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The season of slow birding

August 9, 2010

August is shorebird season. This is known among birders all across the Northern Hemisphere that the peak of shorebird diversity and numbers at the tail end of summer. This generally works out well during the birding year because landbird migration generally doesn’t heat up for another six weeks or so across most of the continent; so while those birds are hiding away, keeping their molt-ravaged forms on the down-low, shorebirds show up to attract our attentions.  With their confusing plumages and subtle differences, they probably require that sort of tunnel vision.

However, down in my part of the continent mudflat days and flight call nights are nothing but a dream.  North Carolina offers little in the way of prime sandpiper real estate once you head inland more than a few miles.  Sure there are spots like Mattamuskeet NWR with it’s shallow lakebed often covered in hot scolopacid action, or the odd sod farm where Buff-breasted or Upland Sandpipers and other “grasspipers” might be found, but those are few, far between, and far from me.  Shorebirding in the Piedmont is highly dependent on the lake levels, so the game is to keep an eye on the Corp of Engineers website until the magic number of 215 is reached.  Jordan Lake, the site of many fine shorebird mornings in drier years, is currently sitting at 251.  Even the hottest summer on record is unlikely to pull the water level down some 40 feet in a month.  So it looks like I’ll have to live vicariously through others and accept the missing peeps on my year list this year.

So the birding is likely to be slow is what I’m saying.

Fortunately, there are other thing to fill the weekends until the songbirds start coming through in numbers.  I had Noah with me this weekend, and given his predilection for moving water in all its myriad forms, faucets, sprinklers, hoses, etc, I thought I’d try to blow his little mind with a trip to Eno River State Park in Orange County west of Durham.  There’s a stream crossing there where the usually fast-slowing river offers a gradual slope down to the water that I though he’d like.  I was right.

This is something of a tangent, but I’m fascinated by linguistics and the way people use language to comprehend the world around them.  One of the concepts that has stayed with me ever since I heard about it is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which suggests that because the language you speak limits how you’re able to communicate even universal concepts, that your behavior is determined, in part, by how you explain it.  Anyway, It’s a idea that’s since been mostly discredited but I always think about it when I go to Eno River because the place where I grew up, in southwest Missouri, is an area with significant hydrological features and there’s no way in hell that we’d refer to this somewhat pathetically narrow and shallow trickle of water called Eno as a “river”.  I could choose any point of this river anywhere in the state park and wade across it without getting my shorts wet.  Sorry folks, it’s a creek at best, a rill, maybe a brook if you were from England and used such terms.

I’m glad I got that off my chest.  In any case, it was plenty big for Noah.

We spent most of our time hanging around the ford, and because this is a bird blog I’m contractually obligated to tell you we didn’t hear much, and saw even less.  Several Acadian Flycatchers, an Eastern Wood-Pewee and the odd Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Even the Red-eyed Vireos didn’t have the heart to repeat their song more than a half dozen times before just saying “screw it” and settling in to scratch at the itchy body feathers making them look ragged and old.

So we just played in the rocks and scared a water snake (Northern likely) until someone got cranky and tired and ready to go home to take a nap.

That was me, in case you were wondering.

One Comment
  1. August 10, 2010 12:54 am

    There is not a lot of shorebird habitat in Eastern New York. This means it won’t look like the Delmarva or Jamaica Bay, but there are still shorebirds. Around here we look at man made structures, for example this afternoon I had over 20 shorebirds of 4 species feeding at the base of a dam that doesn’t get used much in the summer. I would also check out sewage ponds and river bends, which typically show a bit of mud when the weather is dry. With a little searching, I’m sure you’ll find a few peeps or a yellowlegs or two. May not be exciting, but they still count.

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