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County Birding with County Birders

January 17, 2011
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I fear that in the unabashed full-throated endorsement of county listing I’ve made on several occasions on this blog I may have awaken a monster.  A couple of the kids from the Wake County Young Naturalist’s Club, Matt Daw and Ali Iyoob, have heard the call, and ever since Matt got a driver license, they’ve been putting up some impressive numbers, especially if you count North Carolina Total Ticks.  Though I still have them beat in three of the four Triangle counties (their home county, Wake, is my weakest), that’s really only a matter of time.  There’s really no way I can keep up with the nearly unlimited time and energy of youth.  I can only sit and watch the few birds that lie between my list and theirs slip away.  So I might as well help them along the way.

In order to make their Orange County lists respectable, I met Ali and Matt, and Triangle-area stalwart Will Cook, at Mason Farm bright and early.  I bird by myself more often than not, and it’s easy to forget how nice it is to be in the field with three other sharp birders.  A solo individual’s focus can only go so far, and attention payed to one bird by necessity means attention removed from the rest of the area.  Not so with eight eyes and eight ears. We tore through that place like a team possessed, picking up local goodies like Purple Finch and Pine Siskin, as well as nearly every other regularly occurring winter landbird.  Mason Farm is generally not the kind of place where you will find mega-rarities, but it’s one of the best places in the area to have an extremely productive morning of birding.  Matt and Ali were racking up county birds by the bushel, and even I added an unexpected Durham County bird when a Purple Finch flew across the path that runs down the county line.  That’s how you roll when you’re all about the counties.  I’m going to have to start carrying around surveyors materials.

Once Mason Farm was turned upside-down and shaken by its ankles for whatever birds fell out on the ground in front of us.  We headed out to the fields of western Orange County to add to the day list.  Cane Creek Reservoir was the most productive from a personal perspective as several species of ducks had clustered in the deepest part of the lake.   Mallards, Ring-necks and Ruddies were nice, but best for me were the county first Buffleheads, American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes (can you tell expansive open water is a premium in Orange County?) as well as a juvenile Bald Eagle whose futile passes put the ducks up in the air regularly enough for us to get most of them. Will spotted a small flock of Green-winged Teal that I missed.  Too bad, that would have been county bird number five.

The rest of the morning was spent hitting the regular stops along my route.  We found the White-crowned Sparrows, along with a nice Cooper’s Hawk.  I had forgotten my camera, so you’ll just have to do with photos from previous visits to these locations.  I wish I’d seen the WCs this well, though…

A nice flock of Savannah Sparrows sitting on the side of the road had me kicking myself I didn’t have a camera, but so it goes.  The bird always sit up nice and high when they know you’re not carrying.

Best bird of the day honors had to go to the last bird we saw before we headed out our separate ways.  When we returned to Mason Farm to get everyone back to their cars, Ali spotted a big dark bird soaring past.  Binoculars deployed, it turned out to be a Common Raven, one of a spate of sightings in the area recently, but not at all a sure thing in the Triangle.  A nice bird for my Big Year to be sure, and better, one I won’t have to bother getting later.

I ended up with 62 species for the day, the total tally was a couple more.  All in all a solid day for the Triangle, and puts my Big Year total at 75 by the third weekend of the year.  Right where I want to be, actually.  I may pull this thing off yet.

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6 Comments
  1. January 17, 2011 9:03 am

    You are just so magnanimous!

  2. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    January 17, 2011 11:25 am

    Nice birds! I’ve not been keeping up with my year totals (should get on that…) but it’s tit-for-tat in Durham – I *finally* picked up Ring-necked Duck yesterday at Flat River, one of the more ridiculous county birds I was missing. Let me work on my year list, I’ll let you know where I stand!

    • BirdTrainerRobert permalink
      January 17, 2011 11:47 am

      *phew* 77 species in the Triangle. And I’m missing any good ones like Common Raven (totally jealous about that!) I’ve got a feeding Matt, Ali, and Kyle are kicking my tail though…

      • January 21, 2011 1:37 pm

        I just counted up my triangle list, 82 so far. 148 for NC, not bad in a month!!!

  3. Nate permalink*
    January 17, 2011 3:52 pm

    @Robert (Birding is Fun) – It’s the only way to be. Accept the inevitable.

    @Robert – With a couple easy additions I’d be with you. I’m still missing Sharp-shinned Hawk and Black Duck and some others, for instance.

    I don’t know what Matt and Ali are at. They’ve got a big list for the year, but most of it has been out of the Triangle so far. And since both of them are leaving in August, they won’t be able to keep up into Shorebird season.

  4. January 18, 2011 3:55 pm

    Thanks for showing us around! I’m maybe at 80-ish, about 150 for NC.

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