Monday, October 22, 2012

American Bittern in SWAMP

 Last week I was out in the Duke University SWAMP helping lead a field trip for the Wetlands Ecology and Management class.  I had just explained to the students how we are keeping track of bird sightings in the SWAMP using ebird when not a minute later we stumbled upon a new bird to add to our site list...
American Bittern my surprise an American Bittern was prowling around in the aquatic vegetation not 30 feet in front of the bird blind!
American Bittern
It's pretty rare to see one of these away from the coast. 

 And usually they do a better job staying hidden!
American Bittern
The bird seemed pretty unconcerned about curious birders and strolled out into the open to hunt crayfish.
American Bittern
 After gobbling a few small ones, it caught a huge bright red one that looked like a lobster
Blood red legs...
But it proved to be too much for this bird to handle and the bittern had to throw this one back...
a whopper!

 As of posting, this bird has been around for 8 days. It seems to be finding plenty of food and has already weathered some assaults from the resident Great Blue Heron. I wonder if it will stick around through the winter?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

More Mattamuskeet Birds: Egret Casting Call

Last weekend after a few days of field work at Lake Mattamuskeet, I squeezed in a bit of birding.  My partner in crime was a master's student from Duke, Holly Davis, who is working on a film about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  Since she plans to cover the history of the millinery (aka. hat-making) trade, which lead to huge declines in populations of wading birds, we were especially after a Great Egret willing to play a starring role.

Luckily egrets are migrating through this time of year and were rather plentiful around the lake.  After scaring off a good few stage-shy birds, we finally found a real ham with the potential to make it big.
Holly shooting an egret
While Holly was filming, I figured I may as well try out some digiscoping...

Great Egret
Not bad!

Great Egret
There were other egrets around as well including a rather brave Little Blue Heron that landed in front of me.
Little Blue Heron (immature)
These photos are taken with a point-and-shoot (not digiscoped).  The direct light made the white birds blow out, so I cranked down the exposure to try to compensate and ended up with these weird dark shots.  It looks like these were taken at night with a flash, but this was a bright early morning (I'm no photographer, but always open to suggestions!).
Little Blue Heron (immature)
There were loads of other birds around, of course.  At one point I felt like I was trapped in a tornado of thousands of Tree Swallows, there were 6 early Tundra Swans and a Mute Swan of unknown provenance.  Thousands of dabbling ducks were already back in town with all the Eastern species represented and despite rather high water there were some longer-legged shorebirds wading about at the east end.

American Avocets and a Greater Yellowlegs
 The most comical was a Dunlin trying to hang with a flock of Long-billed Dowitchers in water that was just a bit too deep.
Long-billed Dowitchers with Dunlin (3rd from left)

There was a cooperative Wilson's Snipe...

Wilson's Snipe
...and some curious Sedge Wrens...
Sedge Wren
I think Holly got some good footage and I'm looking forward to seeing her film!

Monday, October 15, 2012

What a bird in the hand is worth

Last weekend I went over to the Prairie Ridge Ecostation to try my hand at some bird banding.

I had not handled a live bird for five years, so this was a real treat.  I learned that cardinals can bite very hard and that a bird in the hand is a least worth a good photo opportunity!

Indigo Bunting
We banded nearly 50 birds (a lot!) of a good variety of flavors this morning

Palm Warbler
This was primarily a morning for student (mostly high school) volunteers from the Natural History Museum in Raleigh to see how banding birds works, but John Gerwin was nice enough to let me show up to learn as well (Thanks!).

a Prairie Warbler at Prarie Ridge!
A big thanks to Natalia Ocampo-Penuela for inviting me to come along and teaching me how to band!
Blue Jay
I can't wait until next time!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Carolina Bird Clubbing in Greenville, SC

Last weekend I went down to Greenville, SC to lead a couple field trips for the Carolina Bird Club's fall meeting.  Many migrants follow in Blue Ridge on their way south and I was hoping to find lots of birds bound for the tropics to show to my groups. 

Friday I led a dozen birders around parts of Pickens County, situated in the foothills of the Appalachians near the southern tip of their range.  We began at the Nine Times Preserve, a large swath of mountainside forest owned by The Nature Conservancy, and worked our way up to Sassafrass Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina (a modest 3,800 feet above sea level).
Cape May Warbler

Warblers were actually more scarce than I had expected, with this Cape May being one nice exception.  Over the course of a couple days we were able to identify 11 parulids, which isn't bad, but not something I can really brag about on a blog.

Thrushes made a very strong showing, with swarms of Wood and Swainson's covering various fruiting trees with the odd Veery or Gray-cheeked mixed in.  They were joined by other frugivores such as Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers...

Scarlet Tanager

...both of which were about as abundant as I have ever seen.

But the group that we did best with was surely the vireos...
Yellow-throated Vireo

On both days we found the four most likely species: Red-eyed, Blue-headed, Yellow-throated, White-eyed.  And on Friday along a stream behind a church we found the coveted Philadelphia Vireo:

Philadelphia Vireo

 It was my first for the United States and my first ever five vireo day!

After a Saturday morning at Table Rock State Park, we finally took a break from pishing up passerines and drove up to Caesar's Head for a hawk watch. 


We scored 60 or so Broad-winged Hawks plus a few Red-Tails and accipiters over the course of a couple hours.  It was quite a spectacle watching the hawks appear out of nowhere and spiral up into the sky, but I can only imagine what it's like on one of the 1000+ hawk days!

Check out Nate Swick's account of hawk-watching at Caesar's Head on 10,000 birds (he led a CBC field trip to Caesar's Head the day before me).

A big thanks to Jeff Click for inviting me down to lead, to Irvin Pitts for organizing a fantastic meeting, and to all my participants for being such great and gracious companions.  Hope to see some of y'all again next time!