Carolina Prairie and Yates Mill
Following a tip from the local bird listserve on some hottt (3 Ts intentional) grassland bird action down near Raleigh, I headed south Sunday morning to the some of the agricultural fields maintained by North Carolina State University. The fields are managed for research on crop science, and as such are pretty diverse for a monoculture, if such a thing can be said. Anyway, open space that isn’t immediately turned into a housing development is pretty unusual around here and there are some interesting birds that can be found.
The gravel road that winds between the fields is bordered by power lines that hosted several Mourning Doves and Savannah Sparrows, but also my first of the year Blue Grosbeaks, and in numbers that I’ve never seen anywhere else I’ve been birding in the area. I had at least 4 pairs right off the bat, and avidly singing males for all. I pulled over and got out to hear the tinny buzz of Grasshopper Sparrows, but none of them hopped up in the fencerow to show themselves. While watching a particularly nice singing Eastern Meadowlark, a funky mottled bird hopped up on the fence. I was taken aback for a bit before I realized I was looking at a half-molted Bobolink. Half of its face and breast were black and the rest looked a great deal like a basic-plumaged bird. Very odd, indeed, and very cool.
I turned down a second road nearby and had a treat on the powerline. When you get the opportunity to watch a Blue Grosbeak singing its heart out on a wire, you have to take it. The bird was nice enough to let me get the photo at left. It’s times like these I wish I had slightly better photo equipment. The Grasshopper Sparrows were still singing here and I finally got a look at one atop a thistle. Also of note, a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes were avidly carrying nesting material into a cedar tree near a university building. A nesting Shrike is big news in this part of the state.
Since I was in the area I swung by Yates Mill County Park. Yates Mill is a historic site and location of the region’s last functioning grist mill. There are some really nicely maintained trails and big mill pond that usually has ducks in the winter. There was nothing on the water on this day but a single Double-crested Cormorant, but a walk around the trails was pretty productive.
I quickly ran into a group of warblers including a singing Blue-winged Warbler, the first non-resident species I’ve come across this spring. A boardwalk crossing a marshy area created by a beaver pond was apparently appealing to a singing Indigo Bunting, so both glossy bluebirds in one day, and a hawk on a far snag proved to be Broad-winged, another new bird for the year for a total of seven, my best day yet this spring as far as new year birds are concerned.
I don’t usually get this far out in my regular routine, but on a big year you have to pull out all the stops, even if it means just in the immediate area. The birds are coming fast and furious these days. You can call in to work sick with spring fever, right?