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My Life’s Birds: #392

May 5, 2010

April 8, 2006 – Weymouth Woods Sandhills Preserve, NC – Just about every place you’d want to travel in the world has those few species that can be considered special for the visiting birder.  I don’t know about you, but I take no small measure of pride in the fact that my little corner of the continent hosts a much desired species.  I think we all do to some extent.  Granted the sense of self-importance is entirely manufactured, and the bird certainly could care less about the geopolitical boundaries to which we ascribe so much essentially artificial significance.  But who doesn’t need a little ego-stroking from time to time, even if it’s tied to something for which you have a very tenuous actual relationship.  I freely admit that I’m proud of the species, especially the rare or range-limited ones, that make North Carolina such a fantastic place for wildlife.  And I love sharing those species with visitors from other parts of the nation or world.

But this time, as a new Carolina birder, I was the one in the position of being shown.  I was riding with my friend Nolan, who as a student at UNC had explored most nearby places for notable birds, and we were heading south from Chapel Hill into that most noted and imperiled of southern ecosystems, the longleaf pine savanna, where we would hopefully find one of its most famous denizens.  We were heading to Weymouth Woods, home of a woodpecker.

Call it beginner’s luck.  Call it new birder mojo.  But not more than two minutes after we stepped out of the car and headed towards the path we heard the tell-tale squeaky rattle of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and soon had one hitching up a Longleaf Pine in that way that woodpeckers do.  We didn’t see the cockade, a small spot of red on the back of the head that turn of the century naturalists apparently thought looked something like the colorful ribbons on hats of the time, but you never do unless the bird is in your hand.  It’s an odd name to be sure, but it gives the RCW the distinction of not only being the most famous of the Sandhills specific species, but the only bird in North America to get its name from a fashion accessory, one that 17th century ornithologists apparently and incorrectly thought would have a little more relevance into the future.  Perhaps a modern counterpart would be something like Bell-bottomed Wren.  And I think we all know how ridiculous, and ridiculously awesome, that would be.

This was only the first time I traveled to Weymouth to see these birds, I’ve been several times since.  Occasionally to renew my acquaintance.  Occasionally to show an out of town friend.  I try to go at least once a year because what good is having a special bird in North Carolina if you can’t take advantage of the novelty on a regular basis.  And now that I think about it, I’m due for another visit.

RECOWO by fveronesi1 via flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

  1. Greg permalink
    May 5, 2010 9:35 pm

    Wait for me. I still need an SSV!

  2. Julie permalink
    May 6, 2010 7:01 am

    Ah but for more time! I haven’t yet been able to venture back to Alligator River Preserve and Palmetto Peartree Preserve for my RCWP and bear fix this year.

    NC is always on my mind, however the Fl birding rocks too!


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