Cleaning up, moving on
Spring and Fall are the seasons that make a Big Year, especially a local one like this run around the Triangle I’m doing. There are only so many resident species in the Carolina Piedmont, and I’d pretty much burned through all of them by the end of June. The rest of one’s year list, a likely full half of the birds you may expect to see in a given year, are merely transient. And those few weeks of the year when they arrive before heading off to parts north or south are easily the most anxiety inducing of the whole shebang. This is where experience really kicks in, and you have to rely on your own shoddy memory and haphazard notes to decide where to go birding on any given day. I have two days a week where I’m free to get out on the field and really bird, and one of those days I have to bring my two year old son along with me, so my instincts need to be absolutely right on in order to maximize my bird accumulation and target saturation (it helps morale to use military terminology).
Lately, I’ve been more or less failing at this.
There’s only one me, and when good birds (i.e. birds I need for my list) get reported all over the Triangle this weekend except at the places I happen to be, this one me gets good and frustrated. I don’t feel like I need to go into detail about the birds in question (Least Flycatcher, Nashville Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, American Golden-Plover, etc), but let it be said that my birding insticts – which, at this point, I’m seriously questioning – told me to go to Butner Gamelands in northern Durham County because a few years back I saw a Merlin there at the same time of the on two consecutive years. So you know. Might as well, right?
I stepped out of the car into a sea of first year Indigo Buntings, just loads and loads of them. A weird, metallic call note led me to a hedgerow where I turned up a first year Dickcissel, one of the really streaky ones with the malar stripe that looks like a fu-man chu moustache. Not a plumage I’ve ever seen before and apparently an excellent bird for Durham County. Just my luck, then, that it was the second Dickcissel I’d seen this year…
The Merlin was not forthcoming. It’s just like a Merlin to be unreliable though, it probably did it out of spite. They would.
I did, however, come across a small handful of the last “common” warbler I had outstanding on my likely birds list. Black-throated Green Warblers are definitely in that group of warblers that are far more common in the fall around here than in the spring. It’s such a pain to have to wait until late September to get my yearly dose of BT Green, but that’s the way it goes nearly every year. Fortunately, they make up for it really well.
Other warbles in the array included another Tennessee, a Magnolia, and many many Cape Mays. I don’t if my friends elsewhere on the east coast are seeing the same thing, but this has been an exceptional year for Cape May Warblers this year. I’m seeing them everywhere I go, and in numbers. It’s disconcerting, especially when I find a particularly drab one that makes me think for that split second that I’m looking at the season’s first Yellow-rumped Warbler and the sun is practically set on all of this migration goodness.
Not yet! There has to be more time still!! Oh, another Cape May? Forget it then.
Without a Big Year to attend to, the Dickcissel alone makes this an excellent day. But the pick up of only Black-throated Green Warbler was a tad disappointing. Oh well, I’m probably got one more week to clean things up before the sparrow comes and bring down the house. I hope I can pick right next time.