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Walking the walk

February 14, 2011
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Doing a Big Year, even one as low-intensity and travel light as my Triangle Big Year, poses a few logistical difficulties when dealing with a young family.  I’m not interested in completely wearing out my welcome with my indulging wife, and leaving her at home with a well-behaved but still exhausting almost 2 year old while I go traipsing around the countryside looking for who knows what is, without doubt, a sure fire way to do just that.  If I push too hard I’m likely not to be able to get out to bird for the rest of the decade, an untenable situation to be sure.  So I’m lucky if I can get out and bird for one morning per weekend (at least until it warms up enough to take Noah with me), and if I have established plans, well, that’s my weekend right there.  I hope it’s productive.

I guess I’m fortunate, then, that the birds I’m looking for these days are the handful of regular landbirds that I’ve not yet picked up for the year.  Things like Sharp-shinned Hawks (where the heck are they?) and Red-breasted Nuthatches and Rusty Blackbirds, birds I’m as likely to come across on a bird walk as by myself.  So when my established plans included leading a beginner’s bird walk for Wake Audubon, a group on whose board I sit, there’s a chance I end up having a day as productive for Big Year birding as for entertaining a group of relatively novice bird watchers.

We walked at Anderson Point Park, one of Raleigh’s city parks and the one with which Wake Audubon has had a long-standing partnership.  A group of a dozen joined me as we strolled through the fields and forests puzzling over myriad sparrows, gaping at gorgeous Eastern Bluebirds singing atop the nest boxes erected by Wake Audubon, and chatting about birds at feeders and what we’ve seen recently.  You know, the usual stuff.  A Fish Crow honked overhead early on, the first one I’ve seen this year and the first real sign that spring is around the corner in this part of North Carolina.

We followed the path into the woods to the actual “point”, where Crabtree Creek flows into the Neuse River, and came across a beautiful adult Red-headed Woodpecker.  Red-heads have grown scarce in the Triangle, especially within the city limits, and you couldn’t really get a nicer bird for a bird walk if you’d ordered it out of a catalog.  Everyone got fantastic looks as it vaulted back and forth between a massive sycamore and a broken oak limb.  He paid close attention to the tip of the break, and we wondered if he’d cached acorns there.

We saw Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Flickers too, only the Pileated and Hairy away from the woodpecker slam.  No one seemed disappointed though.  The embodiment of economy of color that is a Red-headed Woodpecker tends to sate just about any would-be bird walker.

A flock of sparrows drew my attention so I lead the group to a little seep where we picked up a super obliging (I’m obliged to use that word in a trip report at least once) Hermit Thrush.  When you’re looking to show a group of birders the cool things around them that they might not normally see by themselves, Hermit Thrush is a definite goodie.  Not only does it have lots of memorable field marks, both physically and behaviorally, but it’s quiet and easily overlooked.  This bird stayed right out in the open where everyone got killer looks.  I have to say, as a bird walk leader, I was feeling pretty good about the way things were going.

The resident Loggerhead Shrike was a no-show, and too bad too as I was hoping to pick it up for my Big Year, but the day was a success.  Everyone got great looks at the two best birds and I picked up a Fish Crow for the year (not that it was a species I was really worrying about).

I stopped at a waterfowl impoundment on my way home, hoping for a previously reported Pintail, but the ducks weren’t forthcoming and I didn’t have time to really give it the attention it deserved.  I found 80 Ring-necked Ducks, and handful of Hooded Mergansers and a pair of Wood Ducks, another hole that needed filling for the year.  Maybe next week I can try again.  I had a wife and kid to get back to if I ever wanted to be let out of the house again.

95 down, 121 to go.

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3 Comments
  1. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    February 14, 2011 11:47 am

    Red-headed Woodpeckers are becoming “scarce in the Triangle”? They were easily the most common woodpecker at Flat River, I must’ve come by at least 25!

  2. Nate permalink*
    February 14, 2011 12:01 pm

    @Robert – They’re harder than you might think outside of a few sites where they’re almost ridiculously common, the area around Butner being one of them. That’s a surprisingly high number though. I wonder if the NCWRC knows about that concentration, I think it’s a species they’re really looking at.

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