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My Life’s Birds: #481

March 2, 2011
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September 14, 2008 Lake Mattamuskeet NWR, NC – September in North Carolina is still summer. Not in the “summer doesn’t officially end until the autumnal equinox” sense that the astronomy pedants hold in their pockets to smack unsuspecting small talkers during friendly late season barbecues, but in the “sweet Jesus it’s still 90 degrees outside, when will this fiery hellscape abate” sense that keeps all sensible southerners on their verandas with a sweaty class of mint julep and a hand fan well into October. After all, only mad dogs, englishmen, and shorebirds go out in the midday sun.

The autumn of 2008 was a particular rough one.  Dry, but not dry enough to lower the local reservoirs for shorebirds, and characterized by a fuel shortage in the southeast as a result of Hurricane Ike’s path right through the gulf coast oil distribution hub.  In a matter of hours the cost of a gallon of gas shot up north of $5.00 across much of the south, causing something akin to panic across the region and frustrated resignation among a birder with a mind to get out to do some shorebirding.

So it was almost certainly intrepid, and arguably irresponsible, that I threw caution to the wind and went out to Mattamuskeet, a full three hours from home, anyway.  Despite the fact that the news was urging people not to use more gas than they needed, I justified it by arguing that I rode the bus to work every day and it was only an extra tank.  And as guilty as I did feel about using scarce resources so frivolously, it was a good decision.  The vast shallow lake was low enough that nearly the entire shoreline was explosed mud.  There were literally tens of thousands of shorebirds present, and not only did I pick up goodies like American Golden-Plovers and Baird’s Sandpipers, but I easily found the target bird, a juvenile Hudsonian Godwit that had been present a few days.

Hudwits are the rarer Godwit in North Carolina, and show up only a few times a year.  The other Godwit, Marbled,  is present in smallish numbers and usually fairly easy to find anywhere along the coast in fall and winter.  This is in direct contrast to parts farther north, where Hudwit is the dominant Godwit, and can congregate in significant numbers in places like New Jersey before jumping off straight to South America.   This has always seemed strange to me, the geography of September Godwit distribution that is, rather than the giant leap south, which is simply remarkable. In any case, Hudwits are one of the better shorebirds of the last summer season in the state.

Definitely something to drink a julep to on the veranda.

HUDGOD by Henry McLin via flickr (CC BY-NC-2.0)

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