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Automo-birding

November 9, 2009
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So much of my regular birding is on foot, walking short trails at any number of local parks and preserves in the area.  I realize that I’m pretty lucky to have so many options in that regard.  But as things cool down temperature wise, for many of my old standbys things are cooling down birdwise as well.  Winter is a season for wide-open spaces.  Places like reservoirs, open fields or marshes.  Anything with a vista, basically; because when the wind starts blowing colder it’s time to pull the scope out of the closet and put it to use.  With such horizon-spanning views on the agenda, it’s time to modify your birding techniques to cover as much ground as possible.  And for that, you obviously need a car.

Another advantage of birding by car, beside the mobility, is the fact that the car serves the twin purposes of bird blind and mobile climate control system, neither of which are to be minimized on a brisk fall day.  And that’s brisk by North Carolina standards incidentally, which means clear skies in the mid-60s.  It’s rough.

Maybe it was because I was jonesing for something different, or because I was subject to that competitive desire to add a new species to my county list, but western Orange County, with its possibilities for sparrows and raptors, was calling Sunday morning.  It would have been rude to just ignore it.

Scenic oOange County

Orange County, North Carolina, is dominated by Chapel Hill and the university there and rightly so.  But just outside of town lie pastoral scenes that anyone with any experience in rural America would recognize.  This time of year the fallow fields and roadside hedges can be filled with sparrows and, if I’m lucky, interesting raptors.  At least that’s the hope.  In reality, it’s probably a bit early for most of the really good stuff, though my first Field Sparrow of the season was nice, and it’s good to see Kestrels in numbers that suggest they’re doing pretty well out there. But the vast majority of the birdlife consisted of Crows and Pigeons congregating around feedlots, and lots and lots of Eastern Bluebirds lining the power lines.

I was not entirely deterred, however, and I continued on my regular route to an old dairy farm that is well-known among area birders as a spot for the locally rare White-crowned Sparrow.  For most of North America that might sound like an odd thing to say, but birders along the southeast coast of the country are unfortunate to lie just outside of the regular range of this classy little Zonotrichia.  It’s uncommon enough to be a notable bird anywhere around here.

Fortunately, the old hotspot was hopping with at least eight individual White-crowns including a couple juvenile birds.  That’s far more than were there last year.  An indicator of a growing population?  Meh, I’ll believe it when they start showing up at my feeders.  But they’re such sharp little birds.

Local rarities are still rarities

I finished off by having a look at Cane Creek Reservoir for any early waterfowl.  Ruddy Ducks were in, but nothing else. Even though I didn’t end up with anything new for the county, it was a good morning.  And all from the comfort of my mobile bird blind.

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6 Comments
  1. November 9, 2009 8:27 am

    You know, it was up to almost 70 degrees in New York yesterday and we were raving about how “unseasonably warm” it was. But, then, we get White-crowns all over the place in fall and spring, so, there is that.

    Nice shots and it sounds like a nice day’s birding.

  2. Nate permalink*
    November 9, 2009 12:43 pm

    @Corey- Yeah, I have to say, one of the best things about living in Carolina is the fall. It’s long and beautiful.

  3. November 10, 2009 11:33 am

    You haven’t seen fall if you haven’t seen the golden forests of the southern Baltic coast in October, contrasting with the rafts of breeding-plumaged Common Mergansers on the sheltered bays.

    Whatever it takes to get you here, Nate, whatever it takes…

  4. Nate permalink*
    November 10, 2009 11:47 am

    @Jochen- Whaaaaaa? You’re back? Thank goodness, my traffic was suffering.

  5. November 11, 2009 5:14 am

    So once again, you trade traffic quantity for comment quality.

    🙂

    Cheers! Hope all is well.
    And White-crowned Sparrows are neat indeed. Of course, they are incredibly common during migration around the Great Lakes, so common indeed that cars are required to increase the power of their headlights each spring and fall to tackle the Sparrow Fog etc. etc., but as can be seen in my previous post, I have decided to convince you to visit Germany instead of the Great Lakes now.
    However, there are no White-crowned Sparrows in Germany.

  6. Nate permalink*
    November 11, 2009 12:12 pm

    @Jochen- Quantity always over quality. That’s how the world works, no?

    I would rather come to Germany than the Great Lakes anyway. I love Germany, and when I was there in 2003, during my birding dark ages, didn’t take the opportunity to find any birds. What a loss.

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