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The First

March 26, 2012
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This past weekend I took off to Eno River State Park, one of my favorite early spring birding sites, to look for early warbler, flip over some logs, and generally walk around in the woods to see if anything interesting is about.  The answer, I’m happy to say, was a qualified yes.  The past few weeks have been exceptionally wet down here, and the Eno itself was running high.  So high that the rocks that make up the cataracts in this stretch of the river were hidden by water roughly the consistency and color of a low-fat latte. So high that it wouldn’t have been out of place to see one of those Colorado River rapids guides polling down the stretch with crash helmet and life jacket affixed.  So high that you’d have though a hurricane had recently passed.

I figured all the wet weather would be good for salamanders, but being a pretty amateur herper at this stage, this was just a gut feeling.  Heck, maybe it was, but in learning about the life cycles of these fascinating little amphibians I’m discovering that most of the species (and almost all of the cooler species) spend a great deal of their time underground.  Ipso facto, they’re hard to find without special knowledge.  Special knowledge that I’m unlikely to get without a serious book, a mentor, or eBird for herps (eHerp?).  In any case, the salamandering was a bust save one tiny little Slimy Sallie no more than two inches long.  A cutie that I couldn’t photograph right so I got nothing.

I did finally turn up my first normal sized snake of the year, a nice change of pace from the snake sized varieties I’d found up to now.  This one was a 2 foot Northern Watersnake resting underneath a big piece of bark.  I enjoy handling snakes and it was sluggish so I considered, for that one second, picking it up, but I find these snakes to be too wriggly, and smelly and bitey to pick up unless I have a good reason to do so.  So I let it lie.

The total herp haul for the day included two Northern Watersnakes, this one and a young one.  The tiny Slimy Salamander, a still hibernating Box Turtle and a couple little Worm Snakes.

As for birds, the Yellow-throated Warblers are well and truly in, singing from every sycamore along the river.  This stretch of water is generally exceptional for Louisiana Waterthush, so it was no surprise to find two singing males, one perching for a time not more than 12 feet from me and causing me to curse the fact that I left my big lens at home.

Northern Parulas are starting to move in too, with three this week to add to the solo bird I had last week.  But the biggest surprise had to be the singing Ovenbird, the first I’ve ever had before April.  I went back to the last five years of eBird records to see by average arrival date for this species and found that, prior to this weekend, I’d never had one earlier than April 6, making this bird a full two weeks early.  I had not though that we in the South would see the abnormally early arrivals this year, since our arrivals are so early anyway, but it maybe a quicker spring than usual down here is the Ovenbirds are already starting to arrive.  And here I haven’t even had a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher yet.

Maybe next week?

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