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The first warblers of spring

March 29, 2010
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Some of the more interesting things about birding, not to mention blogging about birding, are the connections you make and the somewhat odd way those connections manifest themselves.  If you read my blog you no doubt have an insight into me as a person.  After all, I do tend to let my obsession with things feather related leak into what I would loosely and increasingly inaccurately refer to as my “non-birding life”, such that it exists.  But as most people I interact with on a daily basis are not birders and therefore not nearly as interested in my opinions on taxonomy, pigeon fanciers, and the Outer Banks beach closures as I presume my blog readers might be, I have to find ways to relate to the normal people.

As amazing as it may seem I do, in fact, have friends that are non-birders; that are not necessarily intrigued by the subtleties of Empid ID or the ebb and flow of migration, the poor bastards.  And while we soldier on talking about baseball or politics or reality tv or any of the other things the normies do to fill the time that would otherwise be spent discussing molt, occasionally the topic does turn to birds and other people who might be similarly afflicted with this debilitating social condition that not only obligates us to get up at ridiculous hours of the morning to look at the tops of trees with binoculars, but to talk about it nearly non-stop.

So when one of my normal friends actually broached the topic with me one day, stating that she had some friends that were just getting into birding and would I like to meet them, I was first shocked, then intrigued.  “Of course”, said I.  Emails were exchanged and dates confirmed and eventually, on the cusp of spring migration I met up with Alex Capaldi to do some birding at Lake Crabtree County Park.

But there was a walk-a-thon going on at the park and it was closed, so some quick planning and some poorly directed caravanning led by yours truly we ended up at nearby Umstead State Park, where I hoped against hope I could find Alex some newly arrived Yellow-throated Warblers.

Alex was looking down the barrel of his first spring migration, an exciting time for any new birder, and I wanted to get him off on the right foot.  While I knew where to find the Yellow-throated Warblers at Lake Crabtree, Umstead was mostly foreign to me.  I had only birded the area once, on a CBC several years ago, and it’s a popular running and walking area for area outdoor enthusiasts which doesn’t always line up with hot birding location.  But it was the best option we had, so I found a trail that wound down to a creek where I thought the birds might be and we headed off.

I shouldn’t have worried.  It wasn’t long before we heard the first Yellow-throated Warbler, singing from a distant pine-lined ridge.  Once we got to the creek itself, a particularly avidly singing bird caught out interest.  I was prepared to let Alex down easy, even though I can find Yellow-throated Warblers in pine groves in late March nearly every year without any trouble, actually seeing them is another matter entirely.  They seem to spend their time high in the tops of 60 foot pine trees more often than not, and it’s often not worth the trouble or the neck strain to spot what essentially ends up being a backlit shadow of a vaguely warblery shape.

But Alex had the new birder mojo on him something fierce, because we soon found ourselves gawking at a male Yellow-throated Warbler sitting in a barely budding tree.  It was, without doubt, the best look at the species I had ever had.  And I even had the opportunity to try to take a photo through my binoculars.  A photo that, as you can see, came out way better than it had any right to.

Target acquired, we walked a loop that took us by several walkers and runners, but also some decent birding.  We found a Red-headed Woodpecker working on a cavity right off the trail.  A pair of walkers that happened to pass even got to see it with their naked eyes, though I don’t think they were nearly as excited about it as we were.  Their loss really.

But quite possibly the best bird of the day, at least for me, was all Alex’s.  As we walked back to the trailhead chatting about this and that, Alex spotted a pair of large dark birds passing over the trail.  They turned out to be Common Ravens, a great bird for the triangle and a county bird for me.  Likely these very birds have been spotted by several birders over the last few days; ften enough that birders in the area suspect they’re nesting nearby, which would be the first record of these Corvids nesting in the triangle.  There’s a large quarry adjacent to Umstead Park, the cliffs created by the digging tools may provide the sort of site that Ravens would find appealing.  Unfortunately, the quarry is private and no one has attained permission to check so it’s only a hypothesis at this point, but given the recent Raven reports in the immediate area, it may be a good one.

Anyway, it was a solid morning’s birding for a back-up plan.  And if Alex’s luck holds, he might be a good person to get in the field with this spring.  My new birder mojo is long since used up, but I have no shame about piggy-backing off of someone else’s!

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6 Comments
  1. Christine permalink
    March 29, 2010 9:01 am

    I’m glad that I as a “normie” was able to bring two birders together. Sounds like it was a successful outing 🙂

  2. Nate permalink*
    March 29, 2010 9:05 am

    @Christine – Oh no! Now you know how birders talk about you people behind your back!

  3. March 30, 2010 7:25 am

    A Yellow-throated Warbler is a perfect bird to fire up a new birder—it’s great that you both managed to get such good looks at it. I was lucky enough to have one frequenting my peanut feeder for a few weeks this winter; it took off about a week ago. Maybe he’s up in your area now!

  4. March 30, 2010 8:57 am

    What a delightful tale, Nate. I was as tickled by your talk of “normies” as I was the experience you and Alex shared on his first “staring down the barrel” outing. Good for you on getting out and about with him. Oh, and no harm in piggy-backing (says I who likewise has no shame in rubbing elbows with someone else’s beginner’s luck).

  5. Nate permalink*
    March 30, 2010 9:52 am

    @Felicia – No doubt! It’s a great bird and a true sign of spring around these parts.

    @Jason- Ha, Thanks! That beginner’s luck is potent stuff. It’s been far too long since I experienced it.

  6. Lou Desorbo permalink
    April 9, 2010 4:01 pm

    Dear Nate,

    I think I read an article that you wrote in the April 2010 edition of Birder’s World regarding Mason Farm Biological Reserve.

    I am interested in birding there for Kentucky Warbler, Yellow-throated Wardbler, Yellow-Breasted Chat and Red-Headed Woodpeckers (I am in Upstate New York where we do not have these). My question is: Is it too early? What dates are the prime time?

    I appreciate any guidance you can give me so that I can proceed with my flight arrangements.

    Lou

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