Sunday, May 11, 2014

Spring by the Wing

Whoa! Spring is here and I can already see it! I got a nice taste of spring first with a trip to a hidden and "remote", some might say( I mean no cell service), part of the NC. It was at my friend Sam's house in Aurora, NC located on the Pamlico Sound. Despite the gray and cold weather, the birds warmed us uped. We found an amazing impoundment called Goose Creek Impoundments near by with countless Greater Yellowlegs and Dunlin along with Western Sandpipers and the highlight was a White-rumped Sandpiper, practically a shorebird paradise. We ran into a Dunlin that had good suspicion to be a possible Curlew Sandpiper, a vagrant shorebird from Europe that closely resembles  Dunlin. After two days of researching, we realized our bird was not a what we wanted it to be, but if a Curlew does show up, we know what to look for! A great spot for Marsh Wrens as well. Throughout the weekend we were greeted at our first of the year(FOY) Ovenbird giving it's teacher, teacher, teacher! call along with countless Prairie Warblers and White-eyed Vireos. We even heard a FOY goatsucker, Chuck-will's-widow calling one evening.

Spring migration starts the return of many neotropical migrants that have finished wintering in Central and South America and return to North America to breed for the summer. The migrants are warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, cuckoos, shorebirds, and other small perching birds. The best chance you have of encountering the widest variety of migrants is from mid April to mid May. Spring migration is such a relief, especially after this harsh winter, for birders to see more variety of species as close as a stone throw away from a local park that just seemed to house only White-throated Sparrows during the winter now has a boldly patterned Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Louisiana Waterthrush in the creek. For example, I  found a Veery in my school's parking lot!

Over the past month, I've been taking regular visits to my local parks. The most productive has been Fallon Park, only a five minute bike ride from my house. I got my first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the year along with many other surprises. One evening, a female Ruby-throated Humingbird was hovering around some plants which was a shock I wouldn't see one at a feeder first. I followed the the creek and a small passerine shot out from a tree and landed right above me. It was a non-descript Empidonax Flycatcher, a genus of flycatchers that look about the same and are best distinguished by call. I took the most likely guess of what species occurs in this area, the Acadian Flycatcher. I was reassured when it responded back to my recording with a sudden sharp, petsah! I made my way down the trail and meandered through the brush where I got a better view of the creek. A drab thrush flushed and momentarily paused on a branch. A wash of buff on the face, a complete buffy eye-ring, and no rufous tail meant this Catharus thrush had to be a Swainson's Thrush. Suddenly, I was greeted by a Northern Waterthrush teetering it's tail up and down, and a good look of it's streaked throat confirmed the species from another very similar species, the Louisiana Waterthrush. Over the course of regular visits, I ended up seeing the Swainson's Thush four times and the Northern Waterthrush three! I eventually saw an American Restart with it's few spots of bright orange, Summer Tanager, Common Yellowthroat, female Hooded Warbler and Black-and-White Warbler. The best was another Veery!
Veery, took this on phone through my binocs. Can't you tell?

American Redstart

Female Black-and-White Warbler

Common Yellowthroat
I was able to get my 200th species of bird this year, a Wood thrush singing, at Schenck Forest. I really don't even know how to describe it's song besides the word beautiful. The forest that morning was so alive with Ovenbirds and other birds waking up. Earlier, I was at Schenck Forest with Lucas and Sam and we came upon a buzzy warbler song that turned out to be a Black-throated GreenWarbler. We got great views of it, a lifer for me!
Ovenbird, got real close and the lighting condition gave me a real blurry photo.
Male Orchard Oriole
The best experience so far was doing some banding at Prairie Ridge Ecostation with the NC Museum's Ornithology Director. The goal was to band the Orchard Orioles like the one above; however, this proved to be a little difficult. We would play the call on a recording to draw them in towards a mist net and set up models of orioles. The orioles just would never come low enough to the net, but we were able to fool another specie, a beautiful male Blue Grosbeak.

We even got a White-eyed Vireo as well.
But after a long morning of repetitive playbacks, we finally got an oriole to get low enough to the net.

Recently, I participated on the annual Spring Bird Count with the Wake Audubon Society. I was paired with another local birde, Clyde, and we covered the Lake Benson area. We started the day out with howling call from a Common Loon, something I've never heard before. Starting from the boat ramp, we got a Lesser Yellowlegs with numerous Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows. We got great looks at a nesting pair of Bald Eagles tending to their chicks.
The group checking out the Bald Eagle nest.

As we birded more on the trails, we heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (FOY) and walked out to the large field to find a Cliff Swallow (FOY) mixed in with the Barn Swallows. We ended our count at 63 species total after a last stop yielding Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, Summer Tanagers, more Acadian Flycatchers, and even a Swamp Sparrow.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Ordinary migrants, but today was a little quite because of the heat and most of them have already passed through. Clyde and I ended our day with a quick trip down a dirt road off Lake Wheeler Road that someone had said they saw Bobolinks earlier called Chi Road. A Grasshopper Sparrow landed on the wire and we could hear their high pitched song coming from the fields. Then a female Bobolink flushed out of the grass, two new species for the day and year!

Spring migration is starting to wind down as the birds reach their breeding grounds all over North America. I am looking forward to finding some new birds this summer especially when I go down to DeBordieu, SC in Georgetown County during Memorial Day. Keep reading!