[Birding (and more) in Calhoun County and beyond
Hercules and I headed down to North Carolina to visit with some relatives at the end of May. We had a brief stop in Virginia overnight and did some birding/hiking, and for Herc some swimming, at a small county park. Just enough to whet the appetite. Since I had some time to kill the next day I looked to see if there was any place on the way to find Swainson's Warbler. I know it is a specialty of the South-East, and I've never been in the area at the appropriate time. Sure enough Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center had a checklist from the previous day with GPS coordinates to that bird, and also some Kentucky Warblers!
Good news/Bad news. I did manage to record audio of a very actively singing Swainson's Warbler, but someone forgot to turn the heat down!!!! My poor little birding buddy is not made for temps like that. He had downed all the water I brought within 30 minutes and was panting up a storm. We only managed about an hour walk before we had to be back in the truck with heat cranked up. No time to go find the Kentucky Warbler. The Swainson's never shoed itself. I did get brief looks at a Hooded Warbler, and managed my first audio of that species along with first audio of Summer Tanager.
The following day we headed down to Fort Fisher hoping to try to find the Gray Kingbird, or any other numerous potential lifers or FOY birds. I was able to ID some Lifer Clapper Rails calling from the reeds. Even better though as we walked toward the rocks a Clapper Rail flushed up and walked on the dead grass for a minute. Giving really amazing looks at this bird.
We didn't dare venture too far out on the rocks, as I've had a bad experience on them before. Herc did manage a nice place to get in the water, as the trip to the beach he wasn't a huge fan of the waves. We ran into an older couple birding and asked what I had seen. They mentioned there is supposed to be a Painted Bunting in the area and were looking for it. After some sighing of various terns, a Common Nighthawk at 0930, and handful of other FOY birds we started to walk back to the truck. Our hour of roasting nearly completed. I started to hear an odd singing coming from the berm. Merlin pegged it as a Painted Bunting just as the couple asked if I was seeing it. Working way up the berm they eventually said they had it up in the tree. I was able to get great, if not shaded looks at a beautiful Lifer Painted Bunting male. What a crazy looking bird!!
Returning the next day to again look for potential Lifer Gray Kingbird I ran into another birder waiting on it, and another one driving around asking if I had seen it. Turned out the latter was Sam Cooper, the #1 birder in New Hanover. Herc and I did our roughly hour walking around, and then came back to the truck. That is when I saw Sam pull up to the other birder and have a brief conversation, and then they both took off. I figured Gray Kingbird must have been found. I located both of them down the road just a bit where Sam said it had popped up on the wire just long enough for a quick pic and disappeared. We waited there for a bit, and after a false alarm Mourning Dove I saw a bird perched on the lowest wire. Sure enough Gray Kingbird. I was able to walk up close enough to get ID'able pics and then backed off allowing the other birder a look. As we headed back up the road I stopped and looked into the bushes and lucked out. The bird was sitting right in the top of a snag nearly at eye level!!! With no traffic either way I was able to get some additional pics.
Another bird I really wanted to get was Mississippi Kite, and I found a spot that was more my style of birding in the heat. Driving down a dirt road, so we could jump in the truck and keep cool as needed. On June 1st we headed to Governor's Road where Swallow-tailed Kite (my favorite bird), and Mississippi Kites were being seen at times daily. Not far into the drive sure enough lifer Mississippi Kites were overhead, and a Swallow-tailed Kite gave me my best looks ever at that species.
Governor's Road continued to deliver as we drove down the dirt section of it. Prothonotary Warbler singing from the swamps, Northern Parula, and Pine Warblers were plentiful. I had my first look at a male Blue Grosbeak. I also had a very strange sound that I couldn't quite figure out despite its familiarity. Turned out I was hearing lifer Northern Bobwhites calling from out in the fields/woods. Never got lucky and saw them, but still something not likely to ever find around here now. Unfortunately it was so hot Herc was having none of it. He would only get out very briefly, and then jump right back in the truck. One of my excursions out of the truck I caught sight of two large white birds flying in the distance. Lifer Cattle Egrets!! Not the most satisfying looks, but I would make up for that later in the day.
We hit the railroad tracks and decided to turn back around as I also wanted to try Lee Bucks Road. A Red-shouldered Hawk on the wire started us on the way back. I managed to get some good audio of Yellow-breasted Chat and amazing looks at a White-eyed Vireo that responded to some "pishing". Amazing how plentiful both of those species are around there. Lee Bucks road offered up some very distant Prairie Warbler singing, and I believe my first "white-eyed" Eastern Towhee. Quite a different song than the ones we get up here. Neither of the Kites were continuing in the field I had them at the start of things, about 2.5 hours prior.
My much better looks at Cattle Egrets ended up being in a drainage pond in a residential area a short time later. Two birds allowed me to get some much better photos than that of my lifers above. That ended my first day of active birding.
North Carolina wasn't done, as my last night there an approaching storm brought out Mississippi Kites right above where I was staying. Pics are dark and grainy, but they put on a show catching food before the rain arrived. Such graceful and acrobatic birds. It was great way to end a week that saw 7 Lifers (5 with photos) and 8 new audio lifers. I know it could have been better, had it not been so blessed hot there. No way I was going to make Hercules have to suffer more than he did. He was a trooper about it, and was nearly perfect save the dive into the Koi pond.
Some other photos from the trip below.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)