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The Battle for Durham County

May 2, 2012

According to eBird, I am not the top county lister in any of the counties I care most about, those four counties that make up the “Triangle” of NC. But I am close, holding down that second or third spot in all of them. This has been the source of a bizarre sort of pride, that I may not have the top spot, but my TTT (Triangle Total Ticks) is pretty darn impressive.  I even keep a list of birds species that I’ve seen in all four Triangle counties.  As my state listing yen slowly fades in the face of a full-time job and little one at home, you might say that consistency has become my calling card.

But perhaps I’ve taken those positions in the rarified air of eBird for granted.  Becayse, of late, I have competition.  Young birder (can I really still call him young when he’s in college?) Ali Iyoob has been breathing down my neck in both Durham and Orange counties for the last couple weeks now.  He has pulled within five species in both counties and with my years of birding Orange and Durham counties it has left me with precious few birds to pull out to keep that ever shortening daylight between him and me.  It has inspired me to work a bit harder, and with the report of a few outstanding species in the northern reaches of Durham County the last week I was motivated, out of fear or anger or desire to at least make it a fight, to leave immediately after work and track them down.

My dad was in town, so he tagged along, and we busted up to Quail Roost, a massive horse farm in the rural pasturelands of the Piedmont where a brief scan of a field of alfalfa netted a prodigious flock of Bobolinks.  The black-bellied males were perched high atop the stalks, a full 50 of them, with females tucked in underneath.  It was easily one of the largest flocks of the species I’d seen in the state and a call back to the Missouri backroads I grew up in.  None of the birds were close enough to think about photographing, so we headed over to the Quail Roost farm itself for the other two.

In a field of red clover, my dad and I flushed a half dozen more Bobos as we pulled off to the side of a gravel road.  The mid-afternoon sun was in full egg-frying mode and the field was practically devoid of bird song, at least of the dainty voiced object of our search.  My dad pulled out his iPod and dialed up a song, two seconds later we had an angry Grasshopper Sparrow circling the car and perching in the mowed part of the margin.

Not long after, the liquid tones of an Eastern Meadowlark broke through, the third new county bird of the afternoon putting me at 193, a full 4 species ahead of Ali.  Enough for now, but a fervent competitor like him will not be satisfied by pulling close so briefly.

Ultimately, I don’t have a prayer of staying ahead of him.  There’s no way I can compete with someone younger with a more flexible schedule.  But I can give him a run, and hopefully widen that gap to those behind him.  Besides, I still have my total ticks, and Bobolink was the 123rd species I’ve seen in all four counties, a milestone I have reason to believe is pretty good.  I’ll always have my consistency.

  1. May 3, 2012 9:44 am

    There’re so many ways to be a psychotic birder these days. =)
    Given the post’s title I think a shoutout to Robert Meehan and his 209 Durham birds is in order. It gives some context to you and Ali’s quaint little battle for third place 😉

    • Nate permalink*
      May 3, 2012 7:32 pm

      Picky, picky.

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