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Two Gulls to go

January 10, 2011
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For as much fun as I finding birds, the list of things I didn’t really enjoy about my Big Year in 2008 is significant.  Near the top was the constant pressure not to find birds, but not to miss birds.  When you’re running across the entire state, there are places on the far margins that that you may only get to once, and thus, the birds that your apt to get there crucial for any serious attempt at a record.  So when you’re birding those areas, the pressure to get them is high.  So high, even, that the simple act of birding becomes less fun and heads full-throttle into nerve-wracking.  As I essentially ran a poor-man’s Big Year the entire 12 months, the opportunities to travel were limited enough, so the pressure to produce those birds was that much higher.  Each missed target stings a little, and I think it’s this, rather than any overindulgence in birding, that burns people out by the end of the year.

So one of the more appealing things about this Triangle Big Year is that nothing I miss is ever completely out of reach, barring the occasional one-day wonder.  Case in point, an Iceland Gull was reported from Lake Crabtree County Park in Wake County on Saturday morning.  So Saturday afternoon, while Noah was sleeping, I headed out to take a look.  I had been planning on running around to Crabtree as well as another local lake, Brier Creek Reservoir near the airport, anyway.  The prospect of an Iceland Gull made it a no-brainer.  Needless to say, as soon as I located the flock of gulls that usually spend their time on the south end of the lake, I got to work.

Long story short, the Iceland Gull was nowhere to be seen, despite my careful survey of the entire population of Crabtree’s gulls (about 300 Ring-bills and a dozen Herrings, in case you were wondering).   I ran into Thierry Bresancon, a local French ex-pat who has been covering the Triangle like a fitted sheet since he moved here, and he hadn’t turned up anything either.  He did pass on the news of a Red-necked Grebe, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a Surf Scoter in the area (relevant later, I promise), but the white-winged gull stayed out of sight for both of us.  It was reported again later that afternoon, from the other side of the lake.  But that’s such a big deal since It’s only 15 minutes from my home.  I can be back the next morning.

So I headed out to Brier Creek to add some diving ducks to me year list.  I ended up finding all the regular species as well as good numbers of Greater Scaup, a pretty good bird away from the coast and a new bird for the Triangle for me.  This is probably the most reliable place to get them in the area.

I headed into Sunday with four big targets: the two gulls, the grebe and the scoter.  First stop was Jordan Lake’s Ebenezer Point, where a massive flock of gulls has been roosting ever since the brand new landfill opened not more than a few miles (as the gull flies) away in Holly Springs.  I arrived to find a swirling mass of Ring-bills covering the area near the boat ramps.  Closer inspection pulled a few Herrings, the expected duo, out of the flock.  I pulled out my scope, trying to remember the field marks for a juvenile Lesser Back Gull, and began parsing through the assembled birds.  When I got to the end of the line without anything particularly notable, I picked up to get a better view of the larger part of the lake.

As I cleared the row of trees and looked out onto the water, my jaw dropped.  This was, without a doubt, the biggest flock of gulls I’d ever seen.  The small inlet I had parked on and the several hundred gulls there were merely a fraction of the gull madness waiting for me on the rest of the lake.  My conservative estimate was something along the lines of 20,000 gulls, which is actually only half as many as the Jordan Lake CBC counted last week, in great white clouds as far across the lake as anyone could see.  Though I tried valiantly to pull a Lesser Back from the quarter or so of the whole flock that I could scope, and though I found a handful of “interesting” birds, I never found one I felt good about pulling the trigger on.  And the one I was nearly certain was the bird I wanted turned out to be a slightly abnormal Herring once I got home and started looking into it.  So it goes. Plus with massive numbers of pugilistic gulls in the area, I can sympathize if other fish and invertebrate eating birds, like say a Red-necked Grebe or a Surf Scoter, had scattered to far ends of the lake.

The perching birds were more forthcoming though.  And a little pishing brought in a whole flock of the regulars, consisting mostly of  Yellow-rumps.  Several close enough for photos.

A pair of Brown Creepers were my first for the year, and a new county bird.  It’s now the 90th species of bird I’ve seen in all four triangle counties.  Yes, I keep weird lists like that.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were the second most common member of these mixed flocks (after the Yellow-rumps), and couple didn’t seem to mind getting up close and personal.  Seems like the smaller the bird, the bigger the attitude.  Anyway, I’ll have a series of photos of this guy later this week.

After Jordan Lake I headed back to Crabtree to make a second run at the Iceland Gull.  Noone had found it all day and my experience was no different.  So while I ended with four new birds for the year, none of them were the super-cool rarities.

Oh well.  I guess I’m lucky I’m close enough that there will no doubt be a next time.

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3 Comments
  1. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    January 10, 2011 10:10 am

    Yeah, I dipped on the Iceland too. Too bad, it would have been a lifer for me.

  2. Nate permalink*
    January 10, 2011 10:56 am

    @Robert- State bird for me, and a good one.

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