This week I have been down in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge working on collecting greenhouse gas samples with the Duke Wetland Center for a US Fish and Wildlife project. It has been hard work to say the least, with 100+ degree days and 100+ grotesque chigger bites all over my ankles.
|Allen Road, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge|
Today was just one of those days. It started with a flat tire. Then an ominous haze of smoke blew in from a nearby forest fire. The pocosins were cruel and tore the left knee out of my pants, effectively opening the floodgates to more chiggers and any lyme’s disease-infested ticks. Finally we reached our last stop of the day, an orange oil drum containing an automatic water-sampler. My partner in crime began swearing when he discovered what should have been easy to predict based on the theme of the day: the device had failed.
Since I could offer little help in trouble-shooting with this piece of hardware, I let my attention lapse to look up for a singing Northern Flicker I had just heard. Sure enough one came bounding across the powerlines, road and canal to land in a dead tree joining another bird—most likely an Eastern Kingbird given their relative local abundance.
|Eastern Kingbirds are ubiquitous in the Pocosin Lakes NWR|
But wait a second. Is that kingbird wearing a tuxedo vest?
|Kingbird dressed for a wedding? Or an Eastern Phoebe?|
The flicker seemed to sense something alien in his tree-mate and bolted.
I grabbed my binoculars from the truck, took two steps, paused, and then doubled back for my camera. My instincts and suspicions were confirmed: an Olive-sided Flycatcher! An ABA first for me (my lifer was in a park in Bogota; lol).
While this species is quite rare in Eastern NC, the pocosin habitat in which I found it actually makes sense to me. The ecosystem of scattered loblolly bays in a shrubby bog are probably structurally and hydrologically not that different from the boreal bogs within which I assume Olive-sided Flycatchers must thrive somewhere up in Canada. I was surprised to find so few ebird records (only two) of the species from the North Carolina coastal plain.
The bird chipped as if in happy agreement with my thoughts. He/she took several long sallies out to capture insects and always returned to one of two tall dead trees.
|Yum! (ABA #313; NC #267)|
I was still basking in the afterglow of my find when I turned my attention to a couple chipping blackbirds that flew in and landed several trees from the flycatcher’s perch. Surely these were Redwinged Blackbirds, but I hadn’t noticed any red in flight. Woah! Why does this one have such a yellow face and chin? And what’s up with the pale chest? Could immature Red-winged Blackbirds possibly look this way?
Turns out they can. But that didn’t stop me from deluding myself into thinking they were my first ever Yellow-headed Blackbirds. It took a quick google image search to convince myself I was full of it. This is what I get for overlooking blackbirds—a common bad birding habit.
But blackbirds or not, it took just a few minutes of interesting birds to transform what had been a rather rotten day into one I’ll remember fondly. Such is the magic of birding.