Friday, May 6, 2011

Spring Bird Counts

Northern Waterthrush
Last week I led the inaugural spring bird count in the Duke University Wetland Center (DUWC) Stream and Wetland Assessment and Management Park (SWAMP).  Randy Neighbarger from DUWC, as well as two Nicholas School masters students, Rachel Workin and Laura Mendenhall, and Robert Meehan all helped with the count.  We were unfortunate to end up counting on a gray drizzly morning, so bird activity was a bit slow, but we did get 40 species in a little over an hour, which isn't bad at all.  The best find was the site's first record of Northern Waterthrush heard chipping just below the dam.

Solitary Sandpiper
The weather and birds were actually much better the couple times I happened to be out at the SWAMP site in the week leading up to the official count.  I already mentioned the Prothonotary Warblers (new bird for the site) I had there in my last blog post.  But the morning before the count I also had two Solitary Sandpipers at 'Richardson Lake' (a new bird for SWAMP and for me state bird #249!).  It was the first time I had been able to put the new bird blind to good use;  I got a great video (see below) from it of the SWAMP in top form: both a  turtle and wetland bird are happily foraging, while pollution (represented by the large plastic bottle) is kept from reaching Falls Lake.

I also took this video of a Great Blue Heron catching and then losing a fish right by the dam.  A few minutes later it scooped up and swallowed a large crayfish before flying away.

Summer Tanager
Over the weekend I helped out with the Durham spring count up in the northernmost reaches of the count area at Quail Roost (which, ironically, was devoid of any sign of quail).   It has been Tom Krakauer's count territory since 1985 (coincidentally, the year I was born) but his hearing and hiking ability are not what they once were and he needs help to count the area effectively.  I was happy to be of assistance as this is truly a unique part of Durham, which I had never visited despite being born and raised just 20 minutes to the south.  The farmland and open fields have not yet been tainted by development and suburban sprawl and are habitat for a few birds that can be seen essentially nowhere else in Durham County: Grasshopper Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow for sure, and probably Purple Martin too.  Those three species were added to my county list along with Eastern Meadowlark, Louisiana Waterthrush, Orchard Oriole and Cliff Swallow.

Tom and I picked up just over 80 species for the day, though we missed some relatively easy stuff that we probably could have found with more persistence.  A 90-species day is easily within reach and will be a goal for next year.  Reaching the century mark should be a real challenge, though certainly achievable.

Purple Martins nesting in Durham County
(my first digiscoped capture!)
At our last stop of the day, a Purple Martin box near Tom's house, I captured my first digiscoped images just by holding my Droid X up to my scope.  I was actually pleasantly surprised at how effective this crude technique proved to be.

This may be my last blogpost for a few weeks as I'm gearing up for a big trip to the southeastern corner of Europe to attend my brother's wedding on a Greek Island and see some remnants of ancient civilizations (as well as some migratory birds of course!).  I leave the US while on the doorstep of several list milestones: my NC state list is at 249, my ABA list at 298 and my Durham County list at 147.  But this trip to Europe should push my life list well over 1500.  My top targets are Bee-eater, Roller, Elanora's Falcon and Griffon Vulture.  Can't wait!


  1. Your pictures are so beautiful. I live in Raleigh and really enjoy the nature all around us. I just found your blog and will look forward to checking in again. Thank you.

    1. Thanks! This post is almost two years there are more than 50 newer posts to browse through and I encourage you to do so!