Friday, December 2, 2011

Fall Recap: chases and finds

With the November bird eating competition completed and Frasier Firs going on sale everywhere, the fall is certainly behind us. It has been a busy one for both work and birds and I just haven't had a chance to post some rather remarkable sightings.

I made a trip out to see the Allen's Hummingbird in Catawba County with Mark Kosiewski. This may have a set a chase-distance record for both of us, so I'll admit we were both a bit hesitant when we were making our plans.  But this was not only the second NC record for the species (which I've told told is a tricky find even in its native California), but also a gorgeous adult-male!  Plus success was virtually guaranteed since the individual was regularly returning to Dwayne Martin's feeder outside of his Riverbend Park office.

Capturing the Allen's through the glass window was tough for my little camera. And I got some pretty terrible shots during its first visit.

Is that a bird on the feeder?
But when it returned nearly an hour later Mark was in the bathroom, so I dashed over to his digiscoping setup and began mashing buttons.
Mark's camera and scope, my button press
Not bad button-mashing eh?  Of course this image is compressed.  See Mark's Picasa album for high res and a video I somehow took!

Then there was Jennifer Schrand's Cary Ross' Goose. This was a convenient occurrence since I had missed a chance at seeing several at Alligator River and dipped on one in Charlotte all within the past year.
Ross' Goose with Mallard Drake
The bird cooperatively posed for photos as well, though I found it tricky to keep the bright white plumage from "blowing up" in the direct sunlight.
With its Candian cousins

I think there were only a handful of previous records for the triangle area. 

And the Ross' Goose was the second rare bird to turn up in the area that week. I caught the Franklin's Gull that Thierry Besancon found at Jordan Lake hanging with a few Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls.
Can you pick the Franklin's Gull out of this awful photo?

This is another bird with few precedent triangle records, though Mike Tove instructed me not to be too excited about it since one has been found at Jordan Lake regularly over the past several fall seasons. It's hard to say whether this is an emerging trend or just that local birders have begun checking gulls more carefully.

So three life birds within about a month, and all pretty close to home (actually four including the Rufous Hummingbird I wrote about last time; -35, -36, -37...1538)!

Chasing an unusual wanderer can be really fun. But I find it more enjoyable to seek out the rare birds on my least when the bird Gods smile and I get to see something unexpected, which has happened a couple times this fall.

Back in October I stumbled upon a lone Long-billed Dowitcher hanging out with Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a couple Stilt Sandpipers at Falls Lake.
Long straight bill

This was NC bird (#281) and a pretty rare bird for Durham!

Acute loral angle, relatively straight supercillium, looks like it "swallowed a grapefruit"
I was also pretty excited to piece through the field marks and vocalizations to come up with the ID since I had expressed some apprehension with the Long-billed/Short-billed pair recently.

A couple weeks later I was packing up my scope after a rather fruitless search for ducks at the Hickory Hills boat ramp when I heard a honk and looked up to see a Tundra Swan flying over!  It landed out near the Will Suit flats and took several drinks of delicious Falls lake water. These things are common down east, but are pretty unusual in the piedmont.
I checked back several hours later and it was sleeping on the mud flats near a flock of ~1500 cormorants.  But the next day when I returned to search with Robert Meehan, Nick Flanders and Nate Swick it was nowhere to be found.

All these chases and finds have ticked my North Carolina list up to 285 and my Durham County list up to 194, so big milestones are approaching!

I'm looking forward to some Christmas Bird Counts, winter birding at the coast and maybe even a trip down to Florida.  Stay tuned!