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Take a friend to bird Day

June 5, 2008

Monday morning, with the promise of Yellow-crowned Night Herons on the horizon, I decided to eschew my normal practice of birding solo and bring along my friend Tim. My schedule is a bit odd, necessitating my reluctant solitude, but Tim’s a student at Duke’s School of the Environment, so he’s a bit more flexible, and had recently been getting interested in birds and birding. He’d bought a feeder for his backyard, and recently I’d loaned him my old set of binoculars. What better way to drive that interest than by going to see some big flashy birds, right?

So bright and early we set off to a waterfowl impoundment where the birds had, in the past, found spots secluded enough to nest. We pulled off the road in the middle of rush hour traffic, earning some odd looks from commuters as we piled out of the car, binoculars and scope in tow and tramped off onto the weedy trail that runs along the pond. I soon heard a singing Summer Tanager and Common Yellowthroats in the cattails, exactly the kind of flashy birds I’d want to show to a beginner to get the bug thoroughly implanted. But they stayed hidden, forcing me to explain with a rueful shrug, that about 85% of birding is done by ear.

But Common Grackles and Red-winged blackbirds were far more accommodating, and it’s a testament to my friend Tim’s nature that he found those birds’ iridescent glow as interesting as anything. And through a scope, even a grackle is pretty impressive. We did find some evidence of nesting as Canada Geese with goslings in tow and Wood Ducks with nearly fledged young in the reeds tooled over the pond, but the nests we most wanted, those of the Night Herons, were nowhere to be found.

So I made the executive decision to ditch the impoundment and head to Jordan Lake, south of town, to look for the always cool raptors that nest there. And lo and behold, as we crossed the causeway, we were treated to not one, not two, but three Osprey hunting in close proximity to the road. Near enough for me to snap a photo of one as it made an especially close pass. Not bad.

While a few of the access points become pay-only in the summer, we found a free one with a camping loop where we walked down the path a ways. We were treated to a strange song that I eventually tracked down to an Orchard Oriole that showed pretty well. On top of all that the Indigo Buntings were singing and Double-crested Cormorants were actively fishing in the lake. And on the return loop back towards town we found a natural Osprey nest (i.e. not on a man-made platform) just off the road that had at least 3 babies inside. That’s more like it!

One more impoundment was good for singing Wood Thrush, a great song though we couldn’t find the bird, but not for trying. And a roadside Blue Grosbeak game us the slam for iridescent blue sparrows, though admittedly, that is out of two species.

So we never got the Night Herons, I need to find a more reliable spot, but we did have a pretty good morning. Good enough that I think Tim will come out with me again if our schedules work out. Maybe we’ll get those herons yet.


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