Thanksgiving Trip

During the week of Thanksgiving the GregAndBirds clan loaded up to go to North Carolina for a visit to my parents. We flew out of Detroit, which first necessitated a two-and-a-half hour drive through northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. I have never been as acutely aware of every Turkey Vulture and Rock Pigeon along the road thanks to eBird profiles and their nifty color-shaded maps showing how many species you have seen in every county everywhere. But I did tick a few really good ones, like the Bald Eagle in Monroe, MI and the appropriate flock of Wild Turkeys in Paulding, OH. You shall know a birder by their trail of light orange in sparsely-visited counties (for the record, I did the same thing when we went to visit some of Jaime’s friends outside of Charlotte during the trip).

I did some serious birding too, though. Thanksgiving was bookended by trips to the William B. Umstead State Park right by my folks’ place.

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A pretty good park!

I am not much for hashtag campaigns, but #optoutside on the traditional shopping days was one I could get behind. Apparently everyone else had the same idea, because conditions were crowded. The birding was decent though, and crowds disappeared entirely when I left the trails (on the suggestion of a staff member) to hike the same power line cut I birded earlier in the summer.

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White-throated Sparrow

There was nothing too out of the ordinary, but I did get to add some meat to my North Carolina state list.

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Pine Warbler

I contented myself with passerines since the waterfowl on Big Lake were mostly too far away to enjoy. Seeing any non-Yellow-rumped Warbler in the winter is exciting for this Midwesterner, so I appreciated this male Pine Warbler foraging on the ground in poor light. The mixed flock it was a part of was also pretty exceptional: Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, Pine Warblers, and one Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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Intermission

In between my two outings, Thanksgiving occurred. But unfortunately for me so did a bout of food poisoning. I did manage to eat a piece of one of my sister’s famous ludicrously sweet, over-the-top, and delicious cakes, though. Yes, those are Nutter Butter acorns.

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Cloudless Giant Sulphur

The yard surprisingly still had some butterflies in it, too, which made things better. The Cloudless Giant Sulphur is a life lep for me. They really are big!

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Golden-crowned Kinglet

The neighborhood was also awash with some quintessential fall birds.

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Hooded Merganser

I wouldn’t have included this poor shot of a Hooded Merganser, but it counts as a yard bird from my parents’ vantage point, which is pretty solid.

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Carolina Wren

The next day I felt a lot better, so I visited Umstead again. I retraced my footsteps, only in reverse. I was greeted by close to a dozen Carolina Wrens calling in the warm weather.

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A different Carolina Wren

For a brief second, two of them investigated the same knot in a tree, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera shutter.

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Ruddy Duck

The ducks on the lake were more cooperative on that second day, including a very actively diving Ruddy Duck that I first thought was a grebe. This is the part where I mention Ruddy Duck was a life bird, and probably the single most embarrassing hole in my life list to that date. That title now goes to either White-eyed Vireo or American Wigeon. What is yours?

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, good birding, and maybe some obsessive highway-driving county listing, too!

North Carolina – Part 2

Having sufficiently whetted my appetite for southeastern birds, I departed early on Sunday morning for the town of Southern Pines, which is also a very good description of the habitat I was looking for. The namesake pine species in that part of the state is the Longleaf, the only tree in which Red-cockaded Woodpeckers will call home. The Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, directly adjacent to the world’s largest military base (not hyperbole; it really is) Fort Bragg, is famous nationally for hosting a colony of the endangered woodpeckers.

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Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

Long story short, I did not see any “cockades” as the park rangers call them or the other open pine forest specialty species Bachman’s Sparrow. But I saw both on a previous trip a few years ago, so I wasn’t entirely bummed out. There were other good things going on.

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Red-cockaded Woodpecker Home

A tree growing about 15 feet from the visitor’s center hosted a woodpecker nest. The oppressive heat index was pushing 105 degrees with humidity, so the birds were laying low and out of sight. But cockades only nest in living trees, so it was still pretty neat to see the humongous sap-flow oozing out of the hole they bored.

