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After the Equinox

March 23, 2009

Spring is easing in down here in North Carolina. The equinox marking the official first day was just a couple days ago, and the birds have noticed. When I pulled up to the trailhead on Stagecoach Road in southern Orange County, the dawn chorus was already in full voice. The species were, for the most part, the regular ones with whom I’ve shared the winter, but the cheery whistles of Cardinals and Titmice and Chickadees are a marked changed from the relatively soulless chips and chirps of the last six months. The words to the songs are different now, better, and the birds belt them out like so many clueless contestants on American Idol, only these tunes don’t make me want to slam my hand in a car door over and over.

Woodpeckers too, feel the urges of the season. And the entire day I was serenaded by a relentless rhythm section of Pileated and Downy and Flicker. These woods in particular are full of them, the periodic flooding of the forest seems to facilitate the trees rotting from within and picid cavities are common sights. If there’s any place in the area where you’re most likely to pick up the woodpecker slam (all seven commonly occurring species in one outing), this is it. I easily found all but Hairy and Red-headed today, and I’ve seen them both here before.

As cool as the woodpecker assemblage was, that wasn’t the reason I was on this trail. If you follow it all the way to the end where it reaches a far arm of Jordan Lake, there’s a stand of pine trees that is often the very first place you can find one of the earliest returning neotropic migrants.

I heard them before I saw them, as always. A series of slurry descending whistles that turn up at the end. You may await the famous arrival of the robins, or the swallows of Capastrano, but for me spring’s herald hangs out in the very top of a 60 foot White Pine tree.

Usually I only hear it, but yesterday I was lucky. It didn’t take long before I tracked down one of the tiny songsters in the highest branches, a little Yellow-throated Warbler.

So now spring can really begin. It’s about time already.

Update: Jochen at Bell Tower Birding notices something I did not

  1. Jochen permalink
    March 23, 2009 9:30 am

    Nate, may I use your photo of the swampy forest for a post on my blog (of course with full reference to you)?

    Don’t expect any more comments from me on this post of yours as I have only ever heard but never seen Yellow-throated Warblers, so I am currently mostly busy biting my fingernails when I am not pulling out some of my hair.

  2. Nate permalink
    March 23, 2009 9:34 am

    @jochen- Yes, of course. Do you want the original?

  3. Jochen permalink
    March 23, 2009 9:50 am

    The one from the blog is just fine, thanks!!

  4. Jochen permalink
    March 23, 2009 11:16 am

    Post is up, hope you enjoy it!!

  5. Jochen permalink
    March 23, 2009 11:46 am

    Cheers, my friend!
    Now I think I owe you even one more beer.

  6. Nate permalink
    March 23, 2009 12:00 pm

    Now I see why you wanted the web version. The original would have been too sharp. ; )

  7. noflickster permalink
    March 23, 2009 1:21 pm

    I’ve got a couple questions, but first thanks for ensuring us northerners spring is creeping closer. Waking up to 20*F and a new layer of ice on the pond is bringing me down.

    Now, first, were you Simon, Paula, or Randy-esque when in the field? That is, which fit the best:
    – “That sucked, White-throated Sparrow, it’s no wonder you’ll never find a mate or keep a territory,”

    – “It was a little off, but I dug your performance. The outfit brings it all together,” or

    – “Awww, dawg, that was the bomb! But it was a little bit, I dunno, pitchy.”

    Finally, I can’t help but notice a blurry woodpecker in one swamp shot. Without having done measurements, Red-headed? Or is it larger . . . .

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