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Bonzo for Bobos

May 3, 2010

Spring birding in the south is a slightly different proposition that it may be elsewhere on the continent. The further north you travel, the more likely you are to have the special neotropic stick around and nest, therefore allowing the shall we say, less immediately motivated birder to enjoy them at practically their leisure.  Not so in Carolina!  Here in the bright sunny south we have relatively few nesting neotrops compared to parts north and they tend not to dally, hopped up as they are on sex hormones and dreams of vast boreal paradises.

No, if you want to have a productive migration in Carolina your window is frustratingly small in which to do so.  Three week at most.  And even then so many of the most colorful and desirable species are one-day wonders, here today and gone tomorrow.  This infrequence and unpredictability adds to their mystique and frustrates the birder with the regular 9 to 5, caught between the incessant ring of the telephone and the artificial lighting of the computer screen (or maybe that’s just me).  So you’d best make the most of what you have.

That was my plan for this past weekend, namely for a run at some grassland birds that always seem to turn up with remarkable regularity every year on the same stretch of road in Wake County.  But first, a quick jaunt around Yates Mill Pond County Park for warblers and any other neotrops.  I met my friend Alex Capaldi and his wife, Mindy, and we hit the trails with a mind for Worm-eating Warblers and anything else that might show up.

I’d like to say we had a haul, but the Worm-eaters were silent.  We had a so-so list, with Indigo Buntings and Black-throated Blues and an Orchard Oriole, but nothing like the buckets of warblers I imagine every single year only to realize they’re perpetually just a week off.  It wasn’t a bad list by any means, but anything short of double digit warblers seems disappointing.  I suppose I should reset my priorities.

The draw, though, of the Yates Mill Pond area lies not at the park itself, but along the roads that cross the nearby fields managed by the Agriculture Department at North Carolina State University.  Ostensibly they exist as laboratories for hybrid seeds, newfangled harvesting techniques and various and sundry other crop science doo-dads, but for birders they’re vast expanses of well-maintained  pastures the likes of which are hard to find in the development happy triangle.  Which means that grassland birds are found here in good numbers, like this Loggerhead Shrike who, while we were watching, pounced into the grass and came out with a big grasshopper.

Apropos of nothing, the english translation of Lanius ludovicianus is “Louisiana Butcher”, which I always though was pretty cool, even if it sounds more like a nickname for a serial killer.  Anyway, there has been a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes nesting in this area for the past several years, one of the few active nest in the county.  Shrikes are a species of special concern in the state and their numbers have declined precipitously in recent years.  This has always been a good place to find them.

Shrikes are cool and all, but that’s not what we were looking for. And it wasn’t long before we spotted a big flock of birds over a pasture that slighted on the tall grass.  Finally!  Bobolinks!

My notes say that I had a flock of 40 Bobolinks at exactly this same spot last year on May 4, so by my account they were three days early.  Close enough, though.  Most of the flock disappeared into the tall grass but a handful of colorful males teed up so that we got excellent scope views.  The racket they were putting up made it clear we were dealing with a sizable flock.

The Bobolinks stick around for a few days before continuing their journey north.  Singletons of several warbler species seem to trickle through all spring, but the flocks of Bobolinks that frequent the fields in this part of Wake County seem to be the only individuals of this species that come by all spring.  If you miss these birds, you’re out of luck for Bobos for the year.

The Bobolinks weren’t the only grassland birds to find here.  We picked up a couple Blue Grosbeaks and some singing Grasshopper Sparrows who just wouldn’t pop out of the grass to give Alex and Mindy their lifer views.  No worries though, they’re both around all summer long.  The Bobos, however, were the crowd pleasers.  Good to see them before they’re gone.

  1. May 3, 2010 7:55 am

    I’d just like to say that any day with less than 25 species of warbler seems disappointing at Point Pelee or Rondeau PP…

    Outch, outch, outch….


    Bobolinks and Blue Grosbeaks. Sigh. Grassland birding rocks, I am envious!

  2. May 3, 2010 10:39 am

    Want warblers? Shoulda been at Mason Farm! 16 warbler sp (incl. Chat), Grosbeaks, Buntings, both Tanagers, both Orioles, and some Swainson’s Thrush (one singing!) The best warbler was a Blue-winged., and the count of 85 total sp. was quite nice. That said…. I am intensely jealous of those Bobolinks!

  3. Nate permalink*
    May 3, 2010 10:53 am

    @Jochen- It does indeed! It’s a nice change of pace from following little birds around in the trees.

    @Robert- I’ve been to Mason over the last couple days and picked up 12, including a Northern Waterthrush this morning that was nice, in addition to the Tanagers and Grosbeaks. No Orioles though. Also had Swainson’s Thrush this weekend but not in Orange County.

    Blue-winged would be nice. Haven’t had that yet this year.

  4. May 3, 2010 11:00 pm

    I should see the Bobolinks in southern Ontario in 2-3 weeks. Earliest for me was May 18.

    Along the stretch of road I can count on for Bobolink (the only area I have observed them) Eastern Meadowlark and Savannah Sparrow were ticked April 21. Now, if I can only find that Upland Sandpiper.

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