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June is the cruelest month

June 28, 2010
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Birders can go round for hours on the topic of the worst month of the year for birding.  Of course it depends a great deal on where you are in the world, and one birders slow month is hopping for someone else, but the general consensus, at least from what I’ve gathered, is that March and June are bottom of the barrel.  Here in North Carolina, where March holds promises of early spring migrants and lingering winter waterfowl, June takes the cake by a significant margin.

It’s not that the birds are all that bad.  We do, after all, host a fair number of nesting neotrops even if the foliage is so pervasive from ground to canopy that you can’t see any of them.  Situated as I am well between the high diversity of the boreal summer and the neotropic wonderlands down south, I’m stuck with the worst of both worlds, namely the sticky, hazy summer mornings where you want to do anything but get up in the morning to walk around in a place where you’ll be lucky to see any birds anyway.  But, I have a blog to fill and a kid who needs to get outside and, truth told, I actually like getting out even if the sun threatens to turn you into a puddle of sweat.  You never know what you’re going to see and you can’t see it unless you’re out there anyway.

So I headed to Mason Farm again, and walked around the path to find not much more than the 30 or so species you’d completely expect to find on a June morning in North Carolina.  In fact, I’d say I barely picked my binoculars up at all during my time there, as most birds were noted by songs well off the path and call notes from impossibly dense thickets.  The dragonflies were active though, and in my ongoing attempt to make myself a more well-rounded naturalist I’ve decided to tackle them as best I can in as much as I figured I should try to put a name to some of the more common species instead of calling them all Green Darners as I used to do.  You’d be surprised how often that works.

So there were plenty of the regular Common Whitetails and Eastern Pondhawks and a handful of Widow Skimmers working the fields.  I managed to stalk one to the end of a branch to prove that my new big lens isn’t just for birds.  I think this one is a Blue Dasher, but it might just be a male Pondhawk.  It’s face doesn’t look green though.  Anyway, I’d appreciate the head’s up if I’m incorrect. (Update: It’s an Great Blue Skimmer.  Thanks, Ali!)

Dragonflies can be fun and all, but there’s no way I’m looking for odes when the birds are hopping.  But that’s June in Carolina, thankfully it’s nearly over and July means the imminent return of shorebirds and things will start to pick up again.  And not a moment too soon.

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8 Comments
  1. David permalink
    June 28, 2010 7:59 am

    Just for location purposes, I live in Ontario, Canada, but I also birdwatch with my father in Quebec, Canada.

    Unlike the other months of the year, I use June and July to get a really accurate count of the birds that are in my area. Every other month has fluctuations due to migration of some sort. I also use June to find any breeder which I haven`t got this year. For example I just got Lincoln`s Sparrow because I missed it in migration. I still have to get Wilson`s Phalarope at the local sewage lagoon, and maybe an Orchard Oriole at one of the Provincial parks in my area.

    The other thing I use June for is filling out ebird county lists. I actually read it on your website first about how ebird wanted birders to bird outside of their usual spots. So I go to different counties that I haven`t visited and bird there.

    At least that`s what I use June for. No wasted months. And up here, February is the worst month. No migrants and the winter birds stay very close to the feeders. Seeing Juncoes is considered a treat. March is when we get our first Red-wings and Canada Geese.

  2. June 28, 2010 10:39 am

    To me, July is worse than June because the songbirds mostly have stopped singing and southbound migrants don’t show up in significant volume until the end of the month. June’s not great either, but at least birds are still singing through most of it so it’s possible to ID most of the birds, even if they’re unseen. In July they just skulk silently. I’d take March or any winter month over June or July.

    That dragonfly looks like an Eastern Pondhawk. Blue Dashers usually sit in a distinctive posture.

  3. Nate permalink*
    June 28, 2010 3:18 pm

    @David- That’s what I try to do as well. Clean up on breeders and try the odd county bird.

    @John- March is good if you’re near a coast, you could probably say that for any month though. July is not bad if you like early shorebirds, but I guess that, once again, requires a coast…

  4. June 28, 2010 6:30 pm

    June is also the slowest time of the year for birding in my area (north-central Florida). But my local Audubon chapter has developed a fairly new tradition to keep birders sharp and happy in June: the June Challenge, a friendly competition in which people try to see as many species as possible in June. The ground rules are (1) you can only count birds you see, not ID by sound alone and (2) it’s not THAT competitive; if you see something truly cool, you are morally obliged to let others know where to find it.

    A few hard-core people regularly rack up over 100 species. I’m only participating in the most half-assed possible way this year, but I’ve still learned a LOT about where different local birds nest and how to find them. I’d love to see the June Challenge spread to other areas; people might be surprised by what they find!

  5. Ali Iyoob permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:03 am

    Your dragon is a Great Blue Skimmer. Dragons are great, I have already seen over 70 species, and it doesn’t get boring!

  6. Nate permalink*
    June 29, 2010 8:15 am

    @Felicia- The June Challenge is a really great idea. I only ended up with 70-some species this month, when I’d been averaging over 100 up to now, though admittedly most of those are heard only.

    @Ali- Thanks. I thought I could count on you! I was willing to accept Pondhawk by virtue of my Dragonfly ignorance, but something about it didn’t sit right. Blue Skimmer makes much more sense looking at some photos.

  7. Charley permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:24 am

    I can get through June fairly well because I am helping other people who can hear birds do their Breeding Bird Survey. However, July is hell, and I will go into total depression, though I am going to try butterflies and Moths this summer. Let’s gather at Birder’s Anonymous–I am Charley, and I am nuts.

  8. June 30, 2010 12:13 pm

    I discovered a very useful birding activity for June: getting out early in the morning and record the songs that I hear although I rarely see the bird because of the dense foliage. Then I go home and try to identify the bird by running through the most likely ones on eSibley on my iPod. And just to liven things up I posted a bird song quiz on my blog with one song that is still a mystery to me – hope one of my readers will ID it for me.

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