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Eastern Towhee

Despite the heat, there were plenty of birds like this young Eastern Towhee that didn’t know any better than go outside on a sweltering day. It was scratching its feet in this tent caterpillar nest to get at the larvae inside.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Another tent caterpillar specialist, this Yellow-billed Cuckoo showed itself long enough for an elusive photograph. Folklore calls these birds “rain crows” because they supposedly call more often in hot and humid weather right before a summer storm. I have read plenty of things online saying there is no basis for this claim, but several of these birds were making a ruckus, and it did storm later in the day.

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Silver-spotted Skipper

I followed the trails down into a ravine with water and a little more shade, hoping that the woodpeckers would trade their preferred trees for some respite from the heat. I didn’t find anything down there besides a bunch more butterflies.

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Horace’s Duskywing

I learned that, much like birds, some species of butterflies will let you get quite close, while others won’t tolerate it. All of the Silver-spotted Skippers I saw seemed cool with my camera an inch away, while this Horace’s Duskywing (lifer) wouldn’t give me the time of day.

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Spicebush Swallowtail

Swallowtails are to butterflies as raptors are to birds: big, easy to see, and impressive enough to get the average person to stop and look. The spicebush variety was another lifer.

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Pine Warbler

Butterflies only held my attention for so long, and I had to get back to the birds. What better species to see in a pine forest than a Pine Warbler?

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Red-headed Woodpecker

I eventually did see some woodpeckers, but they were not the right kind. Visitng Weymouth Woods might be the only time I have ever been slightly disappointed to see a Red-headed Woodpecker. But they are awesome birds, so I had to check myself, and I ended up appreciating the family group of two adults and a juvenile swooping in and out of some burned trees.

Despite dipping on the desired species, Weymouth Woods is a great place to see southeastern birds, including many, many more Summer Tanagers and Brown-headed Nuthatches (which are literally everywhere once you learn their squeaky dog toy calls). The rangers there are also great and can provide a ton of insight into the habits and life history of they specialty species at the preserve. Around 50 miles from Raleigh, I highly recommend it if you are ever in the Triangle area.

That wraps up my out of state birding adventures. But it’s been a while since I have seriously birded at home, and we’ve got shorebirds coming in from the north by the day. Stay tuned! The summer doldrums are almost over…

Early Migrants

Jaime and I were back in Indianapolis this weekend to pack up all of our worldly possessions in anticipation for our move to The Fort. But I still managed to get in a trip to Eagle Creek, and I am certainly glad that I did. I ended up with 10 new year birds, including a life bird, some of which were migrating early enough to be considered “rare” by eBird:

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

My first Warbler of the year was a variety I was not expecting: Black-and-White. As far as I can tell from what has been reported, this fellow may be one of the first to be seen in the state this year.

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

A swarm of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers were feeding with the Black-and-White Warbler, representing my next FOY (first of year).

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

My next Warbler was the one that I expected to be first. Yellow-Rumped Warblers are just about the only Warbler expected to winter in Indiana.

#086 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

#085 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Continuing the theme of small, color-named birds is the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, who was also participating in the mixed foraging flock. Their Golden-Crowned bretheren were also there but not as willing to pose for photos.

#086 Pine Warbler

#086 Pine Warbler

My third Warbler for the day was of the Pine variety. There were several floating around the woods by Lily Lake, but this female was the only one who would stay still long enough to be photographed. Males are bright yellow.

#087 Hermit Thrush

#087 Hermit Thrush

I am not usually very good at identifying the brown woodland Thrushes, but this Hermit Thrush posed quite nicely to show off its reddish tail, helping me greatly with identification.

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

Switching gears from passerine birds, here are some Blue-Winged Teal, which are some of the last Indiana ducks I am missing for the year. They also represent a pretty decent run of photographs of consecutively-numbered year birds for me (in case you hadn’t noticed, we just got #82-88 without skipping a beat).

#090 American Bittern

#090 American Bittern

The final new bird of the day, no doubt the best, and also a lifer, was this terrifying American Bittern. Do not look directly into its unblinking, demonic eye.

(New birds that were not photographed include #081 Double-Crested Cormorant and #089 Eastern Phoebe.)