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The weekend winter came

September 19, 2011
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The best thing, and I mean the very best thing, about living in North Carolina is fall.  That’s completely independent of birds by the way, as if I’m capable of compartmentalizing things that way anymore.  But the months from September into the first part of November in this part of the world are as pleasant as anywhere you could possibly go.  The days are cool and crisp with highs in the 70s and the nights are just cool enough to open the windows at night and warm enough not to freeze yourself out.  It’s blissful, no doubt our reward for enduring the sort of hellish midsummer heat and humidity that gets going as soon as daylight savings rolls around.

But this year it all went to pot.  We went from sweaty summer on Thursday straight into a Friday and weekend right our of early December without a hint of that nice pleasant season everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line looks forward too every year.  It got cold, and the birds were as confused as everyone else because instead of taking the slow and easy route back to the tropics, they came in big bunches all it once, and there was no way for the prospective birder to hit all the places that needed hitting.  This is the sort of thing that would cause ulcers if I took this more seriously.  I love Big Year birding for the fact that it gets me out and motivated every time I’m in the field, but the stress, even in this very localized level, is killing me.  I don’t know that I’m cut out for it.

Not that it mattered, I standardized test to take Saturday morning, so my birding was arrested anyway.  But after the last circle was filled in and the last number two pencil was laid down on my desk not to be picked up again, I went straight out to Ellerbe Creek on Falls Lake (yes, again) to search once more for those last shorebirds to fill in those gaps on my Big Year list.  I went in shorts, underestimating the wind and wet.  It was a mistake I would not make again, but there’s something about the sight of a pair of American Avocets pacing across a mudflat to take the chill away, for a short time at least.

The shorebirds lined up along the flats were present in impressive numbers, but less than impressive diversity.  It was, however, really nice to see Stilt Sandpipers present in good numbers, almost 20 of them in all.  Definitely one of my favorite shorebirds, with their midpoint between Dowitcher and Yellowlegs feel and the endearing way they throw their entire head into the water with reckless abandon while feeding.  A great little bird.

Other than that, Leasts appear to be back in numbers and Pectorals still make up the bulk of the crowd.  A single Ruddy Turnstone was a good find this far from the coast, but they’ve been present here for two weeks now.  Herons and Egrets still prowl the wetlands, though their numbers are down from the peaks a month ago, they certainly tolerate each other’s company a bit less, as these two angry Great Blues suggested as they circled each other menacingly.

The window for Wood Storks may well be closing, but there’s still plenty of time to pick up these shorebirds, plus the odd surprise.  I closed the weekend down with a completely bizarre American Oystercatcher from a boat ramp of Falls Lake.  not a bird you’d expect, especially without a storm, but cool nonetheless, and one that puts me one close to 200 for the year.

194 down.

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