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Searching for Robert Q. White

June 23, 2008

There are a few birds that remain the triangle region that for whatever reason, I haven’t yet come across. It was my intention yesterday morning to track one of them down. The Northern Bobwhite, that little quail that remains the only member of its family familiar to us in the eastern part of the continent, is uncommon in the upland Piedmont of North Carolina, victims, like so many birds, of extensive habitat loss. The farmland and scrub they prefer, having been turned into extensive housing developments and acres of strip malls.

None of this is unique to central North Carolina of course, but the Bobwhite is one of those birds that has been hit the hardest in this region. To the extent that it’s kind of difficult to find them anymore, but the farms and fields of western Orange County are one of the best places remaining. So bright and early I headed out to drive the farm roads, listening intently for the whistle of quail.

Long story short, the bird just wasn’t there. Even though Bobwhite had recently been reported from that very location, I missed them. But the other summer open-country birds were evident and singing. Lots of Meadowlarks on wires and fences. Lots of Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings in the hedgerows and cedar breaks. And even several singing Grasshopper Sparrows in some fields surprisingly left fallow, or at least, they were not planted in any obvious way (with the price of corn these days, I would have thought every field would have it growing right up to the buildings). A couple pictures below.

It was a long shot to be sure, but I’ll likely pick up a Bobwhite out east in the fall. They’re much more common on the coastal plain due to the lack of development and once they begin to covey up they get a little easier to find.  Either way, it was a pretty good, not super hot, morning. And after all, a Big year is as much about birds you don’t get as birds you do anyway.

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