back and retreated down the trail, the next bird I wanted was in a different direction, only to run into a largish flock of chickadee, titmice, kinglet, warbler stuff you love to find year round. The afore-mentioned birds were all evident, including some ratty Mytle Warblers starting to turn from brown to the sharp blue-gray birds that head up north. I spotted a nice Palm Warbler in the mix though, a bird I had earlier this year on on the coast but moving inland right on time. I stopped short when I heard that familiar slurry descent of my second target. That harbinger of spring I had missed a couple weeks ago, the Yellow-throated Warbler.
I decided at the beginning that I would count heard-only birds towards by Big Year with Yellow-throated Warbler particularly in mind. Around here, they’re not terribly difficult to find, they are just terribly difficult to see. But while following the flock of little birds I managed to spot a single tiny Yellow-throated Warbler, come down from its preferred pine tree penthouse to feed in a sycamore, no doubt helped by the relative lack of foliage thus far. I completely missed seeing this bird last year, I hope this is a sign of things to come this spring.
So two target birds in hand I decided to head back to beat the rain, which looked to begin pouring at any second. But a large woodpecker flew across my path and, like you do, I had to stop and watch a Pileated Woodpecker just destroy a standing snag. It was in this time a second woodpecker entered the scene and I before I knew it I was face to face with a Hairy Woodpecker. The Hairy was actually following the Pileated tree to tree, his little buddy. The Gilligan to the Pileated’s Skipper. Now that of course begs the question which Gilligan’s Island character are any of the woodpeckers. I quickly decided Red-heads are definitely the Movie Star, and sapsuckers are the Professor. Are Downies Mary Anne maybe?
While trying to remember whether the Millionaire has a moustache or not* (cause he’d be Flicker if so), I heard a strange, ethereal song I had never heard before on the very edge of my hearing. It sounded every bit like someone singing under their voice, half humming, as if practicing in the wings. It took me a second before I realized it was undoubtedly Catharus, but with still a month until we can begin to see thrushes in NC, I was stymied until I remembered that Hermit Thrush is still around. While not a rare bird here by any means, I had never heard one singing in my entire life. And it’s a great song too, they really work those dual voiceboxes just like you expect from a Catharus thrush. A perfect strange song for a strange drizzly day.
I turned back towards the car after a successful couple hours in the field and as soon as I pulled out onto the road, the sky opened up with rain.
*he does not have a moustache. He’s still a Flicker though.