Robeson County is one of the most under-birded counties in the state. It's only large town, Lumberton, isn't exactly filled with birders, and it lies far from the places with higher birder concentrations (like Raleigh-Durham, the Triad, Charlotte, and Wilmington). And if any birder is going to drive two hours, it'll be to somewhere like Lake Mattamuskeet, Fort Fisher, or any other mildly-famous hotspot - not to the Lumber River. Which is a shame - these under-birded areas need more eBird data, and they are usually choc-full of great birds. With this in mind, Sam and I headed down there early this morning, to do bird surveys in the Lumber River Important Bird Area (IBA) for Wake Audubon. There are dozens of sites scattered across the county for us to do counts, most of them right along the roadside. At each stop, we follow a certain protocol - to see/hear as many species as possible within a ten-minute time frame - then head to the next location.
|Driving to one of our survey spots|
Our route today took us across the southern half of Robeson County, just a few miles from the South Carolina border. First on the list is a boat ramp abutting a cypress-lined blackwater creek, next to a large retention pond. It was a nice stop - my first Barn Swallows of the year were swarming under the bridge. Another year bird, a Great Crested Flycatcher, was flying from treetop to treetop as usual. Just as our ten minutes was coming to a close, we looked up to see a completely random Caspian Tern flying overhead - definitely not something I was expecting to see this far from any large bodies of water. At the next stop we found a whole herd of Cattle Egrets foraging in the lawn of a concrete mansion, 14 in all. Cattle Egrets can be hit-or-miss, so these were definitely a nice find.
The spring migrants were out in full force today - we saw and heard copious amounts of Northern Parulas and Prothonotary Warblers singing along the banks of the swamps. I picked up my FOY Hooded Warbler along the way too. Hooded Warblers are one of the first warblers to show up each spring - and one of the most beautiful.
|Hooded Warbler - not my best shot of this species, but still a nice bird.|
Not too far from that singing Hoodie was a striking male American Redstart, which was flagged on eBird for being just a little early. The scrubby pine forest - grass mix looked like great Yellow-breasted Chat habitat (something Sam and I quickly christened chatitat), so I did my harsh ch-ch-ch-ing imitation. If Chats are present, they always respond to this call, but we had no such luck today - it is still a bit early for these warblerish blackbirds (or blackbirdish warblers?) To go along with our random Caspian Tern flyover, Sam spotted a distant bird soaring in circles above the chatitat. Closer inspection revealed this to be an Anhinga, uncommon this far inland.
|Soaring Landhinga over chatitat|
We continued this cycle for several hours - stopping at a site, then hopping back in the car, listening to our usual Shins-laden playlist, then stopping at another site. We found many more expected birds this time of year - Eastern Kingbird, Prairie Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and a stunning male Black-and-white Warbler. We also found some birds we didn't expect to see, like a northbound Broad-winged Hawk (which made it a three-Buteo day), a flyby Little Blue Heron, and "nocturnal" Barred Owls out at noon. The biggest surprise, however, was at site #31, a roadside swamp. First up was a flock of 11 more Anhingas, soaring up high with a few vultures. It looked completely ridiculous - I've never seen that many Anhingas in one place before, and definitely not in the air. Our favorite phrase, "Like, what the actual hell!?", certainly rang true here. Then, to our amazement, we heard a rare-at-best Swainson's Warbler, a denizen of southern swamps and canebrakes. Swainson's Warblers have one of my favorite songs of any bird, though they are often too reclusive to show themselves.
Things pretty much slowed down after that, but we could definitely leave this remote corner of the state happy. We saw 58 species total, 11 of which were warblers. Spring has finally arrived.