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Duke of Owl

April 7, 2008
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It’s been raining all week here, but Sunday morning was clear enough for me to head out to Durham County and take a walk around Duke Forest. The forest is owned and managed by Duke University and is a popular spot for runners, dog-walkers and, especially in the spring, birders. On a good morning in the high season you can expect to get fifteen to twenty species, but even though some neotrops have begun to trickle in, it’s still a couple weeks before we can expect the flood en masse. Nonetheless, a walk in the woods on a spring day is always something to savor.


I was greeted by singing House Finches and Cardinals was I walked the gravel road past tracts of salvaged forests where experiments on forestry practices and post-disaster succession have created a patchwork or sorts in the midst of more traditional piedmont oak-hickory stands. I was thrown a bit by a singing Palm Warbler, realizing how out of practice I am with warbler song. I usually start a bit rusty and need to listen to my CDs before I get a handle. Palm Warbler is especially tricksy as the thin warble sounds distant to me despite the proximity. As if to drive home that disparity I soon heard the clarion song of my year’s first Ovenbird. This trail is particularly good for them.

My second Louisiana Waterthrush in two weeks indicated that they seem to have arrived in good numbers, but the only other warblers I could find were the ever-present and avidly singing Pine Warblers, and a handful of newly arrived Northern Parulas. Best bird of the day, however, came as the result of following an especially raucous group of crows (both American and Fish) to a roosting Great Horned Owl tucked in close to the trunk of a pine tree. The owl didn’t seem to mind the gathering crow mob and eventually the corvids left to be replaced by an angry Red-shouldered Hawk who engaged the owl in a minute long mexican standoff before flying off himself, crying the whole way.

The rain recently has been something of a drought buster, refilling lakes and causing rivers to overflow in way they haven’t in over a year. The New Hope Creek that crosses my trail was no exception. I found myself in a predicament when the low-water bridge, which had always been been a dry crossing for me, was suddenly far more intimidating, as you can see above. Not wanting to turn around and walk the whole distance back, I rolled up my pant legs and waded right on in. A note to those in similar situations, wool socks are indispensable, they kept my feet warm, if not dry.

Before I completed the loop back to my car I ran into an excitable flock of little birds that were especially responsive to some screech owl whistles. Along with the expected parids and kinglets were a pair of Hermit Thrushes and a nice Blue-headed Vireo. So all in all a fine morning, though I’m still waiting for that big fallout day that’s surely just around the corner, right?

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