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Birding down the river

April 22, 2008

North Carolina is known for many things; tobacco, BBQ, college basketball, but lesser known are its scenic waterways from border to border. There are several out west that are well-known across the country by canoe enthusiasts. They’re less common farther east but there are still a few that, when you get away from the traffic that pervades the triangle, seem like you’re out west. So bright and early on a Monday morning I decided to take off to one of them, the Haw River canoe access point in Chatham County just south of Chapel Hill.

Take a look at that photo above. Isn’t that scenic? It just so happens to be merely a few hundred yards from a major highway. But, if the birds are there it doesn’t really matter where you go right?

The overpass serves a cool purpose for a colony of swallows though. Both Barn and Cliff Swallows make their nests under the highway. They’re practically complete opposites. Cliffs have square tails, Barn appropriately swallow-tailed. Barns enter their nests from the top, Cliffs from the bottom. The photo to the left is a pair of the Cliff Swallow nests currently under construction. If you look closely you can see the bird’s heads sticking out of the tubes.

But the swallows were practically in the parking lot. As I walked into the woods I immediately heard the clarion call of one of my targets, a male Hooded Warbler attempting to compete in volume with the nearby traffic. It was probably not the best territory to be holding, but the bird was confiding, allowing for fairly close approach and an awful, but recognizable photo, to the right. I’m going to begin a series of terrible, but recognizable photos of North American Warblers, retroactively of course to include my photo of the Prairie Warbler from yesterday and my Louisiana Waterthrush from a month ago. I’ll be like the homeless man’s Eliot Porter. The mediocrity, especially the consistency of the mediocrity, will astound you. So be ready for that.

Also seeming to arrive right along with the Hoodies were Prothonotary Warblers, and several were singing along the banks of the Haw River. And because it’s part of a series now, here is a quite awful photo of that bird as well. For whatever reason my camera prefers to focus on leaves in front of the bird then the actual bird. I guess I’ll take what I can get. The trail wound along the bank of the river quite a ways and in addition to the new year warblers I also saw many Louisiana Waterthrushes, heard boatloads of Parulas, and was fooled over and over by flocks of passing Yellow-rumps. It just seems like there should be other warblers, ok?

I doubled back one the birdsong began to get repetitive and took a quick drive past Jordan Lake to see if there was anything on the water. No dice there, but a Eastern Kingbird on a wire was a nice addition to my year-list.

My last stop was at a waterfowl impoundment just inside Durham County on my way home. I still don’t have Blue-winged teal this year, a baffling miss, and I had hoped maybe the man-made marsh would be the place to get it. They must not be arrived just yet as I couldn’t find any, but I did spook a Green Heron on the shore to close the morning with five new birds for the year. Another surprise was a family, you read that right, of Wood Ducks including at least eight fluffy ducklings that couldn’t have been more than a couple days out of the nest. So while the north still slowly thaws out, we’ve got birds well into their first broods, but that’s Carolina for you.


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