Sunday, August 11, 2013

Endless Summer

Some shorebirds, who migrate thousands of miles every year from the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere to the Arctic Tundra, live in an "endless summer".  These birds never experience winter, and they may travel hundreds of thousands of miles in their lifetime to avoid it.  The tiny Semipalmated Sandpiper, for example, leaves North America by fall and arrives on its "wintering grounds" in South America just in time for the Austral Summer.  The Bar-tailed Godwit flies the non-stop 6,500 miles between New Zealand and Alaska twice every year, an incredible feat for any animal.  These birds experience the pleasant summer temperatures of high latitudes without having to bear the brunt of the cold weather such regions are notorious for.

Kayaking at Harris Lake was nice - but no birds.  

I have found myself trapped in the middle of another seemingly endless summer - but this one has a 100 degree heat index.  It seems like this season has dragged on long enough.  The combination of the heat (or rather the humidity) and the lack of bird activity has kept me indoors the past few weeks, and has made me kind of anxious.  Bring on the birds!  Unfortunately, the mudflats that are usually crawling with shorebirds this time of year are swamped under the unusual amount of rain North Carolina has gotten this year.  Every birding trip I've taken around the county has left me with really good views of really full lakes.  But no birds, except for the odd egret.

 A Killdeer - about the only bird I've seen around Raleigh these past few months.

Enter August 11th.  I figure an attempt at some birding is in order, even if I am pessimistic.  If this little foray wasn't for fun, it was for the sake of my sanity.  Storms rolled in the night before, leaving the field at Lake Crabtree wet and ready for "grasspipers".  If everything went well, I'd at least see something.

I picked up my friend Edward to go scope things out.  We checked the large grassy field at Lake Crabtree County Park first, hoping for some turf-loving shorebirds.  Nothing - not even a Killdeer!  I was disappointed, but not surprised - finding anything would have been a long shot.  Before we left, I took a quick scan across the lake.  Through the binoculars, I could make out a barely perceptible mudflat - it was back from being underwater last weekend!  We headed over to check it out.

We reached the usual scoping location for the island, and we spotted several small peeps running along the shoreline.  In order to get closer, we trudged through a thick mat of briars and tall grass toward a point with a more commanding view of the island.  Our effort paid off.  One peep caught my eye as I was scanning the island, and it had wingtips that extended beyond its tail.  This is the trademark characteristic of two birds -  both the White-rumped and the Baird's Sandpiper.  But which one was it?  It didn't have spotting down the side like a White-rumped would, leading us to believe it was a Baird's Sandpiper, and excellent bird and a lifer. In addition, it was a nice buffy-brown color typical of Baird's (according to the field guide).  We eventually got a view of its tail, which lacked the distinctive white patch of the aptly-named White-rumped Sandpiper, and we became one hundred percent sure of our identification.  Baird's Sandpiper - a good bird any day, especially in Wake County.

Baird's Sandpiper - it's the tiny Calidris in the middle of the frame. 

We heard a loud call from above us, and three Caspian Terns swooped in and landed on the island.  Caspian Tern is another fall migrant this time of year, and is always fun to watch.  We turned our attention back to the Baird's, which spent most of its time bathing, feeding, and chasing Least Sandpipers around.  I love shorebirds, so this sighting of a great fall migrant like this really got me going.  A cool bird on a hot day - I can't complain. 

We headed out to Mid Pines Rd to try to find a Grasshopper Sparrow.  We easily found one singing next to a corn field, and Edward got another lifer on the day.   A little further down the road, we watched an immature Red-shouldered Hawk hunt along the fence line.  A good end to a great morning of birding.  The highlight of the week was easily the Baird's Sandpiper, migrating from the tundra of Canada or Alaska.  Maybe summer is coming to an end after all.

Red-shouldered Hawk at Mid Pines Rd preparing to light on a fencepost.

1 comment:

  1. Cool about the Bar-tailed Godwit--6,500 miles! I love reading your informative blog...and Fall is just around the corner.