Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rusty Blackbird Blitz

The past 2 weeks birders all over the southeast and as far west as Texas have been out looking for rusty blackbirds in an effort to collect wintering ground info on this species. According to Christmas Bird Count (CBC) data, the total number of rusties reported 40 years ago was around 1 million birds, but recent CBC's have reported only a total of roughly 20,000 rusties. So the rusty blackbird blitz is underway to try to understand why there has been such an apparent alarming collapse in the numbers of rusty blackbirds.

Last fall I began to check the areas near where I live here in Chapel Hill that historically have had rusties. My birding buddy Pam and I found 1 singing male last November, and then a group of 7 females on New Year's eve day. We went looking again over the past 2 weeks, but in a total of 3 different searches, we found only 1 rusty. We were very disappointed because last year's data indicated that 150 rusties had been seen in our search area. With no photo of a rusty I instead have posted the one above of an American robin since we are seeing lots of them at our neighboring dairy farm this week--remember you can click on photos to enlarge them.

I had been expecting to be doing a post this week about my planned trip up to the very tip of the Gaspe peninsula in Quebec to see a fieldfare that has been there for about a month. This is another of the rare European or Asian birds that have shown up in North America this past winter. I was going to fly to Manchester, NH and then drive another 15 hours with my birding friends Dan and Doreene to look for the bird. At the last minute I had to cancel my trip due to a pressing business matter here at home. The good news is that my friends did see the fieldfare, and I will get to hear about the trip when I see them in May in Ohio.

The bottom photo above is of a margherita pizza that I ate yesterday at the Bella Mia coal/wood-fired oven pizza place that opened last summer in Cary while I was out doing my big year. As those who have followed this blog all last year know, one of my goals was to try many wood-fired pizzas around the country. Until Bella Mia opened we did not have a high quality choice here in the Triangle, so I was extremely happy when my sister told me about it. We all tried it out for the 1st time about a month ago and I was delighted with how close it matched my experience of wood-fired Napoli style pizzas that I ate regularly the year I lived in Italy with my wife and daughter.

Since our first visit it was named the best restaurant in the Triangle in 2010 which of course has now made it tough to get in most nights. That is why Pam and I went at lunch yesterday as part of our rusty blackbird search. My only complaint is that it is a 30 minute drive from my house, but that is a world better than say flying to Phoenix to eat at Pizzeria Bianco, or Brooklyn to enjoy a pizza at Franny's.

I just received an email from a birding friend up in Seattle--John Puschock--letting me know that he had organized a trip next weekend to St. John's Newfoundland to look for some other rarities that have been found there this winter. I am mulling over whether I will make that trip. Stay tuned!

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