Triangle Big Year: How’s that going anyway?
Oh, it’s funny you should ask, because I am still doing this local Big Year and unlike my statewide run in 2008, it looks like I might even reach my goal of 200 species in the four counties of the Triangle. Birding in the Piedmont in 2011 has been exceptionally good, one of the best years in recent memory, and almost entirely because of the last couple months. Not only has the rain held off long enough to make for some excellent mudflats for shorebirds (I think Falls Lake set a new record for species in a year this year), but the side swipe by Hurricane Irene meant that a fair few coastal species snuck up into the area without side effects of torrential rainfall. It truly was the best of both worlds, and while full-time employment and a 2 year old puts a serious damper on one’s ability to get out on a moment’s notice, I honestly can’t complain about the birds I’m seeing, which have included more county birds than one can shake a stick at (providing one is into that sort of thing) with 93 for four counties combines, and one lifer (I’ve decided, I’m counting it)
My current total stands at 194 with the recent twitch of a bizarre inland American Oystercatcher at Falls Lake this weekend, and I should be able to pick up 6 more with little to no trouble. After that? Maybe to my original goal of 216. It’s possible, though increasingly a longshot. Why not dream, though?
As with all Big Year birders, I’ve been closely monitoring the possibilities for those last six birds. I have a good idea of what they might be, so here’s a completely obsessive and naval-gazing post about my best guesses for the last few birds, in order from most to least likely.
- Cape May Warbler – I’ve never missed a Cape May Warbler in the fall in the triangle. This should be a gimme in any stand of pines at the right time of year. Fortunately, they’re a relatively late migrant, so I’ve got until early November to pick one up.
- Black-throated Green Warbler – Very similar to Cape May. Should be moving through now. A likely pick-up this very weekend.
- Dunlin – A late-migrating shorebird. Usually passes through in good numbers in late October. Should be cake.
- Gray-cheeked Thrush– If I have to stoop to night flight calls, I’ll do it. But don’t make me do it, Catharus.
- Sharp-shinned Hawk – A completely mind-blowing miss early in the year. But should be around from now till December 31. I’ve just got to remember to look up.
- Eastern Screech-Owl – Another completely mind-blowing miss so far. If I’m driving the backroads of Orange County the evening of December 31, whistling randomly at woodlots, this bird will be the reason why.
- Forster’s Tern – I’ve had a great Tern year including Royal, Common and Least, but not yet this most common migratory tern. I’d better get it in the next three weeks or the window closes.
- Black-bellied Plover – Pretty common migrant, more common towards the end of the fall. Still a good chance at these.
- American Golden-Plover – Definitely uncommon, but the mudflats look so good right now there’s no reason to think there won’t be flocks of Golden Plovers on them at some point in the next several weeks. Lord knows I haven’t had any luck finding the singletons that have been hanging around lately.
- Wood Stork – Not even a bird I would have expected to find this year, but there’s been a flock of at least 50 at Falls Lake and another of a dozen or so at Jordan. I’d love to get the Falls birds for the county tick, but I’ll take the Jordan birds in a pinch. In fact, I may make a special trip over to get them this weekend. Baby needs some Wood Storks.
So looking at this list I’m thinking 200 in the Triangle is completely reasonable. Heck, 205 or 210 is not a pipedream. With the help of some insane species this year like the aforementioned American Oystercatcher, the completely epic Parasitic Jaeger, the nesting Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and the unexpected Long-tailed Duck, this has been a really great year.
Onward and upward, then. To 200 and beyond.