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Counting on Fall

September 22, 2008

This past weekend I participated in the Chatham County Fall Bird Count. In an area like the triangle, where there’s no shortage of birders and decent birding locales, Christmas Bird Counts aren’t enough to get our fill of comprehensive bird surveys, we have to do them in fall and spring too.

The Chatham County Count entails nearly the entire expanse of Jordan Lake, a fairly extensively birded area anyway. Most of the count areas within the 15 mile radius are carved out of the state gamelands surrounding the lake. The area I assigned on the north part of the circle had a few interesting areas, and I do mean interesting

Most of the places I was to hit I was pretty familiar with having birded in the area for some time now. But new to me was a waterfowl impoundment off the beaten path that promised to have some good birds. Waterfowl impoundments are a common sight around here. When the state dammed the New Hope River back in the 70s to make the lake the Fish and Wildlife Commission attempted to mitigate the loss of waterfowl habitat by creating these impoundments all over the place. Most of them consist of a low concrete levee that holds back a pond. Duck hunters use them fairly regularly in the more rural parts of the state, but in the triangle usually only used by fishermen, and tend to be excellent birding locales.

When I arrived early in the morning I walked out on the levee and just hung out for awhile. There wasn’t really any point in walking into the woods. The sun was just beginning to shine on the trees on the far side of the little pond and it looked like this would be the place with the most activity. I startled a Belted Kingfisher and a Great Blue Heron from their early morning hunts as I crossed the concrete, and started to hear, and then see, a fairly decent variety of birds.

There were the regulars; Chickadees, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, and some birds one would expect in a marshy environment; Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and several fly over Wood Ducks. I wish I had more to report, but migrants were largely absent, with the exception of a single unidentifiable Empid, a couple Scarlet Tanagers and a handful of American Redstarts that included some begging youngsters, leading me to believe that this particular bunch were probably resident breeders.

My next stop was the previously linked trail, infamous because it was shut down by Chatham Co police because of complaints about lewd behavior. They must be night owls, because I was alone as I walked to the end of the path, where a birdwatching platform once stood until Tropical Storm Ernesto ripped it up a couple years back. The lake was fairly active, I found no fewer than five Bald Eagles lining the far shore and many of the regular Great Egrets and Cormorants. I may have even undercounted Great Blue Herons, as they tend not to show up on the far side of the lake as well as the blinding white Egrets. Good numbers of Chimney Swifts coursed over the surface, they must have been doing well if the bugs on my legs were any indication.

On the walk back I pished in an excitable flock of Chickamice that contained a fairly decent warbler haul, including Black and White, Hooded, Parula, Pine and a nice Orange-crowned, best bird of the day. And before I knew it, I’d hit all of the hotspots in my little area. I ended with just over 40 species, not too bad for what seemed more like a late summer day rather then fall.

I’ll be keeping an eye out on the weather though. The next cold front that rumbles through will no doubt bring some more birds, fall certainly has some more surprises in store.


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