Chatham County on the Rise
There’s probably a not unreasonable perception that county listers are crazier than the relatively garden variety birders who keep life or state or year lists. After all, keeping so many individual lists is probably a sign of a latent obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a few years ago I might agree with you. But now that simply entering my own daily checklists into eBird I’m able to keep track of those individual lists without much effort. This, more than any of the great map features and bar charts, is my favorite thing about the program and it’s turned me into a rabid county lister in North Carolina.
Here’s the thing about county listing that is so appealing. Sure a lot can be said about the simple joys of enjoying your regular birds day in and day out, and that’s one of the best ways to become better birder as so many field guide authors will tell you in the forward to every field guide. But the visceral thrill of adding bird to a list, not as a tick in and of itself, but as a marker, a small accomplishment, a memory, cannot be denied. There’s a competitive aspect sure, but in the end you’re really only competing with yourself. Or so I tell myself.
Before Noah came along, I was a mild state twitcher, chasing some of the closer birds and certainly enjoying it. Seeing new birds, vagrant birds, is loads of fun. Now that I’ve got a kid and my time is more limited I don’t have it in me to waste my time in the car for another bird on a list (unless it’s something really amazing), but I’ve become pretty serious about my counties lately. My home county, Orange, and neighbors, Durham and Chatham, are tops, and I’ll even do some birding in Wake too from time to time. Getting a new bird on any of these lists feels like an accomplishment and usually entails birding places I’ve never been at time I don’t usually go. It’s opened the triangle up for me, and encouraged me to cover it more deeply. And a self-found Glaucous Gull in Wake County or Wilson’s Storm-Petrel in Chatham County is deeply satisfying in a way that even a twitchable state first Cassin’s Sparrow can never be.
So this is all a long way of saying that my Triangle Big Year attempt has been an absolute boon for my county listing. My ongoing search for a Triangle Kentucky Warbler (still unsuccessful) brought me to a place in northern Chatham County that I never would have gone. A state run “experimental” forest on one of farthest north arms of Jordan Lake. Several Kentuckies were reported to eBird and using BirdsEye I found my way to a dirt road leading to a massive power line cut and an ORV trail running down to the lakeshore. The regular nesting birds were around; I heard Orchard Orioles and Ovenbirds and Acadian Flycatchers and nice but non-target birds. Most notably, I came across a pair of recently fledged Great Horned Owls that wouldn’t sit still for a photo. Barred is the regularly seen owl down here, so it’s been a while since I’ve spotted GHOs. I forget how enormous they are. Even the chicks are truly massive birds, even if the fuzziness takes away from the impression of a professional killing machine. They were new for the county.
There were loads of Yellow-breasted Chats around, partitioned out every 100 meters or so. I’d never seen so many, and teed up on branches too. A nice photo op of another county bird.
A Summer Tanager could not resist the power cut scrub either. And I could not resist the red, even if the clouds made it difficult to get a sharp shot. I have not been a bird photographer long, but I have learned that if Summer Tanager is sitting out in the open you do not miss the opportunity to take the shot.
The Kentucky miss was a painful one – I thought it would be my best chance to get them this year – but not one to take misses lying down, I headed down the arm of Jordan Lake to a couple other access points I never ever visit, the first being a Model Plane field right on the lake shore. Normally when remote control plane hobbyists come to fly their toys around the lake, this site is actually pretty terrible for birding. But early in the morning, before those nerds come with their expensive and loud winged race cars*, it’s an extensive meadow seeded with native grasses.
*I realize a birder isn’t in the position to mock nerds with expensive hobbies, but I’d like to think that we birders are at least a few steps above model plan enthusiasts on the nerd hierarchy.
A pair of Eastern Kingbirds had staked out a teritory centered around a lone Sweetgum tree. Probably nesting.
Biggest surprise came when a pair of female Bobolinks hopped on a shrub as I walked by. I had completely given up on Bobos for the spring, and then I get them for a new county? That’s a fist-pump moment right there.
I still have a couple warbler misses, Black-throated Green being the most frustrating. I suppose I may have to wait until fall because the Blackpoll Warblers, the traditional harbingers of the end of migration, are now in town, though admittedly not yet in good numbers.
In the end I added the three new birds to the year list, and five, count ’em, five new birds to my Chatham County list, which is a pretty impressive tally considering it’s my best list in the state. That’s a seriously productive morning.
With these birds, plus a Chestnut-sided Warbler I had yesterday at Mason Farm, I’m at 163 for the Triangle Year. 53 to go to reach my goal.