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My Life’s Birds: #483

March 23, 2011
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December 16, 2008Fort Fisher, NC –  By the time December of 2008 rolled around I was pretty much done with my Big Year.  Not just in the inexorable culmination of 12 months sense, but also in the sitting in the car for long periods at a time driving to these out of the way locales to look for birds.  The vast majority of North Carolina’s species are found on the coast, and any would-be Big Year birder is well served by getting to the ocean as often as humanly possible.  One of the things I love about living where I do, in the center of the North Carolina Piedmont, is the fact that, most of the time, one doesn’t have to travel far to get to the Appalachians or the ocean.  They’re generally both just over two hours in a car.  But that’s really only an advantage when you’re making the odd jaunt either direction.  When you feel like you have to be there on a much more regular basis it’s nothing short of grueling, and I don’t have an appetite for gruel.

So by December my aim was less on chasing state-level rarities (though I did do a little of that), and more on closing embarrassing gaps.  This was my “this time it’s personal” period, and close to tops on that list was a little streaky skulker that had proven far more difficult than it had any right to be.

Fort Fisher is still one of my favorite birding sites in the state.  Not only is it only a two and a half jaunt from home (close enough to make a day trip), but it’s one of the most accessible patches of saltmarsh on the Carolina coast, and tucked against a parking lot just on the south side of the not-so-imposing Civil War era garrison is an acre or so of Spartina that not only manages to avoid inundation even at high tide, but can be easily circumnavigated on mostly dry land.  Those don’t really sound like notable attributes, but the species I was seeking – not to mention others in the same habitat – can be notoriously reluctant to show themselves and saltmarshes are not typically known as accessible locations.  I needed to walk into the marsh itself to find my target, and having even a small patch of walkable marsh was key.  Even so, this bird had eluded me on every trip previous.  Not only during the handful of times I visited during my Big Year, but the times before too.  By December of 2008 this was, if nothing else, personal.

So perhaps it was anticlimactic when I only had to pass through the marsh dragging my feet a couple times before a Saltmarsh Sparrow popped up on the sandbar, perched briefly atop a reed, and disappeared back into the grass.  It was followed by a pair of Nelson’s Sparrows and a Clapper Rail; both species most easily seen by stomping the marsh grasses, and good birds by themselves, but overshadowed by the little streaky sparrow that finally fell into my lap.

Mission accomplished, redress alleviated, and one more life bird in the book.

SALSPA by BobDevlin via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

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