Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Best Bird this Month

On my usual weekend birding trip, my dad and I met up with my friend Sam to bird the south shore of Lake Crabtree, one of my new favorite haunts.  I mainly wanted to test out my brand-new spotting scope on the mudflats, and to play with my other new toy, a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod.  Since Spring Migration is winding down, I wasn't expecting much in the way of birds.  At least it would be a nice day outside, in the unseasonably cool (it was in the mid-60's, and is usually mid-80's), sunny weather.

We began our 4.5-mile hike around 7:45 AM, and optimistically approached our first viewpoint of some mudflats.  The only birds present were some dingy-looking Mallards and a Killdeer - no cool migrants shorebirds as we had hoped.  About half a mile further down, we stepped off the trail to observe a singing Indigo Bunting when we spotted a Yellow Warbler, my first of the year, in a willow tree near the lakeshore.  Yellow Warblers are the only entirely yellow warblers - it sounds kind of stupid now that I write it, but the solid yellow color is the best distinguishing feature of this species.

We were continuing down the trail, which was following a brushy clearing beside the lake, when we saw an Empidonax flycatcher perched in a tree above us.  Only this one was certainly not an Acadian, the most common species in this area.  It was grayer, and was vocalizing differently - a whistly pip!  I knew it was either a Willow or an Alder flycatcher (both formerly lumped together as Traill's flycatcher), and I double-checked the vocalizations on an app on my phone.  Yep, it was an Alder, the first in Wake County this year.  This species prefers moist brushy areas, and the area we were in certainly fit the bill - it was an inundated area filled with tall grasses and brambles, with a few small willows.  My third Empidonax, and the best bird I've seen this month.

The rest of the trail was relatively uneventful, though we did get a great view of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and we saw some mystery bird fly into the brush that we couldn't ID.  The "mud island" at the mouth of Crabtree Creek only yielded one lone Killdeer, the most common shorebird in the area.  So bringing the scope along ended up being basically pointless, but I guess it was good to see that it works.

Another great day - I love when things turn out better than expected.  Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but the birding should start to suck soon, until I head out to Montana this time next month.  Summer is the worst - too hot, too humid, too buggy, and too little bird activity.  At least we had a long, cool spring this year to help us ease into it.

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