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Bird Count Busted

December 27, 2010

I tried. I really did.

This was the first year that I was going to be in town and free for my home town Christmas Bird Count. The Chapel Hill CBC is always scheduled dangerously close to Christmas, which generally means I’m away visiting family or family is in visiting me. Neither one is especially conducive to finding the better part of a day to go birding.  But this year was different.  I was around, and I was excited to take part in this count even if the area to which I was assigned was more suburban and unlikely to turn up anything terribly impressive.  Still though!  Home count!  That means something.

I suppose what it means is that I’m apt to get up and out on a morning that any other count in the world would have me crawling back into my warm bed.  Overnight, our pleasant, if cold, winter weekend turned into Snowpacalypse, which down in the south generally means anything over one inch of accumulation.  Now I don’t have a problem birding in the snow.  That, in and of itself, is not the sort of thing to dissuade me from a CBC, especially a home count.  The concern doesn’t even have to  do with state and county Department of Transportation workers on the ground tasked to handle the snow, as they’re only capable of doing so much.  It’s the fact that the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, didn’t do anything to treat the roads in preparation of this weather event, this despite a few incidences earlier in the year when just the threat of snow caused them to hose down the roads with brine.  Those false alarms must have drained their supply, because absolutely nothing was done this time.  And when I left the house at 6:30 am yesterday morning, even the busy roads were clear only to the extent that someone had already left a pair of tire tracks.  And so, the sort of weather that wouldn’t slow down any community north of the Mason-Dixon line, left North Carolina’s Piedmont a slushy, snowy mess.

But still, I persevered.  To the waterfowl impoundment where impassioned hooting could not stir any owls. To the Cornwallis City Park where the only birds stirring were a dozen Juncos – completely in their element, incidentally – and a trio of Bluebirds hanging around a fruiting holly.

I persevered, past cars in ditches and busted traffic lights.  I found a feeder where a large flock of Goldfinches devoured thistle.  I spotted a group of Crows heading somewhere, anywhere, but here.  And I kept to the route I’d determined the night before, way way way ahead of schedule because there were zero birds to look at and I was more concerned with keeping my car on the road.  Until I reached a hill that I could not go up.

I slipped.  I slid.  I nearly clipped a car that had pulled over to my right.  I saw an older gentleman in a Subaru Forester coming down the hill.  I watched him hit his brakes and lose control.  He started spinning out right in front of me, heading inexorably into the front of my car.

I threw it in reverse and backed as quickly as I could under the circumstances to watch him regain control – perpendicular to my car’s front end- not more than two feet from where I was sitting.  Once my wits returned, I backed up, turned around and headed in the opposite direction.  No CBC is worth my safety.

I tried to head to the place I had planned to end the day, a portion of the American Tobacco Trail in southern Durham County, but the road was impassable and the idiots with 4WDs were pushing a little too hard for my taste.  Besides, the snow was still coming down, the conditions were still getting worse, and I didn’t have it in me to get stuck.

So I went home.  Fortunately, I live in the count circle, so the little birds that come to my feeders will fill out my checklist, an impressive 15 species.  The snow stopped mid-day, I might have been able to head back out and make a valiant effort while I could, but you probably know how it is; once you get home you start doing all the little non-birding things you do with your day.  Once you break the rhythm it’s almost impossible to get it back.

The weather will likely make this one of the slowest Chapel Hill CBCs in some time.  But that’s the way it goes sometimes.  I’ll still be sending in my checklists. You can never have too many Juncos, anyway.

  1. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    December 27, 2010 8:37 am

    That’s too bad Nate! I woke up as 6am, looked at the roads, and was like… yeeeeah, that’s not happening. Got a bunch of Pine Siskins at the feeders though, so, almost worth it!

  2. December 27, 2010 9:43 am

    That count probably should have been rescheduled, like my local one. I know counts take place in all kinds of weather, but I think compilers ought to play it safe with exceptional blizzards like this one.

  3. Nate permalink*
    December 27, 2010 1:24 pm

    @Robert- I was the same way, but I went out anyway. It was brutal. I wish I’d gotten Siskins! I had a Kingfisher and a couple Hooded Mergansers in my neighborhood to salvage the day, but not much else.

    @John- I’m a little surprised they didn’t, actually. I would happily done it next weekend, but there’s another big count in the area next Sunday that many of the counters are going to do. Next Saturday is available though.

  4. December 28, 2010 4:59 pm

    Hi Nate,
    perhaps the powers that be at your Dept of Transport, have been taking advice from the D of T in the UK.
    The policy here seems to be to sit tight until the problem goes away. The beauty of this approach is that it can be adapted to suit all sorts of different conditions.
    The minister in charge here recently suggested that all public transport should be kept off the road during the rush hour, to ease congestion.

  5. January 3, 2011 11:04 pm

    I’m mortified. Appalled. Someone managed to lose control driving a Forester? Having driven Subarus for 10 years through upstate NY winters I can say I’ve never had a problem . . . dammit, just jinxed myself. Oh well, the point had to be made. Perhaps this relates: during my tenure in Arkansas I always found the biggest problem in bad weather were other drivers.

    Glad you got some birds, regardless of where you were able to count.

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