Sunday, March 29, 2015

Congaree Scouting Trip

Today's trip was to Congaree National Park, a huge park with excellent boardwalks in a virgin bottomland forest. This park boasts some of the largest trees of some species, including Loblolly Pine and Sweetgum. It's an excellent place for birds and it's always a fun trip.

First off.


Last night there was a cold spell that caused some frost to form up here by Charlotte, so that halted all migrants. I guess it was like a mini-fallout because there were at least 50+ parulas swarming and buzzing their heads off throughout the park.

We found a small flock of them in a scrubby, but leafy (budding) area, which was full of sun. We had many close encounters with this flock of around 10, with quite a few coming within feet of us.

There were also a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but in much lower numbers. I think they're more spread out, as they're a bit hardier than the parulas.

We also heard (and I saw only one) Yellow-throated Warblers, which was also a year bird. Their downward song was quickly learned and we heard many.

This was taken last year, however.
Along with the early migrants were a few very skulky White-eyed Vireos, which sang their chick-brrrrrrr-ow-chick song loudly. It's one of those songs I love to hear, and I'm glad they're back already!

Bad picture, I know. Skulkers...
However, we did miss a few things. We did not see any Pileateds but heard a few, which is a bit odd for the park, and no Barred Owl, which is understandable. We attempted to look for Black-and-Whites, Louisiana Waterthrush, and maybe even Prothonotary Warbler, but we missed them all. I think the frost may have halted any more migration or killed them.

But worry not, northern birders! Despite your many feet of snow, the migrants are coming, as proven by the woodcocks, phoebes, and other arriving hardy birds!

Coming to a forest near you!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Impatiently Waiting for Spring

I hate March.

March is a dead time for me- the ducks start leaving, the early migrants aren't quite here yet, and the days are bipolar. I don't even like winter to begin with, since my part of the world doesn't get any major rarities (the phalarope was nice, but it's mainly things like goldeneye and stuff) and anything good is far, far away. For instance, a White-tailed Kite and a Ruff are three hours away, while the Smith's Longspur in VA is four. The earliest migrants- if you can call them that, they're almost winter residents by now- such as Blue-headed Vireos, Black-and-White Warblers, and Common Yellowthroats haven't moved too much in my area yet, although I wait eagerly for their return.

How I await the sweet song of a vireo...
or the bold black and white stripes of the B&W Warbler...
...and the bright colors of a Northern Parula.
I have so much planned for April, including possibly 2 trips to Congaree National Park, lots and lots of trips to the neighborhood patch, and I'm really excited for my spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. My life list is at 286 and I'm really hoping #300 is something special- I want it to be a Painted Bunting, a bird I consider my nemesis. A Peregrine Falcon or a Golden-winged Warbler would be nice too- but I'll admit, I don't want it to be something like a Western Sandpiper or Mottled Duck. If I don't reach 300 during spring break, then hopefully I'll hold out until July when we head to Florida. I would love to get Nanday Parakeet or Short-tailed Hawk or another neat Florida bird as 300. 

Anyway, I digress. It's been rather slow with not many lifers or yearbirds- my latest year bird is Ring-necked Duck and Osprey. I had some Common Ravens in my county, which is uncommon enough to put on the listserv (no way am I adding to the "feeder bird" craze) and yesterday a Hermit Thrush whisper-sang its amazing song. I never get tired of that beautiful sound!

Love is definitely in the air, with courting Red-shouldered Hawks screaming and soaring around, robins fighting, mockingbirds and thrashers breaking into song, and aforementioned Hermit Thrush singing. It's great to hear the morning chorus, but I long for the voices of warblers to join. 

I had a lot of Cedar Waxwings spreading privet berries in my patch- the ground was littered with their droppings. Privet is a serious problem in my neighborhood, along with Japanese Stilt-grass. But the waxwings love it, and they seem to be stocking up for breeding season.

Waxwings are sharp looking birds.
Another masked bird of note is a Loggerhead Shrike that gave Matt and I great views. Shrikes are declining a bit around here, so it's always nice to see one.

I got to watch this individual barf up a pellet, which I thought was pretty cool. I wanted to find the pellet so I could see what it had eaten, but daylight was limited, so we got out of there.

Other than all that, it's been rather slow. Birding is happening, but birds are not. Hopefully our beloved spring migrants arrive soon, and safely! Happy birding!