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Tail-waggers

February 7, 2011
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When I decided to try this Triangle Big Year I made a list of 200 species of birds that I should be able to get in a normal year in the four counties in which I’m counting then made some notes as to when and where I figured I’d be able to find them.  The key to a successful Big Year is less about finding all the crazy birds and more about limiting your misses.  If I want to get to 216 species of birds this year I need to get all the expected species, plus a few surprises.  And since there are no surprises in the area of late, this weekend was as good a time as any to take the sisyphean task of picking up the expected species.

I was feeling pretty good before I left for the SuperBowl of Birding.  I was sitting at 87 species, with the century mark easily attainable.  There were at least 15 relatively easy to find winter birds that could get me there, many of which only required going to the right place at the right time.  That’s what this past weekend was for.  Saturday was essentially rained out, but Sunday dawn clear and chilly enough to head out to the Ellerbe Creek arm of Falls Lake for a couple birds that could potentially be difficult later on.

This is such a strange place for a hotspot.  Ever since the Connecticut Warbler was found here in October, birders have been covering it a bit more regularly.  It’s been worth it for the most part.  Lingering shorebirds have made the flats fairly exciting, and I turned up a Black-crowned Night Heron once that ranks among my better birds in the triangle in the last six months, but the area has been particularly good for a bird that can be difficult to pin down  in the area, a nomadic denizen of the fallow fields that likes the short-cropped grass and muck that is a victim of not only irresponsible development, but responsible winter cover of fallow fields.  It’s a mixed bag, this area.  But the bird is the American Pipit, and Ellerbe Creek has proven to be very reliable for them.

But before I even made it out to the Pipit fields, a close look at a group of Yellow-rumped Warblers working the mudflats turned up a bright male Palm Warbler, whose incessant bobbing made even a brief look diagnostic.  Palmies winter on the coast, but usually don’t make it this far inland until early April.  I wonder if the recent run of warmish weather pulled them westward a bit.  It’s certainly not a bird I would worry about missing this year, but it is several months before I expected to add it to the year list.

Killdeer swamped the wet meadows, but a small flock of flighty Least Sandpipers mixed in, and Wilson’s Snipes stayed stock still against the old branches and tree roots that lay scattered on the mud.  There was trash too, lots of it. A mix of refuse flowing down Ellerbe Creek from north Durham and the stuff that gets left high and dry when the lake recedes from the far arms.  Old soda bottles and cigarette packaging and styrofoam of all shapes and sizes.  And that’s before we get into the veritable menagerie of used condoms.  All the dregs of modern life allayed before me in all it’s disgusting glory.  But this is no place managed for regular visitation, it’s just where the birds are, and so for that reason we go.

But the Pipits were there, many of them in scattered flocks across the mudflats.  Picking at the water’s edge and strolling through the sedges and flying over giving hints of their spring song.  I tried to take photos but they often stayed just far enough away to get anything sharp.

Having picked up what I came for I turned back, hoping to time my arrival home with the end of my kid’s nap.  But a distantly calling Barred Owl reminded me I need to do a little nocturnal work before the month is over.  Woodcocks should be calling soon and I’d rather find them on their leks than take my chances flushing one.  Soon enough.

Up to 93 for the year.  Just 123 to go.

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4 Comments
  1. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    February 7, 2011 11:12 am

    Are we just going to ignore the fact that apparently you found a pair of Ravens??? I swear I’m going to be the last guy in Durham to get these buggers….

    In other news, I headed over to Flat River after we met, and had awesome looks at a Harrier, as well as 3 smart-looking drake Pintails, first time I’ve seen drakes in the Triangle.

  2. Nate permalink*
    February 7, 2011 11:54 am

    @Robert- I suppose I should have mentioned it, it’s just that I’ve seen so many of them this year… They were flying south as I was exiting I-85.

    I saw your list, pretty nice! I’m leading a trip for Wake Audubon on Saturday but I may have to slip up there afterwards for the Pintails at least. That’s supposed to be a place where Least Bitterns nest in the summer too.

  3. February 7, 2011 12:48 pm

    That sounds like a good start for the first five weeks of the year.

  4. David permalink
    February 7, 2011 8:34 pm

    Sounds like a great site for the Wake Audobon to clean up on Earth Day!

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