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Return of the Swamp Thing: pt 2

May 14, 2008
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When we last left our intrepid birder, things were looking grim…

When I walked around the treatment pond, I saw it. The forest opened up to a wide path. The weeds had overgrown it, but that was a small issue. What’s the possibility of a few ticks when you’re leaving stinging nettle behind? I trudged down the path, hoping against hope for that one target bird, the “birder’s bird” I was here to track down.


Then, deep in a thicket I heard it. Sweet and clear and amazingly, pretty darn close to the trail. I whistled the closest thing I could to an imitation of the song. The bird sang back, closer. Again and again I whistled into the brush, and again and again the bird returned call, but for the life of me I could not find it despite its proximity. Then, I caught a glimpse of a chubby, brown, short tailed bird as it jumped up into a large dogwood. Even though the view was partially obscured, par for the course for this particular species as I understand it, I saw enough of the Swainson’s Warbler to not only count it for the year, which I would have done even if I hadn’t spotted it, but also for my life list. I wish I could have gotten a picture, my camera was out and ready, but the bird never came particularly close and quickly disappeared back into the thick damp forest. It did continue singing, though, even as I walked away.

Swainson’s Warbler is not at all a colorful bird, only brown, and not even a particularly rich shade of brown either. But it is undoubtedly a favorite of those who see it, largely because of the increased degree of difficulty. Definitely a “birder’s bird”. It’d been a target ever since I moved to North Carolina and the Roanoke River is pretty well-known as a good place to get it. It was great to finally find one. The last couple weeks have been pretty good for outstanding warblers on my life list, now if I could just pick up Cerulean…

With a spring in my step, such that it can be with my still healing foot, I headed on down the path to find both singing Hooded and Prothonotary Warblers, adding to a fairly decent warbler haul for the day. I rounded a corner when my trail stopped cold, abruptly dropping 30 feet down to a rain swollen tributary of the Roanoke. And things had been going so well. Looking through the woods I saw what appeared to be another rail bed, so with nothing to lose I once again barreled into the woods. When I reached the other side I was somewhat surprised by what I found.

It was a sign. A sign pointing to a well maintained, tick free, nettle free, weed free trail. The actual real-deal Canal Trail that I had been searching for the entire time. With arrows and everything. But perhaps it was for the best. As I returned to the trailhead, passing the place I had seen the Swainson’s Warbler, I realized that I couldn’t hear it. If I had followed the prescribed path along the river there was no way I would have gotten that great year bird, that lifer. The burrs on my socks, the itchy legs, the achy ankle were all testaments to how difficult Swainson’s Warbler can be to find, and how hard I had to work to get it, and maybe most importantly, the value of just a little luck. The side track was rough, but the bird made the day.

I wasn’t able to get a photo of the Swainson’s. I didn’t even really get a soul-satisfying look at it, just good enough to count. But some birds were more photogenic. I saw lots of evidence of nesting among residents, including the just out of the nest Titmouse to the right. I also saw baby chickadees, Pine Warblers, and bluebirds, all stubby tailed, yellow gaped and screaming for food. Soon enough that’ll be all I see around here as the migrants head out.

Before I left I checked a couple additional spots on the trail, where near a pond I finally found a singing Yellow Warbler in his summer finest. Another crossed off of my year nemesis list. Next week is my last best gasp at a killer spring. Not only do I have a couple hours to kill in the mountains (my wife is running a 5k, I’ll try to get 2 new birds for every kilometer she runs) and of course, the big spring pelagic out of Hatteras. I’m ending May with a bang, and of course, you all get to hear all about it. What this blog lacks in quantity next week, it’ll make up in quality.

It’s the stretch run, time to pull out the stops!

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5 Comments
  1. John permalink
    May 14, 2008 1:22 pm

    Cool sighting!

  2. Jochen permalink
    May 15, 2008 3:05 am

    I hadn’t realized Swainson’s was a lifer for you!
    Double congrats then!

    By the way, with paragraphs like this one:
    “I wish I could have gotten a picture, my camera was out and ready, but the bird never came particularly close and quickly disappeared back into the thick damp forest.”
    you may want to consider joining the IBWO searchers. The rethorik is there, you just need to refine your target a bit!

    Cheers!!! And “good further improvement” (as we say in German) for your foot!

  3. Jochen permalink
    May 15, 2008 5:11 am

    I know, it is spelt “rhetoric”.

  4. May 15, 2008 11:13 am

    Hah! The area I was in was good for IBWOs too, lots in “interesting” bark scaling and stuff.

    Swainson’s is a great bird. I was very happy to get it.

  5. Jochen permalink
    May 15, 2008 11:16 am

    Nah, interesting is not enough, you gotta have some intriguing stuff to really get my heart rate up!

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