Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reeling in Warblers

I spotted my first Prothonotary Warbler of the year at Bass Lake on Thursday.  Prothonotary Warblers have the most brightly colored yellow plumages of any birds I've seen - they almost glow.  It was nice to see this one feeding in the trees near the boathouse at Bass Lake, where at least one was also present last year.  I saw a four-leaf clover growing next to the trail, which I expected would bring good luck.  It did.  I was walking back when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a very small Empidonax.  I managed to find an angle with a decent view, but Empidonax flycatchers are notoriously difficult to ID, especially in the dark.  Luckily, the bird made a few quick vocalizations, and I was able to (happily) identify it as a Least Flycatcher, the first one reported in Wake County this year, and a very uncommon migrant.  It must have been blown Eastward by the recent cold front - Leasts typically show up in the fall, not the spring.

Today, my dad, my neighbor, and I embarked on our annual trip to Weldon on the Roanoke River to catch Striped Bass.  In past years, we have caught over seventy fish, this time, there seemed to be none in the river.  Luckily, the Roanoke River is also a great place for warblers, so the trip wasn't a total bust.  The main bird I wanted to see was a Cerulean Warbler, a threatened species of high trees.  The Roanoke near Weldon is home to a disjunct breeding population, and I hoped to hear (or better, see) one.  I was immediately surprised by the amount of birds calling from the river banks.  My first great bird of the day was Swainson's Warbler, a skulking small brown bird of the underbrush.  I counted four calling from the banks of the river.  These are typically very difficult to find, especially near Raleigh, and were also a lifer.  Several hours (and no fish) later, we were drifting around a bend in the river when I heard a buzzy warbler call.  I recognized it as a Cerulean.  I played a call off my iPhone to verify, and it resembled the call I was hearing exactly.  Cerulean Warbler makes an excellent bird #190 for 2013.  Last year, I hit 190 sometime around Christmas... my improved bird identification by bird calls has certainly helped!

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