My Life’s Birds: #498
October 16, 2010 – Falls Lake – Ellerbe Creek, Durham Co, NC – There are birds with reputations for skulkery. Birds for whom sitting on an exposed perch and allowing long extended looks in excellent light is anathema. For a lot of birders, these are the birds that mean the most to finally get a look at. Anyone can spot a Baltimore Oriole singing away on top of a Willow, or take in a flock of Northern Pintail a thousand strong. But getting on a particularly elusive bird requires skills that birders often take for granted. Specific knowledge of behavior for one, so that you might be able to predict how and when this bird will make itself available. A learned ear – as even skulky birds will vocalize and having that chip or clack or trill in your head increases your ability to find them- helps. The advantages of a trained eye, honed through years of experience in the field, are obvious.
Subconsciously, these traits all work together so seamlessly that the outside observer only sees what can appear to be magic in the way a great field birder operates. And make no mistake, these epic skulkers always seem to appear exclusively to the great field birders, but a far more crucial skill – one that cannot be discounted – is persistence, and it’s shy partner luck.
The story of the Connecticut Warbler of Ellerbe Creek, and specifically my involvement with it (because that’s what this blog is about), is a story of persistence and luck from two different directions. Connecticuts are widely acknowledged to be among the most difficult passerines in North American to see well, true and proud bearers of the skulker label. But persistence pays off, especially when you’re a local birder, a guy named Robert, who covers a patch relentlessly through the fall and, as luck would have it, a Connecticut Warbler pops up. This is all from the perspective of the finder, however, who not only got the bird, but knew he had the bird, a self-assuredness that paid off handily when birders from all over the state came to check out the find.
That’s all well and good, and probably the exciting part of the story to be truthful. My own persistence is the more frustrating kind. One of missing the bird twice before, as luck would have it, I came across Robert one afternoon and he gave me the tip I needed. The bird would forage in muddy patch thick with sedges and walking through the reeds one could flush the bird into the nearby willows, a little bit of behavioral knowledge that makes one look like a Connecticut Warbler savant when employed.
Those are, as the Beastie Boys said, the skills to pay the bills. No skulker can resist.