Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring Break: From Purple to Yellow

From the end of OBX birding trip until the beginning of Spring Break, I had 27 days of zero year birds. March is slow because you've seen all you can see in your area and spring migration has not arrived with neotropical migrants. I spent most of this time birding around my area looking for some county birds. The best part during those 27 days was adding Red-necked Grebe to my county list at Lake Crabtree. There was a huge fallout of Red-necked Grebes over the eastern US due to some nasty winter weather. Lake Crabtree was even flooded!

The best surprise I had was an unexpected Baltimore Oriole show up in my yard along with the first ever yard sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker. They're huge woodpeckers with a crisp red crest and a call that echoes dramatically. A woodpecker that is always a nice treat, especially from your backyard.
I spent the first half of my spring break on NC's crystal coast, this time farther south at Atlantic Beach. The band of slow March days was broken finally with a group of five Purple Martins(#158) tending to their summer home in the front yard of my friends beach house. 

 I managed to use my Mom's car for the afternoon and drove farther east to Fort Macon State Park, an old civil war fort based beside the Beaufort inlet. When I stepped out of the car, my face was pelted with rain and the sky was slate-gray. I trudged out in the wet sand onto the beach. I was met by numerous Laughing Gulls(#159) telling the same old joke, a Great Cormorant (lifer!) swimming close to shore and Royal Terns(#161) huddled in a group. Oh what a relief! 

Since I am the only one in my family who finds being on the beach when its wet and windy fun, I spent the last three days at the coast leisurely birding. However, I was able to pick up three more year birds incidentally. The next day I had just finished a delicious lunch with a fried oyster burger, and I decided to step out onto the beach for a moment. Suddenly my friend shouted, "Hey Edward, what are those?" and I turned around to the silhouette shape of a White Ibis. However these were not white, but a glossy black. That means a Glossy Ibis(#162)!  The following day before I spent the afternoon fishing, my whole family, along with our friends who’s beach house we stayed, went over to Fort Macon together. As I joined my brother, Fin, and our friends rock climbing on Fort Macon's Jetty, a group of Horned Grebes in an eclipsed plumage were swimming off shore. I lifted my binoculars and an Eared Grebe(lifer!), still in winter plumage, popped out of the water. It's head was more sloped than a Horned and had dusky cheeks. After my Eared Grebe encounter, I turned my attention to fish. Just like birding so far, I had a lot of great results. I went out on my friends boat and caught three Sand Sharks. 

They were no Great White obviously, but I'm pretty sure thats the first time I've caught a shark! As we came inland, I got great views of common Loons flying overhead, some even molting into their breeding plumage, which is beautiful sight. Suddenly, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow(#163)  flew over the water. After a successful weekend at the beach, I had a nice lunch at a great restaurant with an appropriate name. "Ruddy Duck Tavern".

Back to Wake County
I returned home last Tuesday still anxious to find some more year birds. I was stumped at first when I never saw the American Bittern or Purple Martins at Prairie Ridge. I did a little scouting on my local greenway and found no birds, but a Snapping Turtle instead!

 However, a trip to Yate Mill made up for it. As I walked across the first board walk, I saw Barn Swallows(#164) chasing insects below the bridge. Before I even stepped foot on the next board walk, I heard a White-eyed Vireo(#165) giving its sharp and rapid chirps. I eventually managed to get a great look, but a poor photo.
White-eyed Vireo with its eye blocked by a branch.
I instantly heard another call that sounded different from the rest of the resident birds. After playing the sound on my phone, I became confident this was a Common Yellowthroat(#167). As I made my way back I got a great view of a Palm Warbler and picked up the buzzy call of a Northern Parula(#168). Later that afternoon as I let my dog out, a cigar-shaped bird with long curved wings fluttered over my house. Then another. Chimney Swifts(#169)! 

I ended my Spring Break with a trip to Lake Crabtree. I started from the greenway scoping for any Blue-winged Teal; however, the lake had only a pair of Redheads in sight. The lake was covered in Northern Rough-winged and Barn swallows chasing insects. I eventually ran into a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher(#170), a passerine that looks like a dull, blue kinglet with a long tail. Next, headed to the other side of Lake Crabtree, Southport. I was met by an exposed mudflat with a Bald Eagle standing on it, and Ring-billed Gulls staying far away on the other side.
As I stood  watching the mudflat, a warbler let out a song from the reeds beside me. It sounded just like a Common Yellow-throat, similar to the one I heard at Yates Mill. I inched back to trail and closer to the call. After I started phishing, the Yellow-throat popped its head out of the reeds in curiosity. It stared at me for a moment with its black mask and let out its chorus again. I managed to grab my camera a snap a quick photo.

From Purple Martins to Common Yellowthroats, Spring is coming bird by bird!