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Birds at work

December 3, 2009
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As far as the birds are concerned, winter is here in North Carolina’s piedmont.  In years past, when I’ve only been able to bird once a week or so, it’s felt as though it comes on all at once, almost as in a roar.  One weekend you’re just getting accustomed to the dry tick of the occasional Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the next the whole diversity of winter birds are upon you.  But since I’ve been able to bird more often before work at the Museum of Life and Science, it’s felt more gradual as each species slides into place precisely where it’s supposed to be on the loop I walk a couple mornings a week.  The whole winter arrival thing is far more subtle than I ever had perceived before.

For instance, the wetlands has been a hub of activity for the last month.  While the Green Herons that lurked in the shadows all summer are long gone, the Great Blue can still be found nearly every day, along with the new arrivals, a Pied-billed Grebe that often hunts along the boardwalk and a flock of about a dozen Hooded Mergansers that tend to be more shy.  They’ve been pretty busy with their head-bobbing and wing splashing courtship display the last week, however, so they’ve been less aware of my arrival and their apparent need to head for the willows as quickly as possible when they notice me of late.

Those same willows have hosted a resident Red-shouldered Hawk as well, and I’ll occasionally find him hunting for amphibians over the shallower part of the pond.  Because it rarely gets cold enough for a complete freeze in this part of the country, he’ll probably be feasting on the Green Frogs throughout the winter.  In any case, this bird is somewhat notorious for it’s unaffected attitude towards museum visitors, hunting in mostly plain sight while people walk by, some more oblivious that others, only ten feet away.

The woods around the Lemur enclosure are often good for Hermit Thrushes, who have been active of late, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, who seem more common at the Museum than anywhere else I’ve been birding in the area.  They sometimes allow me to take awful photographs of them, as you can see below.

As the winter progresses I look forward to seeing which of these guys sticks around, especially the birds on the wetlands, whose tenure at the Museum definitely seems more tenuous than the land birds.  In any case, the opportunity to bird a few times throughout the week is one of the highlights of working here.

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3 Comments
  1. December 3, 2009 7:07 am

    When I was a 16-year-old exchange student in Belleville, Ontario in 1987/88, my host parents lived right at the bank of the Moira river in Corbyville.
    It was wonderful: during the winter, a few Hooded Mergansers had settled down on that particular stretch of winter and I frequently spent the very early morning – before the school bus would pick me up – at our window front facing the river, zipping my coffee and watching the mergansers.
    Beauties.
    I also owe them my only ever observation of a North American River Otter: once the mergansers suddenly took off and I wondered what had happened when an otter came swimming upriver. I would never have noticed it if it wasn’t for the fleeing mergansers.

    Sigh, sweet memories.
    Thanks for bringing it back – seems I owe you a beer, ey? 😉

  2. Nate permalink*
    December 3, 2009 10:23 am

    @Jochen- Hoodies are great, and they’re one of the ducks whose populations are actually increasing in recent years, at least in North Carolina.

    And I never turn down a beer.

  3. December 3, 2009 10:30 am

    Back in the late 1980ies, Hoodies were actually a pretty good bird to see in Ontario, I remember that very well. Rusty Blackbirds, on the other hand …
    Well, the times and tides are ever changing.

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