Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring is on its Way Here in NC

My wife and I returned a few days ago from a road trip that took us up the east coast to visit friends and family in Washington, DC, Brooklyn, NY, and Boston and Hadley, MA. Winter was still very apparent in MA with huge amounts of snow still waiting for warmer weather to melt it away. But here in NC we are definitely seeing the beginning of spring--warmer days reaching even into the 80's. The redbuds and dogwoods are beginning to blossom, the tree frogs are croaking and we are seeing some early spring migrants.

My daughter is home for spring break with her boyfriend. He and I went for my first of the year spring bird ramble on our land. I had not yet heard any Louisiana waterthrushes calling, but I knew they should be here by now. My sis told me yesterday that she had one calling below her house on the other side of the 230 acres that we live on outside of Chapel Hill. As we walked down the creek that flows below our house I heard a waterthrush call. We tracked it around the bend and found not one but 2 males competing for territory.

The top photo above is of a beaver dam on Morgan creek (click on photo to enlarge). This dam gets blown out about twice a year when we have a big rain, but the beavers quickly rebuild it. We continued to walk along Morgan creek which is shown in the middle photo above. About a quarter mile further up the creek we found a third waterthrush staking out its territory.

By the time we got up to our main pond we had a pretty good list of birds: hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flicker, tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, American robin, northern cardinal, hermit thrush, eastern bluebird, a probable swamp sparrow, white throated sparrow, winter wren, yellow-rumped and pine warblers, eastern towhee, and the remains of a Canada goose egg.

As we were heading for home we heard several crows mobbing something. At first sighting I thought it was one of our resident barred owls, but when the owl flushed we got a better look and realized that it was a great horned owl. Last night when we were having dinner we heard coyotes, and then heard a great horned owl calling behind our house, which was a surprise since we rarely have them on our property. So it was nice to see it this morning as well.

After seeing the great horned we happened on a pileated woodpecker making a hole in a huge dead pine tree (bottom photo). Back at the house we picked up a downy woodpecker--we had seen a yellow-bellied sapsucker yesterday. We also had American goldfinches, chipping sparrows, mourning doves and dark-eyed juncos.

I have added links to 2 new big year blog sites. A birder named John Vanderpoel from Colorado is doing a full ABA big year and is off to a good start (big year 2011). Matt Stenger is the other birder who is doing a big year in 2011 (716birds).

No rare birds showed up in New England while we were up there, so it is nice to be able to do some everyday birding locally. I will regularly walk our land over the next few weeks to see what is going on with the bird migration. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Yellow-faced Grassquit

It is Wednesday, and I just could not wait any longer for a photo of a yellow-faced grassquit to be emailed to me, so I am doing this blog update now. As I said in my previous post, last week I was heading down to Austin, TX to visit friends. I knew that a yellow-faced grassquit, a bird native to Mexico, had been seen almost daily throughout February at Goose Island SP, which is near Aransas NWR. I had my fingers crossed that it would still be there this past Sunday. Sure enough, it was reported on Friday and Saturday, so I made the 180 mile one-way drive down from Austin Sunday.

I arrived about 2:30 PM to find several birders patiently waiting for the bird to make a showing which had not happened yet for the day. It was pretty windy, so that might have had some affect on the bird. The field and clay-colored sparrows that it had been seen with were about, and then after about 30 minutes the call went up, "it's over here". We all scrambled to get in position to check it out. Over the next hour it made random appearances.

I tried to get a photo with my camera, but could only manage poor "record shots". But there was a birder/photographer, Victor Luna, that I had met several times last year while doing my big year. Most recently I had seen him in northern CA when I was looking for the brown shrike. I gave him my email address and asked him to send me a photo. He said he could get it to me by yesterday, but it has not arrived--bummer. The yellow-faced grassquit is one sharp looking little guy--sparrow sized, green backed with 2 striking yellow lines above its eyes and a forking yellow chin patch all radiating out from its beak. This bird at Goose Island is only the 3rd confirmed sighting of a yellow-faced grassquit in Texas.

I will still keep my fingers crossed that Victor will get me the photo so that I can add it to the blog, but for now the bottom photo above is of campsite #218 where the bird has been most frequently seen. The top photo is of a whooping crane I took last year at Aransas NWR (double click on it to enlarge). The middle photo is of sandhill cranes--several flew over me at one point as I was driving.

While looking for the grassquit, I ran into Sue Clark, a birder I had seen a few times last year also. It turns out that she is going to be on a raft trip in June with me and 6 others up in the Arctic NWR to see what arctic breeding birds we might find. I will be blogging about that trip at the end of June. In the mean time I am heading up to New England next week to visit family and friends. Maybe another rarity will be found that I can go check out. Stay tuned!