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My Life’s Birds: #377

March 24, 2010

September 24, 2005 – Eno River State Park, NC – If you look at a map, you’d be forgiven for thinking the avifauna of Missouri and North Carolina are, with few exceptions, practically identical.  It’s a subtle distinction that I’ve come to understand better the longer I’ve been here in the east, but early on, it was new and exciting once the blinders had been removed and I was once again aware of the birds around me.  Up till now, the vast majority of my birding had been done in Missouri, which while sharing many of the same feeder birds as anywhere east of the Mississippi River has a distinctly different flavor when it comes to neotropic migratory species.

Birds that spend the winter months in Central and South America have to tackle significant watery obstacles in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to get to eastern North America, and they arrive by three primary routes.  They either go around the Gulf by way of Texas (circum-gulf), they can jump over it in one big flight (trans-gulf), or if they winter in the islands of the Antilles, they can avoid it altogether and island hop up to Florida (no gulf).  As you might expect, while these three different routes generally end up with the birds in the same place, the boreal forests of Canada and the northern US, circum-gulf migrants take the far western route and no gulf migrants take the far east, with trans-gulf migrants split the difference.  What does this mean for birding in Missouri?  It means that birds that take the western route, like Wilson’s and Mourning Warblers, are regular spring visitors, but Caribbean migrants, like the Black-throated Blue Warbler I saw on the Blue Ridge Parkway, are extremely rare.

It also means that southwest Missouri, being situated on the far western extreme of the Mississippi flyway, which is as far west as many eastern migrants get, simply doesn’t have very many of the birds eastern birders may take for granted.  And so that’s how, nearly 400 birds into my life list, I’d never seen a Wood Thrush, that golden-voiced and absurdly common bird of eastern forests and a well-known trans-gulf migrant.  At this point though, I had the birding bug relapse bad and convinced my wife to take a short hike at the Eno River State Park just west of Durham.  And being as this was a North Carolina forest in the fall we saw a metric ton of Wood Thrushes moving through the underbrush.  It was enough to put this birder over the moon at the sight of what would probably not get much of a second thought for any long-time Carolina birder.

As I become one of those longer time Carolina birders, I admit I do find myself lulled into some sort of complacency with our abundant Wood Thrushes, probably spurred in no small part by their hypnotic song.  But if I ever want to be reminded of the delight that came along with my first I just have to talk with my dad, still an active birder in Missouri where the Wood Thrushes are few and far between, and listen to the jealousy dripping off of every word as I describe this multitude. And realize once again that our birds are far more different than they may initially appear.

photo by Greg – stitch 1958 via flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

  1. March 25, 2010 10:29 am

    You got me this time, young fellow, you got me.
    Wood Thrush, while far from rare, is quite possibly the one thrush I saw the least of around the Great Lakes. If you know their song, you’ll find a handful each day at e.g. Point Pelee, but if you just walk the trails, that’s an easy bird species to miss completely in spring.
    I can only recall seeing ONE in the spring of 2006 when birding mostly at Crane Creek / Ohio.

    And it’s a giant of a handsome bird, too.

  2. Greg permalink
    March 25, 2010 8:00 pm

    Yes, I utter “ee, oh YAY!” every time I hear one, and, to this day, I hear them far more often than I see them….. I can count on one hand the number I’ve seen in my lifetime…
    the dad, Missouri birder.

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