Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Local Birding: Eared Grebe Chase, among other things...

We have reached the point where Winter is pretty much over, and Spring isn't quite here yet - it'll be another month before I hear the calls of Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, and Acadian Flycatchers.  This March has, however, been pretty good for Piedmont birding, especially in the water bird department.  Red-necked Grebes and White-winged Scoters, usually quite rare inland, have become almost commonplace this month.  I saw several reports of another, rarer bird - an Eared Grebe - from Jordan Lake.  It would be a new North Carolina bird for me, so I couldn't resist chasing it.

But first, my dad and I went down to the Harris Gamelands before sunrise to scrounge up an Eastern Screech-Owl.  It didn't take long to hear one responding to our playback.  About a half-hour later, as the sun went up, we watched a dozen or so American Woodcocks display in the fields - they would utter their nasal "peent"call, then take flight.  I always love watching this pre-dawn display, and this was by far the most impressive one I have seen.  Down at the boat ramp, I spotted an adult male White-winged Scoter swimming near the far shore.

Next up, Seaforth, a peninsula jutting out into the middle of Jordan Lake.  I hardly ever bird this area, though maybe I should - crazy birds like Long-billed Murrelet and Gray Flycatcher have been seen around there in years past.  The only downside is that it's in Chatham County, so anything I see here doesn't add to my growing Wake County list (currently sitting just one bird below the two-century mark).  But, Eared Grebe would be a state bird, and a "lifer plumage" for me - I've only seen them during breeding season out West.  Plus, it's fun to add more birds to my short Chatham County list.

Eared Grebes can be tricky - they are notoriously similar to the closely-related (and more common, at least in this area) Horned Grebe.  Head shape is probably the best way to differentiate between the two, especially this time of year when the molts can get messy.  The Eared has a rounder head that peaks in the front, whereas the Horned's head is more flat and elongated.  Eared Grebes also ride higher in the water, and have a slightly upturned bill.  I was faced with this identification challenge as I scanned a flock of grebes just offshore.  Horned, Pied-billed, Horned... Until a different bird popped into view.  It had all of the characteristics mentioned above - yes, this was it.  

Eared Grebe at Jordan Lake
As hard as I tried, I couldn't find the second Eared Grebe that was reportedly also present.  It would have been easy to overlook, they so closely resemble Horned Grebes.  Anyhow, I was happy I got to see it.  On the way out, we also spotted a newly-arrived Osprey soaring over the lake, one of the first spring arrivals I see each year.

That afternoon, after I was finished cleaning the gutters on the house, I went back out birding - this time to Prairie Ridge up in Raleigh.  It was a beautiful day in the low 70s, and the slight breeze kept the air nice and fresh - how could I not be outside?  My target up at PR was the American Bittern.  Yes, that same bird I saw back in December.  I needed it for my Wake County Year List, after all (I am realizing as I'm writing this just how far down the listing road I've fallen, but bear with me).

Prairie Ridge American Bittern - trying his best to blend in.
It didn't take long to find the bird - he was hanging out in a small pond, foraging among some reeds just a few feet from me.  He didn't seem to mind my presence, but I let him be after a few minutes of quiet observation.  There were two Lesser Scaup on the big pond downhill, and I snapped a few shots of them in the good light.  These ducks will be gone North soon, so I might as well enjoy them.

Lesser Scaup
That night, I went to Edward's house with Sam to watch "A Birder's Guide to Everything."  It was a great movie (that was strangely relatable...).  We went out to a nearby park to look for owls - and we spotted a Barred Owl flying around - a year bird, believe it or not.  A nice end to a great, bird-filled day.

No comments:

Post a Comment